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Friday, 30 December 2016

Surviving suicidal ideation

TW This piece talks about suicide, and in more depth than most of my other posts. So please take care if it might trigger you. It might be distressing for some people to read.  

A few years ago I was lying on the floor with a suicide plan and the means to do so.

I hope that I wouldn't have followed through with it. I had what the professionals call 'protective factors', that is, family and friends who I loved and who loved me, passions, interests, dreams for the future.

Drawing from a few years ago. 

The internal screaming of suicidal ideation was so deafening and incessant that, rather than diffuse the roar inside me, the love I felt for my family and friends seemed to add to it.

Being suicidal isn't to do with how much people love you. It is something that can happen when you are in severe distress and pain.

Some people think that suicidal people feel no joy and no love. But for me it was as if the force of every emotion I had ever felt, from love to joy to anguish was searing through me; I felt so strangulated and drowned that killing myself felt like the thing to do.

Most of all, however, I felt three things: unbearably sad, frightened and lonely. This was accompanied by agony of a physical kind searing into my core.

Drawing I did a few years ago. 

Someone wrote that suicide happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with that pain. This is what has happened to me several times in my life. Lying on that floor, plan, I didn't want to kill myself. I was in extreme distress and needed help.

Suicidal ideation matched the pain I felt at the time. I didn't have a crisis plan. I didn't have someone ready who I felt able to turn to.  I felt extremely alone and scared.

If I had felt comfortable enough to share what I was experiencing- without fearing that decisions were going to be made that were outside my control or that I was going to be shamed, rejected or scare people- then I believe the situation would have diffused.

Instead, I felt I couldn't risked being rejected, shamed or abandoned when I was already on the brink of killing myself. I never wanted to scare people with how I felt. I couldn't risk the consequences, so I didn't put words to my pain until I was found and someone took me to A&E.

Drawing by me. 

If mental health and suicide were talked about more openly, many people would feel more comfortable to reach out when suicidal. And others might know more about how to respond. This would save lives. 

I'm lucky and deeply thankful that my family found me, many people don't have that luxury.

Since then, I have learnt how to cope with my overwhelming emotions. I'm more grateful that I didn't kill myself during that period.

I'm making my peace with what I have been through. I have found help and support that I didn't previously have. I know what a strong person I am and can be proud of myself sometimes now.

Me

I hope that sharing my story makes you feel less alone if you have experienced something similar.

You can contact Samaritans any time everyday here.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Euphoria / Hypomania & Depression

A few years ago, when I was in the most intense throes of emotional distress and instability, my emotional experiences were immensely wide-ranging. From despair to euphoria and back again within an hour. Some people might liken this to mixed states or rapid cycling referred to in bipolar.

Drawing from years ago by me about highs and lows. 


With the words depression in the media comes images of people with their head in their hands and clouds looming over them. I did feel plunged into despair. But also at that time in my life, I experienced 'highs' in tandem, or even simultaneously, with depression. The swirling euphoria combined with being flattened with depression.

I know depression is usually known as the absence of all joy- and yes it certainly can be that. That indeed was often my experience of depression. But at other times I was hit with these euphoric, hypomanic highs.

Drawing by me of the contrasting moods. 

I found them really confusing. And it really hurt me when people dismissed me when I talked about them. As I were lying about them, as if they were 'impossible' at that time to me.

At one point someone close to me told me, 'You're wrong, you're not happy. In fact, you're a deeply unhappy person.' This was an immeasurably unhelpful thing to say. It meant that I have had to work really hard to acknowledge my experiences as valid, as real and therefore as deserving of help. 

So if this is your experience of your emotions within depression, I want you to know that I have been there, it is a real experience and it deserves to be acknowledged, like any and all emotional experiences.

Your experiences are valid. You are valid. 

Photo by me, taken when I was very depressed. 


We are all individuals


Some people take medication.
Some people don't.

Some people like therapy.
Some people don't.

Drawing by me. 


Some people want a diagnosis.
Some people don't.

Some people find a label helpful.
Some people don't.

Drawing by me.


Some people tell people.
Some people don't.

Some people find medical models helpful.
Some people don't.

Drawing by me. 


What one person finds helpful.
Others don't.

What words one person likes.
Others don't.

Drawing by me. 

Or maybe you sit somewhere between these positions. Or in both. Or in none. Or you don't know where you sit.

There is no place for judgement, no place for sanctimonious advice when it's not asked for. No place for being holier-than-though.

One of my cartoons about talking about mental health. 


Everyone deserves respect.
Everyone deserves choice.
Everyone has the right to self-define.
Everyone is an individual.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Carrie Fisher: Mental Illness Warrior


A few weeks ago I wrote this tweet to acknowledge that well-known people have used their platform to speak about their experiences of Bipolar. The same cannot be said of well-known people and BPD.

It's very sad news to hear that Carrie Fisher has come to the end of her life. She had bipolar and wasn't afraid to speak about her experiences. This gave comfort to so many, who realised that they were not alone, not flawed, not the only ones...speaking out rather than upholding dangerous silences around mental illness meant that others felt more able to break their own silences.

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Image from Huffington Post

I feel that it would be wonderful if someone in the public eye were to do for BPD what Carrie Fisher has done for bipolar. I believe it would make more people with BPD feel more comfortable about talking about their experiences.

For now, I am thankful to Carrie Fisher for talking about her experiences. Carrie's last column for the Guardian was about bipolar, offering her support to someone writing in about their bipolar. Her beautiful closing lines were:

You can let it all fall down and feel defeated and hopeless and that you’re done. But you reached out to me – that took courage. Now build on that. Move through those feelings and meet me on the other side. As your bipolar sister, I’ll be watching. Now get out there and show me and you what you can do. (Guardian) 


My Eating Disorder: Comfort & Cruelty

TW Eating disorders. Please be careful if you are sensitive to descriptions of how eating disorders can feel. 

I've likened the eating disorder I used to have to a bear in a previous post, describing it as something that felt at once cosy and safe, like a fluffy teddy bear, but something which was also ferocious and dangerous, like a grizzly bear.

On Pinterest, I came across this and it struck a chord with me. It reminds me of how I felt like the eating disorder I had was a safety blanket for me, an anchor, when my emotions and experiences felt so chaotic and overwhelming.

Drawing by me expressing how my eating disorder felt.

I clung to my eating disorder as a way of life, even though it scared me and caused me a lot of discomfort, and a lot of pain to those around me too. At the time, I ultimately felt alone with my emotions and experiences that my eating disorder was something that was always with me that was 'mine'.

After a lot of therapy and support from my family over months and years, I managed to live my life without the destruction that my eating disorder was creating. Recovery can be a problematic word, but I describe myself as having recovered from my eating disorder now.

Drawing from my sketchbook when I had an eating disorder.

That time of my life was gruelling and repetitive; leaving my eating disorder behind demanded grit, determination and resolve to say 'I don't need or want you anymore'.

I've spent years feeling embarrassed and beating myself up about being someone who has 'suffered from' an eating disorder and depression (and later the diagnosis of BPD). I'm at a place now where -I'm making my peace with this...I know anyone- myself included- who deals with depression, eating disorders and any kind of  emotional distress has grit, determination and strength that deserves the utmost respect from both themselves and others.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

2016...a year of greater emotional stability?

TW self-harm 

One of my main goals and new year's resolutions for 2016 was emotional stability. I wanted to gain power over what I call my 'emotional storms', so that my life was less dominated by chaotic ups and downs; emotional tempests in which I feel like I can't breathe, can't stop crying, like the emotions are drowning and suffocating me.

Emotional storms that hit with a force and a volatility that make me feel so vulnerable, scared, helpless and out of control, that I am willing to do almost anything that will give me a moment of relief from feeling unbearably overwhelmed.



The desperate desire for a moment's relief has led to impulsive behaviour, such as self-harm, running away, acting very chaotically and in self-sabotaging ways. I turned to these behaviours instinctively as a way of grabbing a momentary sense of relief from the emotional storm.

Such behaviours may have taken me away from the emotional storm for a moment, but they have not been effective in the longer term for my emotional regulation, my relationships and my life as well as that of others.

For example, in the past when I have gone into an emotional storm and it is sheer terror...a physical sensation...my body a 'whirlpool', out of control, the overwhelming force of emotion....lying on the floor, 'knocked over'....like my whole body is being sucked into the ground, my stomach a massive black hole sucking everything out of myself...

When that happens, I look frantically for an anchor to keep myself from falling down, down, down....

I am desperate for words of reassurance, a memory, a thought, a scrap of something- anything- that can act as an anchor amidst this storm. 

Drawing I did of a BPD episode

When I have failed to find this- or, worse still- when I have been able to ask for help and it has not come- self-harm has been a means of 'bringing me back to myself', of jolting myself out of the storm.

I would imagine this description doesn't make sense to you if you're reading this and have no experience of what this feels like. I have heard of other people describing BPD episodes as a 'black hole' or a 'vortex', and I can totally relate.

So my goal for 2016 was that I wanted these emotional storms to happen less frequently. I wanted to be able to come out of them quicker when I came into them. I wanted to be able to deal with them without being sabotaging and destructive in my life and the lives of others.

Starting therapy again towards the beginning of the year has helped massively. Being increasingly open with people about my experiences has been really helpful. Learning more DBT skills from DBT Path, online and books has given me a few tools that have empowered me to regulate my moods on a larger scale, as well as on a moment-to-moment basis too.



I hope this post might be able to give someone somewhere a sprinkling of hope... if you are having your own BPD episodes or any other kinds of emotions that arise suddenly and you find yourself acting impulsively out of desperation and pain: they can get better. My episodes happen much less frequently now and for shorter lengths of time.

If things have become easier for me, then there is hope that in time things can become easier for you too.

Photo by me

Tweet me @TalkingAboutBPD if you want to comment or share your experiences, I would love to hear from you.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

DBT Skill: 'Cope ahead'

TW flashbacks, crisis, suicidal thoughts, self harm

As you may know, there are four categories of DBT skills: mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, emotion regulation and distress tolerance.

At the moment, I am thinking about the category emotion regulation. For me, emotion regulation is about coping with the intense highs and the crashing lows. It'a also about knowing the triggers and recognising (through mindfulness) when I am speeding up into a high- which can all too often lead to a crash. A skill I am digging out at the moment from emotion regulation is called 'cope ahead'.

I'm digging it out because it's coming up to Christmas and a time of year when, historically, I have struggled and have been in crisis. It has been a time when in the past I haven't been able to regulate moods and I have spiralled into self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

I am worried about being catapulted into a past mental space because of the associations with particular times. So using the skill 'cope ahead' right now means that I'm making a plan for how to deal with any flashbacks or difficult memories that are stirred up.

Cope ahead, especially with regard to flashbacks, might involve:
  • mindfulness: reminding yourself that you are in the present moment
  • rehearsing the upcoming situation so it's less of a shock
  • knowing your support network for that time 
  • remembering to be responsive, rather than reactive. Waiting to see if the impulse passes.
  • using other skills such as '5 senses', to distract, ground yourself during difficult memories etc. 
  • using 'describe', for example, 'I am anxious because I am experiencing a stressful memory. It will pass.' 

Learn to surf

Have you got experience with any of these skills or experiences? Please feel free to share them @TalkingAboutBPD if you want to. 


I define myself- not Google!

The time that followed my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder was a tricky one. I felt scared that if I told people about my diagnosis then they would read about BPD online and allocate the limited, and often inaccurate, descriptions to me.

Drawing by me.

I have come a long way since that time of fear. I know that who I am cannot be reduced to an online description. Google will not tell you who I am because...

1. I am not a list of the symptoms of BPD. To meet criteria for BPD a person must meet 5 of the 9 symptoms. That makes for 256 combinations of those symptoms. Plus, there are infinite nuances within the symptoms themselves. Then, add in all the other immeasurable ways that people are individuals...experiences, identities personality, interests and so on. It should go without saying, I am so much more than the list of symptoms of a diagnosis.

Drawing from my sketchbook

2. The websites that write as if there is a set 'type' of person with BPD are wrong. There is no 'type' of person with BPD. Put a bunch of people with BPD in the same room, chances are that we will have wildly different personalities. There will be shared experiences and maybe some profound emotional  connections between some of the individuals, yet much of the common ground shared by people with BPD is likely to be a shared experience of stigma, difficulty accessing treatment and feeling unheard and silenced.

Photo by me.


3. The term Personality Disorder does not tell you what your personality is 'like'. Many people- me included- feel that the term Personality Disorder can be unsettling and unhelpful. Hearing the word 'disorder' applied to me was, frankly, frightening. I wondered what  about my 'personality' was 'not in order'. I have since emerged from that slippery spiral with a deep knowledge that that the words attributed to me by a DSM wielding psychiatrist are not a definition of who I am. Your personality has countless components, a bit like a jewel with light glimmering off it from every angle. The words Personality Disorder is a way of looking at some of your experiences through one viewpoint.

Me!


I used to be terrified of telling people about my diagnosis of BPD out of fear they would use the results of a Google search to define me.

The more confident I have become in who I am, the less I am affected by others' judgements of me- or indeed that they will use the internet to create an incorrect idea of who I am. After all, Google will not tell you who I am.

Only I can tell you who I am.

I define myself- no one else does. 

My photo

I write my blog and Twitter as a way of countering the stereotypical and singular narratives of Borderline Personality Disorder. We are a diverse and beautiful set of people with this diagnosis.

Recommendation: Doll Hospital Journal

I don't know how stumbled upon Doll Hospital Journal but one thing I do know is how glad I am to have found it!

Doll Hospital is an 'art and literature journal on mental health' founded by Bethany Rose Lamont. The journal is a beautiful work of art, intended to be read in print as 'something still, something quiet, something just for you.'

I downloaded Issue 1 (and hopefully soon print editions will be available) in the quiet of a late winter's night. Rather than it being 'something still', it actually gave me the jitters because I found its mission, tone and aesthetics so exciting!

Doll Hospital buzzes with the energy of ownership, empowerment, self-definition and self-acceptance. 

It revels in the power of expression, in the flexibility of the human mind, of identities...of being able to talk about your own experiences on your own terms.  

The journal is doing something palpably intersectional...it embraces expressing ideas about feminism, about trans identities, about disability, about race and much more...it's about getting voices which remain largely unheard, heard. 

Image result for doll hospital journal
Issue 1 of Doll Hospital

Like the jam-packed cover of Issue 1 pictured above, the magic of Doll Hospital is situated in its polyvocality. Doll Hospital doesn't propose a single construct as 'truth', instead it allows for a multitude of voices to sing out their own tunes, loud and proud. 

As the Doll Hospital website states, 'we want to offer a platform to those who experience mental health firsthand, in their own words, on their own terms'. 

Doll Hospital is unafraid and holds its head up high as it speaks out in a variety of voices. Its energy is infectious, its topics and tone important. I can't recommend it highly enough. 

You can check out their website here or find them over on Tumblr

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The 5 most helpful things for me to hear when talking about mental health


1. It's fine for you to talk about this. 

Historically, I have shame not only about my experiences, but for my need to talk about them. I've been told by former friends that I'm inappropriate for broaching topics and that I should 'never talk about this again'. Embarrassment rushed through me like a hot rash and an unnecessary sense of shame silenced me for a long time. Luckily, I have moved on and have been able to talk again with open-minded people who have given me positive and accepting reactions. Through talking with understanding and open people, I have been able to release a lot of shame.


2. You can talk to me again whenever you need to. 

Because of reactions I have experienced when talking about mental health, I am constantly worried that I will 'make people uncomfortable'. I have since realised that if someone is uncomfortable with talking about mental health, it is more likely to be their own prejudices than my insensitivity. So I feel very validated that it was okay for me to talk if friends say I can talk to them again.

My drawing of a good friend when talking about mental health. 

3. I don't think of you any differently than I did before you told me this. 

When I have talked to people in the past, I have been worried that they will see me in a different light once they know about my experiences. I'm worried that they will think they didn't know me before and are judging my actions and character on the basis of the new information they have about my life. So when people treat me just the same as they always did, that reassures me. After all, I am much, much more than my experiences of mental illnesses/distress.

My drawing of me with one of my best friends. 


4. I have / know someone who has had a similar experience.

When said without that annoying dose of 'I know it all', this can be incredibly helpful as it can make me feel less alone.



5. It's up to you. 

I don't like being told what's best for me. I like to supported. But at the end of the day, I know myself and my experiences best, so I'd rather people hold off with any sanctimonious judgements. I don't like having my experiences and emotions judged, quantified and defined by others!

Me!

I have written about how conversations can change things, how talking can really turn things around. Please feel free to add to the dialogue by tweeting me @TalkingAboutBPD.

You might also like my post on why it can be hard to talk about mental health and talking about suicidal thoughts.