Alicia’s story: how I reframed my perspective after my mental health diagnosis
Having a diagnosis of a mental health condition doesn’t determine the rest of your life.
After a desperate plea to the doctor late last year, I was referred to a consultant psychiatrist and received a formal diagnosis. Sitting on the edge of my chair in the clinical assessment room, I told her how anxiety was plaguing nearly every moment of my day and how I felt too low to function most of the time. How I felt like I was dragging my body and mind around all day, doing everything I had to do, but feeling no connection or emotion to it. How I felt angry, hopeless, self-destructive and even suicidal. Things had gotten really bad this time and I had no idea how I would get out of it.
The consultant looked concerned. She stopped me and said, ‘We need to rule something out,’ then handed me a list of questions and a pen.
Less than an hour later, I found myself leaving the hospital grounds in a state of shock. The consultant seemed to think I had something called Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), also sometimes called Emotionally Unstable Disorder. I had vaguely heard of it before. Crazy, out of control, mentally unwell, unstable, dangerous… were all the stigmatising words that raced through my mind, negative connotations I felt deeply afraid of.
Shock and fear
Up until now, I thought I’d been struggling with anxiety and depression, so it came as a shock to be given a new diagnosis I’d never even considered before. I was still in a state of disbelief when I returned home to my partner and broke the news. He didn’t want to believe it either.
What sort of person had I become? Was I way more messed up than I thought I was? How could I have not been diagnosed with this before now? Was this something I could recover from or was my life, as I knew it, over? These were more of the stigmatising thoughts that initially came to mind.
I felt confused, angry, close to tears, anxious, frightened and ashamed, all at once.
But I also felt something else pawing for my attention.
A gentle relief
Finally, my struggles had been identified. Validated. Heard. Understood. Yes, I’d been given a label, and maybe that comes with both pros and cons but, truthfully, I took great comfort in knowing that other people felt this way. I have an amazing partner, the most brilliant best friend and a wonderful support network, but I often struggle to articulate how I am feeling to them. It often leaves me feeling like nobody really understands me, and never will.
The consultant had a thorough understanding of my inner world, and made sense of the whys and the how’s of what had happened to me, what was happening to me right now, and how the right treatment could, over time, help me to manage and overcome my difficulties. I felt relieved that a fulfilling and meaningful life still seemed possible, with the right professional help and support.
A ray of hope
I’d had several different types of talking therapy including counselling, CBT and long-term psychodynamic therapy. Some of these had been helpful but I still felt something was missing. I’d been in and out of the NHS system for over three years. I’d tried meditation, medication, exercise, putting my career on hold, online courses and countless self-help strategies. I had begun to give up hope of ever feeling normal again.
Although hard to digest for the first few weeks, the diagnosis gave me hope that one day things would get better. My huge highs and lows started to make sense, as did my interpersonal difficulties, self-sabotaging anxiety and highly critical inner voice tearing me down daily. The diagnosis seemed to fit. The funny thing is, I sometimes felt deep down that there was something more serious and complex happening inside of me all along.
Knowledge is power
After the diagnosis, I began searching for as much information as I could about BPD from reliable sources on the internet and soon discovered that, like any mental health condition, I was on a spectrum in terms of my symptoms and behaviours. I found out that there were many types of personality disorders and how these were split into a number of overlapping categories. I discovered the term Quiet BPD. There was a whole wealth of new information to absorb and, although scary to read at times, it felt good to feel a little back in control of my life.
I read about the different types of specialised therapy options for people with BPD, studying in-depth scholarly articles on the evidence and effectiveness of each approach. I also researched the recovery and remission rates, which helped set my own expectations of what was actually achievable and realistic.
It doesn’t need to define me
Overwhelmed by a constant whirlwind of negativity, I was completely out of touch with who I was and what I was actually like before things got so bad. I had been trying so hard to get rid of how I felt and desperately hold onto any good feelings. Feeling better had become a full-time job, and it was exhausting.
I often felt so anxious, low or self-destructive that it was easy to lose touch with the other parts of myself that make me, me. The parts of me that make me a loving partner, a loyal friend and a thoughtful daughter. The parts of me that love to meet new people, have fun, write, go to live gigs, be creative and help others. The part of me that is a little ditsy, making my partner and friends laugh (they actually write lists of hilarious things I come up with). Although I still have a way to go, slowly but surely, those parts of me are returning. All it took was to realise they were still there all along and make small positive actions to reconnect with myself.
Being given a diagnosis can help you, not hold you back. Accept it as yours, don’t let it define you and always remember it is only one part of you.