KATE'S HAPPINESS JOURNEY
Trigger Warning For Sensitive Content
First thing I'm going to say is that I’m not going to hold back. This is going to be somewhat disturbingly honest and raw. Hence, this is almost a warning that this may not be easy to read. Also, there will be swears.
Well where the fuck do I start? When faced with writing what is essentially my life story, where do I start?
My current diagnosis is Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD) – formerly and otherwise known as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) – along with good old Depression and Anxiety. Yes, I’m on medication. No, I’m not a mindless, soulless zombie because of it. I’d confidently say that my medication saved my life. I say ‘current diagnosis’ because until this summer I had only ever been told I had Depression and Anxiety, so I’m working on the possibility that my diagnoses may change in the future. I’m not going to go into formal definitions because 1) it’s kind of boring and 2) I don’t think a definition can actually define or explain any individual’s experience of their own condition. However, I will say that the nature of a personality disorder is that it has developed over time, since you were young, when your morals, opinions and personality were forming. So like the root of many mental health problems, my EUPD is strongly linked to my childhood.
I have various memories of self harm and suicide attempts during my childhood, but these never amounted to much and never brought me to the attention of mental health services. I remember using broken colouring pencils to scratch my body, and a specific suicide attempt whereby I used my dressing gown cord to tie my ankles together and then my wrists and I threw myself from my bed (which was a raised bed with storage space underneath). My intention was to land on my head, breaking my neck. Disturbingly, I remember sharing this with friends who actually laughed at it: such a feeble and naïve attempt, it made me more determined to do it properly next time. I remember being surprised when mental health professionals took this seriously because I’d always thought it pathetic. I’ve clearly had issues for many years but my earliest memories of sadness are surrounding my dad leaving the family home. I can unequivocally state that a lot of my issues have been caused by this childhood trauma. It doesn’t affect everyone, but it did affect me. A frequent symptom of EUPD is the belief that the people who are closest to you are going to abandon you; this was a common theme of my childhood nightmares which resulted in me seeking comfort most nights by creeping into bed with my mum – to make sure she too would not leave me. This has carried over into my adult life; paranoia is common for me in relationships with friends, family and lovers. I’m generally convinced that they will leave me at some point, becoming obsessive over how emotionally attached they are to me, needing constant reassurance and doing anything asked of me in order to keep them in my life. It’s quite an obvious link to make between the loss of a father figure and fear of loss of other people in my life. It can put a massive strain on relationships, if I don’t get the reassurance I need then I form elaborate misconceptions that it is something I have done, or that there is something fundamentally wrong with me. Just to make things more difficult, it’s common in EUPD for relationships to become intensely emotional. That one person is the most important person in your life, the most important aspect of your whole life and you would do anything to keep them safe and happy. This not only causes problems in your relationship with that person – they may feel suffocated and overwhelmed – but also in your relationships with other people who now feel like you don’t care about them because you’re so focussed on this other person. This happened to me.
In 2014 I’d been through so much. I’d broken up with my partner of 5 years who was my best friend and although I knew it was the right thing to do, it wasn’t easy. I’d found someone new who proceeded to hurt me, play with my life and emotions and broke down everything I’d worked on to build a new life for myself. So at the end of the year, I was looking forward to a fresh start. Life was just like, ‘haha, nah fuck you’ and at the very end of December 2014, I took my first overdose of a drug as a suicide attempt. I took the pills, closed my eyes and hoped to never wake up. I did wake up, about 16 hours later, with a serious headache and feeling very sick, but not dead. I felt numb. Nobody knew I’d done it. Nobody had any idea of what was going on in my head. Nobody knew that when I drove my car, I fantasised about having the courage to crash it at full speed into a stationary object. Nobody knew that I was not really alive; I just existed, getting through the days feeling overwhelming lethargy to the point that I didn’t have the energy to plan my suicide. I was using self harm on a regular basis to simply remind my body that I could still feel something, even if it was pain. Then, out of the blue, I made a friend. A friend who would change my life, who was so incredibly important to me, I was willing to spend every waking moment thinking about her. I was drawn to her because she needed help and helping someone not only made me believe I was doing something worthwhile, it also justified staying alive when I had no other reason to.
Anyone who knows me, and knows how this friendship evolved, knows that there were more issues than on Jeremy Kyle. She had been abused by her parents. I felt an overwhelming maternal instinct towards this girl who had no loving family network. I cared about her in the same way as I imagine a mother cares for her child. I have no definite way of confirming this feeling, as I’m not a mother, but it felt like an obsessive need to always focus on her safety, wellbeing and happiness. Very little else mattered to me, as long as she was safe, I could feel content. Not long after meeting her, she attempted to take her own life. I wasn’t entirely surprised, after all her life so far had been constant emotional chaos, doing whatever her parents made her do in an attempt to squeeze some love out of them. But it hit me hard. I’d thought I was making her life better and she still wanted to die. She was admitted to hospital in a mental health ward and I realized that this meant she would be safe. She would be away from her destructive home environment and in a place where they could help her. I can tell you, when I realized this, I slept better at night than I had done in months. I visited her every day in hospital. She was now safe and getting treatment and things weren’t perfect but at least I could be sure of her safety. I feel like at this point, I should have realized that the fact I was still filled with boiling, bubbling anxiety and self harming on a daily basis, meant that there were probably some issues of my own that I needed to deal with. It was easier for me to pretend that all those problems were still hanging around because I was still worried for my friend’s wellbeing. So I became more obsessive. Various people branded me a stalker. I didn’t see it that way, because I wouldn’t ever do anything that made her uncomfortable and she never asked me to stay away, but I can see how people may have come to that conclusion. I reached my breaking point the day before I went on holiday to Bulgaria with my mum. I’d gone to see my friend in hospital, to say goodbye as I wasn’t going to see her for a week and this would be the first time in months that I hadn’t seen her every day. She dropped a bombshell. She had come to the conclusion that she was “bad” for me. She could see she was putting a strain on me and she didn’t want to do that anymore. So she told me that she was cutting herself out of my life. She told me that I would be better off without her and that she would always be there for me if I needed her, but that I should delete her number and not speak to her again. If you consider the symptoms of EUPD, abandonment anxiety is a massive factor. This, to me, felt like a rejection. She no longer wanted me around; everything I did for her wasn’t good enough. And with her being the only thing keeping me alive at this point, I didn’t take it very well. I did something, sat in my car on that hot summer day, which I will regret for the rest of my life. I sat there, next to her, and attempted to plunge a sharp piece of plastic into my arm. She pulled if off me immediately. But that didn’t stop me. I took her lighter and attempted to burn my skin. I wanted it to melt, mirroring my internal pain feeling as if my life was melting away in front of me. She took that lighter from me, turned to me and said “I’m not going anywhere.” I hadn’t done it intentionally, but I had emotionally blackmailed her into staying in my life. At that point, I didn’t care. All I cared about was having her in my life; everything else could be pushed to the back of my mind. Whilst on holiday, away from her and unable to contact her as much as I wanted to, my self-harm spiralled. I was cutting deeper and deeper and purging after every meal. (For me, this wasn’t part of an eating disorder. I wanted to punish myself because vomiting wasn’t pleasant, but I deserved it.) Being away from her only made me realize more heavily that she was the only thing keeping me alive. When I got back to England, I felt a brief sense of relief because I got to see her again but it didn’t take long for that to wear off. She was in a terrible place, and once again tried to kill herself. Coincidentally, I was seeing my GP that day for follow up on a different issue. He saw the panicked, overwhelmed, terrified and vulnerable side of me that I never show to anyone. I was too worried about her to bother trying to conceal it. He immediately referred me to my local Crisis Team, and that’s where my real journey into my own mental health started.
Throughout 2015, I had 4 admissions to mental health wards, 3 overdoses and one hanging attempt. Honestly, all of it seems so much of a blur to me that it’s like a dream that you know you’ve had but it’s just slipping away and you can’t quite grasp it. I know now that so little of it was to do with my friend, she was purely a distraction for me. It’s quite ironic actually; the friend, who became the sole focus of my life for such a long time, will now not speak to me. She has blocked my phone number, deleted and blocked me on all social media platforms and won’t discuss me with mutual friends. The abandonment I was so afraid of, I am now living. She also gave me no reason for it. It throws up a million more paranoid thoughts. It feels like a pattern repeating itself; people I get close to will abandon me. I have substantial evidence as well. I have to try really hard to stop this thought from consuming me.
In and out of hospital, seeing various different health professionals, I felt I was a statistic; just a patient going through the motions of what happens when you’re mental. In September, finally, I was admitted to a ward who decided that I obviously needed something more than what I was getting (I cannot ever express how thankful I am for that). My thoughts raced through my brain at the speed of light, random things would pop into my brain that I didn’t feel I was in control of. I didn’t feel in control of my own thoughts. Try to imagine how scary that is. Thoughts in your head that you didn’t feel like you came up with. I remember one instance where I was so overwhelmed, I curled up in my wardrobe in my hospital room and all I could think of was Texas Drag Racers. I didn’t feel that I even knew that Texas Drag Racers existed but here they were in my brain. They started me on a new medication which levelled out my anxious thoughts. The medication they started me on was an anti-psychotic. I’ve never been diagnosed with a psychotic illness, but with EUPD you can have psychotic-like experiences. Within a few days, it was as if this chunk of my brain had been removed. The thoughts and feelings that caused all the rubbish that I’d been battling with were suddenly dramatically reduced. That’s what I mean when I say that medication saved my life. This was shortly after I attempted to hang myself and had I gone on much longer, I am confident I would have succeeded in one of my attempts to take my life. Shortly after this, I was discharged and talking therapy was arranged in the form of Dialectical Behavioural Therapy. Again, I feel that without this, I would have continued to spiral into darkness.
Overall, since then my condition has improved. My impulsive, harmful behaviours have reduced to nearly zero. Personality disorders are vastly different in recovery terms than episodes of severe clinical depression. Rather than six to twelve months, it’s often one to three years. It’s now 2016 and I made my new year’s resolution to not kill myself. It sounds laughable but it’s true. I’ve recently had a relapse. I was admitted to hospital again for a week before being let out on home leave. They’ve switched up my meds as I’ve been having side-effects and I’m now on something that is more tailored to bipolar type tendencies. It’s odd for me, but also quite comforting, that I could be really disheartened about the fact that I’ve had a relapse; I’ve worked incredibly hard to get to where I am yet I’m still struggling. But I don’t see it that way. As I said, it can be years of work before people with personality disorders get to a “normal” functioning level in everyday life. So I’m trying not to be discouraged by it.
Velvet and Kate’s Happiness Journey
Something which has helped me enormously is my Instagram page (@kateshappinessjourney). It’s for me to express my struggles with my mental health, breaking the stigma around it and giving a vague insight into what it’s like to live with a mental health problem. I get support from kind people in similar situations and wherever I can, I help others. I also work on my body positivity. It’s such a massive part of me and how I feel about myself. Working on loving myself as a whole includes loving my physical self as well as my mind. I strive for happiness. Isn’t that what everyone ultimately strives for? That’s where Velvet comes in!
I first photographed with Velvet D’Amour before all of this happened. It was June, before my admissions to hospital. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy my experience, the photos also came out so incredibly beautiful. Velvet is a beautiful light wizard. So in November 2015 after I had been in hospital, after I had permanently marked my body with self harm, I decided to get in touch with Velvet again. This time I wanted to be me, the new me. The me that is damaged but healing. So I got naked. That’s the best way to learn how to love your whole self…Right? I wanted to see my raw, naked form; scars and self brutality obvious to see but still be able to see beauty. Velvet was incredible. When I told her what I was planning, she made me feel so at ease. She understood about my mental health problems and made me feel like I wasn’t a crazy person for wanting to do this. The photos are evidence in themselves. Not only is the photography beautiful, Velvet has managed to get the very best out of me. Something that only true talent can do. I look at those photos and I see someone who has suffered but is still fighting. I see someone who has died inside but has resurrected herself. I honestly don’t think of myself as strong, but when I look at those photos I see a strong person. That is a gift that Velvet has given me, and I will forever be indebted to her for that. That experience will stay with me forever.
I’m living every day with a struggle. I have to come to terms with the fact that I have a disability. I’ve been off work for about eight months, my sick pay has stopped and I’ve had to start claiming Employment Support Allowance (a type of benefit). Some days I’m good with it, I feel encouraged and motivated, but I still have many days when I can’t force myself to carry out everyday tasks like have a shower or cook myself a meal.
I’m never going to be “fixed”. I will live with these difficulties for the rest of my life. I see my life like a tree. I started out as a sapling. I grew and had to battle against the elements, through harsh winters and difficulties. The cracks in my bark are the signs that show I have weathered, that I have struggled but I’m still standing. I know that there are still difficult seasons to come, more winters where I will lose my leaves and have to struggle to get through. But at the end I will still be standing.
I’m not “overcoming” my disability. I’m living with it and being okay with it. Because it isn’t something I should want to fight or overcome. I don’t have to “overcome” it in order to be a productive, good and valued member of society. It’s a part of me, and I’m good enough with or without it.
I AM GOOD ENOUGH. (Rinse and repeat as needed).