A stigmatised diagnosis

This is a post I wasn’t sure I’d ever be ready to write; it has taken 8 years to finally commit to paper (pixel?).  I have been wanting to share what it means to live with complex mental health conditions but have kept a lot to myself because of the fear I have carried about the nature of my diagnosis. 

I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in my early twenties and have lived in fear of people’s reaction to my illness and the assumptions that accompany it ever since, but I have recently realised that now I am in recovery I might have the power to challenge some of those ideas and assumptions. I will almost certainly write more about this, but for now here’s an outline of how I came to have that label, and how I got to the point of recovery.

When I was about 7 or 8 I started showing behaviours and traits that would later be diagnosed variously as depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder. By the time I was 10 I was self-harming.  Throughout my education I would use various damaging coping mechanisms to try and keep intrusive thoughts and low mood at bay, and to keep me functioning well enough to hold down work, education, and a social life. I could be very clingy as a friend, and responded incredibly badly to even the most mild form of rejection. Not being acknowledged in the street could make me catatonic with depression or spark a long string of passive-aggressive and bitchy messages to or about the person who had apparently rejected me. I was stable enough to still have friends – or, in some cases, my friends were kind enough to stick around despite my bullshit – but I was deeply unhappy and felt like I was losing control of my mood, my intellectual capacity, and my relationships.

When I was 23, after trying every form of SSRI (then) in existence, along with mood stabilisers and a very long course of psychodynamic therapy, I was stuck in a cycle of behaviours that would see me become deeply suicidal and presenting regularly at A&E either to try and prevent harm or to treat it. Often I went alone and didn’t tell anyone. Sometimes I managed to find someone to come with me. Going back to the GP after one such incident, which saw me admitted overnight and then discharged when no inpatient beds were available, she asked if I had ever heard of Borderline Personality Disorder. I had, and had even been told by some of my more learned friends to seek a diagnosis, but I deeply feared what it meant about me.

I had heard that Personality Disorder was a kind of illness that ‘psychos’ had. I had heard that Personality Disorders were ‘incurable’ and that people who had them would never work. One friend, ordinarily one of the most compassionate people I know, had gone so far as to tell me to ensure I never had a diagnosis of PD because, “those people are awful; you don’t want to be associated with them”.

I went from the GP that day with a sense of relief (“it has a name! I’m not a fuckup!”) and dread (“I have a disorder of the personality, I am such a fuckup”). I started a new course of meds that included a mood stabiliser, and eventually went back to the GP and asked about how to get some decent treatment.

Getting to access treatment would be a 3 year process, but I was finally able to attend the Complex Needs service near where I was living after another year at university. The service offered was a form of specialist treatment called a Therapeutic Community, in which people come together and work alongside one another for a fixed period of time (in my case, 18 months), meeting a few times a week and committing to offering support to one another by phone in the meantime. Any time. I took support calls from others at midnight whilst at a church conference in Chicago, and called out for support myself when I was feeling suicidal late at night. The support of people whose emotional landscape was congruent with mine, and who were willing and able to work with me, was enormously beneficial.

I have been in recovery since being part of the TC, but still have ups and downs. When I am not feeling well, I can still be hurt by a small rejection, or become overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts of failure or disaster, but even then I am usually able to do my job and keep a hold of my commitments.

I’m proud of the work I put into my recovery, and grateful for the support I had to get there. There’s no doubt that without treatment designed for my condition and funded by the NHS I would not be able to do the things I can do today. 

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“Cute” is for cartoons, not the exercise of civil liberties

Yesterday (Monday, 8th September), the Guardian reported that two ninety-year-old women have married in Iowa. Cue an inevitable chorus on social media of, “Cute!”.

I have found this reaction patronising, and a little disturbing. “Cute” is a term that is reserved for puppies, kittens or that face my nephew makes when he wants something (he’s two). “Cute” is inoffensive, it’s defenceless, it’s a mechanism introduced by evolution to stop us from killing our offspring. When we call something cute we are dismissing it and removing the impact on our lives.

Allow me to tell the story another way. In 1942, at the time when the United States had just entered the Second World War, and homosexuality was illegal, two women met and formed a relationship. There was no such thing as a hate crime, the police routinely ignored violence against queer people, raided their spaces, and locked them up. Through all this, couples like these women stayed together. They carried on with their lives and refused to give one another up.

I don’t know their story in full, partly because no one is telling it, but I cannot imagine it has been easy for them. They have found acceptance now, and finally exercised their legal right to marry, and I am thrilled for them. But don’t call them ‘cute’, don’t objectify them. They deserve better, they deserve respect.

The Wedding Planner


So I can now finally announce it because it’s on Facebook – my sister and her boyfriend* are engaged!

So in August 2011 there will be a big wedding, and it’s very exciting. We’ve spent the afternoon looking at bridesmaids’ dresses and venues. At the moment, it’s still fun. Ask me again in a year….

So, here’s to the happy couple!

*Fiancé, obv.