“I was born 10 days late and not breathing. Often during my life I have wondered if I had not ever drawn a breath, perhaps it would have been all for the best. This is my story of finding that breath in a world full of pain and how I don’t just survive, but I thrive.
Born in 1970’s England there was no education about rights and there were no child help lines. Parents had the final say and children had no voice. I am really glad there is so much help out there today, but it came too late for me.
The problem is that children are psychologically hard-wired to blame themselves which is why child abuse is so damaging. As an adult I would not accept abusive behavior and I would see it for what it is, but the mind of a child is different and shame stopped me seeking help for such a long time. The abuse I suffered was insipid, I couldn’t get away from the person/people and when anyone is in that hopeless situation the only place to run away is inside your own mind – and that is what I did. I didn’t actually realize I was being abused until I was around 11 years old and although I didn’t like it, I just thought it was what everyone did and I had a problem for not liking it. This caused me to feel so unhappy and the only way I carried on was to try and be perfect. I joined all the social and sporting things I could do, partly because I loved being social, but partly to get away from home. When I was at home, I was immersed in piano practice or in my room as much as possible.
I was an ‘A’ grade student from a respected middle-class family who had dreams of becoming a midwife, but at the age of 14 I started drinking alcohol, abusing laxatives and stopped eating. My first mental health diagnosis was anorexia and body dysmorphia. I was put on build-up drinks, I just felt empty inside. Also around this time I was also diagnosed with scoliosis and the possibility of being in a wheelchair in my later life. My parents were aware I had suffered abuse but the professional they had spoken to had told them ‘it is not that bad, she will get over it.’ I was alone, I told no one what happened to me, I had no one to talk to, and I was scared of everything. I felt so sad and empty; like there was a void inside me. Today I recognize the professional’s invalidation as being so crippling but back then I just saw pain, rejection and hopelessness, and because they doubted me I started to doubt myself.
I had a couple of fantasy daydreams that gave me relief as a child and teenager. I often fantasized that my parents had adopted me and that my ‘real’ parents would come and rescue me from my hell. I’ve had night terrors all my life and from my early teens I remember seeing shadow people and thinking I had a poltergeist in my room because things seemed to move from where I had left them. Now I know I was suffering from psychosis and dissociation but at the time I was so distressed that I thought shadow people were coming to drag me down to hell because I was evil, bad and worthless.
Another fantasy I had was being rescued by a ‘Knight in shining armor.’ I started having boyfriends, but as I got older some of these became seriously abusive and caused me much pain and violent trauma. Men seemed to be attracted to me and my sense of creativity and freedom, but then wanted to control me. It seemed that everything and everyone wanted to hurt me and it reinforced my feelings that I could trust no one, and men were dangerous. At the age of 16 I started self-harming and took my first overdose; I just wanted out. In 1991 the UK was still under the ‘old’ system of intervention and when I was in hospital they came toward me with a long, thick rubber tube, a funnel and a bucket – I was to have my stomach pumped. I was so scared I asked them to leave me alone but was told, ‘if you don’t let us do it, we’ll tie you down and do it.’ Once again I felt I was stripped of my own dignity, forced into submission and my mind told me I couldn’t even trust health care professionals. I was all alone in this world, but a small glimmer of hope remained – I clung to my fantasy of a rescuer coming into my life.
In my second year of college I met my husband. Around the same time was told I had polycystic ovary syndrome and that I had just over a 10% chance of having children. It tipped me over the edge again. I started drinking way too much, doing drugs and missing college as all my dreams of a happily ever after ending came crashing around my feet. I love children and by this time was a trained nursery nurse, it was all I had ever wanted but fate dealt me what seemed like another horrendous blow. I spiraled out of control. I keep this poem on my fridge. I’ve loved it since I was a teenager as it speaks to me of how I was failed and how I want other children to be encouraged.
During these years I remember feeling so out of control and scared that at one point I just packed my bags and left without anyone knowing. I headed to the coast and worked for 3 months down there trying to somehow catch my breath again. I had left on a train in the late evening with nowhere to stay and no job to go to, but fortunately I met someone who had a spare room and they let me crash while I found a job. I remember thinking maybe the universe was giving me a sign, when really I had experienced my first major ‘switch’ and I wasn’t myself the whole time I was away. I hadn’t cared about the risks of being potentially homeless or that I would have no money; I just didn’t care about anything other than getting away.
In my early 20’s I became relatively more stable but still in anguish and hyper-sensitive to the world around me. I got married, had a baby boy and in my late 20’s a baby girl came along just after we had moved to an area with no family nearby. Although I had suffered with Post Natal Depression after my son was born, nothing prepared me for the birth of my beautiful daughter. I had a traumatic pregnancy and birth with my baby boy ending in a long labor and an emergency caesarean section so I thought a planned caesarean for my second baby would make it easier and I wouldn’t be so depressed afterward. But after another traumatic pregnancy, I was wrong.
It hit me like a truck. I loved her so much, but I kept looking at her and thinking ‘how could you.’ I was so upset that another human being would want to dislike, hurt or abuse something so innocent and beautiful. I had always thought if I had a baby girl, I would make sure nothing happened to her, like it did to me, but the moment I held her I realized I just couldn’t keep that promise. She would have to live in the world and I couldn’t protect her.
The depression came hard and I fell to pieces inside. I now know I had an undiagnosed nervous breakdown. Over the next year I isolated myself and didn’t leave the house for 6 months. I had to get people to take my son to school, which broke my heart, but the times I had to go out would leave me in the midst of a panic attack and sobbing uncontrollably at home. The only time I could go out was if my husband was with me and eventually my care coordinator arranged for a council bus to come and pick me up to take me to a children’s center to try and get me to go out. I cried on that bus every time, but I carried on because I wanted to be better for my children and because there was still that dim light of hope.
Around this time we had a lot of other family stresses going on and I started with hospital admissions. The first time it happened I had been constantly calling my husband saying I couldn’t cope for months and he had been doing his best to get home when he could, but this day I just curled up in bed and shut down completely. I managed to ring a new friend I’d made who came and sat with me until he could get home, and then I was admitted. I was so scared and confused that first time but was in and out of hospital many times over the next couple of years. I tried to end my life time and time again. One time I was in for around six months, was on 8 different psyche meds and was offered Electro-convulsive therapy (fortunately my husband talked me out of this). It seemed to me that the professionals had no idea what was going on. They knew my history but didn’t link teenage, current or recent trauma into the equation and I was misdiagnosed with recurrent depressive disorder due to childhood abuse and bunged on a ton of psych meds for years until I had an awful fall.
I fell from a great height breaking near enough my whole spine and fracturing my skull with many bleeds on the brain. I had surgery with metal rods and pins inserted and was diagnosed with osteopenia. The outcome of this massive trauma was that my mental health deteriorated, and I became unwell needing admission again. I had previously been doing some reading around mental health because I was sure there was more going on than recurrent depression. How can it recur so often and so intensely? The ward psyche agreed, and I was referred into the recently formed Personality Disorder Service where I received my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.
This was a great help to me. I had been so scared and alone and now I could actually see a potential way forward. The fact that someone else recognized and validated my feelings was a huge deal for me. What happened to me was bad and not easy to ‘get over’ as the specialist had said to my Mom all those years ago. I know a lot of people don’t like the label but it gave me something to fight against, something to learn about and an insight about appropriate medications for my condition. The professionals didn’t advocate as many drugs for the treatment of BPD either which was amazing because I am really sensitive to medication and had spent many years off my face and hardly able to function due to the amount of different medications they had me on. I thought, finally, freedom! But I was wrong.
Yes, the diagnosis helped a little, but I still felt the same inside. Over the next year I took myself off all psyche meds because I wanted to see if they really helped. Against medical advice I did my own ‘acid test’. It was a risk but after my brain injury I had started having really bad epileptic type seizures and there was a period I was in and out of episodes nearly every day. My husband had to give up work for a year to nurse me when I was home. The seizures were investigated and proven to not be physical epilepsy and I wondered if my meds were making them worse. Over the next year I tapered off slowly (and often felt like a junkie in rehab). I felt so much better and the seizures got better too. I came to the conclusion that the meds were taking me so far out of myself that they were making me lose myself, but that lack of sleep made my mental health harder to manage.
I had received lots of therapy over the years but it was only when I signed up for mentalization based therapy (MBT) that I found help for real positive change. Services had changed again and now they were asking me what I wanted instead of telling me what I needed. BPD had become a diagnosis of inclusion (whereas the old model excluded it and offered no real treatment other than drugs). I told them I wanted the MBT but also investigations into me losing time and a full brain analysis because my GP had told me my memory issues were solely due to my mental health, but I knew something else was going on.
Over the next two years I received all this help and the diagnosis of dissociation disorder and acquired brain damage and for the first time, EVER, felt truly valued, listened to and understood. MBT is about using a ‘wise mind’ and is a balance between the logical and emotional mind. It is a therapy specifically for Personality Disorder and involves a group session and a session with a psychologist once a week. Here I learned so much about how a personality is formed as well as how to regulate my emotions through taking a step back from situations and thinking about what is really going on. Every week my husband would sit down with me and we would talk about how it went, what I learned, and identified areas in both of us that needed thinking about. It has revolutionized our relationship. We were close before, but now we are even closer and that is not only a testament to me, but to his patience and enduring love. Too often I have been quick to respond, to anger or to cut myself off and since this therapy I have better relationships all round.
I now volunteer with an NHS Service User Group as a co-trainer educating professionals about Personality Disorder through knowledge and skills-based training. I am, and always will be passionate about erasing the stigma and breaking down prejudice/discrimination around mental health and one example I always talk about in training is that BPD can be inward and outward acting. We aren’t all prone to shouting and violent outbursts. Often people are quiet like me and take things out on themselves. I am the least violent person, and am very spiritual.
Yes, I have BPD but I am also a Mother, a wife, a wicked cook, a lover of the earth, a keen gardener, a musician, a poet and a songwriter. I am also many, many other things but overall I strive to see positivity in the world and the people in it. I got hurt so badly and I want to encourage everyone that there is a way forward. You can live the life you want to live despite of it all. I spent so many years in a dark shroud, struggling to breathe and struggling to find out who I am and where I belong, but now I am much changed and feel so much more alive and connected. Yes, I have bad days but they don’t own me anymore. I have shrugged off the weighty shroud and can truly breathe, at last.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rose of England. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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