Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Running from your diagnosis: My experience of Borderline Personality Disorder

Grace tells us about her experience of being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), the stigma attached to the disorder, and what that meant in terms of getting support.

-Grace Moody 

I was just thirteen years old when I would say I had my first experience with mental health problems. Many people passed it off as an ‘emo phase’ but I would frequently self-harm and I would often feel empty and worthless and I would often have suicidal thoughts. For a lot of the time though, I was confident and an extrovert and would often be the leader of whatever group I was in. Looking back on this, it was probably why no one really took my mental health seriously until I was in sixth form.

Throughout sixth form I had a serious boyfriend who provided me with all the attention and loving that I craved and my mental health did get a bit better. He got very good at knowing how to help me when I was overreacting about something and he was very laid back which helped to reduce my impulsivity. Unfortunately, he went to university a year before me and we were suddenly in a long distance relationship. My paranoia went through the roof and I’m not proud to say that I became so desperate to keep him that my behaviour was appalling. He realised this and urged me to go to see a doctor and at his request, I did.

At this point I had already applied to be a social work student at University of Bath. When I had applied and also when I was interviewed, I was asked to declare any mental health problems. I didn’t declare any issues because I was frightened that this would mean that I wouldn’t be able to start the course. For this reason, even though my G.P. urged me to take antidepressants and to go to cognitive behavioural therapy, I declined.

Before starting my course I had never even heard of borderline personality disorder which is what I am told is my diagnosis. In my first year my lecturer discussed the signs of it and some of the reasons and I was in shock. Looking at it in bullet point form on the white board made me go quiet. I wanted to ask her at the end how serious it was but as she said things like “lying is quite common for people with BPD” and “They’re often very needy service users and don’t be surprised if they try to manipulate you”, once again I decided to stay silent.

I started going to the doctor for anti-depressants but refused to get any therapy. My group of friends were very supportive and a number of them had problems with depression or anxiety themselves. I never told them my worries around the fact that I had them.

I was obsessed with googling borderline personality disorder then. I would look at the signs of it and check them off in my head. Intense fear of being left alone that causes extreme behaviour such as constantly calling someone? Check. A pattern of intense and/or unstable relationships where you change between loving the person and hating them? Definitely check. Engaging in impulsive and dangerous activities such as unsafe sex, drug abuse, excessive drinking or excessive spending? Check. Self-harming, mood swings, anxiety and irritability, paranoia in stressful situations – All were checked off.

Throughout my course I was in various placements where again I experienced more prejudice against people with borderline personality disorder which made me even more determined to keep it to myself. I’d open up about my depression a little more but I felt that the other parts of my diagnosis were shameful. I became slightly like a self-fulfilling prophecy; every time I told a small lie or manipulated someone I would be torn between thinking ‘oh well it’s just my diagnosis’ to excuse it and also feeling disgusted with myself that I was such a horrendous person.

My relationships were also horrendous. After I had broken up with my sixth form boyfriend, I dated a huge amount of people and all of these relationships were short lived and many of them involved me being treated pretty badly. Although I was not in the wrong in the vast majority of these relationships, I still felt desperate for any of them to love me. I was convinced that the reason they could not love me was because of my mental health issues.

It was one of these men that caused my breakdown in my third year of university. My mental health had been pretty bad for months before this happened and my housemates were having to calm me down pretty frequently but when yet another guy told me I wasn’t what he wanted, I broke down.

I was at my placement in mental health services when he called me to tell me he didn’t want to see me again and that I wasn’t girlfriend material. It was everything that my internal voice told me but it was being said out loud and I started to cry and then couldn’t stop. I left placement, went back to my student house and took a cocktail of anti-depressants and any paracetamol or ibuprofen that I happened to have in my room. Washing it down with red wine I’m not really sure what was going through my head. My housemate said when he found me that I didn’t look depressed, I looked manic. I ran from the house to stop him calling an ambulance but instead he called the police. When I eventually came home the police had to calm me down and persuade me to go with the ambulance to the hospital.

It was after this escapade that I realised I couldn’t avoid mental health services any longer. The psychiatric nurse said as soon as we’d finished our assessment that he felt there was a possibility of borderline personality disorder – something which was confirmed by other professionals. I didn’t react when he told me because it was exactly what I expected. I was just sad that it was true.

I’m still coming to terms with having my diagnosis but I’m not letting it control my life. I’m doing my research so that I know what I want and can make informed decisions about my care. I’m hoping to go back to university in January and I strongly believe that my experiences will allow me to talk to service users suffering with mental health issues (and personality disorders in particular) in a way that challenges the stigma and shows them that they don’t need to be afraid of what they have. Nothing has changed for the negative since finding out what’s wrong with me. In fact, I feel relief that I know now and that I am getting the support that I need.

For more of Grace's work, you can view her Buzzfeed Community article here at: https://www.buzzfeed.com/gracel24/sheridan-smith-is-more-of-a-role-model-now-than-be-jmjk

MHAW: My relationship with me

In aid of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week (16th-22nd May), Sophie writes about her experiences of Orthorexia and what that taught her about the relationship between mental health and the self.

-Sophie Cockeram 

When I found out that the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 was ‘relationships’, I felt that it was something that I couldn’t write about. My family and friends are incredibly supportive and I’ve never been in involved in anything abusive romantically. But then I started thinking about the relationship I have with myself, and how that relationship has caused me to suffer with my mental health and self-worth. I started struggling with depression at the age of about fifteen or sixteen, so this is something I am able to manage and monitor. However, in my second year of university, I experienced something other than that. And that ‘other’ was in the form of an extensive battle with disordered eating.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this began: I generally say that it started in May 2014, as I lost quite a lot of weight in a very short space of time by eating very little and over-exercising. Once I’d shed a few pounds, I had the bug- nothing was going to stop me getting the body of my dreams. Then, in the following September, a messy break up with my long-term boyfriend led to my self-worth and confidence plummeting. I started on the Protein World ‘Slender Blend’ meal replacement plan, which turned out to be the worst, and most dangerous, thing that I could’ve done. I developed Orthorexia, which fed into bulimia and binge eating.

The funny (or very unfunny) thing is, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing to myself. I thought that it was normal to come home from eating something ‘bad’ and do hundreds of exercises in my room to try and burn off the calories. I thought that having protein shakes was great, because protein’s what makes you lean, right?? Wrong. I was harming my body beyond belief, blinded by seeing the number on the scales drop, and basically starving myself. Despite thinking and worrying about food all the time, I was living off little more than 700 calories a day. It’s very difficult to explain exactly the way I was feeling to someone that’s been lucky enough not to experience an eating disorder. I was utterly fixated by everything I was consuming, constantly researching ways to lose weight faster, forever staring at my body in the mirror and despising every little thing that I saw. There were no good bits, there was no ‘oh, my arms look alright today’, there was nothing. Nothing but this shroud of negativity, so powerful that it was pushing both my brain and body to their breaking point.

Nearly two years have passed since the beginnings of my eating disorders, and it’s still something that I struggle with. I’m a million times better than I used to be, but in extremely stressful situations, I find that it’s very easy to slip back into my old habits, as food sometimes feels like the only thing I have control over. I urge anyone that has even the slightest feeling they may have a problem with their relationship towards food or their body image to seek some help. Tell a friend, family member, support officer at school or university. I think that there is a common misconception with eating disorders, in that we often picture someone that has an almost skeletal figure. I did not look like that (in fact, I got quite a lot of compliments from people telling me how great I looked for losing weight!), but that doesn’t mean that I was in any way healthy. Admitting that I had/have a problem and talking about it with other people (or writing it all down on my blog) has helped me a huge deal.

‘The most important relationship that you’ll ever have is with yourself’ is something that’s said a lot, but is far too easily forgotten. Treat yourself nicely, respect yourself and give yourself the love that you’d give everyone else you care about. You are what matters, and your relationship with your body should be happy and healthy.

Monday, 30 May 2016

The Power of Storytelling: Naomi's Experience

As part of Student Minds' Power of Storytelling Campaign, Naomi writes about her experiences in coping with bereavement 

-Naomi Barrow 

Hi, I'm Naomi. I grew up in Leeds with my parents and two brothers and now frequently go back to visit my Dad and brothers and bake enough to feed a small army for a week! I live in York and am passionate about volunteering and getting young people involved in their communities. My mum had terminal cancer and died in October 2015. I feel that as a society, we don't talk enough about the effects of cancer on others in the family, or what cancer is really like, particularly for young people. This is why I have decided to blog about it on my personal blog adaughtersdiary.co.uk. I also write for the Huffington Post, you can see my profile and the work I do here.  

What inspired you to share your story?

I first started writing about Mum’s illness (and then her death) because it was cathartic for me. It helped me to get everything in my head out onto a piece of paper (or a screen). I posted them because it felt easier to update my friends that way then by telling them all individually. Soon after I started writing, though, other people began to show interest in my posts, and I realised that my blog was encouraging conversations, real conversations, about terminal illness and death. I began to realise how important it was to keep writing, keep sharing, and keep encouraging others to do the same.

Has telling your story helped you?

Yes it has! I’ve found great comfort in the response I’ve received – others responding to my posts and sharing bits of their stories with me has helped me to feel less alone and less ‘abnormal’. It’s also been helpful when my brain has felt like a foggy fuzz – writing can help me to tease things out and make sense of it all.

Has telling your story helped anyone else?

I hope so. I really hope that others in a similar situation read it and feel less alone. I hope it helps them to find the words to speak to their family and friends. But I also hope it helps those with no experience of death or terminal illness to try and understand what it might be like to be in that situation. I hope it helps them to then help others they know who might be experiencing a terminal illness or death in the family.

What did you find hardest about sharing your story?

It can be really hard to find the words sometimes. There are times when my head feels so foggy and full and I can struggle to find any words. Even if I can find some words, sometimes no words seem to match my feelings and that can be incredibly frustrating! There are occasions when I fear being judged, sometimes I want to slightly sugar-coat the reality and not share the ‘bad’ bits, but life isn’t like that and I think it’s important to share the good and the bad, there is no point in sharing a highly-edited, rose-tinted reality, because that’s not real.

Do you have any advice for anyone coping with bereavement?

I’m not sure I have any great advice other than remembering that everyone copes differently! For me, it was really helpful to have people around me to talk things through and to do fun things with. But my brothers and Dad coped in different ways. I think it’s just important to be kind to yourself and cut yourself some slack!

Are you interested in getting involved in the Power of Storytelling Blog series? Please don't hesitate to get in touch at blog@studentminds.org

Living with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Claire talks about being diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression, and tells her story in the hope that it will help more people understand and relate.

- Claire

I was ‘officially’ diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and depression in November last year. I say ‘officially’ because it was suggested many years ago by a counsellor that I may have depression, but my GP at the time was reluctant to diagnose as there was no specific cause for it. It was only recently that I spoke about this openly on Facebook as part of a depression awareness campaign. Up until that point I had only told those close to me, or people who had told me that they’d had experience suffering from mental health issues too. I used to be a fairly shy and unconfident person, which I now know may have been caused by my anxiety, but now since my diagnosis I have begun to come out of my shell and deal with the after effects later.

Having GAD and depression is hard in itself, as at times, they contradict each other so much. But being a student with GAD and depression just feels like a completely different level of struggle. My anxiety causes me to worry about the smallest of things, things that just don’t seem worth bothering about to other people. To this day I still worry and beat myself up about a conversation, albeit a short one, that I had on the first day of my current degree. Many people don’t understand the full effects that anxiety can have on someone. There’s always the day-to-day anxiety and the general worries but then there’s the catastrophizing. For those who don’t know, catastrophizing is where I could be facing a normal everyday situation and then suddenly tell myself that something extremely bad is going to happen. For example when driving down the motor way I will suddenly envisage a tyre blowing out on my car and crashing into the central reservation. This is a regular occurrence and has now possibly just become part of my routine whilst driving along the motorway.

However it is the general day to day anxiety that can wear me down the most, as it is being replayed everyday over and over again. One of my ‘favourite’ topics of worry is what others think of me and how they perceive me. When talking to others, in my head I am having a constant battle with my anxiety and the reality of the situation. I like to describe anxiety as having the devil on your shoulder, as I feel it enables those without anxiety to create a picture of what it can be like. It is exactly like that little devil on my shoulder, just inside my head, and harder to ignore. During conversations with people, especially other students, my anxiety has a field day. The kind of thoughts that go through me head are:

“They don’t actually want to talk to you, they’re just being polite.”
“Why did you just say that, they now think you’re stupid.”
“You aren’t funny, stop attempting to make jokes it isn’t working for you.”
“They’ve just looked at your clothes, clearly you were right when you thought everyone would notice that you wore this top last week.”
“They’ve just looked at they’re phone, they’re really not interested in what you’ve got to say. Just walk away and stop pretending that you’re not lonely.”

The thing that I think people forget is that even though I think these things and I still have some sense that they aren’t entirely true, it is hard to ignore them when they are constantly there. This then leads to me withdrawing from talking to people as I tell myself I’m annoying them and that it’s for the best. To me this then leaves the initiation of conversation in their hands and if they want to talk to me they will. But then this doesn’t work either as my anxiety leaves me feeling as though I need constant reassurance from others that my thoughts aren’t true.

For many people not talking to someone for a couple of days is no big deal. For me it can be a completely different matter, I will begin to replay how I acted around them last time. Whether I had done, or said, something to offend them. Whether I had done something that had made them realise that I’m not worth talking to. Or even whether the amount I post on Facebook or Twitter, and the content that I post on these had put them off. Yes, it really does go to that length! I also fear that my constant need for reassurance will eventually become apparent and push people away.

What I want people to know is that myself, and others with anxiety, cannot stop these thoughts from happening. It is not how we want to think because believe me it is truly exhausting at times. So do not blame us if we ask silly questions to which the answers may seem obvious to you, and please try not to be frustrated with us when we become upset by something that may seem trivial to you. What I really ask is that you try to be understanding in how you react. It is hard for someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to picture it but it is very real for me, and others, and it really does help when you feel that those surrounding you are supporting you and trying their best to understand.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Power of Storytelling: Kelly's Story

My name is Kelly Bishop, I’m 23 years old, and I live in New York. I currently write for 6 different online publications and am continuing to grow my online writing profile. In this specific blog, everything I write about is autobiographical, from my struggle with depression to funny experiences in my life. I turn to this blog in hope to both entertain people and help them recognize and cope with their own problems.   

Blog: http://thoughtcatalog.com/kelly-bishop/

What inspired you to share your story?

Writing is the vehicle I have always used to express myself. I can struggle opening up to people and being vulnerable, but I find it much easier to be when I can make sense of my thoughts and feelings and put it into words on paper. I already journaled regularly about how I felt and what I was going through, so it finally made sense to turn those struggles into relatable articles online. 

Has telling your story helped you?

Telling my story definitely helped me because it was such a satisfying release; I finally was putting down all of these feelings that I’ve been pushing to the back of my mind. It was a cathartic experience to write focusing solely on myself. It gave me the confidence to continue writing and addressing the topic of mental health in general. And by doing so, I got to understand myself more and was able to actually make sense of how I felt. 

Has telling your story helped anyone else?

Since starting to write about my own personal issues and mental health issues, I have received so much positive feedback. I get so many comments and emails from readers who thank me because they feel like they finally have someone to relate to. They discover that they aren’t actually alone with their problems, and they are happy that someone can articulate what they never could. Writing helps connect you to other people; it helps us all relate to each other and find comfort in each other’s words. 

What did you find hardest about sharing your story?

Naturally it was a bit difficult to open up and expose a sensitive side of myself, especially when people I didn’t even know would read it. I didn’t want to be judged or perceived a certain way, so it was scary in the beginning. I didn’t know if it an article discussing my own depression was worth putting online. But once I did it, it was extremely empowering to put myself out there for all to see. Once I began to receive feedback about how grateful people were that I shared, it got easier and easier. I wasn’t only instilling confidence in myself, but I was helping other readers as well. 

Do you have any advice for someone who is thinking of sharing their story?

Do it!! People don’t realize how effective writing can be for your peace of mind. Even if you journal about something and don’t show anyone, it still is important to get out how you feel, what you’re thinking. Through writing, you can work through your problems, express yourself in a non-intimidating way, and the best part is that people might relate and feel that much better about their own problems. 
Your confidence will escalate once you realize other people are on the exact same page as you, and you’ll see how important it is for you to share your story with yourself and others.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

MHAW: Bipolar in Love, Navigating a Relationship While Living with a Mood Disorder

Bethany shares her experience of dealing with bipolar disorder whilst holding a relationship together.
- Bethany Lipka

My relationships have always been tumultuous, and an on-again, off-again pattern has defined almost every relationship I've had since I started dating at age 14. 

When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (type 2) at age 24, this dating pattern suddenly made a lot of sense. Looking back, I could clearly see that hypomanic-me was capable of being happily in love, while depressed-me projected all of my negative self-perceptions onto my partner. “You don’t really love me”, “you think I’m stupid”, “just leave”, are all things I have said to people who absolutely did love me, who thought I was smart and funny, and who wanted to be with me. 

So after my diagnosis I felt relieved that I had finally identified this disordered pattern of thinking and behavior, so that I could prevent it in the future. I was in a relationship at the time (of the off, then on-again variety), and I thought that I finally had the information I needed to make sure things stayed stable. No more relationship drama, problem solved!

Easier said than done. 

I found myself falling into old habits pretty quickly. A decade-long pattern is hard to break. It’s been three years now since my diagnosis, and breaking this pattern is still something I work on every day. I constantly combat the lies that my own brain tells me about my self-worth (namely, the lack thereof). And I have to be critical of every emotional perception that I have, to determine whether it’s rooted in reality, or illness. It is challenging. It is a lot of work. But it has paid off. 

The same partner that I was with at the time I was diagnosed is now my wife. Over years, we’ve developed a pretty good system of weathering my many ups and downs. I have three tips from our experiences that may come in handy if you are in a relationship and you – or your partner – are living with a mood disorder: 

1) Talk. Talk a lot. If you are feeling low and don’t feel like talking: leave notes, send texts, write emails. But keep the lines of communication open. When your mood state (our your partner’s) is an ever-shifting thing, you need to keep your partner posted on how you are doing. No one is a mind reader. 

2) Arguments are rarely about what they’re about. This is true in all relationships, but especially for couples where someone struggles with mood variability. Sometimes “this” is really about “that”. Sometimes “I’m mad you forgot to take the garbage out” is really about “I haven’t slept in three days and my anxiety is so bad that I feel like I’m falling out of an airplane”. Try to discern the difference, and get to the root of things. 

3) Practice self-care. This advice is particularly important for the partner of someone living with a mood disorder. You are often thrown into the caregiver role, and being a caregiver can be exhausting. Take time to reboot, whatever that means for you (exercise, a good book, a long bath). You can’t run on empty, and trying to do so will put your own mental health at risk, as well as your relationship.  

Relationships are always hard, and if you are living with a mood disorder they are even harder. But having a person to help you navigate life with your illness can be one of the best possible things for your mental health, making it well worth the effort. 

For more information on finding support click here.

For more information on supporting a friend or a partner click here.

MHAW: Relationships in Mental Health – The Relationship With Yourself

Leah writes about how sometimes the most important relationship you can have is the one with yourself

-Leah Fuller

The focus of this week’s Mental Health Awareness Week is relationships, and I know that other blog posts have already touched upon friendships as a great support network if you are struggling with mental health issues. Personally, I wanted to touch on a relationship that many of us forget we have – the one with ourselves. 

Mental health issues can be a very isolating experience, especially when we think we are fighting it alone or that no-one else understands how we feel. Other relationships in our lives, be that with parents, partners, friends, or teachers are unquestionably important. However, having a relationship with yourself is undeniably even more significant throughout life. If we cannot start to believe in ourselves, like ourselves, or care for ourselves, the battle to recovery feels even more of an uphill climb. 

So, with that in mind, here are three things I personally believe you can do to improve both your relationship with yourself and your mental health:

Believe in yourself
Struggling with my own mental health, I have often thought ‘I can't do this’, ‘I'm a failure’, or ‘I'm not good enough’, as I’m sure many people can relate to. But the more we say these negative phrases the more we believe they are true. In reality, and you’ll have to trust me here, they are 100% NOT true for anyone. Believing in yourself is no easy feat, but one way to start is to tackle those thoughts by changing them to positives such as ‘I can’ and ‘I will’. The more you say them, the more you will start to believe in yourself. 

Take care of yourself
Again this is no easy task, sometimes when we’re feeling rubbish all we want to do is curl up in our duvet and hide away, but in doing this we forget to look after ourselves. It is so important to make sure you take time to eat properly, get a good amount of sleep, and do some exercise - as the saying goes healthy body, healthy mind. The best way I have found to make sure I do this is to plan my day with a to-do list including these tasks, and ticking each one as I go. This helps to acknowledge that you have both achieved things in the day and are looking after yourself. Once you’re into a routine, it’s much easier to take care of yourself. 

Make time for yourself
All too often we are too busy working towards the next deadline to make time for ourselves, to do the things we like, that bring us happiness and help us to relax. To improve your relationship with your mind, make sure you take time out, whether that’s to read a book, watch your favourite TV show, or just walk round the block. Getting some head space can really improve your outlook and do wonders for your mental health. 

Try hard this week to build a better relationship with yourself. I know it may seem a huge and hard step to take, especially if you feel you're at the bottom, but even if you take it in baby steps it will help you to be and feel happier.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

MHAW: Experiences of Mental Illness within a Relationship

Saira writes about how mental health problems can be within a relationships and how it is more common than you think to raise awareness for Mental Health Awareness Week.

- Saira Wood
"Dear Wife,
I speak, but I worry that you don't hear my words, or the secrets hidden between them. I cry, but I keep it hidden inside in case you think less of me. I worry, but I stand tall and act strong in hope I'll believe I am. I feel, less of a man, less of a husband, less of a person, but I won't tell anyone because they'll see me as weak.
I wish I were louder, happier, confident, stronger, and proud of myself, but I struggle every day to find myself again. I struggle to understand why you don't leave. How you can love someone like this. Why you still tell me you love me."

"Dear Husband,
You had nightmares again last night. I didn't wake you, but I held you. I kissed your cheek, I gently rocked you and I whispered in your ear that I was here. And just as normal, you fell into a deep sleep. I don't tell you each morning because I know you'll feel embarrassed. I don't want you to have to remember again, talk about it again, relive it again. I washed your favourite shirt for the morning. I made your coffee extra sweet. I used my lunch hour to go get your favourite meal for us to have for dinner. I can't do much about the past, my love, but I can make life now easier. I wish I could stop the nightmares for good, but I can hold you through them. I know deep down you worry about looking weak, needy, fragile and vulnerable...but my love, you have only ever been strong, brave, courageous and incredible."

People understand more than you think. Let's talk about mental health.

Mental health is serious. It's real, and it has no boundaries. From post natal depression, to PTSD, personality disorder to OCD, in fact 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Yet we still shy away from talking about our problems. Stigma and stereotypes have led to mental illness having a negative connotation when we should be celebrating the positives.
The more people that are diagnosed and treated, the better our understanding, the less taboo the subject, and most importantly....the larger the support system.

It's easy to bottle things up and pretend we can cope, but why should we have to? Relationships in mental health are so important - and when you start to open up about your problems you realise there are so many people dealing with the same disease, and that's just what it is. A disease.
We are not defined by our problems, and we are not controlled them.

People understand more than you think. Let's talk about mental health.

- the stories above were taken from parts of my dissertation where I spoke to a Navy Veteran and his wife