A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder

Goliath and… me

 

I may be weak

but therein lies my strength –

the power to deceive you,

the wit to fool myself.

You see my flaws

and thus I find I’m strong –

I have weapons to surprise you

while you gawp at all that’s wrong.

You sense my fear

and, so doing, make me brave –

for I use it to confuse you

and I do not run away.

I may be feeble

but let that not deceive you,

as it simply makes me fight more

to prove what I can do.

 

Earlier this week  I received an email from my publishers. Every time I see that I have an email from Jessica Kingsley Publishers my heart skips a beat (or two!). Part of me is afraid they will have changed their minds about publishing, whilst another part of me is afraid nobody will like the book – which is almost worse than nobody even reading the book! All the things I didn’t think through, as someone who suffers from borderline personality disorder, when I began to seek a publisher who would be willing to invest in my book.

The email said that the book has now gone to the printers – there is no backing out – we are on schedule for a publication date of 21st June. As this date draws nearer, the panic looms larger. I find myself feeling besieged by waves of anxiety and self-doubt. With the prospect of seeing my book, finally, in print, I am excited, terrified and mortified in equal measures, and questioning my sanity all over again.

A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder – A Journey into Borderline Personality Disorder (and out the other side) is an account of my journey, from diagnosis to managing the symptoms and leading a more stable and fulfilling life than I ever dreamed possible. I have been as honest as I can throughout the book, which inevitably means I have bared my soul much more than I would see fit to do so on daily basis. That said, I also decided to start writing a blog in an attempt to break the world in gently to the (mostly) hidden reality of being ‘me’, and in so doing I have, again, bared my soul much more than I would normally see fit!

Since finding a publisher for my book, and realising that any minute now the whole world will know about me and my BPD (should they choose to read my book), I think I am redefining what I see as normal. I once saw fit to not tell a soul about my struggles with mental health: I was embarrassed at best, if not ashamed. And whilst I am not proud of my struggles per se, I am beginning to realise that as long as my shame keeps me bound to silence, it also denies others the chance to understand, support, or be supported.

Admittedly, ‘I’m Tracy, I have BPD. Nice to meet you,’ is more of a deal-breaker than an icebreaker but I do believe that in the right context being honest and open about mental health will help to normalise it. It would be a huge relief if we could move away from being afraid or embarrassed of the subject of mental health, and it would be a positively healthy shift for the mentally ‘well’ as well as the mentally ill. As I said in one of my previous blogs: We need to be brave and keep talking until it isn’t a matter of being brave anymore, and it is simply a matter of talking.

Despite having a disorder that compels me at times to take life far more seriously than any gods ever intended, I do have a sense of humour, and it was my tongue in cheek sense of humour that I hold responsible for the title of my book: A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder. The subtitle: A journey into Borderline Personality Disorder (and out the other side) is my attempt to regather all those who may have scattered in horror, or slumped in despair at the initial suggestion of doom and gloom. It is not a negative book, but it is brutally honest and, I hope, balanced, and as the subtitle suggests I walk you through to the other side of the darkness.

Wednesday 21 June 2017 will be the longest day of the year; actually and literally. My book – my story – will be unleashed on the world, and I will most likely be hopping like a cat on a hot-tin roof, not knowing whether to hug or kick myself!

I hope it will help anyone who reads it – how it may help will no doubt vary depending on each individual and their circumstances and reasons for reading it. If you choose to read my book, I would love to know what you think; please go to www.thetracybarkerblogs.com/contact or @thetracybarker on Twitter or Facebook, and let me know.

I look forward to seeing you on the other side!

Not alone – Mental Health Awareness Week

A Stranger in a Stranger Land


I don’t belong here;

never have, never will –

it is a strange land

and I am stranger still.

I understand their language

but cannot communicate.

I am carried by the crowd,

swallowed by their wake.

I dissolve into the shadows,

sink beneath the strain,

glide across the oddities

for I, too, am strange.

I melt into the background,

enhance the scenery,

but this I know and cannot hide;

there’s none so strange as me.

I wrote this poem almost 10 years ago, at a time when I felt as though my mental illness alienated me from those around me. I felt different, incredibly odd, and very alone. To be fair, I think it did alienate me – it wasn’t just a feeling or a fear. I had no real understanding of myself or my mental illness, so how could I expect anyone else to understand? I was ashamed and embarrassed of myself and I became more and more fearful of everyday situations and social encounters. I isolated myself because I knew I didn’t fit it, and the more isolated I became the certain it was that I was indeed A Stranger in a Stranger Land.

However, perhaps I’m not all that strange after all!  1 in 4 of us will, at some point, experience mental illness: we are not alone.

When I was finally, officially diagnosed with borderline personality disorder I felt relieved. As odd as that may sound to some, it was a comfort to know a) what I was dealing with, and b) that I wasn’t necessarily the strangest person in the UK after all – in short, I wasn’t as alone as I thought.

To me, this is the crux of Mental Health Awareness, and the main reason that celebrities have taken to speaking up and sharing their own experiences of mental illness (to the acclaim of some and chagrin of others) – to let ‘us’ know we are not alone. We are not freaks, we are not weak, we are not unreachable or unhelpable, and we are not nutters or lepers. We are people who, for any number of reasons, have fallen ill and may need some help to get better; help that can come from friends, family and/or professionals.

We are not alone! Nobody needs to face their illness alone, yet with all the shame and stigma that still surrounds mental illness, many people are still too ashamed or afraid to reach out.

When I wrote my book, A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder, I wanted to share my experience of borderline in the hope that others in similar situations would not suffer for so long – feeling so strange – as I did. I wanted to help people to understand what it can be like to suffer from mental illness, and I wanted to encourage people that with the right help and support, things can get better.

I hope my book does all of this – and more, and yet there is still a part of me that feels embarrassed in certain company to admit that I am about to have a book published because, inevitably, I will need to tell them what the book is about. Sometimes I mumble that it’s ‘smthngtodowithmntalhlth’ in the hope that they aren’t really listening, or don’t really care. But once I’ve mentioned the book, I always end up having to fess up – firstly that it is about mental health, secondly specifically about borderline personality disorder, and thirdly that it is about my own experience of learning to live with it and manage it. And yes, it really does feel like a confession!

I should be thrilled that I am about to have a book published.  I am thrilled – of course I am – and yet, occasionally I still feel as though I am thrown back to the time where I really did believe that I was a Stranger in a Stranger Land. And suddenly I believe it all over again, because – let’s face it – as a rule we just don’t talk about mental illness, and when we do it’s often uncomfortable and awkward.

This is why we need Mental Health Awareness (week). We need people with (or even without) influence in their various niches and circles to speak openly and honestly about their mental health. We need those who feel they can, to be brave and candid about mental illness, and we need to keep encouraging each other to ask for help when they need it.

We need to cultivate a society where there is no shame in admitting that we are struggling.

Every time I force myself to be honest about my book (in situations where I would rather not be) I am trying to fight the stigma. I am also trying to find my way back – in that moment – to the land that does not feel strange, and to remind myself that I myself am not strange. More often than not I am pleasantly surprised by the response I get, which, in turn serves to challenge my own assumptions about others.

We need to be brave and keep talking until it isn’t a matter of being brave anymore, and it is simply a matter of talking.

 

Back to basics

You may or may not know that I am new to blogging.  I knew nothing about the world of blogging when I first began, and I gleaned my knowledge from a series of google searches: how often to blog; what to blog; what to do with the blog; how much to blog. Advice was coming out of my ears and, dutifully, I did my best to follow all the rules.

Blog at least one a week, they told me – at least. And write at least 1000 words, that way the search engines will take you seriously and people will be able to find you. Don’t keep your readers waiting because they’ll get bored and look elsewhere. On and on the rules went and as is my nature I did my best not to break them. Until last week.

Last week I secured a venue for my book launch, and that was my excuse for not blogging. Truth is, securing the venue took no time at all once I was able to speak to the right person – it really was just that; an excuse. This week I am late with my blog, according to the rules, and I have no excuse. But I do have a reason.

I have decided to make my own rules, rather than beating myself up when I break someone else’s rules. My rules so far are to focus on quality, not quantity and to listen to my heart, not google!

I will attempt to blog once a month, unless I feel inspired to write something in between. Contrary to the advice received from the internet, I cannot even promise a set day each month for readers to eagerly anticipate my latest musings. I cannot promise much, other than I will give each blog everything I’ve got (true borderline style!).

As much as I love writing, producing a blog every week has been an enormous pressure to me. Perhaps I should say: producing a blog according to a myriad of pre-prescribed standards and regimes was an enormous pressure and pretty exhausting if I’m totally honest. I found myself writing for the sake of writing, wracking my brains for a ‘topic’ and desperately attempting to meet all the requirements of successful blogging whilst floundering in a sea I was not equipped to be in.

I have had to step off the treadmill and decide for myself what I would consider successful. Back to basics, if you like, and the whole point of my blogs* was to try and help people to understand borderline, and to offer hope and encouragement to any one who is impacted by it. I wanted my book, when it is published in June, to have some sort of momentum, beyond being on book shelves in shops (and hopefully homes). The blogs were initially intended to introduce and precede my book, and eventually accompany it. Having regrouped with me, myself and I,  I have come to realise that the best way for me to be successful in my original aims is to focus on quality not quantity; hence the scaling back to monthly blogs.

These little lessons are all part of a journey – discovering what I can and can’t realistically do, and learning to accept my limitations as much as I need to embrace my strengths. I feel much more comfortable making my own rules as I go along, and not being hamstrung by what was, essentially, a self-imposed rod for my over-sensitive back.

Being kind to yourself isn’t always easy, but like anything – the more we practice being kind to ourselves the better we become at it. When being highly critical, demanding, judgemental and punitive to oneself comes disturbingly naturally, it is a welcome relief  whenever we remember to step back and show some mercy. And it is always worth remembering that progress is progress, no matter how slow.

If you don’t want to miss my blogs, don’t forget you can sign up for an email direct to your inbox every time I post, by filling in the smallest form ever on my Home page.

If you find my blogs helpful, like them, or just have nothing better to do please feel free to share with your friends!

*still don’t know if it’s blog or blogs – that’s how much of a newbie I am to all of this!

 

There is always hope

Author’s note: This blog was meant to be about hope; about recognising the progress of your self or loved one. I wanted to acknowledge the help I have received and how important & invaluable that help is. It was never meant to end up quite as gushy and mushy as it has! However: credit where it’s due and all that… 

Survival of the Weak

I survive

but I do not overcome.

I go on living

but I die.

I manage

but I really do not cope.

I go on smiling

while I cry.

 

I survive,

but it isn’t quite enough.

I fight the fight

to no avail.

I endure

but I do not persevere.

I try my best,

but I fail.

Taken from Chapter 7: A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder

Now available for pre-order

 

This is a poem I wrote many years ago, back in the days when I agreed with many professionals that there was no hope for someone ‘like me’. Back in the days where one day blurred into another with a sluggish trail of failure and misery in their wake. Back in the days when I gave up even trying not to fail because I couldn’t stand to be the bearer of anymore disappointment, either for myself or those who loved me. 

Sometimes, when I read my poems now, there is a response in my gut that recalls, exactly, the feelings that prompted the poem to be written. Like the faint voice of an old, familiar companion it stirs up emotions and sensations that have brought me to the brink of death.

Needless to say; it is a most uncomfortable feeling, and yet I am grateful for my unconscious determination to remember on my behalf. In a split second my heart plummets, to those terrifying depths, drawn by the familiar song – almost like a war-cry. But when my heart surfaces from this involuntary plunge – when it returns to the relative safety of ‘now’ – it heaves the biggest sigh of relief, and of gratitude. 

When I read poems like this I hurt but I also rejoice, because the devastatingly and painful days that inspire this kind of poetry are no longer a regular feature of my life.

My book, A Sad and Sorry State of Disorder – A Journey into Personality Disorder (and out the other side) talks specifically about management and not recovery. I don’t consider myself cured, or better. I am, without a doubt, better than I was and as long as I can keep saying that, I am happy with my progress. There may come a day when making sense of the world around me becomes natural and effortless; where I don’t have to second guess every feeling or emotion (of my own, or someone else’s); and, where I don’t have to fight or struggle to contain anxiety or paranoia so as not to unleash the beast within. These days may come, but in the meantime, knowing that the darkest and most hellish days are behind me is enough to keep me fighting this worthy fight! 

Whilst I try not to dwell on how bad life once was, I do believe I’d be doing a disservice if I did not acknowledge how far I have come – and I cannot do one without the other. It would be a disservice to myself to ignore or dismiss the gut-reaction I experience when I read one of these poems; the person who wrote the poems is the same person that fought tooth-and-nail, against the odds, for a second (it was actually my last) chance at life: I cannot disregard this.

It would also be a disservice to anyone else whose life is impacted by borderline personality disorder; anyone who believes there is no hope either for their self, or for someone they love and care for. I believe that people need to know that however dark and long the tunnel may appear, there is always light at the end. You don’t need to be strong, or have all the answers (or any answers at all); you just need to be really bloody brave, and keep believing in the light you can’t yet see.

I have come an incredibly long way, from the shy and terrified person I was when I was first referred to a complex needs service. For years I could barely speak in therapy, and it was several weeks before I began to speak freely in the Therapeutic Community. I have changed, almost beyond recognition, as has my life.

It is a long journey, and I would not have made it this far without the tremendous help I have received along the way. There are too many people to name individually in this particular blog; friends, family, peers and professionals have all helped me to get where I have managed to get to date. But today, in the spirit of Mother’s Day (which was actually yesterday!)  I will name one: Lizzie.  Dear Lizzie! 

Lizzie has been an amazing friend, supporter, believer, carer, and mother to me. She has walked beside me every single, painful step of the way. She has gone far above and beyond the call of duty . She took up the mantle of ‘mother’ and carried me, although I was not hers to carry. She has loved me unconditionally and embarked on the darkest of journeys with me. Neither of us knew a single thing about borderline when we began our journey together; we learned as we went along and Lizzie has remained stalwart throughout. She is my biggest fan (along with my wife Dawn), and although she cannot remember what my book is about, she promotes it tirelessly to friends and family. 

I have a feeling that when Lizzie reads some of my poems, she too will have a gut-response that throws her back, momentarily, to the dark days. And I am sure that she, just like me, will acknowledge these poems as part of who I am, and be grateful that I no longer write poetry quite like I used to. I know that when it is published, she will read my book as though for the first time, and feel pride at the journey I have been on. I know this because she is always proud of me, but nowhere near as proud as I am of her.

It takes a lot of guts to embark on a dark and terrifying journey for oneself, but it takes a damn sight more to hold someone else’s hand and travel with them, for them. I hope all the ‘mothers’ and all the carer’s who may read this feel encouraged and validated – whatever stage in your loved one’s journey you may be at, I hope you can believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

I will never take for granted the help and support I have received in order for me to get to this place of self-awareness and self-management. I am also well aware that any significant unwelcome change to my life as it is now could be catastrophic for my current equilibrium. It is hard to be smug when life is so finely balanced, but that doesn’t stop me from being proud of the changes I have managed to make, with the  unwavering support and care of many along the way. 

 And thank you Lizzie, from the bottom of my heart.

Can I trust my feelings?

When I wrote last week’s blog I was feeling weary. I was tired and frustrated with what can often seem like an uphill battle and a never ending one at that. It is exhausting to constantly be battling with one’s own feelings.

But how do I know which feelings I can trust? Can I trust any of them? As is the way with borderline personality disorder, feelings come and go in an alarmingly rapid succession; they are fierce in their intensity; they are often irrational and based on a colossal misconception, and yet they all seem so incredibly real.

I have talked before about my euphoria regarding the publication of my  book – intense highs and excitement followed by equally intense self-doubt and fear, with a generous helping of suspicion!

So often this is the case for me: any positive emotions are swiftly followed by vengeful negative ones, usually accompanied by suspicion or paranoia. And with all these feelings being at the most extreme end of their spectrum, the pendulum really does swing very high and very low.

When I was in TC (Therapeutic Community), there was a lot of talk about ‘being in the moment’ – talk which, at the time, drove me mad. I suspect it drove me mad because I didn’t fully understand it, and was much less able to do it; rather than admit this I scoffed at the phrase and ridiculed the notion. I now eat those words of ridicule and scoffery, as I am beginning to understand and am learning to be in the moment, if only for a second.

It is hard, when you know your emotions to be volatile and erratic, to allow to yourself to bask anywhere. You get so used to being on the run, on the defensive, waiting for the next blow in life, that you cannot dream of stopping for even a moment and soaking in the scenery. And yet I am discovering that this is exactly what I need to be doing.

There was also talk of ‘grounding’ oneself at TC, and this talk also irritated me – again (I suspect) because I was afraid of failing to master the art. But I am starting to see that ‘being in the moment’ and ‘being grounded’ are not just therapeutic platitudes; they are ways of ‘being’ who and where we are.

Rather than feeling utterly mortified about my most recent cock-up, panicking about what might happen if I cock up again, or feeling suspicious when I am not feeling mortified or terrified, I can just stop and appreciate where I am.

Recently I had an encounter which left me feeling confident about who I am. I didn’t feel inferior or ‘wrong’ as I so often do. Instead, I felt like an equal. I felt respected and respectable. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my mind I knew this feeling wouldn’t last too long (and it didn’t!), but I almost didn’t care: I allowed myself to experience the feeling rather than dismissing it as a fake feeling and worrying instead about something that didn’t matter anymore, or that didn’t matter yet.

I’m not sure that I trusted my feelings in this instance or whether, because I stayed with what I was feeling, I enabled it to prove itself. Either way, I stayed in that moment and I examined it and enjoyed it for what is was for as long as I could.

It is not uncommon for me to allow myself to be defined by my feelings, but it is uncommon for me to take stock of what the feelings are and who, in that moment, I believe myself to be. For the few minutes that the feeling of confidence did last I walked with my head held high; I felt dignified and empowered. This brief interlude, and my acknowledgement of it, was a soothing balm to my all too often battered ego. I enjoyed feeling confident, and I felt entitled to it.

I wonder, as I write this, if I might be giving the impression that I am, in general, not happy, and I want to assure my readers that this is not the case at all! I am very happy, on the whole.

I have good days and I enjoy them while they last. I have days that are a mixture of good, fun, happy, anxious, sad and fearful, with varying measures of each and I have almost got used to it – and it’s no big deal (almost).  Yes, sometimes it’s really shit and harder to manage than other days, but I have learned to pick myself up, dust myself down and get on with life. I am increasingly able to hold on to what I know to be true, rather than what feels real and true.

Borderline is what it is – feelings come and go, some are much stronger than others, they can’t always be trusted and they sometimes get me into a lot of trouble. It can be exhausting, living with borderline but, by and large, I have learned to shut out the worst of the noise and disruption it generates in my mind.

I have learned to manage, and I am happy. I am learning that whilst I cannot always trust my feelings, I am more and more able to trust myself: right at the very core of me is a small, shy voice of reason that is getting gradually stronger, and if that fails I have a very reasonable wife and some good friends who are always happy to put me straight!

My feelings might be at the mercy of whichever wind may blow them and where, but that doesn’t mean I have to go with them: I don’t have to be at the mercy of my feelings. I am learning this, as I continue my journey of self-discovery and self-management. And I am happy to say that I am happy.

 

Warning signs

All of my adult life I have had spates of shopping, almost obsessively, for clothes. Without consciously deciding to, I find myself trawling through shops with a rather manic sense of desperation, trying on clothes and feeling a mounting sense of panic each time I leave a shop empty handed.

I am looking for clothes that will make me feel better. Better about how I look. Better about how I feel. Better about who I am. Better about my life. I am looking for clothes that can change me, or at the very least disguise me, physically and emotionally. I want to look in the mirror and see someone other than me, or at least someone better than the person I know myself to be. Needless to say my quest generally does little to boost my morale: despite my new attire I am still fat, still frumpy and still ugly.

There have been occasions in the past when I have spent a small fortune (the best part of my monthly rent) on clothes that improved me, or so I believed. Nowadays, when I am hijacked by this urge, I do at least trawl mainly charity shops and not the more expensive high-street shops.

As often as I have spent my rent in one splurge, I have returned to the shops within the next few days and returned at most, if not all, of my purchases: having arrived home with my purchases I am always mortified to realise that they do not bring with them the new life I sought.

As I progressed through my 18 months in a therapeutic community (TC) I became aware that these frenzied shopping sprees, and other equally impulsive behaviours, were actually an indication of something much deeper happening within. They invariably occurred as a response to an extreme sense of pressure, which precipitated overwhelming feelings of anxiety and fear.

The pressure could come in any form, from anyone and anywhere. It could be a deadline, an expectation, a responsibility, an obligation, a decision I need to make or am waiting for someone else to make, or a social situation or event to name just a few. It could be an external pressure that is coming from someone or somewhere outside of myself, but it could also be a pressure that I impose on myself for a reason that as yet remains unknown. Wherever it comes from, the pressure feels entirely real, and it is terrifying.

At the root of my fear is a deep-seated and long-standing belief that I am unacceptable, disappointing, and unlovable – in essence: who I am is wrong. The challenge for me to prove I can be anything other than ‘wrong’ becomes the driving power behind my reactions when confronted with pressure.

Short of any inspiration, when put on such a spot, as to how to change myself, I seek to reinvent myself superficially, as though that would ever suffice. As I said, this is not a conscious decision; it is an impulse, and one that can continue for several days at a time.

A few days ago I found myself in the fourth charity shop of the day, on my third day of shopping. I say ‘found myself’ because it was as though I became aware, for the first time, of where I was and what I was doing there. My heart was pounding, and my hands were clammy. I was hanging up clothes back on the rail, having tried them on and I was beginning to sink in despair. I tried to connect with myself, with how I was feeling. I tried to calm down whilst acknowledging for the first time that I was not calm. I felt scared, and I couldn’t do ‘it’, although for the life of me I did not know what ‘it’ was. And then, finally, I remembered what I had learned in TC. I remembered that certain behaviours or impulses can serve as a warning sign for some emotional distress that requires our attention.

Three days, countless shops, and a few pounds later I remember this! But the important thing is, I did remember and as soon as I did I knew exactly what was happening. I didn’t realise until this point, that the pressure I was carrying was as big as it obviously was. I was aware I was feeling anxious, but I thought I was on top of it. I didn’t talk much to my wife or my friends about it, as I thought I’d sort it soon enough and it was no big deal.

The exact nature of my anxiety and fears are not relevant for the purpose of this blog. The point is, there was a warning sign and I missed it. There are times when my emotions escalate from 0 to 100 in seconds and in these cases I don’t have a smidgen of hope in intercepting the inevitable mayhem.

But there are other times, such as this, when my emotions creep up and somehow seem to multiply without me noticing. It is gradual, subtle and dangerous, and the more I am able to recognise the warning signs the more chance I have of being able to deal with it whilst it is still a manageable size.

Buying clothes from a charity shop is, perhaps, a relatively small and innocuous impulse, and whilst I am all for a bit of retail therapy I have to accept that it is all too easy to become reckless and careless given the right (or wrong) circumstances. 

I learned in therapy that changes do not happen overnight. Progress is an ongoing, never ending series of decisions, choices and yet even with this in mind it took a inordinate amount of effort not to be annoyed with myself for not seeing the tell-tale signs sooner. I may see them sooner next time (and I am sure there will be a next time) or I may not. What is important is that I will see eventually, and that when I do I take appropriate care of myself as best I can.

I am still learning to be patient with myself, just as I am still learning to understand myself – I don’t believe I can do one without the other.  And I am learning to be aware of myself and of the warning signs, both big and small, that I give myself if only I am paying attention.

My journey is often exhausting and intense, but I believe it is worth every ounce of effort I afford it. I also believe, more often than not, that who I am is not ‘wrong’ – I think I’m kind of ok. Sometimes.

Self Injury Awareness (I missed the Day)

I’d like to say I did a lot of research regarding Self Injury Awareness Day (SIAD) – indeed, that was my intention, but instead I have trawled through my email spam box (just in case), googled random people I know (again – just in case) and curled up on the bed cuddling my oh-so-cuddly whippet.

SIAD was actually 1st March, and I only found out about it after the event via twitter – just the one tweet, so maybe a little more awareness wouldn’t go amiss.

I did learn one thing when I first set out to educate myself about SIAD. A user-led charity called LifeSIGNS (Self-injury Guidance and Network Support) has supported this day for several years, and are the number one resource for SIAD material. I was wondering how a day like this works and they pretty much answered my question in one succinct sentence: ‘Raising awareness is about educating people who do not self-injure, and reaching out to people who do.’

As most of my writing is from experience and not research (I get very distracted when I try to research) I thought I would give my tuppence worth of input (albeit a bit late for the day itself) for Self Injury (self-harm) Awareness.

I know from experience that the question most asked by people who don’t self-harm is why? Why do we injure ourselves? I also know, from experience, that this is one of the hardest questions to answer: it feels impossible to put into words how being so cruel and destructive to ourselves can possibly help an already dire situation.

For me, self-harm expelled feelings and expressed them; it made the feelings and the pain tangible and explicable. More often than not I was unable to articulate the overwhelming emotions I was experiencing, and self-injury was me attempting to externalise all that I had internalised. I was overpowered, and afraid: I needed a voice, but I could not speak.

Raising awareness is about educating people who do not self-injure,

and reaching out to people who do.

I can’t speak for everyone who self-injures, but I know that there have been certain things that have helped me in times of unbearable distress, and other things that absolutely didn’t help.

To be unaware, or uneducated, with regards to self-injury is not, in itself, a bad thing – it is what it is; if you have never come across it, you have no need to learn and become aware. But being unaware can be terribly negative and unhelpful if you are suddenly faced with it and have no real clue what it is you are dealing with. I have come across some very well-meaning people, usually professionals, who have tried to help in ways that have only served to compound my sense of isolation, and reinforce my fears of forever being misunderstood.

I have been advised to count the number of red cars that drive past my window when I felt the urge to self-harm, in an attempt to distract myself. I have been told that my self-harming is selfish and manipulative, even though I had struggled for years without ever telling a soul. I have been told I am weak-willed, and even that I am playing games by self-injuring.

On the rare occasion that I have had to seek medical attention as a result of an episode of self-harm I have been kept waiting for several hours, the explanation being that there were people much more important than me to see and I was at the bottom of the list. I have sat in a waiting room listening to medical staff, feet away from me, talking about me as though I wasn’t there, telling their colleagues that there is ‘no point stitching her, she’s covered in scars – one more won’t make any difference’.

I give these examples as an idea of the damage that can be done if people are not aware of, or educated on, the issue of self-injury. I had, in each of these instances, trusted someone with the most vulnerable and frightened part of myself. I was ashamed and embarrassed to be where I was, and yet I needed help. My sense of self-worth was rock-bottom when I reached out for help, and it was, on these occasions, pretty much annihilated completely.

I didn’t ever need someone to fix me, cure me or rescue me.  Of course that would have been nice! but usually it was not what I needed. I didn’t even need someone to understand. In fact I think it would be unreasonable of me to expect someone to understand something I cannot explain.

What I needed was someone to be with me in my pain and shame. I needed someone who didn’t judge, didn’t assume, and didn’t reject; someone who kept loving me when I felt utterly unlovable. I needed someone who would care, without enabling, or colluding with, my destructive behaviours, and who would also be honest with me when they needed to – honest, but gentle with it; never condemning or critical.

If you want to help a self-harmer in their time of deepest darkness and greatest need, you don’t have to have any answers – you just have to care. And please don’t forget to care for yourself as well.

As frustrating or painful as it is to witness the impact of self-injury on someone you love or care for, be as patient as you can. I do not know a single person who uses self-harm as a coping mechanism who isn’t desperate to find a different way to cope. Silence is often much more comforting than platitudes and promises you can’t keep, and being by somebody’s side when they need you most is more powerful and far-reaching than you may ever know.

I appreciate this may be a tough topic to read about for many people – it certainly is a tough topic to write about (despite my initial enthusiasm at feeling I had been handed a blog-topic on a plate). I have few answers or explanations to offer as an insight into self-injury, but I do know what has helped me and what hasn’t helped me in the past.

Whether you are a self-harmer or not, there is always hope. Sometimes the self-harmer needs a friend or carer to believe this for them, and sometimes the friend or carer needs someone to offer living proof that this is true. It is true.

If you or someone you know needs professional help, I urge you to seek it immediately, and in the meantime the likes of me will do our utmost to raise awareness of self-injury within all walks of life.

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.