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How Borderline Personality Disorder Feels To Me

CAUTION: This post contains issues of self-harm and suicidality, although not in any great detail (but you have been warned).

I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

That’s no big news for regular readers but if you’re new, it is important that I say this from the outset. I have BPD. That’s the angle that I am coming from.

Many people with BPD choose not to admit to having it, mostly for the simple reason that there is a great deal of stigma attached to the disorder. But that’s not what I want to talk about, although I hope that what I say might be in some small way helpful towards smashing that stigma.

Another reason people with BPD don’t talk about their disorder is that it is a very difficult disorder to talk about. There are many variations (think over 200), and that means that what people feel and experience is going to be different for practically every person who has it.

If there is one thing I have consistently failed at as a writer, it is to describe what BPD feels like for me in a way that satisfied my desire to get it across to others. I have tried many times. I just haven’t managed to describe it as I really feel it. Every time I have written a post about BPD I have finished feeling dissatisfied. I might have got some aspect across, but I didn’t describe how BPD is for me.

While I was diagnosed as having BPD some five years ago, I admit that for as many doctors who have said I had BPD, more said I probably don’t. They said I wasn’t typical of people with BPD. Even more said it wouldn’t be good for me to have that diagnosis (in my mind a strange thinking for diagnosing a health issue). Only those who said I do have BPD were willing to listen and hear that my experience is that BPD matches both my emotions and behaviour.

To me, it wasn’t specifics that spelt BPD but rather an intrinsic way in which I deal with my emotions and my relationships with others. Face it, that’s hard stuff to talk about.

But here are the issues for me (in no particular order).

I  am completely paranoid. I expect that friends/family are about to leave me or say awful things about me. They are constantly (in my mind) one step away from leaving me or hurting me.

You name it, a lightbulb might blow… to an argument with a friend/family member, and I will (over) react by thinking it’s time to kill myself. Yes, it’s time to kill myself because it is an assumption that one day I will commit suicide and people would always be better off without me. It’s just a matter of time! Remember this is thinking rather than actions, although given enough thought and common depressive thought, BPD will drive me in that direction.

I think that the best thing for me is to leave you… before you leave me. It would be best to quit my job just in case my boss is about to sack me. Actually this is exactly what I did in my last job. I thought they were about to sack me, so I quit. Actually I later found out that they had no intention of sacking me and were disappointed when I suddenly left.

While I haven’t self-harmed for about four years, I regularly mull over thoughts of self-harm, particularly if something in my life goes bad. It’s not that I ever got any form of high from my years of self-harming (it was about control), but I just don’t value my body enough to say “no!” to myself. Thankfully it has been four years of fighting the urge rather than actions, but to be honest, it doesn’t get easier.

Self-harm, for me, is not just cutting, etc but also includes substance abuse, extreme dieting, smoking, and excessive exercise. That’s my way of thinking about it and I accept that you may not agree. For me, it is all the negative ways I use to control myself and my body, not to mention exerting pain on myself. Not surprising now that I experience more physical pain through fibromyalgia, I am less likely to think about exerting physical pain, through self harm, on myself.

I constantly think in ‘black or white’. Good or bad. Right or wrong. I can’t for the life of me even comprehend ‘grey’. It would be so much easier if I could. I try, but I am yet to master seeing the whole spectrum.

It is possible for me to have no idea what I feel. Is it happy or sad? Is it hate or love? It is difficult, at times, to know. Maybe I feel both, at the same time. It can be right on the borderline.

My emotions can cause me pain. The great Marsha Linehan says that people with BPD are like emotional third-degree burns victims. Personally I’m not fond of that analogy, but perhaps because I don’t see that my emotions hurt me as much as physical burns victims suffer from their injuries. I hasten to add though that I claim that statement as my own but not for others. I get that for others their emotions cause as much pain as physical pain. I know many people who have BPD who would say Marsha Linehan’s analogy is completely appropriate for them.

I admit, with some reluctance, that I am inclined to think that everything is about me. In a time of extreme unwellness, I thought that 9/11 was about me. I can’t remember my reasoning but it made perfect sense to me at the time. But more commonly I assume that negative events, such as arguments and the like, are my ‘fault’. Interestingly I don’t apply the same logic to positive events. Perhaps I am only interested in destroying my health, happiness or well-being.

I have a tendency to be impulsive. I admit I have shoplifted (ok, so only once). As a child, I regularly stole from my parents. I constantly have to be careful not to engage in compulsive shopping, spending, drinking and thinking. All that said, I have rarely been impulsive in relationships, even if at times, I have failed to think things through as much as I ought

And lastly, because this is one that appeals to me, people with BPD are sometimes prone to, what one author I read called, magical thinking in which they use unrealistic thoughts and beliefs to solve problems in their life (Robert Friedel in Borderline Personality Disorder Demystified, 2004). I admit that I do this (I’m not going to go into detail), although have never before seen it attributed as relating to BPD. My psychiatrist prefers to call it my ‘weirdness’.

Having written all that (and apologies for the length), I think I have gone somewhat closer to describing BPD as it feels to me, but, I am somewhat terrified. Firstly, how are you going to treat me now that you have seen inside? But secondly, I need to remind you that this is me. It is not how it is for others with BPD. Maybe some of it might apply, but just as easily, some of it won’t.

With the distinct possibility that I have not succeeded in what I set out to do with this post, I am including a link to another person’s version of what BPD feels like. I found it very useful and the temptation was to post it simply as it is. But I needed to do the ‘Cate version’, which would only ever be written. I hope you take time to watch. For each person who chooses to tell what BPD feels like to them, I believe more will learn and experience what BPD really is, and maybe one day the stigma against us will reduce.

I have such an unstable sense of self that I fear my post will somehow destroy me and my relationships. Somehow it will confirm what I have suspected to be your earlier suspicions that I am a fake, a fraud and just too much work. I am posting it anyway because I know that writing this has somehow been a good journey for me. As much as I hope you have learnt something, I know that I have learnt. It is good for me to be able to say “this is how it feels to me”.

One last thing I need you to know. You don’t have to try to somehow assure me that I’m not that fake, fraud or whatever. You don’t have to assure me of anything. All I wanted to do is done. I have shared how it is for me.

Thanks for reading




World Mental Health Day 2015 – Dignity Or Do I Have To Beg?


Dignity in Mental Health – 10 October

World Mental Health Day is always an important day to me, and this year it’s been one I’ve been thinking about for some time. The topic set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) is ‘Dignity in Mental Health’.

What does that mean? And how should I choose to write on that topic. In deciding, it’s important to acknowledge that ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ will mean something different depending on where you call home. I live in New Zealand and what ‘Dignity in Mental Health’ is to me will probably be different to you.

What has come to mind is the times when my dignity has not been maintained in either living with my mental illness or being treated for that mental illness. Some of that has been directed to me specifically but other times it has been more of a societal issue. And that’s what I intended to write about today… until today. When I completely changed my mind because of the circumstance I have found myself in.

The term dignity is one of those which we all know but is quite difficult to define.  What do we really mean? So to the dictionary, I went;

“The state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect”

What does that mean? That was the Oxford Dictionary, that which I grew up with. Whether for amusement or clarification, sometimes it pays to take a look at The Urban Dictionary:

“A proper sense of pride and self-respect”

That was one of five definitions offered but is the one I feel most comfortable with. Because it’s about me (or you). It’s about self. That which will give me “a proper sense of pride and self-respect” will give me dignity. It makes sense to me.

Today I found myself in a looming sense of indignity (in terms of my mental health) because I am in a situation where I would have to expose myself more than someone without a mental illness might have to. It was making me feel sick. The more I thought about it, the more a headache came on. Maybe it might seem like no big deal but it is personal and it isn’t going to come easy.

 You might be aware that I am currently looking for some alternative accommodation for six months while my current abode is repaired of its earthquake damage. As is becoming a common task, this morning I went to look at a possible flat/apartment. I liked it. Actually I loved it. It would suit me down to the ground. As I left the agent gave me an application form which I would have to send through to her office.

These application forms are worse than applying for a job. Landlords can be exceptionally picky in this city. There is a huge demand for rental accommodation for exactly the reason I’m looking.  Earthquake repairs and people who have come to the city to work (on earthquake repairs) who need accommodation.

I know that if I had a job my chances of getting this place would rise substantially. You see, the jobless simply don’t stand a chance. We are an underclass and landlords don’t need to acknowledge that underclass even exist. But mental illness makes it worse.

I haven’t worked since 2010, at which point I had a part-time job for 18 months. Before that, I took nine years to complete a three-year degree. And before that I spent eight years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. I have to go back to 1993 to find when I was employed full-time and actually did something those landlords would consider of note.

To get this flat (I saw today) I have to provide something of an employment history and then I have to provide personal references, separate from employment references. Are they kidding? As I said, I had to give up work years ago and I gave up on having friendships some years ago. They hurt too much. With Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) it’s too hard and too painful. I couldn’t do it. I have no one who I could seek a personal reference from. I have no references.

Here’s my point:

There are other people for whom this process will be limiting if not failing. I know that I’m not alone. But for someone with a mental illness, landlords in my city are literally refusing to admit we exist. They simply don’t HAVE to admit I exist because they have plenty of nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s. And those nice, qualified, rich, employed Jane’s or John’s have good personal references too.

My only option is to get down and beg. IF I can possibly find a landlord or agent who will give me even just five minutes to beg they might actually discover… I might not have a job, or steady work record and I might not have upstanding people who know me BUT my mental illness, does not preclude me from being a good, responsible tenant who takes care of their property and pays their rent on time. Hey, they might even find they like me. If they give me a chance.

I am a good person. I will be a good tenant, and actually regardless of my lack of a job my insurance company back me.

But because I have a mental illness I simply don’t exist.

Dignity in Mental Health can be viewed from a perspective of how we are treated by mental health professionals. But it is just important to ask with what dignity are people with mental illnesses treated by society. Do we even exist in the eyes of other facets of society? Do we have to get down on our knees and beg for a place to live, or a benefit or a job?

Maybe you’re a Christchurch landlord and think you have every right to deny my existence. You do have that right but how would you want to be treated if tomorrow you were diagnosed with a mental illness, and your world came crashing down around you? Wouldn’t you want your dignity intact?

I have exactly four weeks to find somewhere to live. And sadly it is having an enormous impact on my mental health. Keep reading and I’ll be shouting from the rooftops of WordPress when I find somewhere to live.

“One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” ― Michael J. Fox

Stigma Via Health Professionals

This is my latest post for A Canvas Of The Minds. It was posted yesterday. I apologise for my lateness in sharing.

“Am I alone with this? Have you been on the receiving end of stigma from health professionals, be it general health or mental health?  How have you handled it and what effect has it had on the overall treatment of your health issue? If it isn’t something you have experienced, how would you handle it if you came across such stigma?”

Read on at: Stigma Via Health Professionals

Thanks for reading




That Pair Of Jeans

Caution: The subject of Eating Disorders and Body Image is raised in this post, so proceed with caution if that is a trigger for you.  I promise that there are purposely no numbers included.  No weights, no sizes.

That pair of jeans has been hanging in my wardrobe for a long time.  A very long time!  When I take them to the Red Cross shop next week, I am sure they will be sent to the ‘vintage’ section.  They are ‘hipsters‘ (before hipsters had their cool phase) and not ‘skinny‘ as we know ‘skinny jeans‘.  But they are ‘skinny‘ in all the wrong ways.

I am clearing out my wardrobe.  It’s something I occasionally do, but I’ve always resisted clearing out this particular pair.  You know how some items of clothing you just can’t bear to part with?  Well this pair have fit into that category, regardless of the fact that it is many years since they fit me.

I bought this pair of jeans from what was known as a ‘Labels‘ second hand shop.  They were meant to be the good quality clothes, and this particular shop was one of my favourites.  I didn’t know I had a brewing case of Anorexia Nervosa at the time I bought these jeans.  I just thought I was fit and slim.  Actually I was too fit (read over-exercising) and too slim (yes, there very definitely is such a thing).  It’s just that no doctor had yet the chance to raise the issue at that time.

As I lost more weight, I thought I was finally starting to look ok.  ‘Ok‘ is as far as I’d go because I still hated what I saw in the mirror.  Actually no matter how much weight I lost, and how loose the jeans became, I still couldn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I could slide the jeans off without undoing them, but I didn’t see a problem.  I didn’t appreciate it when a doctor finally raised the issue.

Eventually the jeans were too big, but I held onto them anyway.  But then in time, I started eating again, simply to keep the doctor quiet.  He had constantly been telling me I needed to put on weight.  He told me I looked terrible.  He saved my life.  Unfortunately friends continued to tell me that I looked great.  I can’t hold my friends responsible for my eating disorder, but they really didn’t help.

The jeans?  Well in time, and I’m talking a long time, the jeans finally became too small, and the doctor was pleased.  I, on the other hand, was not pleased and I had learned nothing of disordered eating and positive body image.  I admit that I’d only learnt to eat so that the doctor would drop the subject.

And that was a long time ago.  Since then I my diagnosis was changed to Eating Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS), which meant my weight was normal but I still had issues of disordered eating.  It’s still the same today, but no one (read no health professionals) talk about it now.  And the jeans have continued to hang in my wardrobe.

I couldn’t part with them.  The jeans nearly fit again when over-exercising (read too much running) featured in my life again.  I admit I was very happy.  You see, in spite of all the therapy I went through, there was a part of me (that I couldn’t express) who wanted to wear those jeans again.  And I certainly hadn’t learnt anything.

For some very warped reasoning, those jeans spelled ‘healthy’  in my mind.  And perhaps because once my weight was ‘normal‘ again (and even ‘over weight’ in time) no one was interested in helping me with my disorder. No one was interested in helping re-assign what ‘healthy‘ really meant. Unfortunately when the physical was dealt with, there was no interest in helping me with the emotional.  One thing I know now is that is completely the wrong way to treat an eating disorder, but I had to learn that for myself.

So those jeans continued to hang in the wardrobe.  I simply couldn’t consider discarding them.  Yes, a part of me knew I would never be that size again, and I never should be that size again, but another part silently couldn’t wish that size good-bye.

But it’s come time to shrink down my wardrobe.  Soon I will be shifting out of my home for five months while earthquake damage is repaired, and so the less I have in my wardrobe, the less I have to shift.

This time it came easy to give up that pair of jeans (and a whole lot of other clothes).  I doubt that my issues have necessarily become any healthier, but time really does heal.  And this time I can put them in the box to take to the shop.

I was never going to wear those jeans again, so it’s time to let go.

“Food is something I am going to have to face at least three times a day for the rest of my life. And I am not perfect. But one really bad day does not mean that I am hopeless and back at square one with my eating disorder. Olympic ice skaters fall in their quest for the gold. Heisman Trophy winners throw interceptions. Professional singers forget the words. And people with eating disorders sometimes slip back into an old pattern. But all of these individuals just pick themselves back up and do the next right thing. The ice skater makes the next jump. The football player throws the next pass. The singer finishes the song. And I am going to eat breakfast.”

― Jenni Schaefer, Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too

Stand By Me… But Just A Few Will Do

When we live with chronic illness, either mental or physical, it’s all too often that we have to focus on those who don’t stand by us. Those who we thought were friends (or family), but don’t want to know us now.

Over the years there have been many friends like that.  They’re particularly those who didn’t like how I was choosing health treatment options, as if it was up to them.

Then there were those who objected to some of the changes I made in my life.  I can give you a whole list of those who run for the hills when I started smoking.  My overly enthusiastic drinking was always kept under wraps, so that never gave people the chance to exit stage left.  My self harm was also kept under wraps, or at least under my clothes so again, people didn’t have the chance to run.  When I stopped going to church, that was another trigger for some to go.  Over time, plenty just left.  They skulked away presumably just because I was different now.

My ex-husband was one of the first.  From outward appearances it seemed that I was the one who left him.  I was the one, after all who packed my bags and left the house.  My house. But that was only after several conditions that he laid down in front of me.  He wanted me to change, or I couldn’t stay.  I chose to leave.  I think he was surprised (did he think he was that good?), but I guess he got over it.

It’s easy to focus on those people who left.  Yes, it hurts very badly.  Yes, there were times I wondered if anyone would like me ever again.  There were great losses involved when any person who had been close… left.

Image Credit: Squelle,
Image Credit: Squelle,

But actually there were people who stayed.  Even when I tried to push them away.  While I was hurt by those who weren’t interested in being in my life anymore, strangely those who still wanted to be there, I pushed away.  I was scared that if I didn’t push them away, they might choose (after all) to leave.

The first friend who comes to mind, just kept on coming back.  I know the choices I made for my life were not hers.  I know that some of the choices I made, just made no sense to her.  But she kept being there.  I know some of the things I came to believe in were not her beliefs.  Actually I kept expecting her to walk away.  But she didn’t.  She kept being there.  Nowadays we don’t see each other often, but we can still add up 25 years of friendship.  We live in different parts of the country, and to some extent, we have drifted.  But I know she would be there if I needed her.  And to me, that’s what counts.

The other person who quickly comes to mind has been my friend even longer, and no matter how much I’ve pushed her away across the years, she too, is still there.  I remember not wanting to see her when she came to visit me in a psych hospital.  Visitors are few and far between in a psych hospital but she kept coming, even though I admit I would fake a headache or something so I didn’t have to see her.

Having done that repeatedly embarrasses me now.  It was a long drive to come out to see me, yet I would regularly refuse to see her.  It was really about hating myself so much that I couldn’t bear to be seen.  I understand that now, but I still don’t know if she understood it.  Maybe not.  But she continues to be my friend. Again different parts of the country now mean we don’t get to talk often, but we caught up recently and it was great.  I felt completely accepted, just as I was.  What more could I want?

I don’t have a lot of friends now.  Just a few will do.  Should I say, I don’t have a lot of what we call ‘real life friends‘.  That’s partly been my choice, partly people who have left, and partly something that has come about because of the illness.  People leave just because they don’t ‘get it‘.  Even ‘internet friends‘ I’m not interested in having hundreds of friends.

What I am interested in having is friends like those above, who I know will stand by me.  As cheesy as it sounds I want friends who will be there for me, and will allow me to be there for them. I’m not interested in anything else.  I just don’t see the point.  Judge me and I’m simply not interested.

I think age helps.  In your twenties I get that it’s maybe hard to say a few friends will do.  Even harder to be satisfied with staying in on Saturday nights.  It’s hard again to have a quiet feed on all social media sites.

When I hurtled violently into the world of mental illness, I was in my twenties.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember that I’m not there anymore.  Frankly though, I’m glad I’m not.  Quantity doesn’t matter so much now, I’d rather have quality, or at least those who will stick around no matter what I hurtle through.

It’s a little bit cheesy now, but it’s true, so here it is…

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

― Henri J.M. Nouwen

Why Can’t I Have Both?

It’s been a while… I know.

It’s just on two months since I disappeared off the blogging trail.  No explanation, just not there.  My apologies for the ‘no explanation’, but it just had to be.  The short story is that I came to a point where it was necessary for me to question whether my participation in the blogosphere was helping or hurting me.  Was I getting out of blogging what was good for me, or was it actually causing pain?  Ideally it would be great to say my participation couldn’t possibly be hurting me, but that’s simply not true.  I have yet to resolve the issue in my mind, and so in the meantime I will only be posting sporadically, when something is weighing particularly heavy on my mind.

I admit too, that pulling back in my participation has also included cutting back on how much I have been reading others’ posts.  That has simply been too hard, particularly with writing comments.  But I do still have a desire to support the blogs I follow and I will be back eventually.

Meanwhile, a dilemma falls before me.  It’s not one that is new to me, but perhaps this time it is a bigger issue because of the consequences involved.  Two options are before me and I wish so much that I could have both.  Unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way and particularly in the issue of mental health versus physical health.  So often it seems the option is one or the other.  Why can’t I have both?

This past week I finally got in to see a Pain Specialist to consider how best to treat my Fibromyalgia.  I’ve been waiting for this for several years now, so it was so great to finally be there.  Regular readers will be pleased to know that I also finally changed my doctor (General Practitioner) a few weeks back.  That, and seeing the Pain Specialist has finally given me some hope that treatment is possible.  Unfortunately though, it looks like it might come with a cost.

The Pain Specialist has recommended a medication for me to try, which if it works for me, could turn my life around in terms of the pain and fatigue that I have on a daily basis. What the medication recommended isn’t important to this post as the last thing I want to do is get into a conversation of ‘what works for who‘.  I don’t see the point in that simply because we all respond to medication differently.

It was not possible for me to start on the medication straight away as it was necessary to get funding approved from the New Zealand health system.  The hope was that by the end of next week I would be able to start.  It would take some weeks to get to optimum dose and so to work out if it was effective.

It was all sounding great, until I came home and did my own research on the drug.  I am particularly careful to read up on medication I intend to start on because of firstly adverse interactions with other medication but also because of those lovely side effects we all dread.

The interactions were listed as moderate, but I had discussed it with the specialist and we agreed that with careful monitoring it would be ok.  But the side effects were different.  All the usuals, including my dreaded weight gain… but here’s the one that stopped me in my tracks:

“you should know that your mental health may change in unexpected ways and you may become suicidal (thinking about harming or killing yourself or
planning or trying to do so)”

Added to that was:

“….panic attacks; agitation or restlessness; new or worsening irritability, anxiety, or depression; acting on dangerous impulses; difficulty falling or staying asleep; aggressive, angry, or violent behavior; mania (frenzied, abnormally excited mood); talking or thinking about wanting to hurt yourself or end your life; withdrawing from friends and family; preoccupation with death and dying; giving away prized possessions; or any other unusual changes in behavior or mood”

It speaks for itself.

I know that this is not the first, or only, medication that has these possible side effects.  There is the well-known anti-smoking medication which I have always said I would never risk taking because of the possibility of suicidal thoughts.  Then there are of course, many anti-depressants and other medications for mental illnesses which have similar risk.

I know that.   I don’t like it.  I think it is crazy, but I know that’s the pharmaceutical world we live in.  What bothers me is that I am stuck between a rock and a hard place.  Yes, these are possible side effects and might not happen but I have to be prepared for their possibility.

For just a few hours, from leaving the Pain Specialist to getting home and doing my own research, I had some hope for the possible end of my pain (or at least significant reduction).  I started to think about being able to get back to work, and was even mentally rewriting my out-of-date CV.

This drug offered me hope… but at the expense of my mental health.

Do I restore my physical health while risking my mental stability?  Or do I say no to the drug, continue to be limited in my physical health, but be sure my mental health is maintained (at whatever level it is currently at).

This is a really hard one.  Yesterday I was by chance reading Lulu’s post on her blog Sunny with a Chance of Armageddon on a similar issue she was facing. Which do we preserve?  Mental health or Physical Health?  It seems that this is a common dilemma we face when we have mental illness, and I’m coming to the conclusion that we each have to make our own decision.  For each, it will be different.

Personally, while I haven’t reached a decision on my dilemma, my inclination right now is to preserve my mental health (which would practically mean avoiding this particular medication).  While my mental health is relatively stable now days, I continue to struggle.  I have been at the bottom of the pit in terms of mental illness. Years of hospitalisation, heavy medication, ECT and the many harmful things I did to myself including suicide attempts.  I had suicidal thinking for a very long time.  I have no desire to go back there.  I suspect I would find it difficult to crawl out of the pit again.

Do I try for stable physical health?  Or stable mental health?  I hate the way my life is dominated with pain right now, but perhaps surprisingly, I think I would rather have that physical pain than to go back through the mental pain I lived with, the worst of which was through the late 1990’s.

On Tuesday I will see my (new) doctor and talk to him.  Maybe I’ll find the cash and go see my rather expensive psychiatrist too.  The problem for me is that while my medical notes are full of mental illness, none of the doctors involved knew me at the worst of my mental struggles.  They haven’t seen that Cate.  They don’t know how bad it can get for me.  I do.

There are no guarantees in this game.  I could have no side effects and get good pain results too.  It just might not happen… but I’m not a lottery player and even so, I just don’t like my odds.

But forget about my dilemma for a moment…   what would you do?  Maybe you’ve already faced this issue.  How did you deal with it?

“No amount of love can cure madness or unblacken one’s dark moods. Love can help, it can make the pain more tolerable, but, always, one is beholden to medication that may or may not always work and may or may not be bearable”

— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

Lessons I Must Have Missed

Do you ever get the feeling that perhaps you missed some of life’s essential lessons?  Somehow you just weren’t there for that lesson, or maybe you had something distracting you, so you just weren’t paying attention?  I’m not talking about school lessons but rather lessons in the things we needed to know to be able to function adequately as a human being.  Lessons in things that would substantially help us get through life.

I’m coming to the conclusion that I very definitely missed some lessons which could have made life a whole heap easier and maybe even less traumatic for both myself and those close to me.  The missing lessons for me centre around emotions.  I seriously don’t think I ever learnt anything useful until I was very sick and depending on a very good therapist to get me through.  It’s more than a little sad really, and it goes along way to perhaps explaining where my relationship with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) came from.

BPD is a hard disorder to get your head around simply because there are so many variations. We are certainly not all the same, as many websites suggest.   There are usually many things going wrong to warrant a diagnosis, but in my mind it all centres around emotions and the ability to express and manage those emotions.

So here are a few of the lessons that I may have missed, and which may have contributed to the existence of BPD in my life.  They may seem a little disjointed, but bear with me.  There is very definitely a pattern.

Lesson Missed #1
It’s okay to feel hurt

Remember that awful little rhyme that has wrecked havoc on the minds of so many girls with curly hair?

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
When she was good, she was very, very good.
But when she was bad she was horrid.

Who quotes that at their daughters?  Who tells their little daughter that they are horrid?  It’s horrid that anyone should even write such a rhyme let alone quote it at small girls.  And yes, it was quoted at me.  Apparently it was written for me.  My guess is that I was around four or five.

It’s difficult to remember an emotion back that long ago but my guess is that there was no expressed emotion.  I just knew that I was bad. It was a fact, indisputable by the presence of that word ‘horrid’ being applied to me by people I loved and trusted.  Did they think it was funny?  There is nothing funny in name-calling.

If I was that five-year old again, I hope that I would feel hurt, even betrayed.  It seems only appropriate, but then appropriate emotions were something I didn’t know about for a long way to come.

Lesson Missed #2
It’s okay to feel angry

By the time I got to around 15 I was struggling for a number of reasons. Not that anyone outside my immediate family would have known.  To the outside world I was a good teen who seemed to be doing all the right things.  I turned up at school (and anywhere else I was supposed to be), I passed my grades, I had friends, there was nothing I was doing wrong.  But my family knew differently.

I was a bomb waiting to explode but I had little idea of what was going on.  I guess now that I was mostly angry and frustrated but I had no idea how to express that.  I didn’t even recognise what that meant.  I would simply explode and physically lash out.  That was the only means I knew of getting what was inside out.  It would literally be an exploding bomb with no words.  No words because I didn’t have a clue how to attach words to what I was feeling.

Eventually I didn’t trust myself.  I didn’t understand what was happening, so why would I?  Being unable to temper that lashing out I made some big decisions at that point which have significantly impacted the rest of my life.  I was simply doing the only thing I knew how.  I was holding myself in.  Protecting myself, and more importantly, others.  Too scared to express anything.   Only my family know who bore the brunt of that, aside from me.

Lesson Missed #3
Feelings are NOT thoughts

Fast forward to 30.  I’m in residential treatment for a variety of mental illnesses (although not BPD).  Sitting in my therapist’s office, he has asked me how I felt about something that had happened in my life.  I tell him what I think about it.  He asks me again, and this time points out to me that how I feel about something is quite different to what I am thinking about it.

Bingo!  It might seem obvious to you, but at 30 I had no idea.  I was so shut off to my feelings that I didn’t even know they existed.  I literally thought ‘feelings‘ was another word for ‘thoughts‘.  I am an intelligent person.  But I simply hadn’t had that lesson.

That was a very big day of learning.  Life didn’t get easier because now that I was feeling, I felt every one of those emotions eventually.  It hurt like hell, but at least I was on the right road.  There was some hope.

There were more lessons to come.  I was completely closed off to experiencing what I felt.  It seems I had been right from childhood.  Why?

There are lots of possible answers to that ‘why?‘  I’m not going to get into blaming anyone, including myself.  Right now that just wouldn’t be of any help to me or anyone else.  It just was.  What I can do with having worked through this is to understand better where the BPD diagnosis eventually came from, and continue to work from there toward recovery of some sort.  I think too, that some of the other attributes of BPD which I also have perhaps came about as a means to coping.  If I went into that now, this post would become book length.  But maybe it’s time to explore those in future posts.

“Your perspective on life comes from the cage
you were held captive in.”

— Shannon L. Alder


Psychiatric Medication Saved My Life

Image credit: CDC via Wikimedia Commons
Image credit: CDC via Wikimedia Commons

I get a little concerned when I become aware of the news of a tragic death being used as a means to increase publicity to a particular movement or way of thinking.  I recognise that many people don’t have a problem with this, and therefore it is important that I state this is my opinion only.  What I say in this post is not fact, and I respect the right of others to have differing opinions.  I know that some of those opinions are based on tragic circumstances and I have no wish to minimise the effect of those circumstances on the people who have and still live them.

If my viewing over the past few days is anything to go by, and I accept that the internet is a large space, it seems to be a growing movement of people against the use of psychiatric medication (and other treatments) to treat mental illness.  I know this is not new.  I’m not saying it’s wrong.  It’s just that there is another side of the story and for some people psychiatric medication is the only life-saving treatment appropriate.

Since Robin Williams’ wife came out and publicly said that he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease before his death, there seems to have been a swell in people saying that his death was a result of the medications he was taking for this illness.  The reality is that at this stage no one knows the exact cause of his death.  I don’t believe it is fair on anyone, including above all Robin Williams’ memory, to be making assumptions and statements like this.

I don’t mean to take on the whole Anti-Psychiatry movement with this post, but rather because I have seen so many statements about the dangers of psychiatric medication in the past few days, I simply want to be clear that I have another opinion.

Psychiatric medication saved my life.  I have no doubt of that.  In the nearly 21 years of my mental illness I have been on a vast range of drugs, mostly prescribed by psychiatrists.  I am very aware that most of those drugs were of little or no use to me.  Also many were changed too quickly and therefore didn’t allow time for it to work.  I know they were desperate to find a quick solution.

I experienced a whole heap of side effects, which I could have done without.  One of the side effects I ‘possibly‘ experienced was suicidal ideation.  I say ‘possibly‘ because I have no means of telling whether the severe suicidal thoughts I experienced for around 10 years, from before the medication was started, were caused by the medication I was on, symptoms of my specific illness, or the life situation I was in.

It makes no sense to me (as a lay person) to have psychiatric medication that can cause side affects of suicidal thinking.  What are pharmaceutical companies  thinking?  On that I totally agree with anti-psychiatry, but I also don’t believe anyone could point the finger at any aspect of my life and say that was specifically causing the suicidal behaviour.  They would only be guessing.

Around 12 years ago my psychiatrist at the time made what would be one last change to my medication regime.  I’m purposely not going into details of the actual medications prescribed because I don’t believe that is helpful.  We know that responses to medication are different for everyone.  What has worked for me won’t necessarily work for anyone else.

Since that change I haven’t had any more hospital admissions (and I was stacking up admissions before then) and my suicidal behaviour has largely gone.  Yes, I admit there are still thoughts at times, but I can manage them without hospital admissions or crisis intervention.  I have been able to stop self harming.  I have begun to find hope in living.  These are huge changes for me and they literally saved my life.  I continue to take that medication today and will probably stay on it for my lifetime.  That’s okay with me,and yes, even in spite of what it may be doing to my body.

All that said, I don’t believe that all people who suffer from mental illness need to be on medication.  I read a blog post recently that advised sufferers of Depression to eliminate sugar and alcohol from their diet, get out walking and learn to meditate.  That’s pretty standard and I am sure that for some people, that would go a significant way in curing the problem.  But I know that this instruction wasn’t sufficient for me.  I needed more.  I believe that I needed to change the chemicals going on in my brain, and that prescribed medication was the only way to do that.

With Depression I believe that there are different levels of severity(sometimes it would be good if there were different names for those different levels).   Therefore I accept that medication is not always necessary.  If depression can be cured without medication, I think that is great.  But nothing can sway me from believing that for some people medication is the only answer.  I am sure that I would have been dead today had a psychiatrist not taken the time to find the right medication for me, and had I not committed myself to taking it daily.

I also believe that psychotherapy went a long way to contributing to my improvement, but that it is the right medication that really sealed the deal from changing what I will call a suicidal pit to some chance of living.  The medication made the therapy possible.  Without it I wasn’t well enough to undergo that process.  Of course, you probably didn’t know me 12 years ago, but those who do will attest to the fact that my life has significantly changed.

I am not cured and I expect that with the type of mental illness I have, I will continue to have symptoms, but I know that continuing to take the prescribed medication will go a long way to keeping my illness managed and hopefully keep suicide from being an option.

I totally respect people’s right to determine what is right for them.  This was right for me but I understand that it won’t be right for everyone.  But I also believe it is wrong to write off a particular type of treatment which may not be right for one but can be a lifesaver for another.  From all the range of treatments and options available hopefully there is hope.

“Others imply that they know what it is like to be depressed because they have gone through a divorce, lost a job, or broken up with someone. But these experiences carry with them feelings. Depression, instead, is flat, hollow, and unendurable. It is also tiresome. People cannot abide being around you when you are depressed. They might think that they ought to, and they might even try, but you know and they know that you are tedious beyond belief: you are irritable and paranoid and humorless and lifeless and critical and demanding and no reassurance is ever enough.

You’re frightened, and you’re frightening, and you’re “not at all like yourself but will be soon,” but you know you won’t.”

— Kay Redfield Jamison (An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness)

Facing The Mundane Realities Of Chronic Illness

There are some things which are obvious about chronic illness, although admittedly when it is an invisible illness even those obvious things are hard to see and be aware of.  I don’t mean for this post to be a ‘moaning Maggie‘ post, so forgive me if you think I am heading there.  But this is on my mind.  With most posts I publish it is my desire that people read them (ok, I’m stating the obvious), but this time I admit that the shame involved in posting leaves me with mixed feelings.  Yes, I want you to read but yes, I am ashamed of what I say.

I read awhile ago that Fibromyalgia doesn’t kill you but you just keep getting sicker.  I don’t know if that is true, or another internet rumour, but this past year certainly seems to have been worse than before.  I feel a bit like fibro has become just one long line of flare symptoms, with little or no break.  My head seems in a permanent fog.

On Tuesday I have a small army of people coming through my house to do yet another assessment of earthquake damage left from 2010/11.  Yes, you’re quite right.  That was a long time ago but recovery takes… forever it seems.

They always promise ‘minimal disruption‘ but around ten people going over (and under and through) the house with a fine tooth comb is not ‘minimal disruption‘.  That’s ok though as I am just happy that someone is doing something.  Maybe one day there will be a decision on just what to do with my poor home.

From many of these assessments before, I am fully aware that they will see everything… including the fact that my house is not just untidy, but also unclean.  And yes, it’s got to that stage where it’s plainly obvious.  I am ashamed at the state of the place, but it has become like that simply because my fibro has been bad enough to prevent me from doing housework.  I also know , like a promised added extra, that when I actually get to cleaning it is likely to land me in bed for a week, simply from the effort involved.

So why am I telling you about my shameful dirty house?  Because if you looked at me you wouldn’t see a reason why I couldn’t have kept on top of it.  I look healthy.  I look able.  I look like there is nothing wrong with me.  Yet I can’t keep up with what is simply a small two bedroom house with only one person to mess it up.

I don’t have a lot of people come to my house usually.  I admit to being somewhat of a hermit.  I have no idea of what judgements those who have been here lately will have made of me.  There is always silence.  And uncomfortable silence where you wish to god that they would just say something.

Right now I am very aware of the judgements that this army of people might make on Tuesday.  Yet there is very little I can do about it.  I can hardly stop them at the door and say “BTW excuse the mess, I have fibro“.  I really don’t think they will care for excuses.  You see, I look fine and so the judgement will be made that I am fine, but lazy.

That old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” applies in so many ways.  If you walk into someone’s house and notice it is unclean and untidy, stop to think that there may be a reason.  Most of us don’t choose to live in such a state, but some of us find ourselves having to.

You see, apart from when ten people are about to come through my house, I can kind of overlook the state of my home.  I don’t like it, and I would love for it not to be the reality, but my priorities are largely my health and my mother’s welfare.  After those, if I have no wellness and energy to deal with housework, it simply has to be as it is.  I’m learning to live with it, even though I will probably never like it.

It’s not just chronic physical illness that can prevent us from staying on top of such mundane tasks.  Mental illness can too.  Certainly for some people with mental illness, they can find it therapeutic to do those things but for others, it is simply too much.  For some, their illness can be affected by the state of their home, but for others illness almost keeps us from seeing the obvious.  Actually I have no difficulty in seeing the obvious today.

We need to find ways of being kind to ourselves.  I could choose to beat myself up about what I can’t do right now.  It would make sense as more than likely I am going to be judged by it shortly. But this time I’m trying not to get stressed.  If cleaning happens, it happens… and I’ll probably spend the rest of the week in bed.  If I can’t do it, so be it.  It won’t be the end of my world.

And now comes the big question… do I publish or not?  This is, afterall a post about housework and my unclean house.  Can I swallow the pill of shame in order to say out loud that this happens.  It’s real.  Actually I bet it’s real for many more than just me.  Maybe it’s not the housework.  Maybe it’s some other mundane reality of chronic illness.  We can talk about the illness, but there’s more to it than just symptoms.  There are all the realities of just keeping life going.  The best we can do for each other is to be real about them.

“When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.”

― Byron Katie

Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness

This week, not surprisingly, there has been a whole lot of talk on our screens about mental illness and suicide.  Having those subjects ‘out there‘ is a good thing, but I can’t deny that unwise words and ill-formed arguments have not helped anyone, most especially those personally affected by the tragic death of Robin Williams, and also importantly, those people struggling with their own mental illness battles and suicidal thoughts.

I read a lot that I really wish I hadn’t read, but one article I came across perhaps summed up the issues for me more than ever.  I have shared that article in several places but if you haven’t seen it I urge you to read the wise writings of Molly Pohlig:

When the Illness You Live With Becomes Breaking News
(I Bet Robin Williams Knew He Was Loved. Unfortunately, Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness)

One thing we perhaps know from this week, is that fame, fortune, a great sense of humour, laughter, family and perhaps above all, love does not cure mental illness.  Robin Williams appeared to have all these things.  Depression is not magically spirited away by the possession of such things, and the struggle with suicidal thoughts is not relieved.  Oh, that it could be.  Wouldn’t it be great if mental illness was so easy?

If love were enough, my depression would have been cured years ago.

If love were enough, along with maybe a plate of my favourite food of course,  then perhaps my Anorexia would never have got the dangerous point it did, not to mention halting the permanent damage it did to my body.

If love were enough, I wouldn’t have struggled with chronic suicidal ideation for so long, several times plunging my body close to death.

If love were enough just maybe Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) would never have become the major stumbling block in my life that it is.

And perhaps finally, if love were enough then Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) would have been cured.  But then for me PTSD was triggered into a perhaps worse state by the presence of love in my life.  Now that’s confusing if you believe love will solve all.

Love certainly made the last 20 years of my life better than it would have been without it, but only because in spite of the pain I was in, I knew someone cared and perhaps I wasn’t quite as alone as I felt.

But love didn’t fix the pain for me.  It didn’t cure my mental illness.  I had a family surrounding me who loved me.   It was hard for them to know that their love couldn’t fix me.  I guess that hurt like hell.

As I have said before (An Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree), I tried very hard to prove for myself that my family didn’t really love me.  They did.  I can’t deny that.  Some of them (at least) probably thought they could help me if they could just love me a bit more and provide for the needs I had.  Maybe to sit down with me and watch a Robin Williams’ movie to make me laugh for a while.  I should say that just because I might laugh, doesn’t mean I am cured either.

I had friends who loved me, and though I tried very hard to push them away, some of those people are still my friends today.  No, they didn’t cure me, but they’ve stayed in for the long haul.  Mostly they simply kept being there.  But that didn’t cure me.

And then there was my marriage where for years a dedicated and caring husband tried harder than you could imagine to love my suffering away.  No one could fault him for the effort he made during what were the worst years of my suffering.  Strangely, the more he loved me, the more I kicked up my heels and pushed him away.  He loved me so much yet it wasn’t enough to save or cure me.  In the end was a broken marriage and still a mentally ill woman.

Why?  Obviously this is just my opinion but I think the reason my ex-husband’s and others’ love, weren’t enough to cure my mental illness was because:

I knew that I was unlovable

It wasn’t that I felt unlovable, but that I knew I was unlovable.  It is that certain.  I knew in my heart.  From my earliest days I knew I was unlovable, and actually I would go so far as to say that I knew this before I was born.  That might seem extreme and you’ll have to do without the reasons this time.  Some things are too private.

All the love around me meant nothing to me because I knew that it couldn’t be real, and I knew that eventually I would prove it to be false.  There was no way (in my mind) that those people really could love me like they said.  It just wasn’t possible.  I knew.

It’s certainly not the fault of the people who tried to love my mental illness away.  They didn’t understand that their love meant little because I was unlovable.  I couldn’t have explained it if I tried and so instead, the more they loved me the more of a fake I felt.  The more guilty I felt for not getting well.  This was not something any of them could fix.  It just was.

While I needed the love they were offering,  it was never going to be enough to cure my mental illness.  I can’t speak for others and I don’t pretend to.  This post is about me, and not the thousands who suffer from mental illness.  I can’t say if more love would have saved Robin Williams’ life.  In spite of many contrary opinions voiced this week, I believe that only he could have said what, if anything, could save his life.  And I suspect that he, like me, didn’t know if anything could cure us.

Mental illness affects different people differently.  And what is needed to cure it, if indeed that is possible, varies. To generalize simply isn’t fair on anyone.  I simply know that love was never going to cure me.

Thank you to those who tried to make love enough.  I am lucky to have you on my side and I’m sorry if I disappointed you.  There was nothing wrong with your love, it just was never going to be enough.

I saw a meme yesterday which said that love can cure everything.  I don’t believe that.  If only it were so easy.

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”

― Elizabeth Wurtzel