My three brothers and I were born to my mum whilst she was suffering with catatonic schizophrenia. My mum was in and out of psychiatric hospitals (or asylums as they were called in the fifties) for over twenty years.
Life was different to my friends, growing up. I was bullied about my mum by children at school. Mum was surrounded by stigma from those around her, due to her illness and hospitalisations, and I had issues of my own, some of which were very embarrassing. Any symptoms I had when a child onwards, were not acknowledged because I was an expert at secrecy, and didn’t want to raise awareness of my issues at the time. I promised myself, when aged 16, that I would campaign against stigma when I was ready later in life.
As I grew up I had a fun life travelling the world and changing jobs, but there was always something dark going on in my mind that would creep in and make me run away, weakened and scared.
Drugs, alcohol, eating disorder and obsessions couldn’t zap my destructive traits, but made them more bearable I guess. But slowly, over the years, I became less able to cope with myself and my troubled mind. My negative, erratic emotions crept into all my personal relationships along with depression, panic attacks, loss of self-esteem, self-destructive behaviour, anger, distrust, paranoia and extreme happiness all interspersed at different times in my life.
I had not found the help I needed within the National Health Service, so took up private psychotherapy, hypnotherapy and counselling over the years but nothing seemed to work.
In 2008 I saw a private psychiatrist as I was so angry, abusive, unhappy, suicidal and confused and I was diagnosed with Borderline personality disorder (often abbreviated to BPD) which made me feel optimistic because I had a name for my strange ways of thinking, behaving and my high emotions that were confusing and detrimental to myself and others.
I began to research the condition, as well as looking into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ), depression and anxiety which I had been diagnosed with for years (and typical co-occurring disorders of Borderline personality disorder).
It was all too much to take in, so I decided to work out which symptoms I had as an individual rather than focus on all the names and ‘labels’. I found I had at least seventy five negative mental health symptoms (past and present). All the books I read about Borderline personality disorder made me feel that, as a sufferer, life was hopeless and the prognosis was not good, particularly when other disorders were present and I had four others in total!
I researched, I wrote journals, I went back to the day I was born and relived my entire life through old diaries, texts, emails, letters, photos and more to try to find out where all this mess in my head stemmed from. Why was I so emotional? Why did I have such resentments? Digging up certain past experiences hurt. I got worse and became more depressed, psychotic and delusional at times due to the increased stress. Together with the loneliness of my condition, with no-one around me who could understand me, things got worse. I began to dislike myself, my past and who I had been – it seemed like I was reading the diaries of a stranger, but I had to accept that it was me.
I decided that if it were the last thing I would do I would leave my life story behind, my story of how it felt to be mentally ill, how it really felt from inside of my mind, knowing that all my pain might help to heal other sufferers so that they, at least, wouldn’t feel so alone with their issues. I also wanted to help raise awareness of the negative effects of stigma. All the while, on the outside, I had my happy persona to cover it all up,
I persisted with National Health Service doctors until they gave me a psychiatrist and referred me to a psychologist to help me with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (often referred to as CBT) – a life saver. I would not take no for an answer. I kept writing, which gave me a reason for living when suicidal thoughts flooded my mind.
Slowly I ticked off symptoms that no longer existed within me which finally gave me a sense of strength and control, over myself and my thoughts. I began to understand and accept my past for what it was – in the past and that the only way to heal was to look ahead, so I began forgiving people from the past who’d wronged or abused me, putting those memories in the ‘Pandora box’ of my brain. I began accepting myself too. I visualised the Pandora box filling up with my past memories as I wrote them down.
Although not in all cases, mental illness CAN be overcome. My Mum and I have proven that. But we all have to find the right way to help ourselves as we are all blessed with individuality of body, beauty and mind. And as individuals, we need individual treatment, which is why it is important that we try to find it – fight for it if we have to.
I bought a silver Pandora closed and locked box charm, just as the past is now locked away in the deepest depths of the Pandora box of my mind and in the words of my story. And unlike my original fantasy that I would finish the book and be able to die, which is how I felt about it when I began, I have never felt so alive and kicking and my suicidal thoughts melted away gradually.
I feel that, when you have seen the darkest corners of your own mind, everything seems much brighter when you emerge once again.