This is an advice page set up to answer some FAQs that people often email in and ask me about. Rather than me keep repeating myself in individual emailed replies to you, here is some generic advice which I hope may prove useful if you are early on in your discovery of your own mental health. (Note, this is my personal advice, gleaned from my experiences of interacting with many NHS medical/mental health professionals in England over the course of the last five years. Therefore it may not apply to you and it is up to you to sift through what is helpful and what personally resonates with you and ignore the rest.)
Why feel the need to write a blog/mental health FAQ page?
My Summer Starts to Shine blog is well over a year old now, but as this is the fifth blog I’ve had and I have become fully accustomed to blog life now.
As a mental health blogger, questions are directed at you far more than you might expect when you first start publishing your private thoughts and feelings out there in the blogosphere . The thing about putting your words out there online in this form is that people come (rightly or wrongly) to regard you an a bit of an expert. The NHS call people in mental health services “experts by experience”. Mental health bloggers have a distinct role of responsibility I’d say, as many people who read our blogs really like value and appreciate having someone accessible and well versed in realistic mentally-unwell living to be there to help guide them, because they know we will tell them stuff that might be different to the textbooks but is more true!
This guiding role is actually one of the aspects of blog life that I most like apart from the writing itself. I really actively like helping and supporting people. I like informing people. I like to think people can learn from my experiences and mistakes and therefore go into potentially challenging experiences with a more prepared mind set themselves.
When I used to be a passive consumer of mental health blogs (ie. when I read them), I massively appreciated blogs written by those living with mental health conditions as it mapped out exactly how I might be a bit “mental” myself (excuse the unfiltered bluntness there, but it’s true.) What I learned from reading mental health blogs really helped me explain to the GP exactly what was wrong with me when I first asked to be referred to psychiatric services six years ago. I borrowed bloggers’ words when I could not find my own. Hopefully (if I’ve written it well enough), ‘Summer Starts to Shine’ might be one of the web sources where you can learn more about authentic human emotion and struggle in order that you are able to find/ articulate the words you need; to get the help you know you would benefit from. I really hope that is the case.
How did you feel when you first received your diagnosis?
On the second psychiatrist appointment I ever had, I asked her if I had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) aka EUPD (Emotionally unstable personality disorder) and she said categorically “NO”. Fast forward eighteen months, a significant childhood abuse disclosure, and several heated arguments later; and she announces she thinks I may have traits of BPD. Then after a particularly conflict-filled and emotionally stormy session I notice as I glanced at the letter she had sent to my GP that she had upgraded me to the full bona fide disorder. BOOM. That is the only ever upgrade I’ve had in my life- [what a shit one that was! eye roll]
After the initial smugness had died down that I’d been diagnostically correct all along, boy did receiving that hurtful label sting! My self-esteem (which was already minimal), crumbled to dust. I felt like a second class citizen- defective, inept, weird, judged, and almost frightened of my own scary self. I reasoned if my personality was so disordered, why should I even exist?
What makes you most frustrated about the misconceptions around personality disorder?
…That people seem to believe someone with a personality disorder is automatically a psychopathic, selfish, low-functioning, attention-seeking, narcissistic, abusive and deviant manipulator, who is wilfully cruel to others; basically someone best avoided. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I am warm, caring, friendly, empathic, and in many ways extremely boringly ordinary. Someone meeting me for the first time would not detect there was anything ‘off’ or ‘unpleasant’ or ‘disordered’ about me. All you will most likely notice after getting to know me better is the intense variability and contrast in my moods if you saw me at different times. But I am never nasty or malicious. I am more than capable of rational thought. In life I actually succeed pretty damn well with minimal sneaky flaw-hiding required. Instead I embrace my flaws and share them with the world, which I think makes me different to disordered. I actually think I’m refreshingly honest.
How does raising awareness help you?
I write about life with a personality disorder; both to demystify it to others who may not have heard of it, and also for my own personal inner therapy. Stephen Fry, (president of UK charity Mind) did wonderful things for the public social acceptability of Bipolar Disorder. I want a similar fate for people diagnosed with personality disorder. I am happy to publically stand up and be counted and use my voice to express the things that others with BPD may not currently/yet have the confidence to say themselves. Not everyone with a personality disorder is the same. We are all unique individuals with distinct strengths, weakenesses, talents and gifts. I believe my gift is communication and expression, so I use my flair for writing and communication to create meaning in an existence that otherwise would be potentially quite soul destroying in its daily emotional challenge.
Is it always possible to be ‘well’ or is the goal to make life with an illness or disorder more manageable and rewarding?
Recently I asked my psychologist if I still had BPD as I felt so well. Her reply was that I will always have these characterological tendencies, and sometimes I will have to work to manage those destructive emotional symptoms far far less than at other times, but those issues have not gone away. I live with a mental illness but try and live ‘it’ as well as I can. My drive to help others rewards me with good feelings which almost outweigh the nasty ones. I turn my face to the sun so I won’t see the shadows, even though I fear deep down in my heart that the shadows may always be there.
What people or organisations have helped you the most, and how?
My psychologist; for always knowing the exact right thing to say to diffuse my painful feelings. My husband; for lightening the seriousness of mental illness by seeing my BPD traits as “cute” and endearing rather than cause to file for divorce. My children; for making me feel loved and alive with their laughter. My reiki healers; for connecting me to a spiritual source and a deeper sense of myself; leading me through the gloom. My local victim charity, who believe in me and my potential, and UK mental health charity, Mind; for providing opportunities to do wonderful fundraising & media-ish things that make life exciting, rewarding and absolutely worth living :)
Why did you decide to blog?
Because my friend said “If you will, I will; let’s both do it together!” That friend is still blogging on her seperate blog (which has nothing to for with mental health btw) and together we’ve loved the addition of blogging to our lifestyle and inner world :)
How did you set up your blog, and what advice do you have for a newbie?
I tried the Google Blogger platform first but then tried WordPress and much preferred it. Some people prefer Blogger, it’s up to you. It’s like deciding whether you are a cat or dog person…the preference just naturally happens :) Try both and see which one you prefer. The blog name is your starting point….think up a unique name and your blog will stand out from the crowd. Also do try and think up a name you won’t get bored of in the future. Personalise your page as you wish…then start writing! If you’re a nervous first time blogger, keep your posts private until you’re ready to take the plunge and click ‘publish’. If you don’t want your blog searchable by Google and other search engines, that’s fine. There are check boxes to tick to customise your privacy preferences. Also, you may not want to use your real name for privacy/security.
What does it feel like to publish such personal stuff?
It feels liberating AND horrible, at different times. Honesty is scary…..absolutely so, but in my mind secrets are way scarier. If you confront in writing what scares you, it becomes less scary, and then when people respond well and say they feel the same or that your post has helped them, you get the positive payoff for the exposure element.
How do you have the courage to do it?
I don’t think I’m courageous. I think I have no choice. My childhood was all a bed of secrets. Honesty and frankness and saying it as it is…well that’s my only way forward. No bullsh*t. Just truth. Simples.
Do you ever come to regret what you write and have shared?
Yes…and that’s why WordPress invented the delete button! I delete a lot of what I I initially publish. If it feels wrong for a post to be publically available then I trash the post and move onto the next one.
Do you ever worry how people you know in real life will perceive you when they read your blog?
Yes! But those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.
I have never spoken to a professional about my mental health before. How do I go about asking for help?
You can either take the medical route and see your GP, or approach a charity or ring a helpline/info line.
GPs vary widely in how ‘mental health friendly and knowledgable/literate’ they are. I’ve had terrible experiences, brilliant ones, and everything inbetween. If someone is crap, find another doctor who isn’t.
Milder mental health conditions are managed in primary care (ie at your doctors surgery), and more complex and enduring or acute/high risk patients are managed in secondary care by community mental health teams (CMHTs).
Crisis teams are there when mental health deteriorates to extreme levels of personal risk. ie. significant self-harm and/or suicidality.
If you are medically averse then you might be happier seeking advice and support from mental health charities such as Mind. Often they treat you in a more humanistic and holistic way which is appealingly non-medicalised.
What type of therapy or medication have you had? Has it helped?
It all began with CBT. I’ll level with you, I hate CBT! It helped me a small amount, then once I’d grasped the basic concept of it I have found it endlessly annoying. I then had Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), which was a lot more helpful. In all I’ve had a few years of the stuff.
Meds wise I have tried about six types of antidepressants, anti-psychotics, sleeping tablets and benzodiazapines, finally settling on three of them. I have tried to come off them with dangerous results, so I accept that I need to be on these longer term.
What do I do if I am worried about someone I know? How can I talk to them and ensure they get the help that they need?
You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make them drink. Some are open to receiving help and some are very reluctant or sometimes in blatant denial. People are responsible ultimately only for themselves. If you have spoken to the them in in an empathic compassionate and constructive way and they push you away, it hurts, but you have to accept where they are at. When people suggested I got professional help I only did it about 20 years later!
What do I do if I feel a mental health crisis building?
If you have a very good natural support network then I’d suggest you pluck up the courage to speak to someone you know and trust really well…failing that, there are many professionals out there who make a living from their attempts to help people who are in that acute crisis type situation. If you’ve never been in mental health crisis before and usually had emotional health that has ticked along well, it can feel like you are the first person who has ever gone through something like this. It’s like childbirth…we know intellectually that people have babies every day, but if we’ve never had a baby before, we panic! Purely because we have never ever been in this place before. If this is your first crisis and we and know no one who is open about their own previous or existing issues, we have no rulebook or guide to consult. We just PANIC.
When you are having one of your calmer more reasoned and aware moments where you have that ability to mentally focus, please take that opportunity to note down emergency numbers that you can ring. I have rang Samaritans (LOTS) and the crisis team (LOTS).
What do I do if I feel unhappy with a doctor, therapist, counsellor etc?
Tell them you are unhappy, and why. If they don’t raise their game, request to see someone else. Simple. They are professionals with broad shoulders. It is your feelings which are paramount. Not theirs. You are the vulnerable one.
What inspires you to keep going?
My kids. My husband. Stubbornness. Determination. A belief in the possibility of recovery, healing and growth. A desire to not allow my childhood abusers to win.
USEFUL LINKS I HAVE FOUND HELPFUL FOR EXTRA INFO X
I hope this has been a useful & helpful read for you and I wish you all the luck and strength in the world, for your future journey of healing and post-traumatic transformation :)