Today is World Mental Health Day (and this, unsurprisingly, is Scottish Mental Health Week).
So, as they say, See Me.
I am J and I have Borderline Personality Disorder/Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and I have been asked to write this as a task by my Community Psychiatric Nurse, and to share it – if I wish – with people that I love and care about and to take along to therapy sessions.
It seems quite apt that today is World Mental Health Day, really, so I wanted to bite the bullet and post this here. To show that I am not ashamed to talk about it, however hard it can be. Because, together, we need to break down the social stigma surrounding mental health.
And maybe, just maybe, me speaking out will give someone else the courage to seek help, or just have a chat with someone. Maybe you want to think about writing your own experiences, or think twice about that friend you want to ignore because they are acting a bit weird right now.
See me? See the smiley, happy girl that you may have met at the school gates or the pub; the mouthy, snarky, occassionally amusing muppet that fills your Facebook feed with crap? I’m not always like that.
I am, thanks to help from some wonderfully supportive agencies, pretty well balanced – far more balanced than I would have been if I hadn’t sought help. And when you read this, this is what you need to bear in mind. I certainly wouldn’t want to upset someone newly diagnosed with BPD/EUPD by making them think this is how it is all the time. But, equally, I want people to understand how frightening it can be when you are in a crisis.
Like all things, people will have the same diagnosis but very different symptoms. This is my story, and mine alone. Many will empathise and see themselves, many will not.
I am very fortunate in that I can mostly manage to keep it under control using techniques that I learned in therapy; and I will usually notice hints that mean that I may be heading for a wobble. Such indications can include paranoia, neurotic thoughts such as something terrible but extremely unlikely happening to loved ones, and becoming obsessed with something – a hobby, a particular cause etc (usually something political or some great injustice) which encompasses me completely for a relatively short time until I have ranted and raved and driven everyone daft with it. When I notice these things in good time, I have the opportunity to use the coping mechanisms I learnt to pull myself back on track. 95% of the time it works.
Sometimes, however, I have a crisis that I honestly wasn’t expecting. Looking back, I can now see that these usually come on in times of stress. (Though that is not to say that I will always have a crisis in times of stress). Perhaps the hints mentioned above are actually there, but I am so preoccupied by whatever is stressing me out that I just don’t notice them; and by the time I do, it’s too late.
How can I describe a crisis? I can’t, very easily, because it doesn’t feel like me. Although I can carry on doing routine tasks, and I can look and sound just like the normal J, inside me is some kind of maelstrom that is so disconcerting that I can’t really put it into words very well.
It’s like being taken away suddenly by a shock tidal wave. You can’t put your feet down onto the ground, and you’re powerless to do anything but try and ride it out until you reach the land, or drown.
A BPD crisis has been described as ‘the emotional equivalent of someone with third degree burns being touched’, and I can relate very much to that. I recoil, and lash out, at those closest to me, to the people I love and who love me. It’s as though I am possessed by some demon inside my head who takes every single facet of someone I love and twists it, makes it bad, makes it something to be suspicious and untrusting of; all the while also telling me that I am bad, I am worthless, I am not deserving of love or happiness, and that those closest to me have sinister ulterior motives for their behaviour towards me.
And these thoughts, these voices in my head are constant, during a crisis. They don’t come and go a few times a day. They gnaw at me, they whisper in my ears twenty four hours a day. Even when I dream. They twist everything I read, everything I write, everything I say, everything I hear so that the mildest criticism will feel, to me, like the end of the world, like my whole life is falling apart and I physically ache inside with it, this sense of terrified dread and horror combined with this kind of howling in my head.
It makes me want to hurt myself, to get the pain out. I bite the skin around my fingers until they bleed, or I jab myself with pins over and over to get some relief. Sometimes I just sit and stare into space, because that is safer than moving. Sometimes I drink myself to sleep so I at least won’t remember the dreams. These are negative strategies, I know that, but when I need to function and plaster on a false happy face, they are the best I have to hand.
That Is what happens. That is why I explode, why I lash out and push everyone away. Because, for a short time, I am a possessed person and as much as I want to, this power is stronger than me and I just cannot stop it, however hard I try.
I – as in the one you know, the everyday J- I am not being spiteful. I am not being angry. I am not being callous, however well I may still speak or write. My ‘good’ brain is being shut down and I am petrified and confused and screaming for help.
This black dog that descends on me turns my whole life, and everything in it, into something frightening and sinister. It smashes relationships to pieces. It hurts the people I love most in all the world. And all the while, the little voice in my head keeps repeating ‘You’re mad, you’re mad, you’re mad and it’s all your own fault’.
And knowing that it is my own mind doing this, and not some demon, is the most frightening thing of all.