Sunday, 10 November 2013

Who to Tell? What to Tell?



I believe firmly in the importance of the 'Time to Change', 'Time to Talk' campaigns run by Mind, Sane and other mental health charities. I know that the best challenge to Mental Health stigma is for people like me to be open about my diagnosis. But there is a caveat -
sometimes discretion and self preservation are needed
simply because even those closest to us, just don't get it.

I have found it easier to tell those who are distanced from me - the 'strangers' in my life, if you like, that I have Borderline Personality Disorder. a) Because I was not invested emotionally in their reactions to me and b) because they were not invested in keeping me in roles that didn't help me.

I have encountered a number of reactions:

1) The first person I told was my Line Manager immediately following the second or third assessment when Mental Health staff started to discuss my BPD symptoms. Despite her lack of knowledge (and, indeed my own!) she was consistently supportive and was keen to listen and learn with me about what my condition would mean for my remaining in post as a Probation Officer. In the end I took voluntary redundancy due to the realisation that my challenging caseload was not helpful to me in seeking manage my emotion dysregulation. She even supported me when a Senior Manager insisted on expensive assessments by privately funded Psychiatrists whose sole aim was to assess my risk of physical harm to my cases - the vast majority of whom were violent and dangerous male offenders! Three times the response came back 'no, the highest risk of BPD is of suicide and self harm'!! and still Senior Management sought to prove that I was suddenly a risk to others, having worked successfully in that office for seven years! However, my own instability meant that I knew it was best for me and my cases if I moved on. On leaving my career behind my Manager left me with a positive professional regard which I am slowly able to take on board and use to move into a future career - just don't know what it is yet.

2) Telling my family is problematic - I can never tell my parents. Growing up even physical illness was dismissed - certainly no room for compassion for mental illness. Ask my brother who suffers from chronic severe Asthma and who was told that his attacks were just due to him being 'highly strung'. Instead of opening myself up to reinforcing negative statements and parental rejection, I have been living a lie with my parents since I was diagnosed. They know I have a condition which requires me to have given up my job and to attend therapy twice a week for the past year (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy - DBT), but beyond that I cannot share with them. Sometimes accepting that I will never change them or their views stops me from suffering further at their hands.

3) The rest of my family - I have received nothing but support and love from my brother and his wife. They have read up on the websites and books I have recommended and have recently supported me in speaking publicly about my experiences to small groups. Their children have now grown up with me as their auntie who gets very down at times but will always be the person they have known and loved since they were little.

4) Speaking in public about my experiences has shown me that there are so many people hungry to hear that they are not alone.

I hope that as I articulate my own experiences they will resonate with others - I know I really appreciate the Twitter community of those who have BPD and who have been helped by DBT - it reminds me every day that they have come through and are leading stable rewarding lives. (esp @HealingFromBPD and @DBTPath - thanks guys)