This is my latest offering, unedited and unfiltered. We were supposed to be moving house on Monday 13th November. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s now off for at least another week.
Meanwhile, instead of the extra space we promised our precious dogs, we have less space as the walls are lined with boxes. We have no internet, our mail is redirected to our new property, and even our corkscrew is packed in a box somewhere.
I am down to my very last nerve. I know I am ‘blessed’, ‘lucky’, fortunate – however you look at it – things could be much, much worse I know: I have a wonderful, supportive, patient wife, fantastic friends and family, two beautiful dogs and a roof over my head. But still I am down to the very dregs of my resources, and coping strategies are wearing thin.
I am hanging in there, but only just – wherever ‘there’ is. It’s not Hogwarts that’s all I know!
As someone who writes about mental health, and someone who suffers from mental illness, days like today feel both highly significant and decidedly daunting.
I like to think of myself as an advocate of positive Mental Health, and yet I feel a sense of duty rather than passion to recognise World Mental Health Day. On days like today I feel as though my voice is the smallest, most insignificant of whispers amongst a chorus of experts, professionals and people who actually have something interesting, and something new to say.
So todays challenge for me is to continue writing this blog – not regardless of the voices – but because of the voices that tell me I really shouldn’t bother. Maybe I do have nothing new, or exciting to bring to the World Mental Health table. But I do have myself: the journey that I am on; the lessons that I am learning; the small battles that I am winning; the fact that I am still standing.
I don’t have to be clever today. I don’t need to stand out from the crowd in order to be heard. I need to be a part of the crowd – of the chorus. I need to add my voice, however small, to all the other voices that are challenging and encouraging people around the world to talk about Mental Health. I need to join them, with my tuppence-worth, to work towards normalising talking about Mental Health.
I did not survive being mentally ill by staying silent about it. It takes a lot of guts to speak out, to get help and to engage in treatment. Imagine if our mental wellbeing was as common a topic as the weather, here in the UK. I wonder how many mental illnesses could be prevented or treated much sooner, if only we could all invest in our mental health and wellbeing without fear or shame.
Against all odds, I am still here and fighting strong, and that is my offering for World Mental Health Day. In a nutshell: hope. Always hope.
“National Poetry Day is an annual celebration that inspires people throughout the UK to enjoy, discover and share poems.”
My Definition of Free
Freedom is fullness,
A life lived in truth
With nothing to hide.
Love freely given
No matter the cost,
Risks freely taken
No opportunity lost.
Freedom is waiting
For destiny’s call
A life lived in hope
Of the greatest gift of all.
I wrote this poem many years ago, when the concept of freedom was to me like a fairytale is to a small child: a nice make-believe story. One can always dream, I thought, but one should never be so foolish as to expect the dreams to come true.
For years I lived trapped within the confines of my mind. It was dark and disconsolate existence, and one which I truly resented. The notion of ever being free from this way of thinking, feeling, being was laughable. And yet here I am, learning how it is to feel full and whole, and learning that the fairytale can still be real even when things go wrong.
Life is not either good or bad – it is both, sometimes at once, sometimes in equal measures but not always. For me, a whole lot of freedom has come from truly understanding this – that a bad life does not necessarily preclude a good one (if indeed this distinction can me made at all?).
Poetry has undoubtedly been an integral part of my healing as it has always felt safe to me: the ability to express myself without necessarily exposing myself, and in some of my darkest moments, I have been able to articulate what I could not give voice to in any other way. I dare say that the smallest, most creative part of me, always knew that there was a freedom worth holding on for, and worth fighting for.
Whatever your particular dream of freedom may be, don’t stop believing and don’t stop fighting. And write a poem just because you can. You can!
Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts: reach out – talk, write, draw, scribble, scream, call the Samaritans. Do anything other than take action on your urges.
If someone you love is suicidal, or you suspect they may be: talk to them, sit with them, walk with them, seek help with (or for) them, love them, believe in them.
Suicidal feelings don’t last forever. I promise you this. Life can get better, but only if you hang in there and are prepared to work with those who want to work with, and help, you.
The Samaritans have saved me more than once. They have been there in some of my darkest hours, and I am alive today because they were there when I needed them.
I had friends and family who cared but I was afraid to burden them with the terrifying darkness I was inhabiting. I have since learned that they would have come with me to the very core of darkness if they could have been by my side when I needed the most.
I have wanted to die more times than I can count but never once has that desire had anything to do with attention. Nor even, on many occasions, with dying per se: it has only ever been to do with stopping the internal, unbearable, intolerable anguish of being.
Never once did I think I was being selfish: I truly believed that ending my life was the kindest, most selfless act I could offer to those to whom I was convinced I was nothing but a burden. I thought everyone I knew would be happier and freer without the burden that was me.
In no way am I trying to justify or condone suicide – I am simply trying to explain to those who are struggling: that things can change, life can improve, and you will not feel like ‘this forever’, and for those who have lost someone to Suicide: there was nothing – nothing – more you could have done for them.
That all said, I have no other ideas as to how to prevent suicide. It’s a big ask. But if you reach out, talk about your feelings, believe that people care, and hope that things can change for the better, I don’t know – surely that’s worth a try..?
1 the action of staying where one is or delaying action until a particular time or event: years of waiting.
One of the aspects of borderline that I have yet to find an effective way to cope with is waiting. I am absolutely hopeless whenever I have to wait for anything (hardly surprising when I consider how impulse driven we can be), and despite my normal aptitude for multi-tasking I am virtually incapable of doing or thinking about anything outside of waiting for what ever it is I am waiting for.
My wife and I are, for the third time in two years, trying to sell our house. Knowing what to expect does not – I repeat does not – make it any easier whatsoever. The first time we tried to sell, we had just missed the buy-to-let boom that was hoovering up all the one-beds. The second time was shortly after Brexit and the market was pretty much dead. Viewings were few and far between, but for each one, in true borderline style, I shed blood sweat and tears (figuratively speaking) ensuring that our home was immaculate: I moved things from the corridor so people didn’t feel the space was tight; I hid our trinkets and kitsch so it didn’t seem cluttered; I hid the dog beds, dog bowls, dog toys, the dogs, so there wasn’t a trace of anything dog; I polished windows, mirrors, and glasses; I turned on cosy and atmospheric lights and I burned a butterscotch candle till just before I left the house as the next best thing to homemade bread wafting throughout the kitchen. You name it, I did it until our house was almost unrecognisable. All in the name of our pristine home being The One that the viewer could not live without.
And then I waited. The same painstaking kind of waiting I had done when waiting for the agent to call to say they had a viewer. Even though I sit by the phone, or carry the phone around with me, I still pick it up at regular intervals to check it didn’t ring and I somehow missed it. And even though I can see I haven’t missed a call, I still check the answer phone every now and then just in case. I consider distraction techniques; wash up, walk the dogs (again), have a shower – no, no shower because I won’t be able to hear the phone, do some writing. I consider them, briefly, and then go back to waiting. Worrying. Waiting. Checking. Panicking. Checking. Wondering what I need to do differently, additionally, next time. Waiting.
With this third attempt to sell, we have had two viewings in just over a week – the market has shifted, slightly, unlike my ability to be patient whilst getting on with all the other things I need to be getting on with. As each minute and hour passes I feel increasingly frustrated, disappointed, angry and resentful, and overriding all of these is an accumulative desperation.
It is a hard thing to describe, and it is an even harder thing to live with, although it doesn’t feel like I live at all when I am waiting for something. Rather, all life is suspended while I wait: I see life going on around me but I cannot participate – I am far too busy, too preoccupied, indispensable. There is absolutely no space in my brain or my life, for anything that is not directly related to what I am waiting for.
The good news is, I do have brief moments of respite when my brain can stand down. Mainly because I know what time the Estate Agent opens and closes. So when I wake in the morning, I have until 8am (usually just before) where I don’t need to wait because there is nobody in the office yet. Likewise, around 7.30pm I begin to accept that I can stand down in anticipation of them closing at 8pm. Although this respite is not what it used to be (the office hours used to be 9am-6pm and sadly I recently discovered that the Estate Agents are also open 9-4 on Saturdays and Sundays), it is a breathing space none the less and I can relax, my brain can switch off, and I can do things other than wait.
This trait is, quite literally, debilitating. Twice this last week I have been close to self-harming out of sheer desperation and frustration. I have conversations with myself. I tell myself all the things anyone else would tell me but it makes little difference. If anything, it adds to my sense of failure because I see the logic but cannot apply it in this instant. There is little that can help me when I am in the throes of waiting.
My wife and I have discussed this excruciating disposition of mine and she, quite reasonably, suggested I just don’t expect any viewings to come to anything: We might not actually sell at all; If we haven’t heard anything by now, we’re probably not going to. All things logical and rational and undeniably true, yet I can not make myself stop waiting, obsessing, for the phone to ring. I know, cognitively, that the phone will ring – or it will not. I know that if I don’t hear the phone ring, a message will be left. I know that I should get on with everything else I should be getting on with. I know that if we do get a buyer it is only the beginning of a long, long line of waiting. I know all of this, but I don’t know how to turn off the switch in my brain that puts life on hold because we have a thing to wait for.
I know the rationale behind all of the reasoning my wife presents me with whenever I ask her why we haven’t yet got a buyer. I don’t really need to hear it again. What I need is to vent that small vapour of steam; to ask my question, rhetorically (because of course she has no idea why we don’t have a buyer yet), and for her to simply acknowledge that I am waiting, and that I feel as though the waiting killing me. I don’t need her to fix me or make things better – it would be nice, but I know there is nothing whilst I am in ‘waiting’ mode that can make anything better other than, in this case, an offer on the house! I just need her to know that I’m struggling, that I’m trying to keep my head above water, my feet on the ground, and I’m finding it almost impossible to do much else. I need to be able to tell her how it is for me, inside my head, without being told what I know already, or without feeling stupid or wrong. That’s all I need.
I need it to not be a dirty great secret that I am embarrassed to admit because actually, I do feel stupid, and I do feel wrong. I feel ridiculous by how paralysed I become and how dysfunctional this trait makes me. I feel ashamed when my wife comes home from work and I’ve barely managed to complete the washing up from the morning. I feel useless because I cannot combat this, and I cannot avoid the trap because waiting is an integral part of life.
I need to be honest, and I need to be heard. That’s all I need. Until I find a cure, then I need the cure. Oh, and a buyer for the house – I need that too.
This time last week I was still flying high from the joyous celebrations of my book’s official launch. I’m glad to say that although I have come down (a little), I have not come crashing down – rather; I am still gliding back to reality and normality (my version of it) gently and calmly.
At the launch in Oxford Waterstones I was joined by friends, family, professionals and publishers – all of whom have, in some way, played a part in me being where – and who – I am today. It was as much a celebration of these relationships as it was the publication of my book. These are the people who have believed in me when I could not believe in myself, who had hope for me when I was (in every sense) hopeless, who have taken me for who I am – no questions asked, and who have loved me when I was at my worst and surely was unlovable. They have been my strength when I have been weakness personified, my light when I was suffocating in the dark, my reason when there was no other reason to keep fighting. And these were the people I wanted to celebrate alongside and to thank for their part in my journey.
The morning after the launch I woke early, still buzzing and reeling with excitement, and still there was the niggling threat of gloom hovering over me and trying to find a way to dampen my spirits: the party was over; the unlikely gathering of an eclectic mix of wonderful people had been dispersed and I would never again experience the unique sense of pride, confidence and joy that I had at the book launch.
So often for me an extreme high is followed by an unrelenting low. It is as though a good day gives me a taste for something that I never quite fully experience, and merely tasting it leaves me dissatisfied and hungry for something that seems close enough, but actually entirely out of reach. A day where I feel ‘special’ is invariably followed by a day where I am back to being a nobody – about as unspecial as they come, and I feel foolish for believing any different.
The book launch was in some ways no different than any other high, with the risk of of crashing back down to earth a real possibility. Usually the memory of the night would have disappeared already like sand through my fingers, in typical borderline fashion (if it’s not happening now it might as well have never happened, kind of thing). But on this occasion, the unique sense of pride, confidence and joy is precisely what is keeping the gloom and despondency at bay, and the memory is, so far, alive and well.
For me it is a huge accomplishment that I am able to look back on such a great night without feeling like I have somehow been cheated of the fullness of what it was meant to be. It was, for me, a complete experience and against all odds I have managed to maintain a balanced perspective from then till now.
For me it is proof that colour can exist within the black and white thinking that is so inherent in BPD. It is something in between the all-or-nothing that my world generally consists of. It is a first for me that I have drifted softly down to earth after such a big high, and I have not crashed.
So here’s the deal: I wrote a book (I believe I have mentioned this a few times) and I found a publisher (even more noteworthy I think). I was beyond excited. I have always wanted to ‘be a writer’ and finding a publisher felt like validation – I progressed from merely writing to actually being a writer. I joked with my wife that we would have to celebrate every single step along the publishing process. Joking aside, when my book was assigned an ISBN number – we cracked open the bubbly. The first proofs were sent through – it would be rude not to celebrate. My book appeared on Amazon, available for pre-order, my book was sent to the printers, my copies arrived in the post – all causes for celebration, and so I was true to my word after all; many a true word is spoken in jest!
For each milestone along this new road, I climbed a little higher up the ladder of happy, giddy, gleeful, exhilaration. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments of doubt and worry but on the whole I was floating in an unsustainable bubble of euphoria. You see where this is going yet?
I had no idea what to expect, either from the publishing process itself, or from the ‘aftermath’ of having been published. I have never done this before, and I didn’t have a clue. But I do have Borderline, and when I hope for something, I do so with every fiber of my being. I don’t do much in half measures.
What goes up, soaring to giddy heights with great speed and gusto, must at some point come crashing back down with heartless and indecent force. As I said, I didn’t know what to expect, and I don’t know what I did expect, but I expected a little more than what I got!
The day after the publication date I was still riding strong on my proud-cloud. Still disbelieving but euphoric that I could have achieved what I had. I went into town with Dawn, buzzing with anticipation and exuberance, eager to see my book – finally – in a book shop. After all, isn’t that where books go? Isn’t that what book shops are for? Not necessarily! My book was nowhere to be seen. Dawn asked at the desk where we might find the book, assuming we were looking in the wrong place, but not only was the book was not in stock, it was not on order either. After repeating this conversation in the second bookshop, I found a quiet corner and broke down. I sobbed uncontrollably, feeling utterly devastated, humiliated and betrayed: It felt personal. SO fucking personal. And I felt like the worlds biggest idiot. Such a damn bloody fool.
What did I think was going to happen? I have no idea, but I expected something. I certainly was not prepared for nothing.
I felt stupid beyond words. I felt like my face was pushed back in the dirt where I belonged – how did I ever think I had the right to shine? For days I was inconsolable. One minute I had been riding high, the next I was falling so fast and such a long way down I was more scared of the ferocity of my emotions than I had been for a long while. I felt as though I had let Dawn down: I had contributed nothing to our home, and now my book has done nothing but suck my life and soul into its empty voracious belly, and I felt utterly unworthy of her love as a result.
People have asked me, in jest, what it is like to be a published author. For the record, so far, it is pretty much the same as not being one, only much more disappointing.
I am not writing this to illicit pity – far from it. I am writing this to encourage people, myself included, that there is always hope. With regards to my book I am completely in the dark. All of the fears, suspicions and paranoias that I feared would assail me this side of The Big Day have indeed done so, and they have done it with aplomb. Bar the odd feedback (for which I am incredibly grateful – don’t get me wrong!) I have heard nothing so far. I have no idea what people think about my book, and just as importantly (I think) about me. If I thought the waiting game had been bad before the publication date, it was nothing compared to this side.
And yet, I have navigated my way through these treacherous waters and no matter how foolish I may feel about my book, I can hold my head high and say that I managed my BPD these last few weeks, and I managed it reasonably well! I talk about management, rather than recovery throughout my book and this is a case in point: I still have all the irrational, illogical thoughts along with all the wild, intense, extreme and often terrifying feelings and urges, but I have learned to manage them. I have not come through this episode entirely unscathed, but I have come through it, and I am stronger for it.
When I could finally put into words what I was actually feeling, the relief was palpable. For me, if I haven’t sold a thousand copies, I may as well not have sold a single one. If I haven’t had any feedback it is because there is nothing nice to say – or nobody read my book (because I haven’t sold a single copy!) It took me several days of wading through the sludge of these feelings before I was able to articulate them to myself as well as to others, but I found my words and I found my voice. And it took some time, but eventually I found my feet again.
PS: In the continuing absence of any substantial feedback regarding my book I am trying with all my might to Zen my way through – if nothing ever comes of the book, pre-publication surely was one hell of a ride!
This is probably the most unprepared and unedited blog I will ever write! I’m busy busy busy today, celebrating the publication of my book, which is finally out – today!
I also had a radio interview to get through this morning on the Kat Orman show, at BBC Radio Oxford. Yikes doesn’t even begin to cover it!
This was the view from the BBC Oxford reception, where I was sitting shaking, waiting. The house with the ladder is where I lived during some of the lowest and darkest times of my life. Having walked to the studio in an anxiety induced stupor, I was quite shocked and moved when I looked out the window and realised exactly where I was!
I can’t count how many epic screw-ups took place in the pokey box room I was holed up in, how many times I pushed my body, my self and my closest friends to their absolute limits.
It felt quite monumental to be sitting opposite a building which holds so many dark and disturbing memories, whilst revelling in the unfolding of a new and wonderful adventure. I was close to tears as I travelled into Summertown today for my interview. My nerves were jangling, my heart was pounding and even without the ridiculous heat I would have been sweating just as many buckets as I was. Not for the first time, and surely not for the last, I asked myself what was I thinking? I must have been crazy to think I could do this (!) and yet, there I was, nerves and all, pushing through. Then I looked up and saw this house and realised that I am living, breathing proof that there is, always, hope.
I am in such a different place than I was 10 years ago, and I can categorically say that 10 years ago I did not believe such a place existed – definitely not for me! And yet here I am, more pleased than ever that I didn’t give up all those times when giving up was all I wanted to do. I am proud of myself, proud of my book, and proud of my beloved friends and family who told me, 10 years ago, that one day I would look back and feel so differently about being alive. That day has come.
I do not say this lightly: if I can do it, then anyone can! I’ve crossed the road – very literally, and in every other sense – and, when I look at where I came from, right now, all I can think is ‘wow’. Just wow!
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 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.