It’s hard to know when I first knew that I had a mental illness. Was it when I was full of anxiety at home when I was a teenager and had facial tics that my brother’s made fun of me about? Was it when I scratched my arms until they bled and wore bandages on them at school, desperately trying to show my teachers or anyone that would notice, that I wasn’t doing ok and needed some help? Or was it when I was a young adult, addicted to Marijuana and Speed and suffering from drug-induced Psychosis? Or maybe it was only two years ago when I had a serious attempt on my life and continued on in a cycle of self-harm and self-destruction.
It really doesn’t matter when I was first aware, the fact is that I have a mental illness. They call it Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I struggled with this title at first. Does that mean I am a ‘borderline’ human being? My self-esteem was so fragile, that that was exactly how I saw my diagnosis. I was different, I was sub-human, I was crushed.
When I look back and see the signs of mental illness in my life, it’s like neon lights pointing it out to me. As a result of having BPD, I struggled making friends or maintaining relationships. I struggled with emotions. I found it difficult telling you if I was happy, sad, scared or angry. I just didn’t know. Emotions scare me because I don’t understand them or understand exactly how I am feeling sometimes and find it extra difficult to explain my feelings to anyone else. One of the most debilitating aspects of my mental illness is self-harm. This is where I deliberately harm myself by cutting, overdosing or hitting and scratching myself. I first remember doing this when I was 14 years of age. I was angry and didn’t know how to express it. So I internalised the anger and hurt myself as a way of releasing it. It worked. This is such a destructive, shameful and humiliating aspect of BPD. How do you explain to friends, family or professionals that self-harming is what makes you cope and feel ‘normal’ again? It is also difficult where medication is concerned. My Psychiatrist has put me on a number of medications, but has to be careful because I have had periods where I just take the lot. So we have worked out a plan. I used to pick up my medication daily, but that was such a hassle. We have negotiated and I now pick it up weekly. This can be really embarrassing and humiliating sometimes. But I am happy to do it because it is another way of keeping me safe.
So what obstacles does BPD create for me in my life? Maintaining friendships is so difficult for me. As a result, I feel very lonely and afraid around people. This fear has helped create a life of social isolation that makes me feel very empty a lot of the time. Self-harm is also a daily obstacle that I need to overcome. How do I explain to people about my scars? I see people looking and wondering, but they are usually too scared to ask me about them. It is difficult to maintain a job, especially in the summer because I can’t wear short sleeves and look stupid in long sleeves in 30 degree heat.
Gratefully though, there is hope. I spent 9 months at Spectrum – The personality Disorder Service of Victoria. This was an amazing experience where I learnt about dealing with distress, coping with emotions, healthy relationships and mindfulness. Now that I am back in my area, I am a privileged participant at Aspire. I attend groups with other participants, which helps me make new friends and increase my self-esteem and confidence. I also work closely with my outreach worker on issues relating to recovery and social, recreational and vocational goals. I also receive a great deal of assistance from my case manager and care team at Psychiatric Services, where we work collaboratively on my care and management plans and goals for the future. I am a member of a number of committees where participation as a consumer is sought after and appreciated.
So when I look at living with a mental illness, I need to focus on the positive aspects, the support I have and how recovery can change my life. Acceptance has been a huge part of my recovery. I needed to believe and recognize that I needed help and that it was ok to ask for it. The more I ignored that I had a problem, the worse it got. Life is worth living today. Having a mental illness does not mean I have to suffer. Suffering is optional! Today I choose growth. I am not alone and scared on my journey anymore, my friends and support network is second to none.
Always remember to embrace your inner moonlight. Don’t hide the madness.