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Saturday, 18 June 2016

10 reasons why I wouldn't erase my mental health problems if I could

1. It has brought me closer to people

Opening up to people in my life has enabled me to have deeper relationships with them (I've written on this blog about talking to a family member for the first time when I had an eating disorder and depression).

2. I have learnt so much about myself

Having a mental illness takes you to parts of yourself you never knew were there. This is scary. Yet the process of recovering shows you just how much strength you have. I've had quite a lot of therapy in order to recover, which has revealed things about my life which I probably otherwise not have discovered.

3. Friends turn to me when they need support

Only a small handful of friends know details of my mental health issues, pretty much all of my friends know that I've suffered with mental health problems in some form or other. This makes them much more likely to open up to me about their own problems. I have a few friends whose lives are affected in some way by mental health problems who talk with me about it in varying degrees.

4. It has enhanced my volunteer work

I work in a charity where I spent time on the phone and online listening to people who want to talk about things that are on their mind- relationships, mental health, abuse, sexuality and so on. I am a strong volunteer because I know how it feels to be in distress and be able to able to talk about things without being judged or shut down.

5. I appreciate what I lost for a while 

For a few months I was trapped in depression and an eating disorder and I didn't go out, communicate with any friends or do anything I loved. I couldn't even read or write- my two biggest loves in life! I was terrified I would never be back to how I used to be. Things did return, and when they did it wasn't the same because I experienced a had a new sense of appreciation for what had been temporarily lost.

6. Success tastes even sweeter

After an incredibly unstable and volatile time at university, I managed somehow to get my degree. Recieving my degree was a hundred times sweeter than it would have been had I not had mental health problems, because I knew what I had overcome in order to gain it. My success was personal, as well as academic.

7. I'm not afraid of the trickier, darker side of life

Knowing my own darkness makes me less afraid. Nothing shocks me really anymore! I am aware that human moods can shift intensely and quickly. The human brain is amazing and it doesn't frighten me!

8. I feel like I can face anything now

If you've got through a major depression, an eating disorder or BPD, you can get through just about anything. I have also faced the death of a loved one, which is totally different to the pain of any of my mental health issues. And if I can survive the immensity of grief that losing a loved one unleashes upon me, I am one tough cookie.

9. I can relate to a wider set of experiences than I did before 

If you've been through mental illness, you will have been to some very dark, very confusing and probably very lonely places. This can stand you in good stead for understanding a variety of experiences.

10. Feeling my own purpose in life   

I have had support from some wonderful people- family, friends and professionals. I have been shown kindness, loyalty, patience and expertise that has inspired me to be a kinder and more helpful person. I want to use my life to help others and to create a more understanding society, and I think that my own mental health problems have been a huge motivation for me with this ambition.

Four reasons why I am afraid to tell friends about suicidal thoughts

[TW Suicidal thoughts]

 I am a person who loves my life, and yet sometimes I have suicidal thoughts, which is hard for me, let alone others to understand!

I have many wonderful friends, and a few very close friends who I love. But even with my closest friends, I don't feel that I can tell them about the difficulties I go through with suicidal thoughts.

 This is for four main reasons:

1. I am scared they will  panic and call 999. I am not going to act on the thoughts, and so there is no need to call 999. I have had this said to me on a couple of occasions and I feel very threatened and to be honest, very frightened. It hasn't been helpful for me at all. A conversation would have been a million times more helpful.

2. I am scared that I will scare them away and they will no longer want to be friends with me because it's too difficult.

3. I am scared my friends will no longer look at me the same way and that they might change their opinion of me.

4. I am scared my friends will think I am not fit for my job (I am a teacher). I am a caring and capable teacher held in high regard by colleagues, children and parents.

Maybe you would like to share your experiences? I would imagine this is something which many people with BPD or bipolar might be able to relate to....

DBT: some serious hardwork!

**TW This post very breifly mentions eating disorders and self-harm, there are no specific details, but please take care reading it.**

So lately I've come to a turning point in my life and I realise that I want to become more stable.

Although I've come a long way since I was diagnosed with BPD in 2014 and my breakdown with depression and an eating disorder before that, I still have some way to go.

And in order to be successful...I need to put in some serious hardwork!

For a while, I have ignored that things aren't as good as they can be. It was too difficult to accept that amongst the other stuff going on in my life...what with moving to a new city, a great new job, enjoyable social life, brilliant volunteering job, my interests and passions.  So I ignored the fact that I was turning to unhelpful ways of coping, such as self-harm, when my emotions overwhelmed me.

 I have been emotionally overwhelmed less and less since my diagnosis, but things are still far from stable at times- see my posts on living with suicidal thoughts, for example.

So, with some serious prompting from someone in my life, I finally got the courage to start therapy again a few months ago. I'm four months in, and I'm starting to see my  enormous need to reconcile myself with the mental health struggles I've been through.

In tandem with the traditional talking therapy, psychoanalytic therapy (where I choose what I talk about, and invariably end up exploring my experiences as a child and teenager), I also wanted to learn DBT skills in more depth. DBT is a therapy designed by the inspirational Marsha Linehan.

Marsha Linehan is one of the world's leading psychologists and she designed DBT for people who suffer with BPD as she once did- when she was younger she was an inpatient in a psychiatric hospital and she knows what people with BPD need!

I also know I need DBT skills in my life- and I need them to be strong so I can use them to calm down and gain control of my impulses and emotions when I fall into 'crisis mode'.

I took a big leap last week, and have joined DBT Path, by the amazing Debbie Corso- read more about her impact on me in About Me !

DBT Path is an online psychoeducational course in which participants learn how to apply DBT skills to their emotional dysregulation and / or BPD traits. The class is one and a half hours every week and I am commiting myself to practising the skills discussed.

See upcoming post on DBT Path: Week 1, for more on how the classes work.

Staying stable used to be a full time commitment for me. Once upon a time, every waking minute was spent doing 'thought records', using mental health apps, mindfulness, using the tools given to me by professionals, going to doctors appointments, trying to eat. In the last couple of years, it has become much easier for me to get on with life and live without consciously putting in all of this effort.

But now, I need to get back to putting in some serious hardwork to learning and applying DBT skills to situations when I am emotionally overwhelmed.

The hardest part for me will be when I am having what I percieve as a 'conflict' or an 'argument' in my relationship. That's the point when I am most likely to be triggered into wanting to self-harm.

I know my hardwork will pay off....I can do it! I will be using Twitter @bpd_orchid to talk about my DBT skills. Please share any skills you are using, or any other comments or experiences, I love to hear from everyone!

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Thoughts are thoughts not facts - even those really difficult suicidal thoughts

**This post discusses suicidal thoughts. It doesn't go into any detail about what the thoughts contain, but please take care or avoid if you might be affected negatively**

Two weeks ago, I was having suicidal thoughts almost every night. They popped into my head on my journey home from work, in the evenings and when I was getting ready for bed. They were intrusive,
upsetting and made me feel really alone. The thoughts weren't plans to put into action and I didn't actually want my life to end. But they were distressing and I felt incredibly lonely. I'm not entirely sure why I was having them at such a high frequency.

I have struggled with sucidal thoughts of varying degrees a lot in the last few years. I have periods where I have them, and periods when I don't have them. For two weeks, I haven't had any. But before that, I had a month where I had them almost everyday.

I find them quite frightening. But most of all- lonely. Maybe I need to remember more that these are thoughts. And thoughts are not facts. I have a lot of friends, and several with whom I am very close. I have a close relationship and a family who care about me very much. Yet I feel that I cannot tell anyone about my suicidial thoughts when they arise, because I am afraid.

Why am I afraid to tell friends about my suicidal thoughts:

1. I am scared they will call 999. I am not going to act on the thoughts, and so there is no need to call 999.

2. I am scared that I will scare them away and they will no longer want to be friends with me.

3. I am scared my friends will no longer look at me the same way and that they might change their opinion of me.

4. I am scared my friends will think I am not fit for my job (I am a teacher). This is total nonesense. I am a caring and capable teacher held in high regard by colleagues, children and parents.

I'm starting to tell my therapist about them in order to understand why I have spent periods over the last few years with these sorts of thoughts coming into my head.

I'm also starting to accept myself and not stigmatise myself with a really harsh internalised stigma and sense of shame.

Maybe there are lots of people reading this with BPD or Bipolar or other mental health conditions who also struggle with intrustive suicidal thoughts. The important thing is to reach out and get help from people you trust and from professionals.

Talking helps me, and it seems to keep the suicidal thoughts at bay and give my mind a bit of peace. I hope this period without sucidal thoughts can continue. If you want to share your experiences tweet me @bpd_orchid - I would love to hear from you.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Tongue tied about talking

I don't want to feel like I'm living a lie, but at the same time, I don't want to be that person who is overbearing. I'm starting to wonder whether I need to open up more in order to overcome my pervasive sense of shame I've sadly got within myself about mental health.

If I rationally know that there's nothing wrong with having mental health issues, then why do I hide it? If I want to combat stigma, I need to be open...yet I am so conflicted about being open. It's like I am tying my own tongue in a knot at the same time as wanting to stick it out of my mouth.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

'How can that be me?' : Accepting the distress I've been through

Monday, 6 June 2016

GPs: a mixed bag

***This post mentions suicidal thoughts and eating disorders, but in no detail and only very briefly***

I have had many, many GP appointments over the years about mental health. Some have been appointments that have recovery and sadly some of them have left me feeling isolated and unsupported, or, quite frankly, with a bitter taste in my mouth.

The first time I saw a GP about mental health was when I was a young teenager. I was so stressed and anxious that it was taking me hours to fall asleep and I felt constantly anxious. After a five minute Q &A session, she handed me a prescription for some anxiety medication and that was it. I never took those pills. It wasn't what I was looking for. I didn't know what I was looking for. I was very, very young.

The next time I saw a GP for my mental health was after I had what I can only describe as a mental breakdown in the street.

In the first couple of the months after starting university, I had started to become very unwell and very afraid of what was happening in my own head. My eating disorder was kicking in intensely and I was having suicidal thoughts.

Totally unware of what was happening to me, a family member came to visit. As we were walking in the street, I broke down. It was physical, I was collapsing, but it was an emotional collapse more than anything. I was sobbing in the street and telling her that I couldn't cope. She had to prop me up and hold me as I dragged myself down the road.

She  drove me 300 miles home and I sobbed the whole way down the motorway. I spent the next 9 months at home, away from the university I had just started and new friends I had just made.

When I arrived home, my mum dragged me to the doctors and I had to sit there with her and tell the doctor how I felt- and about the eating disorder, the feelings and how I hadn't been coping. It was so awful with my mum sitting there hearing that. I think she almost broke down too, to be honest. More can be found in the found in the About Me section, if you're curious.

This doctor was WONDERFUL. She was really caring. I can remember her fluffy jumper even now. She wasn't fazed or panicked and she treated me and my mum like human beings.

She told us that the waiting list for any sort of psychological therapies was 12 months. 12 months! I didn't have that long. I felt like a corpse, I was in the midst of an eating disorder and not functioning. I couldn't go outside, read, hold a decent conversation...let alone wait 12 months for psychological help. The NHS has got a serious, immoral issue in that it is not prioritising mental health. It is a disgrace (will write more about it later).

But this doctor was such a delight in that she paced things correctly for me at that time. I couldn't see past the day, let alone think weeks ahead, and she understood that. She understood that I was very, very frightened and felt very, very alone. I was only 18 at the time too.

Then one day, a few months later, I was making an appointment and was told she had left the practice. I was very disappointed!

Over the next few months, I saw a couple of GPs, who were also quite understanding, but not as much as the first GP.

I then managed to return back to university. I saw a GP and I shouldn't have stuck with him for as long as I did. He managed the dose of my antidepressants through scientific textbooks and totally lacked in the human side of things. On one occasion, I wanted to tell him how I worried that the antidepressants were contributing to suicidal thoughts, and he wasn't listening to me. He also didn't listen to my hypomanic episodes, which were worrying me.

After a while, I became so fed up and I felt that it wasn't right. I left the practice, and wrote a letter to the surgery to air the dirty laundry, so to speak.

The next GP I saw was one who I built up a proper relationship with. She saw me as  a person rather than a 5 minute patient consultation.

She listened to both my highs and lows. I felt the combination of the highs and the lows was more distressing than lows on their own, and she understood why I wanted her to appreciate that.

She listened to my hopes and fears and she told me that one day the things I had been through would be a huge source of strength. She was right. 

She told me that people who are caring, understanding and have warmth and empathy for others are those who have been through pain themselves. The people who have known the emotional loneliness and difficulties that bipolar, eating disorders of BPD can bring, also know what a difference it makes to be treated with compassion and warmth.

I knew that I wanted a career in which I would help others and she assured me that the way I felt- with the lows, the highs and the difficult, unstable moments- would give me something that others might struggle to have. Insight and compassion through my own suffering. Carl Jung also expressed similar ideas in his Wounded Healer archetype (google it for more!).

When I am feeling confident about myself, I know she is right. I try to be there for my friends, for people who I think might need me. I am a teacher and I try to be as caring as I can. I also volunteer in a mental charity and I offer support to many people who are in distress.

It's true what this GP said, the difficulties I've had with my moods are now a source of empathy for others. I can pass on my strength- perhaps I've been through my difficulties for a reason...

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Finding it hard to tell my therapist about BPD

Yesterday I saw my therapist after a three week break due to her being away. Things have been very hard for me the last few weeks and she also pointed out my the difficulty coinciding with her going away. I know it is very common to find it hard when therapists go this because I have become dependent on her for emotional security?! I sure hope not, I have only been seeing her for a couple of months.

It was good to talk to her. I ended up talking about things which happened a long time ago in my late childhood, things which I didn't even realise were affecting how I feel today.

I came home after, cooked a nice meal and jotted a few thoughts down. I am keeping a notebook specifically to record things that I have discuss with her, or that I would like to talk about.

I still haven't told her that I have been diagnosed with BPD. Has anyone else found this hard? I feel that I need to tell her soon...