This is an introduction to the illnesses I’m officially diagnosed with, in my own words. Maybe you found my high octane shiny blog because you have these conditions yourself, or maybe you suspect you do. This is what PTSD and BPD is about for me……..
First there is PTSD me. When I look in the mirror, there is no stereotypical male soldier looking back at me. I’m a woman (some might say a pretty one). At first glance no one would know I actually had post-traumatic stress disorder. Unless my PTSD illness was to get triggered, there is nothing remarkable about me that you’d notice. You may not even notice an obvious change in me if I’d got triggered either. Maybe my eyes would have that faraway look. Maybe you’d notice my eyes darting around a little, scanning my environment for people and exits and safety. Maybe you might notice, (though I’d suspect probably not.) I don’t tend to clamber up onto tables or run out of rooms to flee either, despite often wanting to.
The PTSD part of me is characterised by helpless overwhelm, by sensory overload, fight or flight adrenaline and cortisol coursing through my veins, destroying my peace of mind without ever making a sound. The parts of the brain that register and respond to danger are lit up like the high wattage set of lights stringing around the branches of a department store christmas tree, just after a power surge.
The thing about PTSD is it’s invisible. I, (and other PTSD sufferers) tend to hide it so well. I mask the internal chaos and smile sweetly through it all, as I don’t want to draw attention to myself- that only makes it ten times worse. It’s one thing for me to be ill, but to show you how ill I am would hurt and expose me too much. So instead, I smile.
And then there’s BPD, short for Borderline Personality Disorder (other names for this are EUPD emotionally unstable personality disorder, emotional dysregulation disorder or emotional intensity disorder). The names all sound HORRIFIC admittedly, but the diagnostic names are there in the first place because there are enough people out there with the same clusters of psychological issues to warrant the psychiatrists in power creating a
highly coveted deeply humiliating and stigmatising diagnostic category all for us.
Newsflash. I HATE this BPD label that’s been stuck on me.
Originally I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2. Weirdly, I was pretty OK with that label- maybe I could be a female equivalent of the genius Stephen Fry I thought- a high achieving uber creative and intelligent success story…….[nods]….. but then came the recovered memories of my organised ritual abuse history (the source of my PTSD), and I then had to deal with the secondary trauma of being labelled with this truly horrible description of who the hell I was. Disordered, apparently.
Personality disordered. Are you sure? This person (me) who has a wide circle of friends? This person who has maintained a loving partnership with my man of 19 years? This person who is a loving and caring mum to my two well-adjusted children, who are securely attached to me and me to them? This person who got good grades all through school and attained two degrees in psychology? This person who is valued for my volunteering, and what kind of a friend I am to people, and the previous paid work I did before I had kids and this whole mental health breakdown started to unfold. A personality disordered person did all that?? Wow-she sounds cool….doesn’t she? Not all that disordered I’d say.
I’m a high functioning human example of BPD. I think what that means in plain English is I am good at hiding my mad, and good at doing well and shining and functioning brightly in spite of my psychological issues.
I do know why I have the label though. The psychiatrist had her reasons.
It’s because of my acute emotional sensitivity, the fluidity of my identity, and my ability to swing in mood and suffer so often in a state of deep pain. That is why I have BPD. I’m an emotional burns victim. I hurt acutely, a lot. That’s where the meds and therapy come in. I see my psychologist for psychological therapy weekly, and she helps me keep walking on the sane and shiny end of the street; we tend to those deep rooted trauma wounds together.
I need other people to help me stay emotionally afloat which is something I don’t like about myself. But is it any wonder I need a bit of extra reassurance and soothing from kind nurturing humans, when my entire personality was borne from extended and brutal trauma? BPD to me is a disorder that sad people get- it’s exclusive to people who feel things deep and hurt with extreme intensity, because invariably we’ve all been repeated scorched by the fiery destructive actions of significant others who said they loved us and failed miserably to prove it.
And then there’s dissociation…..
Dissociation is what people use as a coping strategy to get them through trauma, especially extended trauma. Our brain disconnects our senses and our memories and our bodily sensations, and we become vacant and not really there. The lights are on, but there’s nobody home, in a sensory way. Dissociative amnesia is when awful shit happens that we don’t want to remember and our brain helps us by geniuinely allowing those memories to remain inaccessible. Dissociation is the brain mechanism via which we ensure that happens. The disconnection of dissociation is what allows us to survive- We are protected by the walls of dissociation, which means me don’t have to deal with what’s happened, so at the time it is helpful and essential, but try living as an adult who learned to dissociate regularly (as a coping mechanism) as a child. I feel like I have dementia! My memory is so terrible that anything not written down is not retained. I still have incomplete trauma memories, though I hope there is not too much more that is buried underneath. My brain dissociates so often, and in such inopportune moments. My brain is something I feel I cannot control. It’s like a untrained puppy that switches off and loses interest and stops engaging with it’s owner (me). With severe long-lasting abuse in early life, Dissociative Identity Disorder is a common outcome. Not only do we dissociate, but we operate as a whole person but split into different parts who are potentially completely unaware of the other parts. Switches happen, we are functioning as one identity, then suddenly in response to threat we feel like we are almost becoming someone else. I await my diagnostic assessment for DID. That is just adding a whole new level of mindfuckery to my already complex mental health needs.
So how am I to conceptualise my illnesses and learn to live in relative harmony with them? Me and my psychiatrist eventually parted company. I grew weary of her limiting attitudes and stigmatised attitudes towards me. I got frustrated at the predictability of having my weaknesses amplified and my strengths ignored. I got sick of being treated like a messed up person with no prospects; someone who needed wrapping up in NHS cotton wool. I’m not that person. No psychiatrist gets to decide who I am. Only I do.
I DO have prospects that exist outside of my illnesses. There IS a me that occupies the space beneath my bones and flesh that is independent of my diagnostic labels.
I write about the challenges of finding a way forward in my recovery because life with mental illness is bloody hard and I need my therapy from somewhere. Writing gives me that relief and release and that freedom to express myself as I am, for me. If it helps you to read this too- then fantastic!
Regardless of whether I am happy or unhappy with the BPD & PTSD labels bestowed on me, I have issues, and my life is experienced as though I am some warrioress on the battle ground. Truth be told, I’d rather not be here fighting on the frontline. I’d rather be somewhere cosy, making my life hygge, indulging in painting or reading or music or drawing or dreaming- planning my future with a pencil marking lines on a blank piece of paper. I’d far rather be spending time in a secluded spot in nature all day long, with no sound other than the tweet of the birds and the rustle of wind beating it’s pathway through feathery fronds of greenery in it’s path. I’d far rather be getting lost in a sunset, instead of getting lost inside my own head.
But learning how not to be ill (when you’re actually very ill), is tough.
This is a blog, not about perfection or finding the perfect cure. It is about learning how to be ill as well as I possibly can and learning to live well when my mind is a complex maze.
Blogging allows me to inhale breaths of goodness to restore me while I’m stuck here in the mental health recovery labyrinth. I do deep and I explore my mind with freedom.
“Being ill well.” I think that’s pretty much what I’m aiming for, and what this blog is all about.
This is my daily experience of a life lived with PTSD and BPD, in my own words.