Nicole Devlin

What Had Me Ashamed, What Has Me Now Inspired

The flashbacks, the nightmares are still raw, the palms of my hand still sweat, remembering that awful day of being told I was being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. And I had no choice in the matter. It was a Friday afternoon, in May 2004, I was 17, my life had been pretty turbulent before this, but the way it was going to go for the next ten years was unimaginable. I attempted a quite severe suicide attempt, overdosed on many tablets with no concept of what lay ahead. I didn’t care, I wanted out, and I wanted out fast. I was saved, brought around by medics and a few machines. I was devastated. I remember an adolescent psychiatrist coming to see me and telling me I was going to hospital. The first things that came to my mind that had me refusing, was the typical assumptions our society has today of psychiatric wings; “crazy people”, “padded cells”, “straight-jackets”. These definitely struck up a huge sense of fear, that had me attempting to run away from the general hospital unit. I was took against my will to the mental institution, the one I used to laugh and joke about with my school friends.

After three months in the hospital, I had got worse. I had begun self harming as a means of coping. My behaviour become very destructive. I was a very angry person. And I didn’t know why this was all happening. At 18, I was moved to an adult ward, as I’d been on the adolescent side. What came next, was going to change my whole future, my dreams and hopes, everything about me; my diagnosis.

I was interviewed by several psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health staff. They told me they’d assessed me over the past six months, and with a lot of details of my past surfacing, they had a diagnosis for me. Great I thought, at least I’ll have a name for what is eating away at me. I’d never really heard of any mental illnesses before and if I’m truthful I was probably more ignorant of them. My doctor back then wasn’t that helpful, I went into her room and she sat me down to tell me I had “Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder” but that it was mostly called “Borderline” PD, although the same meaning. I can remember becoming extremely distressed when learning of what I had and what I was going to have to live with the rest of my life. “My personality isn’t disordered, I remember telling a member of staff. I know I have many good qualities and lots of people around me tell me I’m a good person!” In a logical thinking view, my personality is disordered, but not in the way I interpreted that day. BPD is a serious mental illness and people diagnosed have difficulty with dysregulation in several different areas: emotions, cognitions, behaviour, sense of self, and in relationships. This might not sound too bad or too serious, but living with it can have serious consequences in your life, in everything you feel, think or do.

For me I couldn’t control my emotions and with not controlling lead to very dangerous behaviours, I began to self harm, and it almost became an addiction to the point I was doing it daily for years. I felt it helped me to cope with the inner turmoil. I felt something else when I self harmed, and it was a relief to feel that. And when things got too much, I became very impulsive and risked with my life. I also had a very poor self image of myself, I didn’t know who I was, who I was meant to be, why I was even living. I had distorted thinking and views of myself and the world around me, and I was unable to maintain relationships with people. I have a trauma background, not everyone who has this diagnosis does, but it can be a common factor. The disorder stems from what is thought to be biochemical vulnerability and experiences of trauma and invalidation. In everyday life, it is a set of behaviours that sufferers used to cope, which start to become destructive.

Over the next few years, things had gotten worse, to the point I was detained in hospital for months at time and on either a 2:1 or 1:1 24 hour observation, where there was two or one members of nursing staff by my side to prevent me from harming myself. But it wasn’t just me who was being affected, though I couldn’t see this at the time. My family, who loved and supported me through it all, were witnessing not very nice scenes of me in severe distress, attempting to kill myself, self harming. Something, also that I’m not very proud of, I was becoming so self-absorbed at times, self-centred and at times was quite nasty to those closest to me. Looking back, I couldn’t actually see the real damage I was doing, both to myself and those around me. All I knew, I was in emotional turmoil and those behaviours were the only thing I knew. I was beginning to get scared, of myself. Some attempts were surreal. And it wasn’t just these dangerous behaviours that had my life on a down spiral, other symptoms of the disorder had started to manifester; “fear of abandonment” – whether real or perceived, with people around me, especially close people; friends, family. I would often think that people would leave me or walk out of my life, so before they would have got the chance, I would have pushed them out of mine. Of course this was never the case, but my distorted thinking had me that way, and I was soon losing a lot of friendships.

I couldn’t trust my own emotions. Which emotional reactions were justified, if any? And which ones were tainted by the mental illness of BPD? I found myself fiercely guarding and limiting my emotional reactions, chastising myself for possible distortions and motivations. People who had known me years ago would barely recognize me now. I had become quiet and withdrawn in social settings, no longer the life of the party. After all, how could I know if my boisterous humour were spontaneous or just a borderline desire to be the centre of attention? I could no longer trust any of my heart felt beliefs and opinions on politics, religion, or life. I found myself looking at every single side of an issue unable to come to any conclusions for fear they might be tainted. My lifelong ability to be assertive had turned into a constant state of passivity.

In 2008, I was sent to a hospital in England, this was a chance I hoped to get better from. The reason I was sent there was because there was nowhere and still is nothing is this country for the treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, and something I am tirelessly fighting for amongst other changes. I was in that hospital in England, in a jail like typed environment, for almost three years. I never got home once, I became institutionalised, indefinitely, you could say. The treatment there was DBT (Dialetical Behavioural Therapy), a talking therapy which has proven to be effectively useful in treating BPD, but whilst I was there, I was heavily medicated, on a drug I should never have been on, and that lead to other symptoms. I couldn’t function, never mind think and due to that reason I feel my treatment would have worked if it wasn’t for that.

I came back home in 2011, I was 24 years of age then, and a lot had changed in my community. People I had went to school with had moved on a lot with their lives, a lot were in relationships, had children, had went onto university, the ‘norm’ for most people that age. I think that’s when my diagnosis had really hit me, I knew I had it, I knew its symptoms, I knew its prognosis but I never really thought to myself, “I am not the same as everyone else, I have a serious illness, that could kill me, I don’t think like other people, I will have to train myself to cope with normal things, I will have to undergo years of intensive therapy”. It was also painful knowing that a lot of people around me didn’t have this, but also didn’t understand the severity of it and how it affects me and my thinking to why I do things. I began to think, I am never going to live that normal life, the life that I wanted so much and so the suicide attempts began soon again. I was putting myself and my body through hell but because my thoughts were so fixated on all negativity, and the belief that everyone around me would be better of without me, I continued and the severity of them worsened.

I spent another two years in hospital, heavily medicated, on observations, and it was like a vicious cycle, until one day I had, had enough. I didn’t want to continuously be in pain, I wanted to live. See people with BPD, including me, have very negative views of themselves due to past experiences, we feel unworthy, unloved, like we don’t deserve to be happy at times and this leads to the destructive and dangerous behaviours. I had my medication decreased an awful lot, so I was able to think and feel, rationally and wanted a different life. I had also been hugely mistreated throughout the years by different psychiatric services and hospitals due to my diagnosis as it’s not only hugely stigmatised in society but by the mental health professions also and that’s down to little to no research in successful treatments, the fact that the illness is so expensive to treat, some professionals refuse to even acknowledge that it is a serious illness and one that is more commonly diagnosed these days. It is also portrayed badly by society. When people hear ‘Personality Disorder’, they automatically assume people with them are dangerous, which is far from the truth. People with BPD are more inclined to hurt themselves rather than anyone else.

Because of what I had went through, both in my personal life and in the places that were supposed to help me, it gave me a huge urge to help others that are in similar shoes that I have been in, I wanted to become a voice for other young people, others that have felt stigmatised or judged because of having a mental illness. See having this, I have been judged without knowing me or the facts, I have been turned away from places I was part of, such as football clubs, social circles, family events, just totally excluded, which didn’t do much good for my self esteem. I feel if people had of understood what was going on and not judged or criticised, things would have been different. I was also on the receiving end of verbal abuse, some from people I knew but a lot from people who just knew of me. They would have heard in the small neighbourhood area I lived in, that I had attempted suicide, and automatically called me crazy and selfish and other degrading names. Those things really hurt. I probably felt a little crazy at times, but in no means was I selfish, those people could clearly just see one side of it, or even only what they could see or understand from the situation. But I don’t blame people individually, I leave a lot down to our society, how we see things, how the media influences people’s minds.

Right now I have came a long way in my life, I have made a lot of progress, I have a lot of insight into my illness, I have identified my strengths, and I am working on the weaknesses with a supportive therapist. I am not at the place where I want to be, but I’m at a place where I’d never have dreamt to be.

I hope my story helps someone else to open up. Nobody should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed. Would you feel ashamed for having Cancer or a broken leg? No, because neither of those two are stigmatised. When people can’t visually see something wrong, they think you are not in distress or that your problem is nowhere severe as someone suffering from a physical ailment. I have been quite ill both physically and mentally in my life and I would rather have a broken bone any day compared to the mental pain. So please don’t judge, just because you cannot see. Truly, I believe that the existential approach that allows for the story to be shared in a peer to peer environment is the most effective and cathartic process than any drug or therapy. I think we have become induced or led to thinking that the answers are beyond ourselves and that we need these people to intercede. Granted, the intervention is necessary. But, in a lot of instances, a friend, with a good heart accomplishes as much or more than any therapist. A safe environment pitches the same as a treatment facility. To break those last couple of sentences down, be kind to one another. We are all human.

This illness used to have me, all of me, I let it define me. I was so ashamed of myself for having a mental illness, but now I am thankful of it, I am thankful of everything I have went through in my life, I have no regrets to anything in my life, you soon realise that everything happens for a reason and see all you have went through or seen in your life shapes you into the person you are today. I owe it to myself to make the rest of my years the best. I am not that religious but over the years I have become philosophically interested and combined it all with some faith. I do believe, everyone of us, our lives are planned out for us, some of us are dealt tougher cards but it is like a test for those that will overcome it. And for me, my life has taught me, I have been strong all along, I just never believed in myself. I have been so self-critical but it’s all falling into pieces why and now I’m able to deal with things somewhat more better. One of the biggest traits of having BPD is you’re knowing to be highly sensitive. I used to dislike being sensitive. I thought it made me weak. But take away that single trait and you take away that very essence of who I am. You take away my conscience, my ability to empathize, my intuition, my creativity, my deep appreciation of the little things, my vivid inner life, my keen awareness to others pain and my passion for it all. I may have a mental illness, but it is only a small part of me, I have a lot more positives in my life and I have nothing to hide.

Doug Leddin