Trigger Warnings; Suicide, self-harm, depression, anxiety symptoms, identity issues, and general awfulness
I haven’t even been diagnosed from a Buzzfeed quiz this time, it’s legit! This is going to be sooooo long but I just have to do this. It’s going to be pouring out like a smoothie you’ve made without the top on. It’s going to ramble and get messy, and I’d forgive you for skipping it or reading it in instalments, but I just have to do it for me.
You probably have questions and curiosities. For example, what actually is Borderline Personality Disorder? What are the symptoms? How did you get diagnosed? What can you do about it? How do you get your eyes so blue?
I’m afraid I get my eyes from my gran and she’s awaiting a restock anyway so you can’t get them mwahaha*
*My gran is not the monster from Jeepers Creepers and does not harvest attractive eyes. Please do not arrest her.
But for all your other questions, I’m here to lend some insider perspective and some very very casual advice. I’m not a doctor, I’m not trained and when I say I’ve just been diagnosed I do mean like inside a month. But I think we can all agree, we are more open and aware of mental health than we ever have been in history; people are researching and admitting every single day, so as part of that, I want to share my experiences and encourage that openness. I also think with that openness comes help for those who are still struggling, so I really want to stress that you are not alone. You are not alone. You. Are. Not. Alone.
Now, this news may not come as a surprise to you seeing as I opened a frank and heartfelt discussion about my mental health with a crack about my gran slashing out people’s eyes, but all the same, it was a bit of news to me. To get to the present, we need to start with the past though so you can see this hasn’t been plucked from thin air. This is something I have suffered with for years.
I got diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder around 5 years ago. I had just quit university after narrowly skimming a complete breakdown and was working part-time in Sainsbury’s and living back at home. There’s nothing wrong with any of these things, but it did not fit with what I wanted or what I needed in my life and so I found myself carrying that black cloud all the way from Leeds Uni to teeny tiny Holmes Chapel.
These things all muddled together and the bearable symptoms I had been able to mask for years suddenly became unbearable. I would skip work, I would binge eat in secret, I would crash diet, I would cry constantly, I had severe panic attacks to the point I got misdiagnosed with epilepsy because of the tremendous trembling and faint feeling that occurred during these attacks. I wanted to die and planned several ways to do it.
I had been self-harming for years, but it had now started to attract attention from friends and relatives. I ran out of space on the top of my thighs and needed to venture to my calves to bleed. My brain was always racing and shouting disgusting abusive things at me. Cutting was the only thing that seemed to shut it up.
Since the age of 13, I had suffered horrific mood swings, liberally self-destructed with drugs and sex, and discreetly cut away at myself each time my brain told me I was quite literally the worst person in the entire world.
I really wish I could visit that 13-year-old girl now and hold her close. I want to tell her that she has so much power within herself and that she is worth taking up space in this world. I want to put bandages on her cuts and tell her she doesn’t need to prove anything to anyone. I want to tell her if she doesn’t like how something makes her feel, she shouldn’t do it again. I want to stroke her hair and softly tell her she is more than enough, and she is loved.
In all honesty, I still want somebody to tell me these things. This is how I knew that initial mental illness diagnosis was only partially correct.
When I got diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, it felt revolutionary and enlightening at the time. I got diagnosed by a private psychologist. My mum sensed something was running deeper after years of telling me to get a grip were genuinely, really, solidly not working. She generously paid for me to see this psychologist but even in doing that I felt a sense that a decision was being made for me not with me. It’s an incredibly privileged stance to have and I know that; but denying how I feel is not going to cure deliberate deprivation and poverty in this country. I need to say this because there have been points in my life where I have felt directly responsible for at least a third of the world’s problems and it has taken years for me to finally let that idea go.
So, while it felt great to be seen and listened to about such terrifying feelings and actions, the focus of those appointments were typically on my mum’s terms. She didn’t come in with me and of course the psychologist didn’t share what we discussed; but after these appointments, my mum’s first question was always “Feeling better?”. There was another end goal she had set for me without my consent and it was one that was near impossible to complete.
There are some mental illnesses that can be temporary; I’ve spoken before about grief in one of my previous posts which is a good example of temporary depression. Some people are totally overwhelmed by grief and unfortunately won’t outlast such intense sadness, so please don’t feel I’m saying “Grief is easy, just get over it!”. But being depressed and having Depression are different things and one has a stronger possibility of being reasoned with than the other.
It’s very similar with Anxiety. Everybody can feel anxious and get anxiety, it’s a natural thing our body does to protect us. However, somebody who has Anxiety will find their brain and body are no longer trying to protect them from specific danger and what they’re trying to ‘protect’ them from is the rhythm and flows of their ordinary, daily life.
So when I went to these appointments, that impractical end goal was embedded in my psyche and reflected in what I talked to the psychologist about. For therapy to work, you need to be honest and you need to be open. I wasn’t and I found myself being treated for my symptoms rather than the underlying issue (through no fault of the psychologist’s; she was great and gave me valuable information I still use today).
Most therapies are client-led, and you’ll find there isn’t that much of a Good Will Hunting moment where the therapist really sees you for what you didn’t even know you were. I’m sure this has happened somewhere in the world, but typically speaking you shouldn’t expect it to definitely happen for you.
Which brings it to the present day.
Like I said, that diagnosis was around 5 years ago. I have found symptoms to get worse, better, and everything in between. I was given medication for this diagnosis, one being Propranolol to ease the physical symptoms I was having, such as trembling and heart palpitations and one being the antidepressant Sertraline.
There is a trend at the moment of holistic therapies being pushed over prescribed medications and that accepting medications somehow means you have ‘failed’ at your mental illness. Let me say right now, that if pills, oils, creams, injections, whatever the fuck it is that your doctor has told you will help, if they prevent you from killing yourself, please fucking take them. I will not be interested in what yoga and lavender did for you if I’m learning about it at your funeral.
I was given Propranolol during university when I went to the doctor about constant sweating, tightness in my chest and trembling. It was years later when I first moved out of my family home that my doctor suggested trying antidepressants.
I was at this point still only diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and it’s important to note that Anxiety and Depression can bleed into each other. I fell into deep holes of depression when my Anxiety symptoms made life unbearable or caused me to act in ways I didn’t really want to. I was fired for the first time and after the depression nearly drowned me, my doctor prescribed a short course of the antidepressant Citalopram.
That first day on Citalopram was exuberant. My brain finally shut up. I could go to the shop simply when I needed to, without overthinking and overplanning for four hours and eventually being too scared to go. I went to sleep that night when I wanted to, undisturbed by the constant bullying and whirring of my brain.
But that was pretty much it. I stopped taking the pills before they ran out and didn’t go back for any more. But eventually I needed to go back for help.
Just shy of a year later, I had just escaped a terrible relationship. He was a textbook gaslighter and my already diminished self-esteem was torn to shreds by his selfish tendencies. As far as I can recall, I don’t have any ex-boyfriends that I would dread running into when out and about; but I hate him. I hate him irrationally and rationally and I fantasise about his life being utterly awful from time to time.
But that hatred didn’t have anywhere to go but back inside me. My sleep pattern, something I had struggled with since my teens, was non-existent. I didn’t leave my bed for days and didn’t eat for days at a time. When I did eat, it was a calorie-laden binge and I would medicate myself with awful food until I was physically sick.
I could not live like this.
I went to my GP (At that time) and I really hope she realises how important her interception was. She thanked me and fussed over me for having the courage to come in. I hadn’t washed for weeks and probably smelled like my overflowing bins, but she treated me with respect and took me seriously. She armed me with pamphlets and wrote down several numbers to call and instructions to follow if I felt I was going to kill myself. She also prescribed me Sertraline.
Sertraline has quite possibly saved my life. After watching my dad fall prey to medication addiction, I have always been wary and sometimes scared of becoming addicted to pills myself. But she told me the figures of addiction were low and it was my decision as to how long I’d take them for.
I was also told to change my contraception methods, which at that point were the pill (Microgynon) and condoms (Cherry flavoured if they have it thanks, sex should smell like Calpol if you ask me). I will also say this made a massive difference to me and even though I was so put off by the grossness of the implant, I am eternally grateful to have it chilling out in my arm.
If you use contraception or suffer badly with periods, please please PLEASE do not think you have to just take what’s given to you. It’s tough to go by recommendations because each person reacts different to birth control methods. I know some people who had an awful time with the implant, but just try what you think makes sense to you and remember you can get it reversed if it’s not working.
So there I was; armed with new baby-blockers and Sertraline. And yet I still didn’t feel quite right.
Life certainly got better; I met a really great guy, got less convinced I needed to die, and was generally okay.
Then my mum died.
I had still been having issues with self-identity, self-esteem and these relentless mood swings that at this point I assumed were part of my personality. They initially got exacerbated in my grief and I didn’t like how I was behaving.
My mum’s passing upset me greatly and I miss her all the time. If I could bring back one person from the afterlife, it wouldn’t be Bowie or Hendrix; I’d choose my mum and I’d hug her tightly even while she inevitably laid into me about not choosing Bowie. But after her passing, even while dealing with grief and starting up some bad coping strategies initially; I started to feel better.
I felt a stillness and a passing. Not a passing of a life although of course I felt that sudden absence too, but like a baton passing. I felt like I had a say and I had control. I felt how I used to feel when I was a ballsy, opinionated smart alec toddler, invincible in the world and only worried about what I would do if cheese became illegal.
This came in ebbs and flows and a lot of symptoms came back strongly but infrequently. I’d fly off the handle at the stupidest things and make impulsive decisions convinced they would change my life. I still looked in the mirror and mentally beat myself up, while at the same time not fully knowing who the hell I was. Like I know my name, I know I’m Sophie and I’m an Aquarius; but I didn’t know what I enjoyed, what I wanted to be or even what clothes I liked myself in.
I pondered and kept track of these things and after months of searching around in mental health groups, the NHS website (We stan), and mental health activists on Twitter, I began to realise I had every single symptom of Borderline Personality Disorder.
Now, I’m someone who self-diagnoses a lot without taking it seriously; I’m currently awaiting the definite thumbs-up for a PCOS diagnosis, but I’ve decided I already definitely have it. It’s always within reason, I don’t just look up rare diseases and pick one to make me interesting and I don’t really announce it or bother to work around it (lol really clever).
But the Borderline Personality Disorder was spookily fitting. Things I thought were part of my personality were suddenly laid out as a symptom to me. Private thoughts I’d had in my head were written around the internet for everyone to see.
I needed to know for sure with this one. I didn’t want to fuck around.
I found an online psychiatry service and paid a handsome amount to speak to a professional about my symptoms and how I was feeling. Again, this is privilege at its finest and indicative of the serious revamp the mental health services of the NHS need. I would have had to wait three years to see somebody who could diagnose me for free if my GP (Not the previous one I had, she was an angel, these ones are twats) wasn’t immediately convinced or confident in a diagnosis. That is not acceptable. There are people internalising that hopelessness as we speak and weighing up whether they can stand to feel how they feel for any longer. It needs to change and soon.
For my initial appointment, I opted for the cheaper package which resulted in a shorter appointment and I would get a longer form to fill out before said appointment. It was actually on this basis I chose this option, as I find it so much easier to write down feelings and sensations and can make a conscious effort to check I’ve included every symptom and every detail of my life.
Speaking of which, you will notice I’ve mentioned my mum and dad while talking about this diagnosis. There is a reason for this.
The form asked me to almost write a mini biography of my family life and my relationship with all of my family members (Even my socket-scrubbing gran oh deaaaar**). When asked to describe how I felt about my childhood I said it was a happy one and I can’t remember wanting for anything. I also mentioned that it wasn’t until many years later that my mum had revealed how close that childhood was to being obviously difficult on one of our many gal-pal lunches out.
**Seriously she doesn’t butcher eyes, and extended family didn’t factor into my diagnosis at all in the end.
We were broke a lot of the time apparently. I didn’t even realise there was a reason we were going to car boot sales to get essentials, I just thought they were magical places were some rotten McDonald’s toy could be bought for 5p and I could cherish it forever.
My mum and dad were close to divorce multiple times. Anyone who knows our family well knows that their relationship was… tempestuous at the best of times, so this wasn’t really a revelation to me. However, when the psychiatrist said that wasn’t exactly ‘pleasant’ from the sounds of things, especially for a child to ‘sense’ and not have the clarification of. He then said my symptoms and my background were highly matched with the profile of somebody with Borderline Personality Disorder.
He zeroed in on the relationship I had with my mum. I found myself telling him things I had never dared to say out loud especially while the rose-tinted coating of grief is still rife throughout the mourners (If you ask my dad about their relationship for example, you’d get the impression they were a deadringer for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor rather than Sid Viscious and Nancy Spundgen).
I told him I loved them, which I do, and I would readily defend any of my family members with my life. I also told him how I basically didn’t have a dad from the ages of 14-25 and spent multiple incidences in my teens trying to handle situations of reactions and overdoses completely on my own while the rest of the family were away without me. I remember a close family friend privately remarked to my mum that I was eerily calm and unphased when she collected me from the hospital I had to deliver my strung-out dad to. Mum celebrated that ‘strength’ and we laughed it off. I even considered it boring because it was just another time out of hundreds and was more annoyed it had interrupted my profile revamping on MySpace.
That’s not normal and shouldn’t be applauded. I told the psychiatrist this. I also told him I was angry with my mum for so many things and the anger felt like a constant hot vomit that I was trying to swallow down. I was angry and jealous of the mum I got, compared to the mum my brothers got. I was angry at the expectations she gave to me without any assistance or clues as to how to achieve it. I was angry at the interests she convinced me to give up because they were not becoming or profitable. I was angry at the interests she forced me to claim I had, only to then attack me emotionally when I ‘lost’ the interest I never had in them. I was angry that she belittled me so often and connected minor mistakes to larger consequences.
I was angry I couldn’t remember her telling me “It’s okay and I believe in you” at any point. I was angry I couldn’t place what she felt like to hug or hold hands with because of how infrequent those times were. I was angry she took choice away from me for so many things.
I was angry we never got the chance to talk and she never got to apologise.
At this point I was sobbing and in fact I’m covered in tears even as I write this. I feel like the most ungrateful, spoiled, horrible daughter that’s ever existed. This is a woman who flew me to Thailand just because she wanted to go and couldn’t think of better company to go with than her own kids. My mum paid for my deposit and took me furniture shopping for my first flat. She gave me the gift of Scottish heritage and a romance for Scotland, something I absolutely milk the shit out of even to this day.
The psychiatrist asked me if I felt her actions were deliberate. “Absolutely not” I said, almost offended. How dare he?! DID HE NOT HEAR THE THAILAND STORY?! DOES HE NOT HAVE SOMEBODY IN HIS LIFE WHO GAVE HIM HIS FIRST IRN BRU?!
He slam-dunked that psychiatry training by retorting, “If her actions were not deliberate, why do you feel your reaction and feelings towards it are?”
I didn’t choose to feel this way. She didn’t choose to make that happen. Even dad arguably didn’t ‘choose’ drugs over me but for the longest time, I felt attacked by their human flaws.
I do not understand how anybody becomes a good parent. There are parents I admire and children who grow up to be well-rounded adults, but Jesus Christ it’s not like kids come with a warranty is it? Parents fuck up their kids; kids fuck up their parents. Some parents don’t deserve their children and some children are spoiled with their parents.
This is a fact I have to work though. I have to accept and forgive. I want to forgive. It’s really gross to hope you see a ghost only to wish it’s a parent so you can go “FUCK YOU” before closing that Ouija board without another word. If I see a ghost, I want it to be Paul Newman because he was so freakin’ fit.
The psychiatrist told me to stick with the Sertraline for as long as I felt it was helpful. He has recommended something called Dialectal Behavioural Therapy as treatment. He has given me hope that although Borderline Personality Disorder is an ongoing condition, that means there’s room for it to improve and symptoms to eventually disappear.
When my symptoms improve, I will be more stable in every aspect of my life. I will have more energy and interest in life and its possibilities. I will give friends and family more trust and space even if they don’t realise I didn’t give it to them before. I will accept they are all human and will make mistakes but it’s not something to always take so personally. I will feel definite about my identity and be able to say ‘No’ to the things I know I don’t like. I will give Andrew the grace of more predictability and stability in my mood. I will love my body for carrying me this far in life and not letting me give up. I will heal my body from the inside-out to say thank you for everything its ever done for me (Apart from that one time I ate mussels from Aldi and thought I was going to die). I will love my mind for being weird and for trying to translate something it wasn’t born to experience even if it got it wrong. I will feel overjoyed in almost every minute of my life and in the slight times I don’t, I will give myself the time, space and resources to find joy again. I am going to be strong and decide who I am and how my life should work for me.
I am ready.
RESOURCES: The service I used was psymplicity.com but they are private so you will need to pay upwards of £200 for an appointment after the free, initial consultation. It’s via Skype/Zoom and not in person, which I prefer but others won’t.
If you are struggling with your mental health in any aspect at all, please visit any or all of the lifelines recommended by the NHS and please let somebody around you know what you are going through. Tell me if you like, just tell somebody.