I suppose that my story – or at least the interesting part – begins at the start of the road to my recovery; soon after my diagnosis, or to be more accurate, my diagnoses. After about half a dozen labels had affixed to – and fallen off – me, none adhering too well, the vast and forbidding one, marked “Borderline
Personality Disorder” proved sufficiently sticky unto the day; as well as the weeks, months, and years ahead.
Diagnosis: help or hindrance?
This diagnosis was as much a curse as a blessed explanation of the volatile minefield between my ears and behind mine eyes. It gave some indication of why I was the way that I was, what – as much as anyone could tell – might happen next, and what fell consequences and outcomes to be expected. The downside – well, one of many – was that the attached label had been used for too long in the medical and psychiatric professions as a shorthand for “untreatable neurotic.” With this heavy sign around my neck, how was help, support, or even a cure possible when with me effectively cast aside as irreparably damaged?
BPD, for short, is sometimes, perhaps more accurately, known as “Emotionally Dysregulated or Emotionally Unstable Personality (and generally having a permanent hissy fit) Disorder” which does pretty much what it says on the tin. Over more years than I care to bring back to immediate, painful, humiliating, graphic recollection, my thoughts have been spiralling around a half-dozen plugholes simultaneously – rather like a hideous cross between “Alice in Wonderland” and a troupe of “Whirling Dervishes.” Each of these eddying vortices of fear, dread, and terror have a name that helps signpost the way that the personal and deeply private Hells therein manifest to trap, imprison, torture and stifle their victims.
Praise – another story?
The mnemonic that I learnt for recognition of symptoms was “PRAISE” – probably the word furthest from my mind, given the circumstances. This happy acronym encompasses the following:
- Paranoid ideas
- Relationship instability
- Angry outbursts, affective instability, abandonment fears
- Impulsive behaviour, identity disturbance
- Suicidal behaviour
Looking back over my life, since my disturbed and chaotic upbringing, through troubled childhood, turbulent adolescence and haphazard adulthood, I realised that all these things were true; what had I gained other than a lifetime of misery, beyond understanding and outside of expectation, neatly encapsulated into something that my psychiatrist probably saw on a bumper sticker?
Having had my deepest fears confirmed, that not only was life at least as much a crock of shit as I had fondly imagined, but also that there was a name for it and little else that anyone seemed willing to do about it; but galvanised by the love, understanding, anger and downright despair of my wife, we decided
that – to quote William Brown – “something ought to be done about it.”
The story of 10,000 steps
We had two approaches to these problems: the specific and the general; the therapeutic and the legal; the shotgun and the stiletto. We found early on that a condition neither fully diagnosed nor understood could be easily treated or ameliorated. I have lost count of the number of times that I went into crisis, with my wife phoning a doctor, ambulance, or helpline to try to deal with the real and immediate terrors that I faced on a nanosecond-by nanosecond basis.
The first line provision of emergency psychological services being so patchy, we spend innumerable dull stretching hours in clinics, hospital waiting rooms, on the end of the phone and writing letters to all parties; concerned and not, fascinated and disinterested, trying to find someone who could say more than “Yes, that’s a very complicated label you’ve got” but something closer to “That label is covering up a multitude of wounds; let us carefully prise it off, look at the damage beneath and see what we can do to help make it more bearable.”
Onwards and onwards and onwards
Through emergency visits to psychiatric consultants, doctors, housemen and almost any other rank of the frontline medical profession whose attention we could collar, for no matter how short a period, we were given the startling news that my problems were almost entirely psychological in nature, basis and
background; probably something to do with what passed for my early development, reinforced by repetition and traumata over time.
This came as little surprise and equally little comfort to either my wife or me. Prior to my series of breakdowns, I had sought to access my “early life records” from the social services department who had been in loco parentis for much of my early life. The commingled fears that the authorities knew of my early
suffering at the hands of predatory abusers, even – horror of horrors – documented or a matter of no concern whatsoever, had really tipped me over the edge. Over the course of a week, during which we were facing eviction, in a stream of consciousness, I had told my wife just about everything that had happened to me as a child. Everything came out, almost all at once, but for the redeeming qualities of the Third Law of Thermodynamics.
Getting sh!t done
By the time that I was again able to cogently use a computer or telephone without injury to myself or others: some weeks, in fact, we set about finding if there was any legal redress for the quite avoidable misfortunes that had typified my life and had, inevitably – so it seemed – led to me to transform from an
everyday shambling and chaotic wastrel with odd flashes of brilliance into a dullard with a future only fit for a fruit basket. That particular journey started at with the Association of Child Abuse Lawyers, through Victim Support, the Juvenile Protection Unit, and the Inns of Temple and Bar, almost to the High Court. By this time, with Legal Aid and time running short, the London Borough in question an offer put to me.
Whilst acknowledging that my life in their hands had been a predictable, lamentable, and possibly even avoidable catalogue of disaster, ineptitude, and misery, for they could not hold themselves vicariously accountable, so touched were they by my plight that they offered the application of some form of financial salve to the running and festering wound that was my psyche. With no option available but to accept the pitiable emolument proffered, I continued to assist the General Social Care Council (GSCC) with their internal enquiry into the matters raised, whilst simultaneously undergoing the psychotherapy so long sought and even attending a local college to help reintegrate my Self with The Others. This usual all-or-nothing approach is typical of many mental health conditions: infuriating but an occasional help in times of crises.
No sh!t, Shylock!
As I feared, and considered that even the most myopic of prophets could have foretold, the GSCC came to the same conclusion that the legal defence team had suggested; namely, that as dreadful and compelling my plight might be, it was not provable. The months and years of assisting the State by supplying evidence to the detriment of my mental well-being and my wife’s firm belief in justice had come to nought.
Arse longa, vita minus
An additional arrow in my armoury to fight in the ever-continuing battle against the demons body-slamming and bungee jumping inside my head was artistic. I joined a local art group for people with mental and emotional problems. I started out with painfully obsessively controlled pseudo-Surrealist work with everything as “perfect” as possible.
A few months later, under pressure from several external quarters, something changed within me: I finally started to ask myself why I was trying to do what I thought other people wanted me to do. All this changed and I returned to an earlier interest, Abstract Expressionism, and my work flourished. Finally, I had a means of partial release of the contradictory, compartmentalized, conflicting pressures within my mind. Ever larger and increasingly expressive works created, in the attempt to find some cogency and control over my terrifying worldview, finally led to exhibitions of my works, starting with the local Baptist Church, through to a gallery in Old Street and even Atlanta International Airport. The Art classes that I had been attending were in danger of closure due to the lack of anyone to lead them; to my surprise, I accepted the opportunity to take charge of them.
Are we there yet?
I wish that this were an unparalleled story of success and triumph over adversity, but we are not there yet. This multivariate approach to finding a faltering way through the morass of my mind has worked to some degree, but the lack of appropriate, progressive, and suitable therapies within a controlled and sustainable
milieu is in part responsible for such scattergun techniques. Despite my most fervent badgering, the NHS seems unwilling or unable to find funds, resources, or people to assist me further in my recovery, so my hodgepodge hopping from one temporary partial solution to another continues.
The end of the story?
I may still be whistling, but is no longer done entirely in the dark.
“We are all in the sink, but some of us are dancing around the plughole”
© Ian Springham, 2010
I wrote this for the “Telling Your Story” course at South West London Recovery College.
Published in “Telling our stories, Recovering our lives” by South West London & St George’s Mental Health NHS Trust, 2010