Mental health is a hot topic at the moment with charities campaigning for better mental health support and better services. It’s meaning that people who are living with a mental health condition are stepping forward to share their stories and experiences to try and end stigma and discrimination. But for every person, there is the story you present to the public and the story that you’d rather not shed light on in case it makes people feel uncomfortable. Thanks to this week’s Time to Change Storycamp theme, this is why I wanted to talk about the other side to mental health. The other side to my mental health journey.
Looking at this collage of photographs, you would never think I was really struggling with my mental health.
As many of you will know, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) in October 2017. I sought help after I had a breakdown and didn’t want to exist anymore. I was exhausted trying to deal with my emotions, managing my frantic mind and trying to make sense of what was going on. I needed real help. After 27 years of severe ups and downs, I finally had a diagnosis I could work with.
Living with the lows
Throughout my life, I experienced manic highs and depressive lows. Dealing with the downs could be difficult; not wanting to go anywhere, see anyone or do anything. Getting out of bed was hard work, pretending to function as a normal human being was even more tricky. I would cry constantly for days, having to try and hide the tears behind a smile so no one would know. I would feel worthless. Weirdly, I always knew where I was when I felt depressed. The thing that did scare me and continues to scare me, are the highs.
In fear of the highs
My highs (or manic moments, as my counsellor says) are scary and can be dangerous. I feel light headed, my heart is racing, I have butterflies in my tummy and I feel extremely driven, I feel very creative with ‘creative ideas’ pouring out of me at every possible moment. I’m frantic, trying to write them all down and not forget my ‘amazing’ ideas. I get an inflated ego, thinking that I’m the dog’s bollocks, and haven’t got time to stop. I don’t sleep for days and don’t get tired. My head is in a whirl but I’m getting stuff done.
During these episodes in the past I’ve gone on alcohol benders, spent excessive amounts of money, got sucked into an MLM business, started new hobbies, bought a car and crashed it. Despite all that, I still felt invincible. After these cycles had gone on for a few days, the tiredness would hit me and it was almost like snapping out of a dream. I felt like someone else had gone and done all of these strange things.
When reality kicks in
The reality after a high was always a shock to me. It was the realisation that I’d spent a ridiculous amount of money on nothing (I once got drunk in the morning, went clothes and CD shopping, got home, passed out and woke up wondering where all the stuff came from) or I’d put myself in a risky situation or just embarrassed myself. My inflated sense of ego was so much worse when alcohol was involved. Days after, I would be mortified about my behaviours and had to apologise to so many people for being an idiot. You really know who your friends are when you’ve been a twat but they still love you. And I couldn’t appreciate them more for sticking by me during those times.
I would be overwhelmed by guilt, shame and disgust at letting myself get into situations that could’ve hurt me. I had no respect for myself and just felt deeply troubled by my behaviour.
It’s OK when you’re not OK
When I speak to my counsellor now about things, she always references the things that I’ve done but reassures me that it’s not my fault. All of this happened during my 20’s before my diagnosis and before medication. Thanks to the medication and some lifestyle changes, I don’t get the manic episodes as badly these days. I had a spout a few months back where I couldn’t sleep for days and watched many, many episodes of Glee! However, I made sure to tell people around me how I was feeling so they didn’t get hurt or thought I was purposely being difficult.
There are things I did that I’m not proud of but talking about them means that if someone else is going through similar things, they shouldn’t be ashamed. Talk to the people around you, put a plan in place for the next time you feel out of control or want to impulsively do things that could harm you. Speak to your GP about your medication and whether it may need increasing, decreasing or changing.
Talking openly about the other side of mental health might help others to do the same. If you feel ready, share some of the lesser talked about experiences but remember you can always keep the really personal things to yourself. That’s your true, full story and something you don’t have to share with anyone.