Don’t Call Me A Monster

I knew I was a monster by the time I was fifteen. Everything had gone bad. I had no understanding of the things I was doing and saying. Neither did anyone around me. Well, the people who knew and that was only my immediate family. I would be too ashamed to admit it to anyone else, even though I desperately needed help.

My parents wanted to help me but had no idea how. They wondered whether this was simply normal teenage stuff. It wasn’t! They should have got me some help. But hindsight is wasted. They didn’t get me help, and it remained a secret. I had become a monster! I was sure!

What followed were major life decisions I quietly made according to my belief that I was a monster. I quickly concluded that I should never be a parent. I couldn’t inflict myself on a child, nor could I pass on any rogue genes. You see, I had no idea what was going on with me. I couldn’t risk ever becoming a mother.

I must be a monster for real! I continued to hold that secret monster close to my chest. My friends must not know because surely they would reject the monster. Even those with whom I would be in an intimate relationship would never know.

It was my secret to hold and use against myself for what has been most of my life. I was full of self-loathing and hate. I was terribly ashamed of what my family (but no one else) knew of me.

Terrified of what might be if I didn’t maintain a tight hold over my monster. I couldn’t let anyone see, for that they would surely hate me if they did.

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Actually, it would be thirty years (yes, I did say 30 years) before I had a medical professional offer me help with my monster. It was at that time that, after seeing many mental health professionals before him, one psychiatrist had the guts to diagnose me as having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

 

Monsters. Hmm.

I know better now. I am not a monster, although there are still times of self-loathing in which I threaten myself with that label. There are also times when I lose that tight rein over myself and become rather monster-like. Jobs have been lost. People have been lost. But I understand better how that comes about, and I am learning ways of being in which monster doesn’t get a look in.

Monster aside, the psychiatrist who recognised in me the symptoms of BPD did me an enormous favour because finally, I had explanations for the me who had always been me (and not a monster).

There had been mental health professionals who had gone close to identifying BPD much earlier when I was being treated for depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)and Anorexia.

They had hedged around the issue but they told me cryptically that they didn’t want to see me labelled negatively. It would apparently negatively affect how I was treated in the future. So they continued to see me as having chronic depression. In my opinion, this was simply the BPD stigma I will address shortly.

It would have done me the world of good if I had that explanation of who I was. They didn’t understand how much the monster that I knew as me was actually killing me. Had they understood, perhaps between us we might have prevented two suicide attempts that would eventually come when I could no longer stand my monster.

Those of us with BPD live with all kinds of negative labels. Monsters. Drama Queens. Attention Seekers. Manipulative. Impulsive. Addicts. We get told we don’t have a ‘real’ mental illness because what we have is a Personality Disorder. We are likened to Narcissists and Sociopaths. Yes, some would go so far as to say that we are “bad” not “mad”.

There are plenty of websites out there that are dedicated to viewing people with BPD in this light. From what I’ve seen, most are run by family members who have seen the consequences of people living with BPD who don’t have adequate treatment or support. While I understand that those family members have had a lot of pain and hurt in their lives, I don’t accept the way that they paint us to be.

I am not a monster. I am not a Drama Queen. I am not an Attention Seeker. I do not seek to be Manipulative or Impulsive. I do though, accept that I am an addict and this continues to be a thorn in my side even though I have done a great deal of work to overcome it.

I do suffer, and I do struggle to know myself as anything other than these labels. Because believe me when I say, that the harm I can do to myself with these labels is much greater than the harm you do me.

It is clear to me that there is a great deal of stigma hanging over the two in a hundred people who live with BPD.

Just last week I read the words of another kiwi writer who said that the shroud over mental illness has been lifted. I think he was writing about depression and anxiety, for which I know are much more acceptable than in the past. But for BPD, there is a very long way to go.

Even amongst medical professionals, we are often viewed negatively. It was difficult to decide whether to let anyone know of my BPD diagnosis, and there are times even now when I wish I had not let it be known.

Am I a monster? No, I’m not but I need your support to believe in myself. Don’t write me off. I am a unique human being. I happen to feel my emotions strongly but who given the right opportunity can love and be loved as much as you.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Image credit: Facebook Page Anxiety Depression & I

 

 

 

 

 

 

Questions Of Suicide

TRIGGER WARNING: This post is a discussion that may be distressing to some people as it looks at suicide and suicidal thinking. There are no details of suicide and no discussion of methods. If you are distressed and don’t know where to access help, I recommend that you use the resource Befrienders Worldwide to find your local support agencies.

 

You’d have to be totally without wi-fi not to know that two American celebrities have died by suicide in this past week. I admit I hadn’t heard of one of them, but I still knew that it had happened.

I wonder how it is for their families to see, at least the western world, discussing the tragedies in so much detail. I wonder how it is for their personal friends also trying to grieve their loss with the media looking on so intently.

But also…

What about the families and friends of the other people who have died by suicide this past week? I haven’t sought out the statistics of how many people across the world die by suicide each week, but my guess is the number would be alarmingly high. How must it be for those friends and families to watch as the world focusses on only two deaths when every death by suicide is a tragedy for us all.

What about the people across our world who attempted to die by suicide in this past week? Again, that number is too high, whatever it is. While we talk of the celebrities who died by suicide this week, do we know who attempted suicide? Were either our friends or our families one of those who was suffering so much that they lost complete hope and tried to end their lives. That’s a really hard place to be. And what do we do about them?

What about the people we know who might have struggled to hold onto hope this week? Do we know if our family or friends are struggling that way? Do we know if those closest to us, might be thinking they can’t go on any longer? Maybe the struggle is too much and they’re thinking about ending it all. Dying by suicide. Do we know?

What about the people in our lives who live with depression? Do we know who they are? Have we considered reaching out to them, letting them know that they’re not alone? Or do they go on thinking it’s only the celebrities that matter?

What about the people who think they don’t matter? I suspect there are no statistics on this one, but I also suspect that the number would be higher than we might think.

What about the people who live with daily pain, disability and sickness? How do they feel seeing the world focused on two lives? What about them? Do they have enough hope to hold onto and keep fighting? Or have they had enough of their battle, and do they matter to you and me anyway.

There are a lot of questions that I have asked, with the sole purpose of thought. They are the questions I began to ask myself this morning. Where do I fit in amongst those questions, but also where are my friends and family in it? Do I know who in my world is struggling with life, and needs my support? Or do I just go on blithely living in my own world? It’s easier that way if I can ignore the fact that people around me are suffering. But should I? And could I do something to alleviate suffering?

What really worries me is how we get involved in discussing the tragedies of two celebrities who have died by suicide. We (particularly social media) will go on discussing it for maybe a couple more days and then we will be back to ‘normal’.

Back to ignoring the fact that too many people die by suicide every day. And too many people attempt suicide each day but don’t get any support to enable them to grab hold of life again. We ‘pump their stomach’ and send them on their way again. How will that help?

Are we ignoring the numbers of people suffering (and I mean suffering!) from mental illness. Stigma is a ‘great’ thing isn’t it if we can push those people into a corner and then forget about them. Are those people in your or my family? What are we doing to support them in life, or is it easier to let them lie hopelessly in that corner?

I hate that two celebrities died by suicide this week. I wish that we as a world could have reached out and helped them so that they didn’t see suicide as their only option. But we’ve been here before. Celebrities who die by suicide generate chat. But how would it be if we take this chat and turn the tables. Turn the conversation of a couple of days into the action of seeking out and supporting those of our circle who need our help. If we stop talking and reading our screens so avidly, for now, and ask the necessary questions of suicide. I believe we can do something of good.

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”

— Dalai Lama XIV

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

‘DepressionandAnxiety’

Have you noticed how some people talk about depression and anxiety as if they are one condition? Or maybe that everyone who has one must have the other? It has been annoying me for a while now, but I think I’ve worked out why. Stigma. I’ll get to that in a while.

Before we get to it, have a look at this…

This is a television advertisement currently playing in New Zealand. from Depression.org, a mental health promotion organisation. I think they do a great job in spreading information about depression particularly. But I find some of what they share is a little misleading (including an unrelated idea put forward in this advertisment that everyone has this ‘A-ha!’ moment as a turning point to recovery. Really? Reading a book to my child will cure my depression or anxiety? But we’ll leave that for now. It’s not the point of my post).

Lately, the advertisements have been adding anxiety into the picture as if it is a simple add-on to depression. It’s fair to say that many people who are depressed also have anxiety, just as many people with anxiety also have depression. But it is not a given, and they are two quite different mental illnesses. Instead of speaking of

Depression and Anxiety

it seems more like

DepressionandAnxiety

It may well be one of those cases that you have to be seeing the range of advertisements put up by Depression.org all the time, and then you see that they run the two disorders together constantly. But maybe too, you have to be inside my head. And that is where the stigma lies.

It’s my stigma. My stigma against anxiety. Yes, for years I have been adamantly denying that I have any struggle with anxiety. Actually, I had completely convinced myself of this lie. Depression? Yes. Anxiety? Absolutely not.

Over this past year, I have been starting to realise just how much anxiety has me trapped inside a little box, refusing to let me live my life to the full.

There, I’ve said it. You have no idea how much of a big deal this is (for me).

Note to self: Cate, the world is not going to cave in for having said this.

I think that for a long time I didn’t want to have anxiety, because of memories of a friend who struggled with anxiety back when I was in my late teens. When I started to have mental health problems in my late twenties I always used to steer the conversation away from the possibility of battling anxiety along with other illnesses, because I (subconsciously) thought of it as how I had seen it in my friend. And I admit that was not the way I wanted to see myself.

While I’m sure the therapists I saw along the way knew I had anxiety, it was never something I was willing to accept. It was okay for anyone else to have anxiety, but not me. And while those therapists might have known the truth, I don’t remember any of them pushing me on the subject.

See? Stigma. (Ouch).

This week I read an excellent article, 11 Things Others Don’t Realize You Are Doing Because Of Your High Functioning Anxiety.  I’m not so convinced my anxiety is “high functioning” right now. I always get caught up on that term and never know where the line gets drawn, but the article is well worth reading.

It made me realise that when I postponed an important doctor’s appointment this week that I had waited over three months for, that there was a pattern developing in my life. I postponed the appointment on account of pain that was going to make it difficult for me to get to the appointment (it would involve a bit of walking because I wouldn’t be able to get a car park close by).

While the issue of pain was authentic, it was perhaps the angst over the issue of getting there and back (with a lot of foot and leg pain in tow) that had worked me into a state of anxiety. It wasn’t until later that I thought that perhaps the pain was all part of the anxiety I felt. Or maybe even the anxiety triggered the fibromyalgia pain. There were other issues related to the appointment that had me anxious too, but it’s fair to say that at the time, I wasn’t keen to accept it. Actually, I just didn’t even see it.

I have a whole lot more to work through in coming to terms with anxiety and how it affects my life. I realise that it has me backed into a corner and that while I thought I was managing my mental health okay right now, I realise that corner is getting tighter and darker.  Somehow I need to do something about it, and I suspect I’m going to need some help. That might sound brave and self-aware but this has taken me (gulp!) 25-odd years to even admit. I have a long way to go.

Ironically, from where I started this post, I want to finish with a quote from David Karp. He is writing about depression in his book ‘Speaking of Sadness’ but I think his words apply to me equally whether to depression or anxiety. I have ‘doctored’ it appropriate to my emphasis and hope the author will forgive me.

“Much of depression’s anxiety’s pain arises out of the recognition that what might make one feel better–human connection– seems impossible in the midst of a paralyzing episode of depression anxiety. It is rather like dying from thirst while looking at a glass of water just beyond one’s reach ”
― David A. Karp
 

Thanks for reading!

 

Cate

 

 

Me & Carol – Part One

TTrigger Warning:
This post contains subject matter that is difficult to read. It includes discussion of suicidal ideation, suicide and a suicide pact.

Twenty years ago, I had a year that can best be described as hell. 1997, I was living in Wellington, New Zealand with my (then) husband Dave. I had already (privately) decided that my marriage was doomed, but 1997 saw things spiral down for Dave and me. It took me until mid-1998 (and six months of intensive residential therapy) before I actually left Dave but 1997 was tough, admittedly on both of us.

But it was the year I met Carol, and for that reason, it was a very good year. Weird really, such bad and good together.

Carol was one light in a very dark period. I met her near the beginning of the year when we were both patients at a local psychiatric hospital. We were both being re-admitted pretty much as soon as we were discharged. It was a policy issue, but that’s another story. I was admitted over twenty times that year. I wasn’t being discharged because I was well or even off the crisis list. I was being discharged because they needed the bed for someone else and, so they said, they didn’t want me to become institutionalised. I think it was a little late for that. As I’m sure you can imagine, I spent most of the year there. Carol, who had Bipolar Disorder, was in a similar traffic jam and we very quickly became very close friends.

Carol Bear, given to me by Carol. On the right arm is a friendship bracelet she gave me.

Dave didn’t like our friendship. He was pretty conservative (putting it nicely because this story isn’t about him) and he objected to the friendship Carol and I had primarily because she was a lesbian and because she smoked (I hadn’t started smoking by then nor was she the catalyst to me starting). Actually, Dave wouldn’t ‘allow’ Carol in our house (at times when we were both discharged) for these reasons. I don’t know what he expected might happen if she did come to our home but I was furious and just didn’t tell him when she had been there. What he didn’t know…

I was going through a time of rebellion from my life. I had seen myself as a “nice Christian” and didn’t want to be that person anymore. That rebellion was perhaps part of the reason I had so many hospital admissions that year. As awful as hospital life was, I can now admit that in some ways it was great. I was away from my “nice Christian” marriage and with some like-minded people. I didn’t have to worry about anything, because someone else (usually a nurse) would worry for me. I had no responsibilities and the worst I might get is a night in isolation, but only if there was a bed available.

That said, I was terribly depressed and anorexic. I was recovering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and while I hadn’t been yet diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) I was very clearly showing symptoms. My psychiatrist had already declared that they simply didn’t have any staff equipped with the skills to help me. I was literally said to be beyond help. Perhaps a culmination of all these psychiatric issues was chronic suicidal ideation. At that point, I had thought about and acted on suicidal thinking constantly for about three years, including my biggest suicide attempt in 1996.

The next part of the story is difficult to tell, but I feel like I need to tell it. I didn’t even accurately tell what happened when I published my book, Infinite Sadness in 2009. I was ashamed and I feared reaction. Would what I had done be the final straw, particular for my family? Would they turn their backs on me?

Carol was also chronically suicidal, and while both in the hospital we eventually formed a pact to die by suicide together. It was planned for a specific date and our goal was to both be discharged so that we could carry out our plans. We would say whatever was needed to achieve discharge.

Carol managed to convince staff that she was ‘safe’ for discharge but I didn’t. I was kept in hospital. I was really angry, perhaps mostly with myself.

“I was bruised and battered, I couldn’t tell what I felt.
I was unrecognizable to myself.
Saw my reflection in a window and didn’t know my own face.
Oh brother are you gonna leave me wastin’ away
On the streets of Philadelphia.”
– Bruce Springsteen

This is a good place to stop this story because actually, this post is not so much about the story. I will continue the story in a later post but what is important to me is how the heck did I end up part of a suicide pact?

I was “unrecognizable to myself”. I was “unrecognizable” to my friends and family. They didn’t mean to leave me “wasting away” but they didn’t know how to help me. Even the health professionals didn’t know how to help. I can’t imagine what they all would have thought if they had known about our suicide pact. Well, now the truth is out and a song just won’t be enough.

Had you told me five years earlier that this is where I would be, I would never have believed you. It just wasn’t possible that I would slide so far down to consider not only my own death but also supporting my friend’s eventual suicide. But that’s what mental illness does. Not for everyone, but when you go down as far as I went down, anything is possible at the same time as nothing seems possible. There was no hope (in both my mind and apparently in that of the experts), and because of that I was prepared to consider both Carol’s and my own death. A completely foreign thought to the Cate I had been five years earlier.

I saw this meme this morning. I found it interesting:

http://www.facebook.com/depressionyouandme/

That’s not who I was. I didn’t know I would be ok, I didn’t understand that people still loved me. I had already been told they couldn’t help me, just keep me safe! And I didn’t hope to be well anymore. I just wanted an end. I wanted an end for myself (and for Carol). Yet I was described as being depressed. I had depression.

My point is that depression looks different for different people. I hope that people who are depressed today can say each of the statements in that meme above. But it’s not where I was, and I need you to understand that I was a long way from that point when I considered our suicides.

To be part of another’s suicide plans is not right. I know that. And there are no “Buts…’

I had crossed a line. But whether I was aware of that or not, I can not tell you. I don’t remember the feelings attached to that time.

If you are to have any understanding of what I was doing, know this: I was severely and chronically mentally ill, and my thoughts were far distorted from whom I had previously been. This decision Carol and I made to die together was so badly distorted that perhaps there is no way for outsiders to understand. There are no other explanations. It just was, for both of us. It was perhaps a very clear ‘mark in the sand’ of hopelessness.

When we look at mental illness from the outside it is almost impossible to fully understand. I suggest the meme above offers a ‘nice’ image of depression and one easy for ‘outsiders’ to accept. For many, that will be how it is, but it’s not at all where I was at.

I was wrong to do what I did, but I really had little understanding of right and wrong at that time. Perhaps that is one of the reasons I had no hope.

They say “love changes everything”. I say:

“mental illness changes everything”

It’s not an excuse for what I agreed to with Carol. Her life was worth more than that. So was mine. But it happened because we were both suffering from severe mental illness. You can have no idea how you would act in similar circumstances. So please, choose not to judge us.

Part Two of Carol and my story will continue in a future post. It’s too much to contain in one post. Certainly too much for me, and maybe too much for you. I don’t promise that it will be my next post, but it will be soon so please follow so that you can be sure to read it.

  • Names have been changed to allow for privacy.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate