Love and Me and BPD

One of the main symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder listed on the NHS website is ‘intense but unstable relationships with others’, and a lot of other resources discuss the instability of relationships experienced by those with BPD, often saying that many of us struggle to hold down personal or romantic relationships at all. All symptoms and characteristics listed for BPD are specific to the person, and my consultant psychiatrist is always very keen to make sure I understand that BPD is sliding scale on which many of us sit, and that we do not fit neatly into categories. Which may explain why I buck this particular BPD ‘trend’. I am happily and stably married, to a man I’ve been with for nearly six years. In that time we have not broken up or even really had any serious relationship problems. But this is, in part, due to the kind of man my husband is.

Before I met Tom (that’s my husband) I had three long-term relationships, which were all definitely affected in different ways by some of my (what I now know be) BPD tendencies. I was too clingy, but I pushed them away when they got too close, and I could not cope with the intensity of my emotions at times. As much as I’d love to talk about each one here, it would not be fair to discuss details of these relationships. But I will say, I was not the only reason each of these relationships ended, none of them were really right to begin with and, to be perfectly honest, none of them were Tom.

My husband is the best person I know. Absolutely hands down. I could write pages and pages about all the ways I love him (although I could also write A LOT about his annoying habits and ways he drives me mad), but I think it’s easiest to do it as a list so I don’t get carried away. And so he can still get his head through the door. So, in no particular order, these are some of the reasons I think our relationship works:

  1. He has no idea about mental health stuff, but he takes time to understand MY mental health stuff.
  2. He never makes me feel like I’m going mad.
  3. He’s endlessly patient with my BPD meltdowns. Not so much with my normal demands.
  4. After three dates, I was unsure about whether I wanted to embark on a new relationship. My mum was undergoing a stem-cell transplant for a long-term illness and my previous relationship had left me desperate to hang on to my freedom and independence. I broke off our fledging romance. He was understanding and we continued to talk as friends. One day, while my mum was very ill in hospital, my ex-boyfriend contacted me asking to meet to ‘draw a line under things’, and Tom contacted me to ask how Mum was. The ex got told where to go. Tom got a sh*g. (Sorry, Mum. REALLY glad your transplant went well BTW.)
  5. He tells me when I’m being unreasonable/irrational and doesn’t take any of my sh*t.
  6. When there were mental health tremors in my life before the Big One last year,  he gave me space to figure it out, and didn’t put any pressure on me to sort it. He has always just walked beside me, holding my hand when I needed it and backing off when I didn’t.
  7. Planning our wedding was really easy, because all either of us was really bothered about was marrying the other one. And it was an awesome day.
  8. When I was an in-patient on the psych ward he brought me things he knew would help – his T shirts for me to sleep in, my pillow and cookies. Mmm cookies.
  9. I have given him multiple opportunities to leave our marriage since I became ill, and no one would have blamed him if he had. He has never wavered. Never faltered. Never stopped loving me. Although I know that at times he has found it hard to like me very much, which is fair.
  10. He let me adopt a cat.

The point of this post isn’t to say ‘Oh look at me, I have BPD, but I have a nice marriage, yay.’ It’s to sing the praises of the man who has looked me up and down, clocked all my craziness (so far), taken a deep breath and still committed himself to our relationship, every day.

Neither of us has found the last year and a half easy, we have had to learn together, and we definitely still are learning. But I’m so glad I found someone who can see the Me that is separate to my BPD and understands that I want to be the best version of myself I can be, no matter what front I may be presenting to the outside world. 

Thank you, Tom. 

Love, Sarah x

‘Coming Back To Me’ and BPD

About ten years ago, when I was mired in a bad spell of mental health – which I now know was a BPD episode – I read an excerpt from cricketer Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography Coming Back To Me, which chronicles his battle with anxiety and depression. I went on to buy the book, and it helped me and my family to make sense of what was happening with me at the time. I think everyone should speak more about mental health (WE ALL HAVE IT) but I do have a soft spot for sportspeople who open up about it. We hold them up in our society as paragons of health and strength, but they suffer in exactly the same way as the rest of us. The difference is, unfortunately, if they’re successful and famous their battles are played out on the stage of the media. Marcus Trescothick, Kelly Holmes, Clarke Carlisle, Elise Christie. They’re just a handful of the sportspeople I’ve seen open up about their mental health issues (which are often ongoing) and I think anyone who chooses to be open in this way, in such a public way, is incredibly brave.

The main reason I’ve been thinking about ‘my mate’ Marcus lately, is because of the name of his book: Coming Back To Me. I mentioned in a post a while back that one of the scariest BPD symptoms for me is depersonalisation, and an unstable sense of identity. When I am Well, I am incredibly secure in who I am, I have strong values and beliefs, I like myself, I think I’m generally okay. But when I’m not doing too well, my sense of self crumbles and I feel like a shell of who I used to be, desperately trying to be the Well version of myself, but unable to remember the steps, the script, how I usually relate to others.

I am currently working through a lot of this with my awesome therapist. I won’t go into details here – more because I don’t really understand it all myself than anything else – but a lot of it comes down to confidence. I became scared of being myself, and now the work begins to trust myself again.

Last year, when I had my breakdown/became ill/went a bit mad/lost myself, I had been busy being the Well version of me. I was content with my life choices, deliriously happy that I had just married my husband, excited about my counselling studies, pushing myself hard but coping ok. But I still got ill. The Well version of me couldn’t stop that from happening. She failed. For a long time I hated that person, and I was scared of letting myself be her again. Because despite all the lessons I’d learnt in my 20s, all the wisdom I thought I’d acquired, I became more ill than I had ever been. I’D FAILED. And for months and months no one could shake me of this fact.

But. Wait for this. It will shock you. Are you ready?

It wasn’t my fault. ‘Well Me’ didn’t bring this on herself by being happy – she got really, really, deeply ill. This may seem obvious to an outsider, but to someone who has always believed deep down that happiness needs to be earned, deserved, this is Big News. With my therapist, my care coordinator, my amazing family, my husband, I have been picking apart the contributing factors to my breakdown, and realising that none of them were my fault, or anyone’s. They just happened. A perfect storm of events, environmental factors, cognitive processes and brain chemistry that came together to create a hurricane in my mind and to erode my once-solid foundations. Terrifying, yes. But a personal failing? Nah, mate. AN ILLNESS.

Now, I am learning to forgive myself, for anything and everything. To be kind to myself even when – especially when – I don’t feel deserve it. I am learning that on days when I feel I am too much, annoying, obnoxious, loud, irritating, just generally Not Good Enough, maybe these things are not *whispers* actually true. Maybe I am just scared of allowing myself to be unapologetically myself again. Being scared is okay, and it’s very understandable, but it isn’t how it needs to be. On these days I am now more able than ever to challenge the scared thoughts and risk just being me again. I let myself laugh when I want to, talk freely, and try not to think about it all too much. I am, slowly, slowly, tentatively, Coming Back To Me. Some days it is too much, I am still too much (or not enough, who knows?) and I retreat back into my shell. But now I know that even though sometimes I need to retreat, I will come back out again when I’m ready.

It’s okay to be Me. I am not perfect, far bloody from it. And Me is made up of all sorts of things, all sorts of moods, and all sorts of emotions. Even on the days when I don’t feel like Me, those days are still a part of ME. And that’s pretty cool.

Me, July 2019.

When I was in hospital, on one of my last few nights on the ward, something shifted and it was like the Real Me was there again saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve been here all along, you can’t actually ever lose me. Remember?’ It was like coming home in my own mind. It’s the best thing I’ve ever felt.

Since that night in November 2018 I have known that I can, and always will, Come Back To Me. Sometimes it just takes longer than others.

Sarah x

The Big Bang Theory and Me and BPD

After my last post, which was pretty heavy as it dealt with the crappy symptoms of BPD I experience, I thought I’d write about something a bit more light-hearted. Specifically, a TV show. Bear with me, I promise it’s relevant. 

Before I continue, I am really not interested in what other people think of my choices of TV. It’s all personal preference, and for most people TV is a way of relaxing and switching off. For some people that means watching back-to-back documentaries about serial killers, for others it might be endless episodes of The Repair Shop (we have a backlog of these recorded on our Tivo box, as we both find it incredibly soothing to watch), for others it may be soaps. Whatever floats your boat. 

Since I left hospital in November, I’ve found TV really therapeutic, distracting and, as weird as it sounds, a good way of adding structure and routine to my day. At first all I could watch was endless American sitcoms on E4, although this has shifted and evolved and now I’m feeling able to watch grittier stuff like Killing Eve and Chernobyl. And I’m doing a lot more during the day now, getting out and seeing people, so I don’t need the comfort of such gems as Melissa & Joey and Baby Daddy at specific times every day.

One show that has really helped during both my period of illness and subsequent recovery is The Big Bang Theory. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a US sitcom about four male scientists and a ‘hot’ blond woman who befriends them. It ran for 12 seasons, with two more female cast members being added along the way, and it basically charted the lives of the characters as they formed relationships, careers and figured out things in their lives. The things that drew me in were the theme song, performed by The Barenaked Ladies (they also did ‘One Week’: a total banger), and the character of Sheldon, who is never officially diagnosed with any condition (his mother had him tested) but shows classic signs of obsessive compulsive disorder and some autistic traits. Working with young people who struggled with social situations and relationships at the time, I felt the show (mostly) presented his character with sensitivity and compassion, and within a few episodes I was hooked, and laughing a lot.

This show has been a pretty big constant in my life for a long time, not least because it took over from Friends as the show that E4 showed CONSTANTLY, and watching characters I knew really well always felt like being welcomed back to somewhere familiar and safe. I remember quoting Sheldon to Tom on our third date. He did not laugh.

When I fell ill last year, I stopped doing a lot of things that had previously made me happy. I couldn’t face doing things that didn’t make me feel ‘right’ anymore, and I could not face a lot of the shows that were bringing out new episodes. We still have a lot of Westworld to catch up on. But The Big Bang Theory (most of which is on Netflix) was still something I turned to for comfort and familiarity, which I desperately needed when I felt completely unmoored from everything that used to hold me steady. I watched it feverishly, trying to absorb the humour and happiness of the characters. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t, but they were always there for me. Some things did not change.

The final season of the show began around the time I was hospitalised in 2018, and a new weekly episode on a Thursday night was something that immediately became part of my routine. It lifted my spirits and gave me something, however small, to look forward to each week. Knowing it was the final season was bittersweet, I felt I needed to drink in every episode and appreciate them. I follow all the actors on social media, and to know they were all feeling emotional about the show finishing, that the show meant as much to them emotionally as it did to me, touched me and made me feel even more attached to them and their characters.

A special mention at this point has to go to Mayim Bialik, whose character Amy Farrah-Fowler was introduced in season 3 and quickly became my favourite. (Our cat has her full name as part of her middle name. She is Stella Smoky Amy Farrah Fowler Poulton. Yes, really.) Mayim is the only member of the cast who has a PhD in real life, she runs her own website: Grok Nation, and regularly posted videos during the last season about how she was handling the end of the show, and the impact it was having on her emotionally. Basically, I love her.

Ultimately, the end of The Big Bang Theory came a couple of months after I made the decision to leave a job I have held for 9 years. Watching these people who had worked on the show for 12 years come to terms with the end of an era really helped me feel less alone in that time (obviously they had a bit more money to soften the blow than I did!) and seeing how sad it made them only made me love them more. Mayim Bialik regularly refers to herself as ‘unemployed’ and often addresses the uncertainties this brings through her social media. OK, so we aren’t in the same boat exactly, but maybe the same sea?

Kunal Nayyar (Raj) regularly posts on Instagram encouraging people to be kinder to themselves. Kaley Cuoco (Penny) rescues anything with four legs, and enjoys sharing videos of her dogs, horses, rabbit and, most recently, goat. Jim Parsons (Sheldon), Johnny Galecki (Leonard) and Melissa Rauch (Bernadette) all support each other on social media, and it’s clear all the cast have a close bond. Simon Helberg (Howard) also seems lovely but doesn’t really have a social media presence.

ANYWAY, I could write pages and pages about much I love this show, but the main point is that for me it is the TV equivalent of being wrapped in a comfy blanket and drinking a hot chocolate. It makes me laugh, no matter how many times I’ve seen each episode, and I’m pretty sure I could go on Mastermind with this as my specialist subject.

I know none of the cast will ever read this, but The Big Bang Theory has played a massive part in supporting me throughout my recovery, and for that I want to thank them for their whole universe.

Bazinga, and out.

Sarah x

Diagnosis & Me & BPD

Since I’ve already written about my breakdown last year, and have only touched on what actually living with Borderline Personality Disorder is like for me, I thought I’d write a post about how it actually affects me day-to-day. As with any medical condition, my experience is phenomenological  – it is purely my own, and the product of my thinking and patterns of behaviour, as well as things that have happened over the years. Everyone has a lot of preconceived ideas about mental health problems, and there are a lot of clichés knocking around, but everyone is different and my experience of BPD may not match someone else’s who has received the same diagnosis.

[The NHS information about symptoms of BPD is here: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/borderline-personality-disorder/symptoms/, if you’d like to read the ‘official’ symptoms etc.]

First of all, I had never really heard of Borderline Personality Disorder (or Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder) until September 2018, when one medical professional first suggested it as a possibility. I think a lot of the stigma of this condition comes from the name – I still don’t really get the ‘borderline’ bit, and anything that basically implies that your personality is the problem is not the best thing to be told, especially when you’re not feeling top-notch in the first place. Since I received my ‘official’ diagnosis from a consultant psychiatrist in November 2018, I have done a lot of reading about it all, and I now know that the ‘personality’ bit really just refers to patterns of thought and behaviours that certain people exhibit that can be grouped together in a certain way. So that’s a bit better.

Anyway, I thought I’d briefly outline the things I personally struggle with, which have been identified as characteristic of BPD.

Intense Emotions

Oh, this is a fun one. When I’m having a bad day it can feel like I am one massive knotted ball of emotions. It feels like I can’t escape myself or my racing thoughts. These intense emotions can rage from crushing depression, to crippling anxiety/panic, to furiously overwhelming anger. In the moment when they are happening it can feel like there is nothing else in the world and you want to do anything to escape them and switch them off. Rationally, you know these moments will ebb away, but at the time it is TERRIFYING. Approach with caution.

Sometimes it can feel like my brain is experiencing all the emotions from Inside Out (and then some) all at once.

Black and White Thinking

I couldn’t find the source for this image, but it really does sum up a BPD day quite well for me.

When I first became ill last year, this was a particularly tough one. I found it hard to accept that I was as ill as I was, whilst also being incredibly angry and frustrated that I couldn’t be the ‘well’ version of myself I felt had existed only a few weeks before. In my mind, I was either ‘Well Sarah’ or ‘Poorly Sarah’. No prizes for guessing which one I decided was Good and which one was Bad. I still do this a lot on a bad day (Tom – I can virtually see you nodding furiously at this point), and assign judgement to my emotions and thoughts – they are either Good or Bad, and I am failing if I think the Bad thoughts. A lot of the work I am doing with my therapist is around accepting how I am feeling at any moment, and letting myself see things as not Good/Bad or Black/White, but sometimes as more grey or just OK.

Relationship with myself/sense of identity

This is probably the trickiest one for me to talk about, so I probably won’t say too much right now about it. As I’ve just said above, a lot of the thought patterns I can fall into are very judgemental of myself, and sometimes it can feel like I just don’t know who I am, or what it even means to be me. Writing it down while I’m having a better day, it looks really bizarre, but honestly it’s what it feels like. And it’s one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. I self-blame a lot, and unfortunately this can lead to some destructive behaviours that I am still not fully comfortable speaking about. Yeah, this one is a toughie.

Relationships with other people

A lot of people with BPD struggle with unstable relationships and struggle to form attachments. I don’t really have this issue as such – I am a naturally sociable person and I am happily married. My other personal relationships are pretty solid, too. However, a BPD trait I do have linked to relationships is that with some people (especially some close friends and boyfriends) I am either absolutely besotted and think they’re the best person ever, and immerse myself deeply in the relationship/friendship, or I cannot stand them and push them away. 

Me and Tom on our wedding day. BPD wasn’t invited.

I did this ‘push-pull’ with all three of my serious relationships before Tom, and it played a role in all of them ending. When these extremes started to happen with him, luckily I realised I did not want to lose him the same way I’d lost the others. He was a Good One, and I knew (even though I didn’t know about BPD) that our relationship was worth more than the irrational thoughts. I talked to him about what I was thinking, he gave me space to work things out, I accepted the thoughts I was having and tried not to label them Good or Bad, and eventually things evened out. Evidence that acceptance does work! 

(NB: I knew the thoughts I was having were irrational, if I had had serious doubts about the relationship’s suitability I would not have just blindly stuck it out.)

So those are my main experiences of BPD. There are others, often from when I was younger- such as separation anxiety- that I may talk about at another point, but these are the things that currently affect me day-to-day.

Sorry it hasn’t been a fun post (it wasn’t much fun to write, either) but I feel the more information I can give about BPD and Me, the clearer it will make everything else I post about. If that makes sense.

Anyway, thanks for reading, if you have, I really appreciate it!

Sarah x

Vitamin Sea and Me and BPD

“See the line where the sky meets the sea? It calls me…”

Moana (Disney)

It’s said that the best cure for anything is salt water: tears, sweat or the sea. 

Tears. Well, anyone who knows me knows I cry. A lot. Obviously at sad things, but also at beautiful views, cute positions my cat sleeps in, or happy bits in films. Oh my goodness, the bit in Apollo 13 when they’re not sure they’ve made it back through the atmosphere, and then their voices crackle over the radio. Literally gets me every time. Oh sorry, spoiler alert: they make it. I could write a blog post all about how much I love Tom Hanks. But I digress.

Sweat. I love to work up a sweat by going for a run. I’m no expert, but since 2015 when I did the Couch to 5K programme and became A Runner, I’ve done lots of parkruns, several 10K races and three half marathons. Running helps my mental health (hello, endorphins!), and pushing myself physically helps relieve some mental tension.

But the salt water this post is in praise of is the sea.

Most of 2018 was pretty rubbish after my breakdown (see previous post – I won’t be describing that again, ack), but in July we went to visit friends in Poole on the south coast. I’ve always always always loved the sea. Tom and I braved the cold water of the English Channel and for a few moments, I felt free. Weightless. Even a little bit…happy. It was a teeny spark of who I really was in the midst months of a lot of darkness.

Fast forward eleven months, and this past week, Tom and I have been in Cyprus, on a holiday booked rather last minute and definitely needed. Last year we had planned our honeymoon –  a tour of Italy – and had to cancel it due to my mental health, so this was a bit of a way to treat ourselves and have some time in the sun together. Neither of us had been to Cyprus before, or even really considered it as an option until we went to the travel agent to help us find a suitable holiday with only 5 weeks to plan it.

As it was, we both really loved Cyprus – the people are so friendly, the food is incredible, and our hotel was perfect. Yes, Tom and my in-laws had to practically carry me onto the plane the day we went, as I was convinced I could not do it. Yes, my BPD packed its bags and came with us. Yes, there were bad moments, even in a gorgeous setting in 27°C heat. But overall, we had a great time. We toured historical sites, ate local food, mucked around in the pool, one of us told the other off for trying to fuss ALL the stray cats, and we decided to book a boat trip for our last full day there.

It was an ‘adults only’ (snigger) 6 hour cruise around the coast, with stops for swimming and an open bar all day. We set ourselves up on the top deck, smothered ourselves in factor 50 and settled in. The scenery was gorgeous, and I’ve always loved a good boat trip. I barely gave much thought to the swimming stops. Until we got to Coral Bay (just along the coast from Paphos).

Coral Bay, Cyprus

The boat was set up so we could all get into the sea from the platform at the back, and looking into the (seemingly bottomless) water, I nearly lost my nerve. Tom dived in first. (This was BRAND NEW INFORMATION to me – I did not know he could dive, something I have never been able to do – and he instantly became 10000% more attractive to me.) I stood on the edge, looking in. What if there were lots of fish? (Oh yeah, I am really scared of fish. They are just…UGH.) What if it was too cold? What was beneath us? Then I thought ‘f*ck it’, and jumped in. 

IT WAS COLD, and I hyperventilated for about 2 minutes, before I could even speak to Tom and reassure him that I wasn’t actually panicking. We swam a bit to warm up, and I ended up floating on my back in the turquoise sea, gazing up at a clear blue sky, unable to believe that just seven months before I had been at my lowest ebb on a psychiatric ward. I remembered one of my favourite Matt Haig quote about depression:

‘It may be a dark cloud passing across the sky but – if that is the metaphor – you are the sky.’

Matt Haig

I lay on my back looking up and I said to myself, ‘you are the sky’. Cheesy? Who cares!

I climbed up and jumped off the rock in the middle of this picture!

The next swimming stop was, if anything, even better. My confidence was up, and I merrily jumped in this time. We went to explore a little cave, and then when I saw some of the men from the boat climbing up a nearby platform of rock and jumping into the sea, I thought, ‘why not?’ So I  swam over to the rock, climbed up, got scared again when one of the men said ‘just make sure you jump away from the rock’, then decided I’d faced scarier things than this and ran and jumped.  I jumped right in. (No other woman from our boat did, just saying.) I swam back to Tom feeling invincible, whilst snotting salt water out of my nose.

Tom and I on the boat!

That day, I got my dose of Vitamin Sea. And as always, it was so healing. I didn’t think about anxiety, depression or BPD when I was swimming in that clear water with my amazing husband. (Well, actually, that’s not true, I told him I was going to write a blog post about it and he suggested I make a play on the words ‘medication’ and ‘Mediterranean’. Groan.)

So, yeah, I will never forget how much that day meant to me. Salt water is pretty great.

Breakdown and Me and BPD

I’ve written this post about twenty times in my head. I think I knew it needed to be the one I wrote next, maybe because it kind of anchors everything else I’m writing about, and also because getting it out of my head and onto ‘paper’ might help it become clearer for me.

On the first May Bank Holiday weekend last year (2018) I had a mental breakdown. There’s no other way to put it, and it was exactly as it sounds. My brain broke, and didn’t feel like it started to even slightly fix itself until 6 months later.

The Saturday of that Bank Holiday weekend in 2018, when the brain clouds were beginning to circle.

Bit of background… In 2007 I had a breakdown, the only thing that has ever come close to this. That one resulted in loss of identity, the breakdown of a relationship, dropping out of university, and losing the job I got subsequently. Looking back, it took me about two years to recover ‘fully’ from that, and I (possibly naïvely) thought I had a reasonably good handle on my mental health. From there I started a job in 2010, got promoted in my time there, met my now-husband, went on the mortgage with him, started training as a counsellor, pulled off a really nice wedding day, and adopted a fluffy cat. I also got into running. I had occasionally flare-ups of anxiety and other symptoms and thoughts that I knew weren’t rational, but I learned to manage them and eventually they would go away.

Now, at the time, what happened last May seemed to come out of nowhere. I was newly-married, had a lovely family around me, had good friends, was successful and well-respected at my job, I was excelling in my counselling training. I’d even just landed my first placement as a trainee counsellor. All good, yes? Hmmmm. So, I’m just going to list a few things that weren’t quite so rosy, looking back. 

  • I was pushing myself to run two spring half-marathons, training through physical illnesses, and I ran the Sheffield Half with a chest infection.
  • I was pushing myself to get top grades in all my counselling assignments.
  • I was ruminating a lot on our wedding and if everyone had enjoyed it. Beating myself up because I had drunk a LOT of wine. 
  • I loved my job, but I was taking a lot of emotions home with me from the young people I worked with, no matter how hard I tried not to.
  • I was trying to be a perfect wife, have a perfect home and be a good cat-mum to Stella.
  • Some issues with a friendship, that I had long found difficult, were coming to a head. 
  • I had stopped taking the Pill, and had come off my antidepressants – both of which because I was thinking we SHOULD start a family soon.
  • I was getting physical illness after physical illness.
  • I was trying to convince myself that I was fine, despite all of the above.

*DISCLAIMER: NONE OF THIS WAS ANYONE’S FAULT. EVEN MINE. THINGS HAPPENED, AND I RESPONDED IN A CERTAIN WAY, AND MY BRAIN PROCESSED IT ALL IN A WAY THAT RESULTED IN A BREAKDOWN. ONCE AGAIN: NO ONE’S FAULT. NOT EVEN MINE. ESPECIALLY NOT MINE.*

The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back came that first Bank Holiday weekend. I had kept working all week through a nasty illness, when I finally gave in and went home on the Thursday, visiting the doctor on the Friday. I was told I had sinusitis and oral thrush (one of the most revolting things I’ve ever experienced) and given antibiotics. By the Saturday, I was feeling my brain start to ‘wobble’ –  a lot off irrational thoughts about time going too fast were creeping in, by the Sunday I was getting upset worrying that something would happen to my Grandma or my cat. And by the Monday, there is no other way of saying it, I was borderline suicidal. 

It was like all the light had gone out in my mind. Nothing was okay. I wasn’t safe inside my own head. I became terrified of trying to fall asleep because of how vulnerable I felt when I closed my eyes and was left with my own shapeless, black thoughts. I stopped sleeping. I stopped eating. I cried buckets and didn’t even know why. No one knew why. Even though I had dealt with mental illness before, this was so much worse than anything I’d ever experienced, and it left me terrified, robbed me of any confidence I’d built from being ill in my twenties, and led to long months of misery, with very little respite.

I still find it hard to talk about or write about, but it happened, and for a long time I was in denial that it had. I had always prided myself on knowing quite a bit about my own mental health, and it was like it had snuck up behind me when I was least expecting it and gone ‘A-HA!’ I clearly had been kidding myself all those years. I had worked with young people, teaching them how to look after their own internal environment, and suddenly I felt like a massive fraud. I had to take sick leave from my job immediately and other not-very-nice things happened that I’m sure I will eventually write about on this blog.

I was speaking to a friend last night in light of Mental Health Awareness Week, about how physical and mental health are so closely linked, and how holistic any treatment or conversation needs to be. There were so many contributing factors to what happened to me last year, but I am sure that a lot of it was physical- I was run down, changing medication, and was given an antibiotic that has had ACTUAL PROFESSIONAL PAPERS written on how it can cause depression, anxiety and even suicidal ideation. I don’t believe that any one thing was responsible for my breakdown, but I do wonder if I hadn’t been prescribed that antibiotic at a time when I was vulnerable, maybe things would have been different and maybe I could have pulled myself back from the edge. Maybe. But then, maybe last year needed to happen in order for me to get my BPD diagnosis, access the support I now have, and start to figure out even more about my own mental and physical health. So, y’know, my health. It’s all just health.

One thing I did learn from my breakdown is that this kind of thing can happen to anyone, literally anyone. I knew more than most people about mental health and psychology – having learned a lot from being ill previously, and also from my counselling training. I knew about self-care, and knew all the typical signs that my own health was failing. But it still got me, really badly, and really suddenly.

I was not, and am not, weak just because this happened to me. 

I broke down. And now I am slowly putting my new self together.

Sarah x

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?