Charlotte, 21, started to self-harm and restrict her food intake when she was 14 years old.
I’m always being asked ‘when did it all start?’ I never know how to answer this question. I’ve always been an emotional person, but didn’t suddenly wake up one morning with a mental illness. Problems that other people just brush off can cause me great emotional disturbance. At the age of fourteen I started to self-harm and restrict my food intake in an attempt to relieve my emotional turmoil. Unfortunately I found myself needing to go further and further in order to satisfy my urges, experimenting with new ways of harming myself and spending longer periods fasting.
I felt extremely lonely, and isolated myself from the rest of the world. I was continually searching for my identity. I didn’t know who I was, or for what purpose I was alive. I submerged myself in academic work to prove I was worth something, and regarded nothing but top grades as acceptable.
I was convinced that I was a bad person, despite regularly being showered with compliments. I was terrified that my family would one day realise the ‘true’ evilness inside me. If they did they were sure to abandon me, leaving me alone in the world. This thought was petrifying. I wasn’t strong enough to live by myself, I needed them.
I was in an extremely dark place, my only comfort found in visiting pro-suicide websites. I felt incredibly vulnerable, unable to cope with all the pressures that life was throwing at me. I didn’t have the skills to survive.
Eventually a minor upset at school pushed me over the edge. I returned home and took a massive overdose which left me in a coma in intensive care. I came through and was admitted to an inpatient adolescent unit. It was during this period that I started to experience voices and hallucinations, which were incredibly terrifying. I spent more than a year as an inpatient in various institutions, the majority of this time on one-to-one observations with no leave.
The years that followed brought more self-harm, suicide attempts, sectioning, inpatient care, and police detentions. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have been admitted to hospital. I’ve been a bit of a regular there.
After I turned eighteen I was given the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s like having the emotional resistance of a young child, every disturbance creating intense and unbearable pain. Even insignificant events cause emotions that are totally out of proportion. The emotions I experienced were so raw that I attempted everything in my power to escape them.
For me everything was extreme, there was no middle ground to my emotions. My life often imitated the dramatic story lines in TV soaps. I was overly sensitive to any criticism or failure, this prompting extreme distress and anger which I took out on myself.
My mood could swing from fine to distraught in a matter of minutes. I believed that I had absolutely no control over my emotions and consequently no control over the impulsive behaviours they triggered.
Borderline Personality patients often suffer aligned issues. As well as fighting BPD I suffer from depression, anxiety attacks and eating disorders. Yet it is the same underlying psychological difficulties that fuel these different behaviours.
Whenever I have had contact with the police or mental health professionals they often struggle to understand my condition. My dangerous behaviours and intense emotions prompt harsh name-calling to the point of bullying. In contradiction to their taunts I have never been intentionally manipulative or game playing. I merely longed to escape my inner turmoil, yet didn’t always have effective coping strategies.
Every day is up and down. I no longer aim to ‘cure’ myself of this condition, but to learn ways of coping that will keep me safe and out of hospital. I believe this is a more realistic approach.
I am currently about to start my second course of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, the chosen talking treatment for those with a diagnosis of BPD. While this is by no means a magic cure, it has previously helped reduce my self-harming behaviours and allowed me to cope with distress more effectively. Combined with medication and time, this will hopefully allow me to manage this life-threatening condition.
Over the years my mental health has caused my education to suffer substancially. However I’m thrilled to say that I am now at university studying a Performing Arts degree. I would never have thought this possible a year ago when I wasn’t even allowed to go to the toilet without supervision! There is hope, but it takes a lot of hard work and persistence.