This week has probably been one of the worst of my life. I have shelled out over £200 of my own money (plus some of my parents), seen two consultant psychiatrists (as the first one was an absolute idiot) and received my diagnosis I so desperately wanted (see my last post). In fact, I’ve had the same diagnosis twice, in varying degrees of stupid middle-aged men trying to write me off as hysteric. Seriously, if you ever need access to Mental Health Care in the UK, maybe dress up as a man first. There are pitifully few male medical professionals over the age of 30 who will take a young woman seriously about mental health and there is certainly more education to be done on this within the NHS. As for the private sector, where I’ve been enmeshed this last week, there’s probably no hope. My first doctor waved goodbye and shouted my name jauntily across the road as he left after my appointment, despite the fact I was in floods of tears on the pavement. Despite the fact that his last words to me, upon refusing to book further appointments with him, were ‘Well, good luck to you if you think you can survive suicide then. We’re here if you need us’.
I guess he didn’t know that he’d prayed on my deepest fears, to give him the benefit of the doubt. The whole reason I’ve gone gung-ho into the world of psychiatry this week is that I’ve become increasingly convinced that I can’t envisage a future where I don’t lose my mind and commit suicide. Let me be very clear when I say that I do not want to die, that I am terrified of death and illness and unfulfilled potential. But I am also so easily emotionally overwhelmed with very little warning and have a tendency to turn these sudden unpleasant moments inwards, to control them. My diagnosis? Affects 2% of the population, out of those 78% commit suicide and 90% attempt it. I’ve never made a serious attempt on my own life, but now I feel that a death sentence has been put on my head.
The saving grace, apparently, is that my condition is mild. Because I can hold down a job. Because I can internalise these emotions. Because I can appear functional, if a little erratic and undesirable. Perhaps too intense, perhaps too needy, perhaps too introverted and yet opinionated at the same time. If I’m honest, I’m still more than ready to scoff at this. Mild it may be, but unfortunately that means the NHS won’t want to help me, as I’m not seen of as at risk. Never mind that I still have self-destructive impulses and regularly feel like my mind could snap at any moment. I’m reminded that these are symptoms. My symptoms aren’t less than others, I’m simply able to hide and cover it, which means I have a duty to hold onto myself, purely because I display that I am able to do so well enough.
At this point, I’ve held off saying what my diagnosis is. That’s because I’m scared. It’s a big one, perhaps the most stigmatised at all, and there’s no cure. That said, my strongest thought, despite the fear, is that I’ve spent SO LONG trying to pretend to the world that I am normal, sorted and together that I’m honestly done pretending. I’d like to give in to this diagnosis, accept it into my life and yet still try to make something positive come of it. Go to therapy, to take away the bad parts of me that make life hard such as my intense paranoia that people hate me and my tendency to hurt myself when I’m too overwhelmed. So I’m going to be honest and open. I’m not going to blurt out my diagnosis to everyone I meet and nor is it going to be an excuse for my antisocial behaviours but neither am I going to despise myself even more for being ‘officially’ broken.
Hello, my name is Poppy Gill and I have Panic Disorder, Avoidant Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder.
What does this mean though?
I can, of course, only speak for myself and my own experiences, but this is how these issues affect me, and how maybe they have affected you during your relationship with me.
Panic Disorder: I can be fine for months on end, and then, out of the blue, have absolutely enormous panic attacks, without warning, that are typically very short in duration. During them, I will always extricate myself somewhere private, so you probably won’t ever see me suffer one. I will be unable to think, unable to speak and will feel such an intense terror that I think this is the moment that my mind is finally breaking. After these 5 minutes, I will be functional again. A little on edge and rather exhausted, but functional. Don’t worry about me – I will now be fine for the rest of the day.
Avoidant Personality Disorder: This is the one that is so ‘me’ that it’s almost funny. I crave being around people, but will reject social invitations as I don’t want to be around people. All those times I’ve ever bailed on you? Remember them? Yeah. I’m sorry….I guess? Also, the reluctance to try new things out of fear of embarrassment. Since I was a teenager, it’s been a saying of mine that I will not try anything new unless I’m confident I’ll excel at it. So maybe don’t cast me in your play or ask me to come along to your spinning class. An intense fear of rejection and criticism is another symptom. I am ALWAYS criticising myself or putting my work down. I will also react to the simplest of criticisms in an emotional way first, rather than a rational way. The rationalisation comes, I might just be really angry at you for a few hours first. Basically, don’t criticise me unless you’re my parent or my boss. And if you’re reading this, I can pretty much guarantee you’re neither.
Borderline Personality Disorder: And this is it. The big one. The one that only crazy criminals have, right? Wrong. My BPD is perhaps the most mild it can possibly be, but the symptoms do resonate with me. Here is where my intense emotions come from and my compulsion to cut myself when I’m overwhelmed by these emotions. Here is my unstable identity, where I can be a goth one day and a fairy princess the next and am never comfortable in my appearance, location or job. Here is why I’ve never had emotionally stable relationships with anybody in my life, because I just don’t know how to need or want them a ‘normal’ amount. Funnily enough, this is the only one that won’t affect you or your relationship with me. Because, if we already have a functioning and healthy relationship, and you’re aware that I give a lot of attention and can go from 0-10 in the blink of an eye, then you’re presumably only still around because you’re cool with that.
Telling my parents was a rollercoaster. I fired off an angry text to my father first, as the psychiatrist tried to tell me that all my issues were just based in the way my father spoke to me when he was annoyed at me. It was a bitter tirade, that ‘daddy issues’ was such a cliché, that I didn’t believe it, but that he was cruel and I should maybe tell him that directly instead of a Consultant Psychiatrist I’d paid £180 to talk to for one hour of my life. My mother implored me to quit my job and move home, as the love of my family and 3 months of therapy would make me all better again. Interestingly, she told me she’s suspected I had a personality disorder for a number of years after attending a talk about them a while ago (she works in the medical profession) but she never knew how to broach the subject with me.
This has been an incredibly long post, so well done if you’ve stuck with me until the end. In conclusion? These labels do not define me, but perhaps in time they will give me the motivation and clarity to make my life easier for myself. I feel flabbergasted, but not ashamed. I’ve always believed that I have a duty to be an outspoken advocate for Mental Health issues, because they need a voice and so, if I kept this diagnosis to myself, I would be doing myself a disservice. I’m the same as I was yesterday, only now I know my opponent and my assailant’s face. Besides, the baddie always gets got, right? I will be OK. You will be OK. And if it’s not OK, then it’s not the end of the journey anyway.
Postscript: I wrote this in November, but have been too scared to post it until today. Please be kind.