Image credit: "across enemy lines" newkidontheblock/4884118391 Creative Commons 2.0

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

Vicious Circle

It goes round and round. Each time the circle escalates and the effects grow more.

Stress causes Pain cause Stress

Oh, and add in depression.

It looks like this:

Image credit:
Image credit:

I have one month to find somewhere else to live.  At that time, the repairs to earthquake damage to my home will finally begin. Don’t get me wrong. Because I’ve been waiting nearly five years, I am happy that they are finally about to start. Very happy. The repairs will take approximately six months.

The biggest stress right now is that I hope my insurance company are going to help with the costs of shifting and somewhere to live. But they won’t tell me how they will help (I mean specifics beyond what the policy document says) until the insurance company doing the repairs provide a specific completion date. I’m waiting. And I understand because they can’t finalise exactly how long the work will take until they lift up the floor and see just how bad things are down there. Meantime though, what my insurance company want is a best estimate.

The reason that’s the biggest stress for me right now is because I can’t find somewhere to live until I know what assistance I’m getting. You see I expect to have to pay three to four times what I am currently paying in rent. Yes, three to four times! And that is more than I get in income each week. I REALLY need my insurance.

My current rent is low, thanks to my family who own the property. But equally rents in Christchurch have skyrocketed since the quakes because of demand for housing, and a little bit (that’s generous!) because many landlords have been mean and taken advantage of the situation.  The Government keeps reporting that rents are coming down again, but not when you look at what is advertised. Rent is still really steep. The demand for rentals is not as great as it was maybe two to three years ago. Repairs are getting completed and homeowners are moving home. But it’s still not going to be easy.

So there is plenty of stress in my life, and the vicious circle kicks in because, for me, stress is the biggest trigger to fibromyalgia symptoms. Stress equals pain. And pain equals stress because pain means I can get less done. And when pain goes on, increasing stress, then I start to get depressed. Or more accurately, more depressed. Oh, and add in fatigue… and an unhealthy amount of brain function. In other words I can hardly function at all and I’m hardly likely to come over as a great budding tenant to an agent or landlord.

This week I have been in a lot of pain all week (it’s Thursday here). I have rated my pain  as “being able to leave the house several times a week. Moderate to severe symptoms much of the time. Able to do about 2 hours a day of work at home or activity like housework, shopping and using the computer“.

I have limited activity to visiting my mother (she has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t really understand why I can’t visit her). I don’t know for sure but I suspect an Alzheimer’s patient works on the way many people choose to view Invisible illness. S/he can’t see it so it doesn’t exist. Maybe that’s a bit harsh, but I think it’s something like that. Certainly there is little understanding. From Mum’s perspective, I get it. Some others, I’m not so charitable.

Of course, Mum’s illness simply adds to my stress. Today I decided to say “no” and not visit her. I wondered whether by keeping up the daily visits, whether I was exacerbating my own illness.

There are actually more and more facets to my vicious circle. What I really need is that completion date and then the details of how my insurance company will help me. Right now insurance companies are not my favourite people…

Instead of focusing on the negative, the positive is that by mapping out that vicious circle I actually remind myself what is going on. Better yet, maybe I can stop it all winding up just through awareness. I know for myself that if I can limit the flow of stress then I can limit the onset of pain and depression. And that will make for a happier Cate. Anything for that!

PS. By the way, do you remember Lucy? Lucy is my music hallucinations, and she continues. This week she is louder and more invasive than ever. I’m starting to think that Lucy is also affected by stress.


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




Halfway To A Hundred

Look at it that way, and it seems impressive. 50 years ago today at 1.30am my mother gave birth to me. My father had been sent home to sleep, as was the practice in those days. Much as I know he loved me when he eventually met me, I know he wouldn’t have needed any encouragement to go home.

I can honestly say that 50 is not a big deal for me. What is a big and slightly frightening deal is that 60 is only 10 years away. For some reason, that has hit me in recent days and won’t go away. Am I really that close to 60? Where has my life gone? I’m sure I was 25 last time I looked, but now look at me.

I’ve had a struggle with birthdays, really since I started battling for my mental health. It’s really hard to celebrate anything when you’re depressed, let alone the idea of celebrating your own life. And with experience, I can tell you that it is worst if you’re living with suicidal thoughts. Worst too, if you have an eating disorder and everything seems to focus on food.

The irony is not lost on me that World Suicide Prevention Day 2015 is the day before my birthday (that I don’t want to celebrate). What’s more, perhaps most of my friends are in a different hemisphere and so while they are acknowledging World Suicide Prevention Day, I am trying to avoid even  acknowledging my birthday.  They will want to celebrate my birthday tomorrow, taking it to two days. Add to this that my birthday is 9/11. A day on which even outside of America, it is difficult to find the will to celebrate anything.

Yet there are people who want to celebrate my life, and my birthday.  In spite of my struggles, I know that I am lucky to have these people who love and care for me. I know that when I see my four-year-old niece (and her family) tonight that she will be very much committed to celebrating my day. Her family are apparently also committed to this task.

Because of those people, I chose to celebrate my birthday this year. I struggle to see the worth of my life for myself sometimes, but strangely (to me) I know they do. So I will go with what they wish for the day, hoping that next year I might just see it differently.

Today I finish my post with a great kiwi song. My words for today. The lyrics are below.



You call me up, I’ll say a few words
But I’ll try not to speak too long
Please to be kind and I’ll try to explain
I’ll probably get it all wrong

What does it mean when you promise someone?
That no matter how hard or whatever may come

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
Play it once, disappear

Once in a while I return to the fold
With people I call my own
Even if time is just a flicker of light
And we all have to die alone

What does it mean when you belong to someone?
When you’re born with a name, when you carry it on

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
All at once, and I’ll show you how to get me there

Come on now, come on now, can you feel it, I can see it in ya
Come on now, come on now, reveal it, turn around won’t ya
The right time, the right place, right now, turn around

A chance is made, a chance is lost
I carry myself to the edge of the earth

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
Say it once, just say it and disappear



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

What I Did And Didn’t Want

Do I exaggerate? That’s a rhetorical question for most of you.  My family (who might or might not be reading) are welcome to try to answer that question but you must be kind.  Very kind.  Your purpose in attempting to answer must be purely to educate me and not to, in any way, attack me or get back at me for some random, unrelated misdemeanor.  The question is really one for myself if I am completely truthful.  It won’t be the first time I try to answer, and it certainly won’t be the last.

I just have got the impression over the years that those people close to me have the impression that yes, I do exaggerate.  Personally I don’t think I do.  I think that I feel things strongly and that I notice a lot of what is happening around me.  Perhaps more than others.  But when I express it, it’s not exaggeration but simply what I am seeing and/or experiencing.

This past week I have been through a lot, and for some of the people around me, they have been through even more.  It has been really hard.  Emotional, soul-searching and stressful.  And no, that’s not an exaggeration.  It has been hard on us, and it’s not over yet.  Actually in some ways I suspect it is only just beginning.  For some of us, it has been something that we always knew might happen, going even as far back as childhood.

It comes down to what I did, and didn’t want.  Clear as mud, I know!

It’s always important to me that just because I am a blogger, that doesn’t mean those around me must have their lives printed here too.  As such, there are no details.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you will know that is how I sometimes write in order to protect the privacy of those people.

For what seems like a long time, I have been very concerned about something that others around me seemed to not see.  Of course, we see not only what is apparent but also what we are open and willing to see.  In addition, we can only see what is there.  If it comes and goes, if at times it gets hidden, it is pretty hard for others to see.

No one has said it out loud but I got the impression that they thought I was exaggerating.  Maybe they thought that was because of my mental illness.  I don’t know.  No one has ever said.  Maybe they thought I was simply too emotional and reacting too strongly to what I could see.  Again, I don’t know.  No one has ever said.

This week finally, some other people told me that they could see what I could see.  Wow!  That was such a relief (in some ways!).  As I watched them, watch what was going on, I was quietly terrified that they would say they couldn’t see it.  They didn’t.  They could see it clear as day.

It’s hard because I wanted them to see, but at the same time I wanted to be wrong.  I know that will make little sense, but I guess it’s just human nature.  I wanted to be right, but I also didn’t want to be right.

I was right, and actually those other people assessing what was happening, were even more concerned than I was.  I didn’t know how to feel then.  I wasn’t quite ready for the depth of their concern, even though I was glad they could see and were concerned.

What had been sometimes unspoken, and sometimes barely whispered, had now come amongst us.  I had really hoped it never would.  Others around me had hoped it never would.  Even those who had passed on hoped it never would.  But now, here it was, and there was no denying it… for any of us.  I got what I wanted.  I wanted others to see.  But now I really didn’t want what I had got.

I can’t wind back the clock, and that is painful.  I want the clock set on today when everyone concerned can see what I see, but I so don’t want it.  It’s totally thrown me off-balance, even though I wanted this, I also knew that what I wanted was the last thing I would ever want.

If you’re confused, then I apologise, but just imagine how I might be feeling with all this in my head.

I think I need a rest.

“Because that’s life, you know? Good and bad. You can’t have one without the other. The bad brings out the good in us, and the good can be corrupted by the bad. It’s always a struggle—to fight for the good, so it tips the scale. – Jet Phoenix”

― Rachael Wade, Repossession


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)