‘We didn’t talk enough, did we?’ My Dad would never walk me down the aisle or meet my children. That’s a very odd thing to discuss with your father when you’re only 23.’

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“One of the last things me and my Dad talked about (apart from the moment where he asked where to land a helicopter – hello morphine delusions!), was the fact he would never be here to walk me down the aisle or meet my children.

That’s a very odd thing to discuss with your father when you’re only 23 and you’re completely certain that it’ll never be possible, but you are in fact discussing it with them.

I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when I was 21 (2011), around the time my Dad was diagnosed with bowel cancer for the second time. These situations were quite naturally linked, however I never realised how much deeper my mental health issues ran until I was later diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) in 2014.

Young woman with BPD and CPTSD sits smiling with flower crown on
Courtesy Elspeth Van Der Hole

I distinctly remember the first time I told my father about my former mental health issues, and he of course never lived to hear about the latter ones. We were sat together in the hospice, he had gone in one day to give the family respite when caring for him and that afternoon I’d gone to keep him company on my own. I came from a background, like most of us brought up in the early 90’s where you didn’t ever really discuss emotions or mental illness, you took tablets and got on with it. Suffered in silence and used the tactic of a ‘stiff upper lip’ to get you through.

I remember that exact moment I told him, because he turned back to me and told me all about how he had been feeling about dying. The words I then remembered were ‘we didn’t talk enough did we?’. It’s odd talking to your parent about things in a past tense but also in the present. I remember this not because it was sad, but because in that moment the world changed for me, I realised the power of opening yourself up in order to help others open up with you.

Even to this day I am often witness to others being forced to open up without anyone expecting to reciprocate; but if we take a step back for a moment and show our own vulnerabilities first it makes others a little less scared.

My Dad was my everything, it took a long time for me to hear his laugh in my mind again after watching him literally fall apart in mind and body, but it comes back with time.

As I mentioned I was diagnosed with BPD and CPTSD in the years after losing the one person in my life who seemed to make sense to me. Dad passed away in 2013 and I was quickly estranged from my immediate family, still attempting to finish my photography degree whilst also sofa surfing and eventually living with a friend’s family for a small period of time before living alone.

Having no family, no money and no home after believing your life was completely normal and well adjusted for 23 years can warp your entire view of life, I spent a large amount of time after the incident questioning what was reality.

Young woman with BPD and CPTSD sits smiling as she holds up two glasses of drinks
Courtesy Elspeth Van Der Hole

From multiple years of therapy, I have come to understand that my BPD has stemmed from a lifetime of emotional instability from caregivers and teachers resulting in myself having a distinct lack of understanding of how to displace and coordinate my reactions, thoughts and feelings. In short, my emotions kick in before my logic does, however I would say I’m fairly well into recovery now and I do not use my diagnosis as an excuse but an explanation.

Life hurt for a very long time, I spent months, if not years, dealing with intense suicidal thoughts, acting upon them seriously a couple of times. I remember trying to explain this by saying to my boyfriend that ‘I didn’t want to die, I just needed to not exist for a bit.’

As time passed and I obtained my degree, I built back up the life around me which had once crumbled and I began to form a cognitive connection with the world again.

Young woman with BPD and CPTSD stands smiling in cap and gown
Courtesy Elspeth Van Der Hole

It wasn’t easy – I had to redefine my normality. Some days were very bleak, lonely and full of unanswered questions in relation to my childhood and why the world had ripped everything away from me that made sense. Why was I not wanted, and why wasn’t I good enough for them?

Now I see that it’s all a process, it’s all a learning curve and we can only accept what life gives us and do what we can with it. The only thing we have the ability to control in life is our reactions, we cannot control others, we cannot be someone else and we cannot change what has already happened. You must take responsibility for who you are and try as hard as you can.

Having CPTSD came as a surprise to me. When you hear anything with PTSD in it we all assume it’s a military term or similar, I have CPTSD due to multiple events throughout my life including multiple family deaths from cancer, turbulent relationships with key family members and extreme abandonment issues causing a conflicting inner sense of self.

I blamed myself for a long time, I blamed myself for anything and everything. I felt sick to my stomach and questioned almost every single day why I was a bad person, my entire heart hurt with pain. When people say they have heartache, you don’t ever realise until you feel that kind of pain that your heart does physically ache.

Other days I would dissociate so hard that I could not see properly, feel, speak or hear – I guess this was my brain’s way of protecting me from the days where it was all just too much; like someone just hit the off switch because I was overheating.

I do not regret anything I have been through. There are people who have passed on that I wish were still in my life to this day, yes, however I have always tried to make sure I live mindfully and in the knowledge that everything that has happened or will happen has reason to it.

Whatever we go through, we grow through.

I would say I am 80% in recovery from BPD now and able to live a comfortable life with my long-term boyfriend and 2 dogs, running two successful businesses and using fitness to manage my brain on a daily basis.

CPTSD is something I am still struggling with, I have nightmares most nights which can feel like they take me back to moments where I was abandoned by key figures in my life, or flashbacks to situations where I can feel like a vulnerable child again and it’s almost like it resets the grieving and recovery process. This is something I’m currently awaiting therapy for and on a day to day basis it’s manageable.

Woman with BPD and CPTSD sits on ledge holding camera as she looks out at plants and body of water
Courtesy Elspeth Van Der Hole
Woman with BPD and CPTSD sits in chair with two little dogs in her lap
Courtesy Elspeth Van Der Hole

It is possible to recover from BPD, when I was first diagnosed the entire world seemed to be against me. My friends, family, the damn internet and medical professionals even told me I was ‘incurable’. Well I can hand on heart tell you now that we are not bad, we are not broken and we can live a healthy and stable life. It just takes time.

And with every time you feel you have gone backwards, just remember that you are actually at the foot of the next mountain to climb after overcoming so many before.

During the time between 2011 and now I have been through 6 counsellors, 20 weeks of emotion management (STEPPS/DBT), I was on antidepressants for 5 years and with that teamed with hiding in bed I gained 4 stone. Life was miserable. Now I use exercise as therapy and I’m a firm advocate for a strong body making for a strong mind, I’ve been antidepressant free for nearly 2 years and have surrounded myself with healthy and likeminded individuals who not only accept me for me, but also help me become a better person and work through all the heartache.

Woman with BPD and CPTSD stands in gym lifting weights
Courtesy Elspeth Van Der Hole

We do not ever remove problems from our lives, we do however upgrade our problems. So look forward to the next mountain, do not live your whole life in the past because I can promise you when I say the future holds so much for you. Don’t give up just yet because chances are you haven’t even lived the happiest day of your life yet, and what a beautiful feeling that is.”

Woman with BPD and CPTSD stands smiling with hand on her hip
Courtesy Elspeth Van Der Hole

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Elspeth Van Der Hole of London. Follow her journey on Instagram here . 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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