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Saturday, 29 July 2017

My YouTube Channel has arrived!

Here is my first ever video about why I'm talking about BPD. I discuss why silence made me feel like I was the only one going through these experiences and why I'm now talking about my experiences.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Quetiapine illustrated

(TW This post mentions self-harm and suicidal thoughts.)

started taking quetiapine about a month ago now and I can feel the effects. At first I didn't want to jump to any conclusions about what the medication was or wasn't doing, but now I think I can accurately link the changes I am experiencing to the medication.

These are graphs which illustrate my moods before and after quetiapine: 

You can see that I have labelled sections at the very top and the very bottom as 'distress'. This is because when I peak into a very high mood or trough into a very low mood, it can be very painful and cause me distress. In fact, it usually is so distressing that I have suicidal thoughts and / or urges to self harm. 

You can see that the rate of the peaks and troughs is slower, meaning that my mood changes don't happen as quickly. You can see that the highs and lows still happen, but they have a very slight edge taken off, meaning that I don't tip into the distress section nearly as often as I used to. 

Someone told me that they can see this edge taken off. The ever so slight edge that has been taken off the highs and lows is helping me enormously. I have been having fewer periods of intense distress with the highs and lows. 

This is a  picture from about seven years ago, illustrating the contrast between my highs and my lows. It really is something that has dominated my life...something so confusing and frightening.

This is another picture I drew about seven years ago too, to express the mood changes

So I am very relieved to have something which seems to be taking off just a tiny edge from both ends of the extremes. I am far less emotionally exhausted than I used to be. I think this could be revolutionary for me. 

Have you taken medication? How do you feel about it? I would love to hear your stories. Tweet me @TalkingAboutBPD. 

Apologising for myself: My Challenge

(TW This post mentions self-harm.)

I've talked about this before- and the tension between speaking and silence continues to be the main struggle in my life. It seems like I am not alone in this as many people on Twitter have been relating to me and saying that they feel this too.

I apologise for myself constantly. When I talk to friends, I apologise. When I share my emotions, I apologise. When I speak my truth, I apologise.

Drawing by me

I live constantly with the feeling that I am taking up space, time and others' emotions. It makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. I apologise because I feel like my emotions are a burden on others. 

Maybe I apologise in a last ditch attempt to absolve myself of some of the gnawing guilt and shame that tries to consume me. I don't really know, yet.  

My drawing shows how deeply entrenched this feeling of needing to apologise for who I am is: 

Drawing by me. 

And I am trapped in a state of discomfort whether I talk about my emotions or not. This flowchart shows how I am 'damned if I do and damned if I don't'. (Click for a larger image!).

My friend has set me a challenge to not apologise to her. It's going to be hard- but I can't say no to challenges so I am going to give it a go! The question is whether I will still be able to talk to her if I know I can't apologise for doing so... I will keep you updated on how it goes! 

I've had lots of great dialogue and tips shared with me on Twitter (@TalkingAboutBPD), please feel free to join the conversation, I would love to hear your thoughts! I made a YouTube video too about why silence can be so painful

My final thought is this, by the artist Dallas Clayton: 

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Powerful words: 'Me too'

TW this post mentions self-harm, eating disorders and suicidal thoughts 

The celebrated researcher of shame and empathy, BrenΓ©  Brown writes that 'empathy is the antidote to shame'.

When you tell your story to someone and they say something like: 'yeah, I can see how you would feel that way,' or 'that makes sense', it can take a weight of shame off your shoulders.

There is something amazing about realising that you're not alone in how you feel. There's something liberating in showing a part of yourself that you may have felt ashamed about and having that understood or accepted by someone else.

If you hide parts of yourself, it can lead to feelings of shame. Sometimes it's not safe for us to be open about things, because if we are then we might be shamed, oppressed or rejected- and that can be extremely scarring and add to your mental health problems.

Drawing by me

However, with safe people- if you can find them either online or in real life- you might be able to experience some of that empathy that can be the antidote to some of the shame you may be carrying. We shouldn't be carrying shame for our emotions. How we feel is how we feel. But I know so many of us carry so much painful shame around with us.

In my experience, intense shame can lead to a feeling of being 'locked into yourself', fear that you're not worthy of acceptance or belonging, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and eating disorders.

Drawing by me from about seven years ago. 

It's not always easy to find 'safe spaces' and 'safe people' to talk to, but if you are able to in some way, the power of empathy cannot be underestimated. If you don't have that yet, but want to experience it, I would recommend joining Twitter which is how I started out on my journey towards being able to talk about my experiences.

Drawing by me- feeling happy with myself!

Friday, 21 July 2017

7 reasons why it can be hard to talk about mental health...

As I have explained in other posts, I am in constant conflict between speaking and silence. Here are some of the reasons why it's hard for me to talk:

Drawing by me from a few years ago. 

1. The platitudes. 
It can really hurt when people respond by saying things like 'choose happy' and 'have you tried positive thinking?'. It can make you feel as if you deserve the suffering you may be experiencing.

2. The pity 
Having someone show pity to you can be an awful experience and can make you feel despondent and disempowered. Secondly, it might not match your experience of your life- see my post 'BPD is not being an unhappy person'. 

3. The 'push away'
When someone responds with 'oh okay so I guess I will see you when you feel better' or, 'let me give you some space'. This only serves to deepen any shame I may have lingering around my mental health conditions and increase any sense of rejection or the loneliness of going through a mental health condition.

Drawing from a comic by me

4. The 'get help' 
When someone constantly says empty words like 'get help' or 'reach out'. This tends to highlight that this person has no idea how it feels to be deeply entrenched in an eating disorder (as I was, once upon a time, as you can read here) and how hard it can be to understand what's happening, let alone communicate that to someone. And that's with the presumption that someone will even listen, and then understand.

Secondly, this can show a huge lack of awareness around the challenges of accessing appropriate support and/or mental health services. Telling someone 'get help' is rarely effective. Supporting someone to access help, or to talk about their feelings around asking for help (or feeling worthy of help), might be helpful for some people.

Drawings from my sketchbooks. 

5. The disbelief
This is when what you are saying doesn't match up to the person's idea of what a mental health condition is or who it might affect. Sometimes stereotypes block a person's ability to see what's happening, or to listen to what someone is saying.

6. The fear 
This can be fear of exposure, loss of confidentiality or anything else where the person feels like what they say might compromise their control. For example, calling mental health services might feel scary, because you might not know what will happen to you as a result of disclosing certain things. There can be fear over jobs, social rejection, discrimination etc.

Drawing by me

7. Judgement
Sometimes talking about mental health can lead to misinformed people making judgements- of character, of professional ability or ability to do something else. In and of itself, a disclosure about mental health should never be grounds to judge a person's capacity. What is important is the well-rounded picture of the whole person...which some people close their ears to once they hear certain key words that spark off their prejudices.

Picture of one of my Mental Health zines

Talking about mental health with the right people has been the most liberating thing I've probably ever done. But it can be so hard to do, and I have had to deal with all of the above responses countless times.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like my recent post on talking about suicidal thoughts.
I continue to open myself up because I refuse to be silenced. I would love to hear your experiences and let me know what you would like to see on this list. Tweet me @TalkingAboutBPD

Drawing by me. 

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Talking About Suicidal Thoughts

TW suicidal thoughts.

I have experiences suicidal thoughts for years and years. If you know me, you might find that hard to believe. That might be because you don't associate suicidal thoughts with someone 'like me'. Fact is, anyone can have suicidal thoughts. There's no 'personality type' for a mental illness, as I mentioned in my first ever video!

Suicidal thoughts can be complicated to understand, even for the person experiencing them. Public awareness remains low. This is probably because knowledge isn't being shared and stereotypes are not being given an opportunity to be broken. In many circles, it's still a taboo to talk about mental health, especially certain aspects such as suicidal thoughts.

Drawing from one of my comics

The idea that I have struggled with suicidal thoughts for years is one of the biggest things that people in my life struggle to understand. 

In fact, because others have struggled to understand my experiences with suicidal thoughts so much that I have been judged, shamed, criticised, ostracised and guilt-tripped more times than I can count.

People seem to find it very hard to listen to suicidal thoughts and this can quickly worsen my situation.

Drawing from around seven years ago. 

All the campaigns tell you to 'open up' and that it's 'time to talk' when you have suicidal thoughts. Let me tell you, from my lived experience, talking about suicidal thoughts can be extremely problematic. It can go very wrong- and has done for me many times. This is why I use Samaritans frequently as I trust them as 'safe' people for me to talk about my suicidal thoughts with.

Let me tell you why talking about suicidal thoughts can be problematic by explaining four of the most common reactions I have had over the years:

1. The panic: 'Oh my God, I'm dialling 999!' 

This reaction terrifies me and makes me feel incredibly out of control. I immediately lose trust in people who give me this reaction and I will never open up to them about anything in the future again. Ever. Why? Because I do not want screaming blue lights coming up to my house, neighbours twitching their curtains, notes being taken on me and the potential for decisions being made on my behalf without my consent.

This reaction absolutely scares the living daylights out of me and makes me feel like a criminal. When people have said this, my reaction has been to physically run away because I became so scared. And I have never wanted to talk to them about anything personal ever again because they made me feel out of control which is terrifying.

Drawing by me from a recent sketchbook.

2. The pity: 'Oh poor you, I didn't realise you hated your life so much. 

This frustrates me so much. Suicidal thoughts are not to do with hating anything. I love my life. I hate it when people think suicidal thoughts are to do with how miserable you are about life. It can be
about that for some people. But for me, and many others, it's not.

For me, suicidal thoughts are related to overwhelming emotions and probably some deep-seated and long term reason that can be explained with a large amount of very raw, honest and painful discussion with a highly skilled therapist.

Yes, it's a huge incongruity in my life that I suffer from suicidal thoughts whilst living a great life that I enjoy hugely surrounded with people I love. If you find that confusing, imagine how confused I feel, given that I'm the one (not you!) who is living with this.

I now only confide in a few selected friends who understand contradictions and complexities...

Drawing by me from a recent sketchbook.

3. The disbelief: 'But you seemed so great when I saw you yesterday'. 

I get this reaction all the time when I tell people about mental health stuff. It's really getting quite irritating! The suicidal thoughts can come very quickly, especially if I am triggered. There is often no warning or build up. Think how scary that is.

It's not 'just me', many people with BPD find that their moods can change very quickly, in a matter of minutes and with little or no build up. In my experience, people can't seem to accept the speed of the changes as fact. I always find myself defending the robustness of what I have just said due to this ignorance  masquerading as incredulity.

No one should have to defend the 'realness' of their suicidal thoughts, or any of their emotions for that matter! The emotions come extremely quickly and with the force of an electric shock:

Drawing from my sketchbook. 

4. The guilt-trip. 'I did  X and Y for you and you are still not happy.' 

This is emotional invalidation hitting you with a really low blow at a really bad time. This is one of the worst reactions I have had in the past, because it has compounded the shame I already felt.

Furthermore, this argument doesn't hold water because suicidal thoughts are not about unhappiness, given the fact that I can have suicidal thoughts at the same time as feeling extremely joyful (sometimes known as mixed states in bipolar disorder).

In addition, this reaction infers that I am using suicidal thoughts as a way of throwing something back in someone's face. That couldn't be further from the truth in the case of my suicidal thoughts.

Drawing from my zine 'Some people hurt themselves'. 

What have been your experiences if you have talked about having suicidal thoughts? Has it ever made you feel worse? Or has it been helpful? I would love to hear from you on Twitter @TalkingAboutBPD or Instagram (TalkingAboutBPD).

I am going to describe my 'ideal reaction' in a post soon. Do you have any helpful responses?

A sense of belonging?

TW This post mentions suicidal thoughts, self-harm and eating disorders. 

One thought was a constant dark cloud in my mind throughout my late teens and my early twenties. The thought went like this:

'If people knew about my ________, then they would reject me'.

The blank at any time could have included any of the following:

  • depression
  • self-harm
  • suicidal thoughts
  • medication 
  • psychiatrist / therapist  
  • eating disorder

Hiding things from others means that you are only revealing parts of yourself. In my experience, it creates the feeling that people only like and accept you in part. Because they don't know all of me.

Painting from seven years ago. 

I had (and still sometimes have) the fear that if I were to show those hidden parts of myself, then the result would be rejection. That people would turn around and tell me they no longer want to associate themselves with me. This fear has consumed me in my periods of depression and has driven the intense feelings of shame and worthlessness during BPD episodes. 

This is a drawing I did aged around fourteen in one of my notebooks. It articulates my sense of not belonging and feeling lonely:

 The more I understood myself and let myself feel the things I felt without judging myself and criticising myself, the more I could share that with friends. Over the years, I have experienced stereotyping and judgement and so lately I have been spending more and more time with the friends who I can be myself around.

Photo taken by me.

I love this photo from a month or two ago when I went on a day trip to the beach with some friends. It struck me that, after many years of feeling that I couldn't be myself and that I wouldn't be accepted, there are people who I feel will accept me and who do make me feel like I can belong.

Rejection and stigma around mental health are real (I have experienced it, and it hurts). But when you find those people who allow you to be yourself without judgement, it can be incredibly liberating.

Art: My tool for mental health

Some of my paintings!

Sometimes I draw to release and/or communicate my emotions, kind of like having a conversation with myself. At other times, art is a way of relaxing and taking a break from the exhaustion of dealing with mental health stuff and the stresses of work or life in general. These are my 'galaxies' and a couple of jellyfish!

I find painting especially relaxing because the runny nature of paint means that it is less predictable than pen. Therefore I have to relinquish control and just wait and see what happens when the paint hits the page. 

Going out to paint with a coffee in the garden 

In DBT, some might call this skill 'mini holiday'. I like to make a coffee and then go and doodle or paint outside. This photo is from a period when I was in a period of depression and I had to take a few days off work. 

During that time I made some deliberate choices to do things that might recalibrate my mood- and art was a huge part of that. I drew this cute little fox too as a way of cheering myself up.

Drawing by me. 

I wonder how others use art as a tool for helping their mental health? I would love to hear from you @TalkingAboutBPD. 

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Our need to be seen and heard...

This is me!

We are so much more than the stereotypes!

Thank you for all the conversation, support and enthusiasm around this tweet I posted over a year ago.

There's so much hate out there on the internet about BPD and that can bring a person down. It's hugely unfair that discriminatory and quite frankly deeply wrong and disturbing videos and websites out there exist.

Talking About BPD is one of many places on the internet where we can celebrate our compassion, empathy, creativity and sensitivity.

Painting I did many years ago. 

It has been wonderful to have so many people connecting to this tweet and relating to it. In the face of stereotypes, we must remember our strengths!

It seems like so many people have felt an affinity to this tweet over the past year.

Mental illness is NOT being 'an unhappy person'

TW This post mentions self-harm, eating disorder and suicidal thoughts 

I have, or have had, experiences with emotional dysregulation, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, an eating disorder and so on.

And yet that does not make me 'an unhappy person'. In fact, I LOVE my life and I love who I am.

This is me!

Yes, sometimes I go through extreme emotional distress, and yet that is not mutually exclusive with living an enjoyable life and loving who you are.

Some people with a mental illness might be unhappy, and many are. Especially if they don't have enough support or have trauma from their past or the mental health / psychiatric system, as is the case for many. People with a mental illness have lives with multiple factors that influence how 'enjoyable' their life is or how 'happy' they are.

Drawing by me!

I wish people could see that having a mental illness does not necessarily mean that you are miserable and that you are unhappy with your life or who you are. I think this is one of my least favourite stereotypes about people who have a mental illness. I am SO much more than the mental health stuff I go through.

Even though I have lived through an eating disorder (anorexia), self-harm, depression, a huge mental breakdown, BPD and more, I am one of the most positive, joyful, loving and happiest people I know! And I know my family and friends agree with me! 

Tweet me @TalkingAboutBPD to share your thoughts, I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Moments of Distress: The Bigger Picture

After a couple of episodes of extreme distress, as mentioned in my previous post, I felt like I had taken steps backwards. I felt angry with myself, felt like giving up. I felt angry and felt like self-sabotaging. I felt like I had gone backwards and told myself I didn't care now what happened.

But I managed to let those feelings pass. I tried to just let it crash over me like a huge wave. I was drowning in it, sitting on a train feeling desperate and scared. 

As it began to pass, I decided to pick myself up and make a list on my phone of the good things I have in my life.

I needed to remind myself that actually- in spite of feeling extremely distressed in that moment- things are actually going really well for me at the moment. One in the moment feeling is not an accurate picture of my life as a whole.

Making lists like this is one of my coping strategies. Here it is:

Displaying IMG_2319.JPG

It doesn't matter how big or small the things on this list are. If it's something you feel good about in your life, it's worth adding it to the list. I wrote that I love my clothes right now! It can be anything at all! Even something tiny like seeing a lovely tree or smelling fruit in a shop.

Photo by me. Noticing the little things

As I can get a lot of anxiety about my social relationships, when I am distressed thinking about people can be triggering for me, so sometimes my list of 'distress tolerance' skills would be more like: coffee, tea, Harry Potter, shower gel, incense.

Let me know how you get on if you do a list! I would love to know! Tweet me @TalkingAboutBPD.

Realising that I've always been deserving of help

TW This post mentions self-harm, suicidality and eating disorders. 
I have recently been able to access help from mental health services. This is momentous for me, as someone who has had either a difficult or a non-existent relationship with mental health services.

You can read here how A&E staff refused to help me when I was extremely distressed and about as suicidal as you can get without actually being in the middle of dying. How being told to leave the A&E department without any help was so frightening to me that I became even more distressed, and ended up on the floor screaming and begging staff for help.

Drawing by me. 

And then how how staff told me I was 'scaring the patients' and that they would call the police unless I left the premises. So somehow I dragged my degraded, shaken, abandoned, terrified body off the floor and walked out into the dark hospital car park. 

No one can ever say I am not a strong person.

Yes, that kind of thing really does happen. To many people, many times. It is not right.

Drawing by me

I naturally lost trust in services from that moment. I didn't dare ask for help for fear of it being affirmed to me again that there was no help. Secondly, I didn't dare because the thought of police involvement absolutely and utterly terrified me- I didn't want anything jeopardising my career plans of working with children. Thirdly, it affirmed the belief that I didn't deserve help.

Page from one of my sketchbooks. It can be scary to ask for help. 

Growing up, I always held the insidious and destructive idea that maybe I was just an attention seeker. That I was was feeling the way I felt as some kind of disgusting joke. It wouldn't be too far to say that at times as a teenager I felt like an evil monster for feeling the way I felt. 

I felt that there was something deeply disgusting about me, because I had huge mood swings where I felt suicidal, self-harmed and tried to starve myself. I told myself that 'someone like me' shouldn't be doing that / feeling that. I told myself there was no reason for the way I felt. I never felt entitled to my feelings. I hid them. I felt deeply, deeply embarrassed and ashamed.

Drawing by me. 

There were times as child, from age about nine, and as a teenager, that I attempted to ask for help. But I was confused, scared and I always felt like I deserved to suffer. I always felt like suffering was what I deserved and was a way of making myself into a 'better person'.  The help I needed never came.

But receiving compassionate care from mental health services has made me realise now that I have always been deserving of help, even if I asked for it and it never came. 

Drawing by me. 

It has been painful to look back and realise that I was suffering and that it wasn't my fault or a 'character flaw'. I wasn't a 'bad person', instead I was a young person who needed- and deserved- help. It can hurt to look back and see my past self blaming herself and in need of help. 

Recently, I received a letter outlining my history of self-harm since childhood, my anorexia-like eating disorder I had for a couple of years during my late teens and my suicidality. Whilst reading that letter, it struck me that I was a child and young person in pain and needing help, rather than the attention-seeking demon I believed I was. It was like reading a life story from the perspective of someone else- and it was extremely upsetting and I felt very, very sad about what I read. 

Drawing by me. 

Since that change in perspective, I have been having some episodes of extreme distress. Talking about this in therapy for the last two weeks has left me in extreme distress:

Distress of the inconsolable, sobbing, non-verbal, crushed, puffed-up face, crying in the street, talking to myself on the train, shaking kind. 

The wave that hits in the street and I feel out of control, sobbing behind my sunglasses, barely caring if strangers stop and stare, struggling to breathe, feeling on the brink of collapse. 

I can liken it to a flashback like the kind the happens in PTSD and it's like you are re-living a distressing memory. It's a feeling of being incredibly vulnerable, an open wound, trapped in that moment and that pain. 
My drawing of what an 'episode' feels like. 

Living through these episodes is teaching me to see myself as someone who deserves compassion. Each time I survive one, I learn that I can get through it. I can see their intensity and length decreasing each time I get through one without self-harming or acting on suicidal feelings. 

It's a cliche, but if I am compassionate to others, then why not to myself? I think all of this a key stepping stone towards being able to deal with my emotional dysregulation and in particular, shame. 

Drawing by me. Me and one of my best friends. 

Thank you everyone for your support via Twitter @TalkingAboutBPD. The dialogue and empathy has been absolutely amazing and I appreciate it so much

Monday, 10 July 2017

Drawing from a small episode

Due to stress at work and beginning medication (quetiapine), I feel like I am having to 'manage' my mental health more than ever at the moment.

Sometimes the ball of emotion inside me becomes so big it feels unbearable...that's when I have to draw as a way of:

1. articulating it

2. releasing it.

Drawing is a way of being able to cope and retain some sense of control. I was inundated with positive feedback when I shared this drawing on Twitter a few days ago.  my drawings.

Drawing I did during a small episode. 

 I would love to know if you draw as a way of helping yourself.

I am also curious as to whether anyone experiences strong urges to express themselves during an episode. I would love to hear from you in the comments section or via Twitter @TalkingAboutBPD.

Don't know what to do with these feelings!

As is often the case, I don't know what to do with my overflowing emotions.

This time, it's the emotion of gratitude. I don't know how to express just how grateful I am to those who have given me so much when I have been really struggling with my mental health.

Even little things that friends say and do mean such an enormous amount. Small texts can sometimes mean the difference between feeling like I can get through it or feeling like I am about to break down.

These are some pages from my sketchbook when I was overflowing with gratitude and didn't know quite what to do with the, as usual, I drew and wrote!

I would love to know if you relate to these feelings. Tweet me @TalkingAboutBPD.