When Jason asked me to write a guest post for his blog I was more than happy to oblige. Having done a few for other blogs recently, I enjoy getting out there and sharing with others. However, my dilemma (as always) was what to write about. In the end I decided to write about me, but this time without the focus being on my illness. Just so you understand the context of that statement, I’ll just fill you in briefly and then if you want to read more about that you can check out my blog where there are many posts on the topic.
My name is Sharon; I am 34 and was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in 2010. BPD is a severe mental illness characterised by instability in mood, emotions and relationships along with self-harming and suicidal thoughts. My diagnosis came at a point where I had been in and out of “crisis” for more than a year during which time my granddad and husband had both died, and I graduated from the Open University with a 2.1 Bachelor of Science Honors degree. Following the diagnosis I continued in and out of crisis because I lost my job since the company couldn’t afford to keep me anymore. I didn’t do anything wrong for them, but the job was no longer available. I moved home, found a new job and a new partner. I signed off work sick because of my BPD in April this year, returned in July and signed off again in September.
But, as with everyone there is much more to me than my diagnosis, which is something I have recently become almost defined by. So I wanted to share a bit about me apart from my mental health issues for a change.
My life has been characterised by a very diverse range of interests and activities. I met my future husband in 1992 when I was 15. I gave birth to my son when I was 16 and my daughter when I was 17. At this point I was defined as a mother first and foremost. Yet, even with this role I still had much I wanted to do and achieve and soon began volunteering for charitable organizations. Both my children were born with medical conditions which meant it was near impossible for me to have a paying job while they were young (My son was born 13 weeks prematurely and my daughter was born with a complex heart condition). So, to allow me to have outside stimulation I worked volunteering part-time in several roles including charity shop sales assistant, classroom assistant, youth work assistant and charity fundraiser. Once the children were a little older, in nursery school, I went back to college and studied English, Biology, Sociology, Law and much more.
In 1998 my son was diagnosed with epilepsy, closely followed by diagnoses of ADHD and Aspergers Syndrome. My soon-to-be husband was also diagnosed with a brain tumor that year – oligodendroglioma. By the time we married in 1999, my role was firmly that of full-time carer. Following surgery and radiotherapy my husband was in remission and, desperate for a chance to be something more than wife, mother, carer and volunteer, I took my first paid job as a case-work assistant for the Forensic Science Service in 2000. Unfortunately things didn’t work out well (in part because of my own then-undiagnosed mental health condition, but also my husband’s health and son’s education).
I left the job but, to maintain the mental stimulation I needed, continued volunteering and in 2002 I started studying with the Open University. For the next few years my life revolved around my studies. I was addicted. It was the best thing to happen to me – I neglected social life completely. Then in 2008 we got news that my husband’s tumor (which had returned the year before) was not responding to the chemotherapy he was receiving, and his remaining time was likely limited to about two years. A change in my lifestyle was necessary to enable me to cope when that time came. I needed to re-affirm lost friendships and get a job so I would have financial security. I worked hard to achieve both, socializing for the first time in years and securing a part-time job as office manager for a small IT company. But, I was also now on a slippery slope I had not even noticed. My feelings, thoughts and emotions were in turmoil and I didn’t know why, but my husband’s own behavior didn’t help. He had always been quite controlling but my new “freedom” was the death nail for us as he became so nasty even the kids (teenagers by now) were on his case telling him to “stop being nasty to mom” (This had nothing to do with his illness.).
We split up in May 2009 while I was becoming seriously ill with my mental health, and he died in September 2009 which caused hell for me both with my own feelings of guilt over his death, and abuse and harassment from some of his family and friends that led to me to have his brother arrested. My mental health continued to suffer but I managed to continue studying and working until I was made redundant in January 2010.
I guess like for anyone else a typical week varies. If I’m not having a crisis, nothing “triggers” me, then it’s just normal getting on with life stuff. But if I am having an episode, it could go various ways. Something that upsets me can make me have a mega “crash,” which can cause me to feel very low, or have suicidal and self-harming thoughts, so that I “feel” something rather than the numbness that the zapping of my emotions has triggered. I may also feel exhausted and just want to sleep all the time, or I can be empty – devoid of feeling/emotion in any form – uninterested in anything/anyone and dissociating, cutting off from others, unable to eat or sleep – but needing to do anything. The final way an episode/crisis may present itself is in a “manic” phase where I am overtly social, high on positive feelings, impulsive and reckless in behavior, craving attention and contact from others, drinking lots, have excessive energy, not needing to sleep (but hyper from it rather than needing to sleep), or not eating properly. The manic phases are where I am likely to do things that can cause me a lot of trouble; the low phases are where there is a high risk of injury to myself.
If you’re struggling with BPD, fight for help, accept it, ask for it. Don’t try to deal with this on your own. Don’t just accept people saying they “understand.” They don’t, and can’t, without reading/finding out a lot more about it. Try to tell people what you are feeling so they know which phase you are in, even if you don’t really want to say. Try to learn to identify your phases and find out if you can get help managing them.
Being diagnosed with BPD nearly cost me everything. Initially my partner “accepted” that I had this problem, but didn’t really find out anything about it, how serious it really is. I guess people just think it’s like depression or something, that I have “sad” times where I self-harm and “happy” times where I’m the life and soul of a non-existent party, but it is far more complicated than that. When I had a major crisis while he was away with the Army, he came back to a person he didn’t recognize and promptly threw me out. But he was so shocked by who this person was he decided to read up about BPD, and after several weeks of mega hurting on both sides, he asked me to come back and asked me to marry him! He learned so much, but still has a lot more to learn. We have both said at times that BPD is a life sentence, with an unknown terminality. A cancer diagnosis would be easier to live with because at least you normally get a clearer view of how the condition will progress, if it is treatable, curable or terminal, whereas with BPD everything is a “what-if” scenario, with no clear-cut treatment, cure or end. Each spell between crises is like a “remission,” but you never know how long it will last – hours, days, weeks, months or years…
I have two children, ages 17 and 18, and for the most part I’m just still mom to them. They have seen me have ups and downs for as long as they can remember I guess (before we knew why I had problems). I guess they find it really hard when they see me low, but they don’t like to talk about it much, and while I would like them to understand, at the same time I’m not sure how much they want/need to know – an area still in progress I guess.
Now, I am back on the studying boat, and looking to find a new job (I had an interview on September 29) so I can move on from the job I am unable to return to following my latest crisis. BPD plays a huge role in my life, but I am fighting to regain control and will continue to fight.
Hmmm, I kind of think there was still too much focus on mental health in this post…what do you think?