Trigger warning: discussion of suicide
I was 15 when I was first diagnosed with a mental health condition, actually I was diagnosed with two; GAD and MDD, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder. I had been suffering for a long time, and the doctors retrospectively diagnosed me from around the age of 12, at which point I was being severely bullied.
Imagine being 12 and cycling home in tears, thinking about getting a kitchen knife and slicing your wrists open. What were you doing at age 12?
Fortunately, my mum was home earlier than normal and I broke down in tears and told her everything. My mum didn’t take me to the doctors that day, I don’t blame her. Where in the parenting manual does it tell you how to cope with a child wanting to kill themselves? What parent has planned for that situation?
My mum supported me the best she knew how, and we struggled through the next three years, both believing this was some kind of normal that we had to accept. We didn’t realise anything was wrong until we realised my bouts of puking were related to stressful events. I had had enough when I couldn’t attend a concert after puking, shaking and crying all night.
I now look back on that night and know it was a panic attack, at the time I felt insane. I had irrational fears that the friend I was going with had secretly organised a proposal live on stage and how ever would I tell him no? I was 15, but when you are having a panic attack you don’t know the meaning of rational.
Once diagnosed I felt relieved, I had an answer. The demon had a name and other people had faced it before. I prepared myself to battle the disorders.
I told my friends and there was an outpouring of support, offers of help.
Except, that’s not how it really went. Instead it was confused stares, dismissal of my symptoms, the exclusion from events, the lack of understanding. Looking back I don’t blame them, they had likely never heard of a mental health disorder. I had prepared myself to fight the disorders, but I never prepared to fight the stigma.
I never prepared to fight the stigma
Quickly my relationship with my friends fell apart, I felt isolated and unsupported. I withdrew into myself, everything spiralled out of control, one year later I suffered my first nervous breakdown.
My second nervous breakdown would swiftly follow during my second year of university, culminating in me dropping out. All throughout this time friends came and went, leaving when I revealed the full extent of my ‘damage’. I also found people that I would rely on and who would comfort me after 9 panic attacks in a row, shout out to Megan.
It would be two years later, after binging on Crazy Ex Girlfriend, when I heard of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The symptoms fit, it made sense, but I wanted a professional verdict. I reached out to my doctors surgery after suicidal thoughts were creeping in. I was dismissed twice by doctors for not being outwardly severe enough (a complaint was filed with the surgery). Eventually I was referred to a psychologist, and 30 minutes later I walked out with a pamphlet and a new diagnosis.
By this time I had grown in confidence talking about my mental health, but this diagnosis felt different. BPD isn’t like anxiety and depression; anxiety and depression aren’t exclusively diagnostic, they are also emotions. People can sympathise with an emotion they felt once before. But how do you sympathise with something you have never experienced?
How do you explain to someone that every time they don’t respond quick enough you spiral into a panic that they no longer care about you?
Right now the discussion on anxiety and depression is blooming. But awareness on BPD, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder and many other more ‘niche’ diagnoses is lacking. Talking about it helps remove the stigma associated but it also helps people understand, and therefore sympathise.
If mental health was discussed with parents, maybe my mum would’ve known how to help and she wouldn’t have felt lost and alone in handling me. Maybe she would’ve got the support we both needed.
If mental health had been discussed in school, maybe my friends wouldn’t have thought I was exaggerating. Maybe they wouldn’t have told me that everyone feels that way and that I was just overreacting. Maybe they wouldn’t have have stopped inviting me to things. Maybe I would’ve made it through university.
I can’t go back and change what happened to me, but by talking about my experience I can help someone else and change what happens to them.