Tuesday 31 May 2016

Running from your diagnosis: My experience of Borderline Personality Disorder

Grace tells us about her experience of being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the stigma attached to the disorder, and what that meant in terms of getting support.

-Grace Moody 

I was just thirteen years old when I would say I had my first experience with mental health problems. Many people passed it off as an ‘emo phase’ but I would frequently self-harm and I would often feel empty and worthless and I would often have suicidal thoughts. For a lot of the time though, I was confident and an extrovert and would often be the leader of whatever group I was in. Looking back on this, it was probably why no one really took my mental health seriously until I was in sixth form.

Throughout sixth form I had a serious boyfriend who provided me with all the attention and loving that I craved and my mental health did get a bit better. He got very good at knowing how to help me when I was overreacting about something and he was very laid back which helped to reduce my impulsivity. Unfortunately, he went to university a year before me and we were suddenly in a long distance relationship. My paranoia went through the roof and I’m not proud to say that I became so desperate to keep him that my behaviour was appalling. He realised this and urged me to go to see a doctor and at his request, I did.

At this point I had already applied to be a social work student at University of Bath. When I had applied and also when I was interviewed, I was asked to declare any mental health problems. I didn’t declare any issues because I was frightened that this would mean that I wouldn’t be able to start the course. For this reason, even though my G.P. urged me to take antidepressants and to go to cognitive behavioural therapy, I declined.

Before starting my course I had never even heard of borderline personality disorder which is what I am told is my diagnosis. In my first year my lecturer discussed the signs of it and some of the reasons and I was in shock. Looking at it in bullet point form on the white board made me go quiet. I wanted to ask her at the end how serious it was but as she said things like “lying is quite common for people with BPD” and “They’re often very needy service users and don’t be surprised if they try to manipulate you”, once again I decided to stay silent.

I started going to the doctor for anti-depressants but refused to get any therapy. My group of friends were very supportive and a number of them had problems with depression or anxiety themselves. I never told them my worries around the fact that I had them.

I was obsessed with googling borderline personality disorder then. I would look at the signs of it and check them off in my head. Intense fear of being left alone that causes extreme behaviour such as constantly calling someone? Check. A pattern of intense and/or unstable relationships where you change between loving the person and hating them? Definitely check. Engaging in impulsive and dangerous activities such as unsafe sex, drug abuse, excessive drinking or excessive spending? Check. Self-harming, mood swings, anxiety and irritability, paranoia in stressful situations – All were checked off.

Throughout my course I was in various placements where again I experienced more prejudice against people with borderline personality disorder which made me even more determined to keep it to myself. I’d open up about my depression a little more but I felt that the other parts of my diagnosis were shameful. I became slightly like a self-fulfilling prophecy; every time I told a small lie or manipulated someone I would be torn between thinking ‘oh well it’s just my diagnosis’ to excuse it and also feeling disgusted with myself that I was such a horrendous person.

My relationships were also horrendous. After I had broken up with my sixth form boyfriend, I dated a huge amount of people and all of these relationships were short lived and many of them involved me being treated pretty badly. Although I was not in the wrong in the vast majority of these relationships, I still felt desperate for any of them to love me. I was convinced that the reason they could not love me was because of my mental health issues.

It was one of these men that caused my breakdown in my third year of university. My mental health had been pretty bad for months before this happened and my housemates were having to calm me down pretty frequently but when yet another guy told me I wasn’t what he wanted, I broke down.

I was at my placement in mental health services when he called me to tell me he didn’t want to see me again and that I wasn’t girlfriend material. It was everything that my internal voice told me but it was being said out loud and I started to cry and then couldn’t stop. I left placement, went back to my student house and took a cocktail of anti-depressants and any paracetamol or ibuprofen that I happened to have in my room. Washing it down with red wine I’m not really sure what was going through my head. My housemate said when he found me that I didn’t look depressed, I looked manic. I ran from the house to stop him calling an ambulance but instead he called the police. When I eventually came home the police had to calm me down and persuade me to go with the ambulance to the hospital.

It was after this escapade that I realised I couldn’t avoid mental health services any longer. The psychiatric nurse said as soon as we’d finished our assessment that he felt there was a possibility of borderline personality disorder – something which was confirmed by other professionals. I didn’t react when he told me because it was exactly what I expected. I was just sad that it was true.

I’m still coming to terms with having my diagnosis but I’m not letting it control my life. I’m doing my research so that I know what I want and can make informed decisions about my care. I’m hoping to go back to university in January and I strongly believe that my experiences will allow me to talk to service users suffering with mental health issues (and personality disorders in particular) in a way that challenges the stigma and shows them that they don’t need to be afraid of what they have. Nothing has changed for the negative since finding out what’s wrong with me. In fact, I feel relief that I know now and that I am getting the support that I need.

For more of Grace's work, you can view her Buzzfeed Community article here at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/gracel24/sheridan-smith-is-more-of-a-role-model-now-than-be-jmjk

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