Into the dark (out of the blue)

Into the Dark (out of the blue)

Something cold

Takes over;

Heavy, and dark.

And I, paralysed,

Lie awake

In my grave

Watching the earth

Fall onto me.

Until I am

Wholly submerged

And out of sight;

Out of mind,

And my mind.

Today has been one of these days. Literally – out of the blue I have been plunged into a pit of black.

My wife and I are on holiday with a dear friend and our beautiful dogs, somewhere in Devon. I have a final cover for my book and we have spent a happy hour or two brainstorming ideas for a book launch. All was well.

All is well. Nothing has changed – nothing at all is different, other than how I feel. It started, perhaps, with the odd fleeting pang of paranoia: Dawn and Tracey are irritated by me; they think I’m stupid; I’m a nuisance. I brushed these aside quite adeptly (I thought at the time), well aware of my propensity for these sorts of unfounded thoughts, and determined not to let them win.

We needed a few supplies for the holiday cottage we’re staying in, and I volunteered for a trip to the nearest shop. All was well. When I got in the car however, I was overwhelmed by a profound heaviness, desolation and deep self-loathing. I could not explain it then, any more than I can explain it now as I write (and the feelings have mostly – almost – passed). Such was the extent of the sadness and self-hatred that a couple of times I could barely see through my tears whilst I was driving. I was vaguely aware that to pull over and stop would be sensible, but I didn’t dare: I didn’t want to be alone with not even trying to drive to distract me from the feelings. Was I trying to run (drive) away from them? I’m not sure, but I sure as hell wasn’t going to stop and indulge them.

I managed – precariously at times – to not give in to the usual train of thoughts that accompany such episodes, and as a result I managed to also avoid the behaviours that might once have been my only resource in such a time.

Inexplicable panic, and pain that ambush us from out of nowhere do not surrender without a fight though: one rebuttal is followed by another onslaught, and so on. Every time it feels like the fight will never end. It almost feels as though there is no point even trying to fight, because you know you won’t win.

But I have learned that winning comes in different shapes and sizes. Resisting just one urge out of twenty to self-destruct is, in my opinion, a victory. Even thinking about resisting an urge is a huge step forward and not to be dismissed as ‘not enough’.

Today I kept myself safe. I argued with the feelings, as much as I was able to understand what they were. They argued back with vengeance: they of course were real, and my own feeble arguments were laughably irrelevant. But I kept on arguing. And I kept myself safe.

Today I didn’t (as so often I have) compound the sense of desolation and self-loathing and uselessness by acting on the impulse that would have me destroy myself from the outside in.

Managing my borderline does not mean I don’t think the thoughts that are potentially dangerous. It does not mean I don’t feel things that I don’t understand, or struggle to deal with. Managing my borderline means I do everything in the power I have not to act on the impulses that I have, despite how compelled and convinced I am that these impulses can be trusted.

I’m not perfect. I don’t have all the answers, and some days I do better – much better – than others. But today I think I managed pretty damn well, all things considered.

As I write this, I am back at the holiday cottage, safe and wondering how on earth those feelings managed to assault me with such ferocity and stealth that I had no idea they were coming. I am also wondering where they are now, because out of the blue they are gone again and all is just about well at this precise moment in time.

By the way, did I mention I’m having a book published? A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder is available for pre-order right now!

First things second

Well, having written my first blog (all excited and gung-ho because I have a new website), I realise I haven’t really introduced myself properly. Not including the blurb-style-intro on my home page and about page. To be honest, I felt obliged to write something on both those pages and in my haste to create a website I didn’t think too much about what I wrote.

So here I am. Tracy Barker. I call myself an author, because I’m about to have a book published, but I should maybe be more realistic and call myself a writer for now. In my defense, the idea behind this site was that it would accompany and compliment my book. However, the publication date is not until June (21st – save the date!) so it may not make much sense for me to ‘start where I left off’.

The long and short of it is, I wrote a book about my experience of living with borderline personality disorder, and learning to live with, and manage it. I spent years in therapy, being passed from pillar to post (is how it felt), and I spent years on various medications that did little more than a waterproof plaster would do for a broken thumb. Eventually I was referred to a Therapeutic Community that specializes in helping people with BPD and, despite much indignation and resistance at the suggested diagnosis, I began to learn how to manage the unmanagable – namely myself, my emotions, and my life.

One of the problems with borderline personality disorder (apart from the obvious, atrocious label itself) is that it often goes years undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. I can’t remember how long the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM (SCID) form is, but I know it took an hour every other week for 18 months to fill in properly. Who has that sort of time, unless they are committed to a full time therapeutic process?

Another problem with BPD is that often it is diagnosed when the sufferer knows little or nothing about it, and this label (due to its atrociousness) can be devastating. I was fortunate in the long term, because once I received an official diagnosis I had learned more about BPD than I knew what to do with! I wasn’t offended (with the official diagnosis), nor was I frightened. I actually felt empowered to know what I was dealing with, and having begun to learn how to manage it I was able to see panic (for example) for what it was, without panicking even more because I didn’t understand the panic and couldn’t control it.

Yet another problem, as if having BPD or caring for someone who does isn’t problem enough, is that once it is correctly diagnosed, help is scarce and hard to find. Resources are limited, as is understanding of the illness, and it can often take years to secure a place in suitable treatment. I do not underestimate how fortunate I am to have been in the place at the time that I was; I had access to  an incredible community of peers and facilitators, and a program wholly focused on helping us to understand ourselves and learn to manage our emotions and responses to ‘triggers’.

When I was in the limbo stage of being un-officially diagnosed and starting treatment, I did a lot of reading trying to find out what borderline personality disorder actually was, and what it meant. I found a lot of websites that listed my symptoms and described my behaviours to a tee. But I don’t recall (8 years ago) finding anything that helped me understand why I was the way I was, nor how to change.  There was a lot of talk of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) but given my past history with therapists I was skeptical and uninterested. I also found a lot of statistics: how many people suffer with BPD, how many of these people are likely to self-harm, attempt suicide, commit suicide and so on. I objected (again!) to being yet another statistic; just another number who may, or may not, end their own life at some point. I don’t know what I was looking for, but it wasn’t what I found.

I suppose I was looking for hope. I had read that borderline patients were hopeless, helpless and lost causes according to some professionals. I read that some GPs referred to us as ‘heartsink’ patients, presumably because there was no end to our suffering and our misery. Indeed, I myself believed I was hopeless and helpless. I found forums where the darkness, gloom and self-destructive impulse that embodies borderline was discussed with surprising gusto, and lamented with equally sorry tales and by fellow sufferers. I did not find hope, and I did not learn much about what – really what – borderline actually is.

My book, A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder – A journey into borderline personality disorder (and out the other side) is my attempt to explain what BPD is. Not what it does to a person – anyone who suffers or cares for someone who does can see what borderline can do. It is my experience of borderline and how I learned to manage it. It is my attempt to help people find understanding and hope. I don’t have a cure for borderline, and I talk in terms of management rather than recovery – not because recovery is not possible (it may be), but because it is my experience and so far I am still managing my illness.

I didn’t intend my introduction to be an advertising platform for my book (21st June folks, save the date), but it helps to describe what you will and hopefully won’t find in my blogs. I do not talk in detail about self-harm episodes – I do my best not to write about anything that will be a major trigger factor, whilst being as honest as I can about the illness.

My book aside, I have been writing for years – a lot of poetry, and most (if not all) for myself. I have always wanted to be a writer, but never been entirely sure what would constitute being ‘A Writer’. I have 21 full journals from my 18 months in the therapeutic community alone, although a fairly significant number of the pages therein consist of  hugely scribbled expletives, and I’m not sure they would pass as writing! I love words: I love playing with them and manipulating them; I love understanding them and learning the subtle differences and nuances between one word and another; I love discovering new words although I rarely can remember them unless I use it straightaway in my writing! I love expressing myself through words, and I love how several meanings can be read into a collection of words depending on how they are arranged on a page, particularly in poetry. I love how one person can hear or feel something different than another when they read the same thing: I am a word geek!

But I swear I could never put a novel together. I will be forever sad that Harry Potter was not my creation, and yet I will never cease to be in awe of the extraordinary, boundless imaginative prowess that JK Rowling displays with such majesty and aplomb on every single page. I have no doubt however, that it is Harry Potter that managed to convince me I will never be able to complete (ha! who am I kidding – I can’t even start one) a novel. I believed it already, he/she just consolidated it, so I don’t really blame Harry or Rowling. But I managed to write a book nonetheless, but we were putting my book aside for the time being! I am also a HP geek!

I am now a home-maker, resident dog walker and wife, as well as an almost published author. And for the record, my personality is most certainly not disordered, I just sometimes struggle to maintain order within my little corner of the world.

Things I didn’t think through

As you may or may not know, I am having a book published. A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder – a journey into Borderline Personality Disorder (and out the other side) is due for publication on 21st June 2017.

This is amazing. Incredible. Fantastic. A dream come true… all of that. But there are some things I didn’t think through, and now I am thinking them I fear it is too late!

When I started to send out my manuscript to publishers, I realised that I had not thought certain – obvious – pitfalls through: The waiting to hear back; the paranoia when it takes ‘too long’; the overwhelming sense of rejection when I am – erm – rejected; the feeling of utter uselessness and pointlessness because my book is rubbish and will never be published.

All of that, and more. And even when a publisher had accepted I still had (have) moments of ‘oh shit they’ve changed their minds’ because I haven’t heard from the editor in 3 days. I didn’t think any of this through, when I first sent my book off. I was just full of an intense pride and excitement – pure BPD style, if you know what I mean! I didn’t really think anything through at that stage.

So now, I’m at the stage where my book is undergoing some form of editorial process. I haven’t heard from the publishers all week (!), but I am managing to believe it is still happening. And as such, I find myself compelled to look at the next list of ‘Things I didn’t think through’.

Basically the book is about me and my journey to learn to live with, and manage, borderline personality disorder. It has some of my poems in it, and it has a whole load of me bearing my soul and telling the reader exactly who I am. What was I thinking? I ask myself, seriously – what? People I know may read this, and know more about me than is ever societally normal to know – very un-British I’m sure. People I don’t know may read this and wonder who the hell I think I am to be writing a book like this.

People might not like the book. Shit, people might not even buy the book to like or otherwise. But supposing they buy it and they hate it, or think it’s weak, or badly written, or just plain boring or… the possibilities of negative are endless here. And this is what I really didn’t think through. Will I be reading reviews in July that wipe every smug air of achievement and pride from my lopsided smile? Will I be ashamed to leave the safe confines of my house and show my face in public?

I was pleased with how I have learned to manage my BPD, and writing a book that focusses on my journey consolidated this. And yet suddenly I feel I am thrown back in time and my progress is not all I imagined it to be.

These are the things I did not think through, and to be honest, I’m glad I didn’t!

Had I thought this far ahead I doubt very much that I would have had the courage to submit my book to publishers. I would probably have kept my book close to my chest, wishing that it was good enough for a publisher to believe in, and feeling wholly miserable that I would never amount to much as a writer. As it is, I took a leap of faith (albeit impulse driven) and it has paid off – so far. Thinking things through has its place, and impulses sometimes need reigning in, but in this particular instance I think they made a good but somewhat sneaky swap.

So now I am doing all I can to ‘be in the moment’ (I always feel ridiculously patronised when people use this phrase to try to help me, and yet here I am bandying it around with my own free will!) I am constantly having to remind myself to try and enjoy the process of the editing/publishing phase, and to accept that this is actually happening; nobody is about to spring out of a box and cackle ‘April Fool!’ at me (they’re not, are they?)

I am taking each day at a time. Sometimes each hour at a time when needs must. I am trying to look less at my phone, refresh my emails less, and just revel in the fact that somebody (Jessica Kingsley Publishers) is willing to take the risk and invest in what I have written.

I am taking the smallest of steps into the greatest of adventures, one tiny step at a time. And when I am not worrying about all the things I didn’t think through, I am basking in the glory of being an almost published author!

ps. What if no one likes my blog? I didn’t think that through either!

 

In case you were wondering, my book A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder – a Journey into Borderline Personality Disorder (and out the other side) is available for pre-order.