Nature Therapy and Me and BPD

I’ve been quiet since I started this blog. I’m not sure why, considering when I started it I was so excited to share what has been going on, and I literally have a note on my phone full of ideas for blog posts, written the same day I created the blog page.

Then I had a bit of a crash. This happens a lot in my recovery, and seems to be happening more frequently recently. Mood swings are extreme, and sometimes debilitating. I think a lot of that is because the recovery ‘bar’ is constantly being raised for me. In November 2018, when I came out of hospital, every little win was a massive victory: the first time I slept through the night without terror or anxiety, the first time I drove my car again, the first time I cooked a meal. Those were all a cause for celebration and a middle finger to the symptoms of BPD, anxiety and depression that I’d lived with intensely for 6 months. Well, I’ve done all those things today and I still had what I class as a bad hour or so earlier. I had a meltdown on Tom, I freaked out because I felt disconnected from myself (that’s depersonalisation –  a fun BPD symptom I will write about when I feel a bit more able), I cried and I wailed that I was back at square one. The truth is, I’m not sure that’s ever possible. I will never feel the same way I did this time last year, because I have a different frame of reference, and because I am a year older/wiser/several hundred glasses of wine further down the line. ANYWAY. That was a bit of a ramble, when what I wanted to talk about is something that currently helps me on pretty much a day-to-day basis, especially when I am in a recovery dip like this… nature as therapy.

I proper love nature. Like, have always loved it. When I was seven, I watched The Animals of Farthing Wood and decided that when I grew up I was going to be a fox. Our house is littered with fox paraphernalia, I own a decent pair of binoculars, and I like tramping around keeping lists of birds and animals I have seen. I can draw most of them, too. 

My family all enjoy bird-watching and walking in nice, green, open places. And this is something that I have been building into my recovery plan. Since the start of the year, I have been keeping a list of birds I have seen in 2019, I have been taking photos of trees, of animals, of birds, of flowers. I have walked and walked and walked, sometimes not even noticing what I’m passing, but just trying to focus on the feel of my feet on the ground and the sun on my head, while I battle the whirl of irrational thoughts in my befuddled head. I’ve learnt names of birds and insects I never knew existed (Hairy Dragonfly, anyone?), and have squirrelled (pun TOTALLY intended) away facts and trivia that most people would probably think sad (did you know that the family of birds that crows, ravens and magpies belong to is called corvid?). 

On a day-to-day basis, these things don’t necessarily make me feel better straight away. They are the things I build up brick by brick, experiences I add to what Matt Haig refers to as the bank of good days. They are the days my recovery has been built on since hospital, and I know they will continue to be as I move forward. Trying to connect with something bigger than yourself sounds like a real cliché with mental health, but it does seriously work. When you learn a dragonfly spends years as a lava and then only lives a few weeks as a beautiful, flitting spark it really makes you realise you and your weird thoughts aren’t the only things in the world. The world is way bigger than me, and that both terrifies and amazes me in equal measure.

Plus it helps if you have people around you who will drag you out and make you look at things, add birds to your list, learn random stuff about nature and go ‘ooooooh’ when you see a new bird of prey. I have those people: they are my parents. They walk beside me when I’m quiet, they celebrate with me when I see something new, and they humour me when my attempts at macro photography don’t turn out quite right. How lucky am I?

BPD and Me and The Recovery Graph

When I used to mentor teenagers who had emotional and mental health issues, I used to regularly draw them what I termed ‘Mrs P’s Recovery Graph’. I have tried to recreate it in the image below.

You’ll find many versions of this online, and they are all very similar. Usually, they feature one graph on the left of the image, with a straight line showing positive correlation from start point to end point, with steady, consistent progress being made over a period of time. This is usually entitled something like ‘What We Expect Recovery To Be Like’. Nice. Neat. Straightforward. 

Then, on the right, it shows the same axes with a very different, squiggly, up and down, confused, tying-itself-in-knots line, but still with the same start and end points. Now there’s just a hell of a lot of mess in the middle. Not nice. Not neat. Not fucking straightforward. This is usually entitled ‘What Recovery Is Actually Like’. And that’s how it is. We get to the same place, IT IS JUST NOT LINEAR.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this graph recently, especially about how easy it used to be for me to draw it for OTHER people. I enjoyed showing the young people I worked with (and often their parents too) that recovery is never easy, simple or what we expect. It is hard, it is unexpected, it is hard again and, regularly, it is spectacular. That’s really easy to explain to someone else, but living it and applying it to yourself is another beast entirely. And I mean a beast that keeps changing shape and tries to suck out your soul in the process. Like a Boggart crossed with a Dementor. Sorry for people who don’t get the Harry Potter reference. (And I mean that: I am sorry for you, those books are great.)

I must have drawn this graph for at least twenty people, and yet every time I find myself in one of the dips I have drawn so many times, and which are now much further up the graph than my dips used to be, I still run round in circles (both metaphorically and literally) going ‘GAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH what if this is it??? What if I’m like this forever?? I’m as bad as I’ve EVER been!!! GAAAAAAAH.’ Completely ignoring the fact that if I drew my own recovery graph from my hospital admission in October, there is not a single bad patch I have not bounced back from. The evidence is literally irrefutable. And each time the peaks of my graph get higher.

But that’s the bugger about recovery. It’s hard. You often have to climb one bit of mountain, slip back down, and then climb the same bit of mountain all over again several times before the progress ‘sticks’. How frustrating is that? Yeah? Try living it, mate. 

I know a lot of people, when I tell them I’m in another bad patch, assume that things are as bad as ever. And I don’t blame them at all, because I regularly think that myself. Which is why I need my people to be MY Mrs P, to draw the graph twenty times over and remind ME how far I’ve come and the progress I’ve made. I need those closest to me to repeat themselves umpteen times, because my BPD wants me to forget how awesome I have been, and to just focus on the times I have felt bad before. And BPD is a fucking liar.

So, please, do not pity someone if you know they’ve been ill, and you know they’re struggling again. Chances are, they just need to consolidate their progress, climb the same bit of mountain several times over, rest a bit at base camp, and then try for the summit again soon.

Sarah x

Who am I?

…is apparently a common question a lot of people with Borderline Personality Disorder ask. But let’s do the basics first…

Hi, I’m Sarah. In November 2018 I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, after a lifetime of baffling spells of tricky mental health, interspersed with incredibly happy and stable periods of time that can last years. I’m going to use this blog to talk about my experience of living with BPD, how it manifests for me (and always has done), how I was diagnosed, what helps, and everything in between.

Anyway, I thought I’d start with some basic facts about me:

  • I’m 32.
  • I grew up in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.
  • I live in Sheffield with my husband, Tom, and our grey-and-white cat, Stella.
  • Tom and I got married in October 2017. It was an incredible day filled with love, laughter and much wine. I gave a speech and crushed it.
  • Oh, I love wine. Especially a good Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Until recently I worked as a Learning Support Assistant at a secondary school, but I made the decision to hand in my notice and focus on my health for a while.
  • I’m a runner: I have run 3 half marathons and over 60 parkruns since I first did the Couch to 5K course in 2015.
  • I have a BA degree from the Open University in Humanities (History and English), and graduated in 2012.
  • I had to drop out of York Uni in 2008 due to my mental health. Hence the Open Uni, and studying whilst working.
  • I’m incredibly determined, and when I set my mind to something I will do what I can to complete it. Sometimes this is to the detriment of my state of mind.
  • I love cooking, coffee, make up and anything creative. Also a fan of statement necklaces.
  • I had what can only be described as a major breakdown in May 2018, and in October 2018 I was admitted to a psychiatric ward as an informal patient, where I received my BPD diagnosis.
  • I love books and films.
  • I’m currently knitting myself a sweater. Just in time for summer.
  • I’m a feminist.
  • I’m trying to eat less meat for environmental reasons.
  • I’m writing this while I watch Ru Paul’s Drag Race.

So that’s a random collection of facts about me. Some mental health-related, others not. Because that’s life, isn’t it? I have BPD, but I’m also still Me. That’s what I want this blog to show – my own experience of living with a mental health diagnosis that has a lot of stigma and confusion attached to it, but also just my experience of LIVING.

When I was trying to decide whether to start writing about all this, I immediately started second-guessing myself and thinking ‘Who wants to read yet another person’s experience of mental health issues?’ Then I realised that I have never once regretted reading another person’s account. (Matt Haig. Bella Mackie. Bryony Gordon. They’re all great, you should check them out.) (Also I’ve realised from writing those names that I need more diversity in my reading.)

People with mental health ‘labels’ tend to be grouped together and generalisations are thrown around. Every single individual who adds their voice and their experience to the conversation is adding a new dimension, helping to build a bigger, brighter and more varied picture of what mental health (good, bad, and all the grey in between, we all have it) means to human beings. How can that ever be a negative thing?

So this is me adding my voice.

Sarah x