Updated: Apr 2, 2021
This week's interview is with my friend Michael, who is helping us to understand what life is like with borderline personality disorder and giving his opinion on how important education is around mental health issues.
In his own words:
Hi, I’m Michael. Aspiring change-maker and dog-lover.
1. Hi Michael, how are you?
Well - I don’t think I could start this without being so.
2. How are you really?
Right now, genuinely well. And not that suspicious kind of ‘everything’s ok, it’s probably a manic episode’ kind of well.
3. When were you diagnosed with borderline personality disorder?
4. What is it like to be you?
To put it poetically - spicy.
5. If you had to describe borderline personality disorder to someone who has never heard of it, what would you say?
How you feel, think and act is not directly impacted by the present. You can have good and bad days and literally nothing has changed between them. You can be down and depressed, know that you’re down and depressed and almost willingly wallow there. You can have 2 hours sleep and have so much energy that a 10k run is at sprinting pace. I can’t speak for everyone, but I tend to be motivated not by what I honestly think, but what is best for the other person, and that bleeds into behaviour too. So, you get good at compartmentalising your life, and you can almost step into a role regardless of how you really feel. When you’ve done it for a long time, you start to forget who you really are. And that’s terrifying.
6. How important would you say it is for people to educate themselves on mental health issues, even if they haven't experienced any issues for themselves?
Better education would change the world. We would be kinder, more understanding, patient and forgiving. We’d remove the stigma that holds some people back from seeking help. We would recognise the need for early intervention and apply the right social pressure for action to be taken on a higher level. We’d also understand ourselves better, be able to read the signs when we’re happy or unhappy. It would save countless lives.
7. Did your BPD diagnosis come as a shock or were you expecting it?
To be honest, I thought I would be diagnosed bi-polar. But I was told that the diagnosis would take years to properly justify. Having read up on the condition, I recognised some of the diagnosed behaviours in my own.
8. Was life different for you before being diagnosed compared to afterwards?
Very. I made some big life changes, finally sought counselling, took medication, and started to unpack everything that had made me, me. It was the start of a significant reshaping of my life.
9. Do you feel there is a stigma attached to borderline personality disorder?
When I have, it has usually been mean projecting. I’m lucky in the fact that the people who know me also accept me for who I am (as far as I am aware).
10. Do you ever worry about the reaction others will have when you tell them your diagnosis?
I’ve never thought that. I’ve never thought to put it in a job application or announce it so widely. I don’t know whether that’s me not accepting myself, afraid what others would think, or that I simply don’t feel it warrants the attention.
11. What is the best way someone can react?
Acknowledge it, and thank the person for feeling comfortable enough to share.
12. How has treatment such as therapy or counselling been a part of your mental health journey? Was this beneficial for you?
It’s been a huge part of my journey. When I started, I was at my rock bottom. I didn’t go for myself, I didn’t care about myself anymore, but I did still care about the people I loved. I went for them initially, and eventually I was going for myself. My counsellor is excellent, set clear boundaries and left me to fill the space.
13. What would you say, for you, is the most challenging part of having BPD?
Trusting. Trusting yourself — knowing whether you think or feel about something is genuine, or simply a depressive or manic episode taking its toll.
14. Do you believe people's views and/or judgements around mental illness can be changed?
I do. I think it’s usually a question of being able to translate into terms they understand. In some cases, ironically, it can be people’s mental health that holds them back from understanding someone else. For example, you may be less sympathetic of someone else’s situation, if you feel like you haven’t been or wouldn’t be given the same treatment. That attitude of 'I’ve been alright, why aren’t they?’ to me is probably an indication of something not being ok.
15. For someone who sees you at your most vulnerable, what would you want them to know?
I’m trying my hardest.
16. Does it help you to talk about your diagnosis?
This has been enlightening in its own right. I feel I’ve learned or articulated things I hadn’t before. Yes.
17. For times when you feel less in control of your mental health, is there anything someone else can do to help you through?
I think it’s about asking the right questions. Not telling me what to do, but helping me see the consequences of my choices. Like if I’m not eating or drinking properly, asking “is that going to help or make things worse?” will at least get me to admit that it will make things worse and likely encourage me to correct that.
18. If there is someone reading this today who has recently been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, what would you like to say to them?
There are going to be bad days, and those are the days you need to check yourself and put yourself first. Because I promise you, get through those days and you’ll make it to the days where you can actually joke about it. And that is a power so few can wield and it feels good.
19. What is your biggest goal for your own mental health?
To look after it, so I can look after the people I care about.
20. How do you feel after answering these questions today?
Still in a good place. To be honest, I hadn’t thought about BPD in this way before really - you almost forget about the BPD part of you because it’s just who you are. I hope that someone may get to this sentence, however, and feel like they learned as much as I have. And in some way, that will be helpful.
Thank you so much Michael for taking part in this mental health awareness project. I have no doubt that your story will be relatable for others, and educational for those who have no experience of BPD. I'm really glad to hear how counselling has positively impacted your mental health and I hope hearing this can encourage others to reach out and talk to someone too. Look after you, you're important.
If you're reading this today and you're struggling with your mental health, please REACH OUT for help. You are worth it and there is help out there for you. Speak to someone you trust, see a doctor, or go to the 'support' page on this website where you'll find a list of useful contacts.
. . .
The following journal entry comes from Michael himself, who has very kindly allowed it to be shared. Please note a content warning of suicide, and be mindful of what you do or don't need to read today.
In his own words:
The photo in the waves was taken about a month after my diagnosis. Walking into the sea with a surf board was significant, because a month previous I’d planned to do something very different. I even wrote about it.
Drowning 03.06.19 I’d be standing on the beach. No one else around - it would not be a typical night to be on a beach. No starry sky. Not your typical, still, warm summer evening. The waves will not lap gently. The crash will be drowned out by the strong gusts. It will be a cacophony of noise. Relentless, warning, menacing. And I’d make my last call - who would it be to? What would I say? Would I confess everything in my life. Probably not. Where would the sense be in causing more harm in such a moment. Speak your truths, say your piece and hang up the phone. You’ll have chosen the outfit. Something meaningful. Something that represents you - a happier you. And without the need to undress, you’ll take those first steps into the bubbling surf. It will pull at your ankles and creep up your legs begging you to join. And with each step the coldness of death will seep further up your body. Consuming you. Ink black. The instinct to swim will take over. As you muddle in the space between the areas you can touch the bottom and the areas you can’t. You’ll utilise all those swimming lessons for one last time and push out into the darkness. Swimming further and further driven by the hope that you are meters away from escaping it all. And just as that peace washes over you, cramp will set in. Your clothes will weigh you down and begin to tug your body beneath the surface. And while you fight briefly, rising and falling with the waves, you slow your paddling legs. Your arms come to your chest and you allow your body to sink. You’ll close your eyes and wait for your feet to touch the bottom again. But it doesn’t come. You don’t know how far you have fallen, but it is far enough. Your body screams for oxygen, imploring you to breath. It will be a pain like no other. As cold salt water floods your lungs. A silent final scream before your eyes instinctively open in the murky waters and blackness edges out all the light. You won’t have swam so far that the tide wouldn’t bring you in. By morning someone would find you. Would raise the alarm. Nothing can be done. Next of kin will be contacted, arrangements will be made, people will grieve, endure and forget. Another statistic. More pity for young men. It’s not because I couldn’t stand living, I just couldn’t take the pain. Rather than subdue it for any longer, it was time to be a man and do something about it.
If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, please REACH OUT for help. Speak to someone you trust, see a doctor, call Samaritans on 116 123, visit https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/suicidal-feelings/about-suicidal-feelings/ or https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/ or have a look at the 'support' page on this website.
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably): 0800 58 58 58
If you are having a mental health emergency and are unable to keep yourself safe, call 999.
You are important, there is help out there for you, and you are worth helping.
I promise you, you are worth living for.