I’ve been debating whether to do this post for a while but, having seen and read the Time to Change website, I’ve decided to share my story to help others understand. Since making that decision to do it, it has taken me three days to write it…. because of my gibberish problem (see below*) and even longer to have the nerve to post it!!
Mental health has been an issue for at least 3 generations of females in my family, but it has affected us all in different ways.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety in my early twenties and have been prescribed a variety of different anti-depressants over the years. Even with the anti-depressants, I have no self-confidence or self-esteem. The thought of meeting new people scares me, as does being in a group of people, even having to talk to someone I know makes me nervous. I don’t like going out in case someone talks to me because I don’t know what to say to them. *When I do talk to people I feel as though I’m talking gibberish, even doing this post I feel like I’m typing gobbledygook!
I have times when I have no interest in things, when I get irritable, when I have no energy or when I am tearful for no reason. On a good note though, I am not suicidal, although I have been in the past.
We often use the expression ‘I feel depressed’ when we’re feeling sad or miserable about life. Usually, these feelings pass in due course. But, if the feelings are interfering with your life and don’t go away after a couple of weeks, or if they come back, over and over again, for a few days at a time, it could be a sign that you’re depressed in the medical sense of the term.
In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life, but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, major depression (clinical depression) can be life-threatening, because it can make you feel suicidal or simply give up the will to live.
If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll have seen me mention Zoe. Zoe is my youngest daughter and I think that we’re very close. She has two children, an 8-year-old girl and a 5-year-old boy. She now lives with her daughters dad but hasn’t always done so.
Zoe was diagnosed with BPD (borderline personality disorder) when she was 21.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
BPD is one of many personality disorders listed in the diagnostic manuals used by clinicians when they are giving someone a psychiatric diagnosis.
Below are the symptoms of borderline personality disorder according to recent government guidelines. A doctor will diagnose borderline personality disorder in persons who have five or more of these symptoms and if the symptoms have a significant impact on them.
- Having emotions that are up and down (for example, feeling confident one day and feeling despair another), with feelings of emptiness and often anger
- Black and white thinking. idealisation to devaluation
- Difficulty in making and maintaining relationships
- Having an unstable sense of identity, such as thinking differently about yourself depending on who you are with
- Taking risks or doing things without thinking about the consequences
- Harming yourself or thinking about harming yourself (for example, cutting yourself or overdosing)
- Fearing being abandoned or rejected or being alone
- Sometimes believing in things that are not real or true (called delusions) or seeing or hearing things that are not really there (called hallucinations).
People with borderline personality disorder have high rates of other mental health related problems, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and substance misuse (drugs or alcohol).
The question of ‘personality disorders’ is controversial, as what some experts term as ‘personality’ others regard as ‘the self’; so any suggestion that a person’s self is disordered, damaged or flawed can be distressing.
BPD is thought to affect less than one percent of the general population. It’s been estimated that three-quarters of those given this diagnosis are women. It’s a condition that is usually diagnosed in adults only.
Research shows that people with BPD are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and make suicide attempts compared to people with other psychiatric diagnoses.
While mental health experts now generally agree that the name “borderline personality disorder” is misleading, a more accurate term does not exist yet.
The causes of BPD are unclear. Most researchers think that BPD develops through a combination of factors, including temperament, childhood and adolescent experiences. Difficult life events such as the early loss of a parent, childhood neglect, sexual or physical abuse are common in people diagnosed with BPD though this is not always the case. Stressful experiences, such as the break-up of a relationship or the loss of a job, can lead to already present symptoms of BPD getting worse.
Seeing Zoe live with a lot of the symptoms above has been heartbreaking for me, especially when you look at the causes of BPD.
Due to my own mental health issues and the inability to cope, I put my children into care. It wasn’t a decision I made easily, but I honestly thought that they would be better off with people who could care for them better than I was able to. I didn’t know how wrong could I be.
While the eldest two went to live permanently with my parents, my two younger children, after a brief stay with my parents, were pushed from pillar to post in the ‘care’ system.
I’d like to think that there are great foster parents somewhere out there, that there are people who take children in because they want to help them and look after them and don’t just see them as a cash cow. But if there are, then I don’t know where they were when my children needed a home.
My children were neglected and abused, and I was mostly kept in the dark. When I did find things out and tried my best to help them, I was patronised or ignored… everyone knew better than me…. and the things I did find out at the time were nothing compared to what I know now.
I have regrets, I wish things could have been different for all of us, and I feel a great deal of guilt, but I made a decision which I thought was right at that time.
I have seen Zoe suffer, I have seen the results of her self-harming, and I have sat at the side of her hospital bed desperately hoping that she will be ok. I’ve had to watch her dive heart-first into abusive or destructive relationships rather than be alone, unable to prevent the inevitable outcome, only able to try to pick up the pieces afterward. I’ve watched her move house impulsively, packed and gone (or just gone), within days, on more occasions than I care to think about. I’ve seen her need help, but either not ask for it or not get it until it’s too late.
Through all of it I have tried to be there for her, whenever she needed or wanted me to be, but I don’t know if it was enough.
I have also witnessed her fight for a good life for herself and her children, and I’ve seen her give up, only to come back stronger and fight again.
I’m watching her now, build a life for family and I hope, with all my heart, that she will succeed. I also hope she knows, that I will do anything within my power to help them.
If you would like to read or understand how having BPD affects Zoe, check out her blog Living On The Borderline
My eldest daughter, Claire, is married, has two boys aged 7 and 11, with a third due in September.
I can’t say too much about Claire as we don’t talk often. She generally only rings when she has a problem, is upset or has some great new. Nine times out of ten when I ring her she is too busy to talk for long.
I don’t know whether she has actually been diagnosed with a mental health illness, but I do know that she recently spent a week in rehab for alcohol abuse. However at different times she has told me she is bipolar and/or schizophrenic. She isn’t, as far as I know, being treated for either condition.
She does have problems staying in relationships as the grass always seems greener elsewhere. She is also a fantasist and an attention seeker.
I have to admit I don’t understand her very well and I feel bad about that, although having done some research I think I am more understanding than I was. I do wish she could just be honest and open, and maybe that would help her get some help with her problem. I also hope that she will be able to settle in her on and off, and on again, relationship with her husband.
Some behavioral problems seem to plague compulsive overeaters and substance abusers more than other groups. Excess attention seeking appears to be one of them. All humans require attention. Without getting and giving attention, you could not have a social species. Getting attention is necessary for life’s vital enterprises and can be the difference between life and death in a crisis. Therefore, not getting adequate attention can threaten the quality and sustainability of life. Thus, getting functional social attention is understandable. However, extreme attention seekers go to unhealthy lengths that are driven by emotional desperation.
Excessive attention seeking is not a character flaw. It is a brain wiring response to early developmental trauma caused by neglect though not all neglect is evidence of a lack of love. People only have so much they can give; sometimes that is not enough. The developing brain observes its environment and wires itself accordingly to survive in that world that it presumes will be like those experiences.
My Mum is another person I really do not understand.
She has had depression. She spent some time on a psychiatric ward when I was 17. You would expect her to have some understanding or empathy for myself and my daughters, but you’d be wrong.
She is definitely a member of the old ‘snap out of it, pull your socks up and get over it‘ brigade.
She seems to think that I no longer have a problem, that my not ‘not liking’ to meet new people is because I am shy. She doesn’t realise that when we are out together and she talks to anyone and everyone, that all I want to do is run away and hide, or even curl up and die, that I couldn’t be happier if the ground opened and swallowed me up.
When she talks to me about my daughters, she says things like… “We know what it’s like” and “We know how it feels”, but she doesn’t know what it’s like for me, for Zoe or for Claire.
I don’t know how it feels to be Zoe!
I don’t know how it feels to be Claire!
I know how it feels to be me and it’s not good, and I’m not over it, and I’m guessing that after 30 years of not being able to snap out of it, I probably never will!
So, there it is, a brief look into my family’s fight with Mental Health. Writing this post has been a struggle for me, but if it helps even one person overcome the stigma of mental health, or helps a single person change their attitude towards people with mental health problems, then it has been worth it.