Regarding my Mental Health and Art- Guest post by Mike

I feel like that at some point I was a separate entity to my mental illness and I find it impossible to figure out where the two merged into just mental illness. Picasso said something about art being like a diary, and I look at my art work over the last ten years and I can see where my BPD and OCD have pushed out the creativity and the obsession has taken over, documentation of various breakdowns and hallucination and the huge gaps where I haven’t made any work because I’ve been too depressed.

The thing about art is that it is incredibly cathartic but it can become a problem. For my university degree I wrote a thesis on exposure and response prevention therapy and a tenuous link to art and in conjunction with this I produced over 400 bird paintings. Just to be clear, 400 bird paintings is a ridiculous amount of paintings to produce. They still clog boxes and boxes in my old room in my parent’s house. It really seemed like a good idea at the time and I guess it proved a point, the point that art is a true reflection of the person’s personality. But what if that person has a personality disorder I ask myself. Well that’s why I haven’t painted properly for months. Painting rejects me. I feel rejected by it. It triggers self-harm when it goes wrong and “wrong” means ‘not exactly as my brain imagines the final image’. When I can’t paint, I write too. Which I was about to say is rubbish. That’s because writing rejects me. I try to create a finished product every time, which isn’t possible and isn’t how writing works. I want it done quickly because I am addicted to the sense of achievement, but like all addictions the sense of achievement is such a fleeting high that it is gone again moments later. So I buy more art materials. Until I have no money. Like a drug I want more and more until I have a pile of fucking materials and no inspiration. Inspiration in this sense is motivation to get to the illusive sense of achievement. The emptiness is always difficult to fill. I guess that is my point.

The problem with creating is that it takes time and patience. And patience is something that is missing in me these days. I don’t know if it is medication related or BPD, but the lack of patience is so hard to bypass. My patience has lessened and lessened to the point that in my initial mark making on a painting I already feel determined that it is a failure. Is it possible to be determined to fail? Of course it is. Even when you are desperate to move forward and produce something, like breathing with a rotten lung, you can’t seem to get to the place you need. Even writing this post I am determined that it will be terrible, just like the paintings I can’t seem to be happy with, like the books of poetry and novels I don’t finish, just like the relationships with all aspects of my work that are full of rejection and that emotional void.

2 years later.

So at the end of 2011 I wrote a post about my new medication. Now just over 2 years on I’ve started to realise how much more stable they have made me.

I was a real mess before I started taking Sertraline. Self harm was second nature and I remember the constant chest pain and nausea from anxiety. Daily life was horrible, I was in a state of panic all the time, It reduced me to tears daily. While, of course I’m not “fixed”, not having those pains and panic all the time has improved my ability to manage on a daily basis. There was never going to be a pill that would take it all away. All the pills can do is take away the things my brain is doing wrong chemically, it doesn’t change situation or thought process.

I used to break down at the smallest thing now I only crumble when any normal person would. I admit, yes, my emotions are still too much sometimes and my reactions are more extreme than others but at least I’m actually becoming extremely emotional when it’s natural too (death, illness etc) and not screaming in tears because Jordan isn’t home yet and I imagine he’s dead in an alley way.

I’m still struggling of course, I’m not a functioning member of society quite yet (unless you include the internet society) but getting here in the first place is a big deal. For some it may seem like nothing has changed and I haven’t moved anywhere but if I look back a few years where I was desperate to be sectioned so they could fix me because I was in so much agony, then I’m definitely in a new place.

I don’t feel so much like I’m crazy any more, I just feel like I need some help on my self esteem and intrusive thoughts. I need help with my thought processes and I need to find more things to love about life. I’m constantly trying to find a purpose when I’ve got nothing around me. So I’m looking more into social hobbies and places where I can feel like I belong. I have to create my own purpose. It’ll be hard but what’s harder is being unhappy. Being unhappy is draining and exhausting. Life won’t come to me, I have to find it myself. And it’s okay if I take a little longer because I’ve still got a lot of healing to do.

Obligatory “Christmas is hard” post.

Well here it is, Christmas is coming up once again and as always there’s the great divide of love and hate for Christmas. It’s not just Christmas that does this, mind you, it’s all holidays. For those who don’t have much or who may not have much family or suffer from a concoction of illnesses, holidays are generally the toughest times of the year. While the well and able laugh and love with their families, the sick and lonely can only watch from afar. 

I don’t want to turn this into a pity party, I have family, I have a husband and I have my animals so I’m not going to pretend I don’t for the sake of this post. But that doesn’t take away the fact that depression itself is a driving force in making holidays shit.

Christmas used to be amazing for me, up to the age of 17, my whole family would join together at my grandma’s wonderful house and share presents and eat delicious food and generally be happy together. Then through financial problems and illness it slowly started to fade away. The first Christmas just my husband and I was quite enjoyable and then the next day I received a phone call to tell me that my best friend had been killed, so while the day itself may have been okay it was pulled down into the ground by that one moment.

The next Christmas I was feeling lonely about the idea of it being just my husband and I. I’ve always been used to large family Christmases and so it made it hard. I ended up inviting my mum over but in all honesty I remember almost nothing about that Christmas day other than it had been a year since the death of a dear friend and I was angry. I do remember the awesome and awe inspiring Becca Ward and Ross joining us once again for a 30th of December trip to Nandos though and that has become a tradition we hope to carry on.

That was last year and after a truly awful year again, (other than my birthday which was freaking amazing thanks to Charlene and Tristan) I’m wondering whether I can somehow save this year’s Christmas from the impending doom of depressing and inevitable rubbishness.

I decided this year that instead of wanting loads of possessions when I’m already drowning in them that I will choose one item that I really want and work towards that. I always end with a lot of things that I want for the sake of having but this year I decided on one really great thing so I have asked everyone for money to go towards this one thing. I think it’s something that would actually make me happier on Christmas, knowing that I am waiting and working towards one thing I would really like that may be out of our price range instead of more things I don’t need to lie around the house.

I am a terribly impatient person and it’s a good lesson for me to learn to wait. Often when I do wait I find that I’m not actually really bothered in that thing at all and this is why It’s good for me to do this for myself. Yes, it’s a material possession that in the eyes of philosophers is useless in the sense of eternal salvation but for the first time in my life I haven’t just been able to walk into a shop on a whim and throw money at someone for it. I am even selling some old things to acquire it. 

Christmas IS hard and has been hard as an adult but it has only been 3 years and I hope to create some traditions and some nice things that won’t make it so terrible. 

I’ve taken on the Christmas Eve box tradition which is supposed to be something you do for your children but I thought was a great idea for a couple of adult children like us. You have a box you can open together on Christmas eve, it contains new pyjamas, a Christmas movie and some snacks and hot chocolate. We desperately need small comforts like this and so this is what I’m going to prepare this year and hopefully for years to come. Snuggling up and watching a Christmas movie sounds like something that could really soothe the depression for both of us and help us feel loved by one another.

So, if you struggle around this time, try and create small comforts such as this to remind you that you’re not alone in feeling down and unwell and that in the end we’re all trying our best to make the best of what we have. 

I hope you all make it through the holidays with at least one small happiness to see you through.

The Constant Identity Crisis

Identity Disturbance

Definition:

Identity Disturbance – A psychological term used to describe a distorted or inconsistent self-view

Who Are You Today?

Identity disturbances involve an illogical or incoherent, inconsistent pattern of thoughts and feelings which go beyond logical pessimism, low self-image or a negative outlook. People with an Identity Disturbance may frequently speak, think or act in ways which are contradictory, even to themselves. They may think their fabulous one day, and think nothing of themselves the next. Their actions or thoughts may flip from self-serving into self-effacing, or from healthy choices into self-destructive patterns for no apparent reason. They may excel in one activity and appear incompetent in another, or oscillate seasonally from energetic and enthusiastic to lethargic and withdrawn.

This arises partly because positive and negative thought patterns are not always based on facts. The human mind has an ability to simplify the complexity of the world with quick, emotional judgments about what we consider good and bad, desirable and undesirable. However, if a person’s emotional thoughts are not backed up by rational fact-based thoughts, this emotional “shorthand” can result in erroneous black and white thinking – known as splitting – which when applied to the self can lead to an inaccurate self-perception.
People who suffer from Personality Disorders are sometimes prone to think more emotionally than logically. This can lead to extreme emotional highs and lows in response to the natural ebb and flow of life’s circumstances, which can lead to make unsubstantiated, grandiose claims of superiority one day and self-condemning statements of worthlessness the next.

In a 2000 study of patients with identity disturbances, Tess Wilkinson-Ryan, and Drew Westen identified four types of identity disturbance:

  1. Role absorption (in which patients tend to define themselves in terms of a single role or cause),
  2. Painful incoherence (a subjective sense of lack of coherence),
  3. Inconsistency (in thought, feeling, and behaviour),
  4. Lack of commitment (e.g., to jobs or values).

The researchers concluded that identity disturbance distinguishes patients with borderline personality disorder from other psychiatric patients and that it occurs in patients with BPD whether or not they have a history of being abused.

Source: Identity Disturbance in Borderline Personality Disorder: An Empirical Investigation by Tess Wilkinson-Ryan, A.B., and Drew Westen, Ph.D.

Sorry for the long explanation but I felt it was necessary. I wanted to explain what this looks like in real life.

I define myself by what my current infatuation is. Whether it be writing, a TV series or a celebrity. This definition makes me feel secure. To be able to label myself in a category with others makes me feel included and gives me a sense of being somebody.

It’s almost impossible for me to be entwined with more than one label at once because they can often clash. For example if I’m having a period of wanting to look feminine and ordinary then it can’t overlap with my tattoos and piercings. They have different personas that come out when I feel more of a want for one of them. And of course for some they can easily go together but for me, it’s about fitting one stereotype at a time. A crossover means I don’t fit in with either group. I’m glad for the personas that can go together because it allows me to feel comfortable being a few things at once and enjoying a few hobbies and ideas all together.

In the end I like all the things involved. I wouldn’t be something I wouldn’t want to be, it’s about things that socially don’t fit together and feeling uncomfortable trying to combine them. It’s about being liked.

It happens with values too. While the values themselves don’t disappear they come and go as my main goal. I may spend a whole month obsessing over animal rights and then after that you may see one post about it for a whole year. And in that time I’ll be engrossed in another campaign.

For me, it’s like turning up at a metal gig in a flowing flowery dress. While I love both, It’d just feel out of place.

I’m not quite sure how to have a stable identity because we all act a certain way around different groups of people and I especially notice is almost instantly. If I’ve just been at a family event I act like an adult, not because I have to but It just happens naturally, when I visit my parents then I automatically change myself into parent mode, I notice the change from relaxed to instantly aware and cautious. As soon as I walk through the front door from either of these instances I turn into child, I may run up the stairs and go and sit on Jordan’s lap and have a cuddle. It’s the ultimate comfort. We talk to each other in silly voices, joke around all the time and while I take on the role of parent at times it’s laid back parent. I do appreciate being able to be adult at times when with family as I feel respected but I am cautious not to slip in child mode so I’m not perceived as odd or laughed at. If I were alone I don’t even know how I would be. I’d probably be a complete mess of confusion. Not knowing how to act, dress or what to do. It’s the people around me that help me to stay stable even within many identities.

I love the seriousness of putting on an elegant dress and having natural make-up and the fun of wearing an Nightwish T shirt with jeans, black lipstick and too many piercings. It’s the ultimate contrast but I enjoy both, I never seem to see anyone who has both styles. Most people seem to have a style in what they like to wear, what kind of hobbies they may like but mine seem to contrast so much. I often wonder why people are stuck in one place. It seems so boring just being one person.

Hannah’s story.

From a young age, I’ve always felt different. I never felt like I fit in with anyone and found it hard to maintain friendships. I was always over-analysing conversations, making sure that people still liked me. If I felt like I’d done anything wrong, I’d sit in my room for hours crying and pinching myself for being such a bad person. I thought my family didn’t love me either, and thought I was unworthy of anything. I never asked for toys, just appreciated what I was given. Going into my teenage years, I was being overwhelmed with negative emotions, particularly self-loathing. I had no stable friendship group and was telling lies to the friends I did have. I was sinking lower every day and didn’t know how to cope with my feelings.

One day, after reading about self-harm in a teen magazine, I decided that it must be the way to go forward; nothing else seemed right. So one night I ended up cutting myself and was surprised at how much relief I felt afterwards. It felt wrong, but my head was so much clearer and the internal pain faded away. Soon enough, I was cutting every night, and I was enjoying it. A teacher noticed my arms one day and notified my head of house. I was referred to the school counsellor (who was completely useless), and carried on hurting myself.

My parents were oblivious until one day, I flew into rage; this wasn’t unusual as I bottled all my anger up until I couldn’t cope. I admitted that I’d been cutting and they didn’t want to believe me. Straight away they took me to my GP who instantly referred me to CAMHS. After an assessment I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression and had therapy once a week.

Even though cutting helped, it was only temporary, and my internal struggles continued. I felt like a burden to everyone and thought I would be better off dead. I took an overdose. Somehow people found out and I was rushed to hospital and after recovering, was sent to the first of many psychiatric units at 13 years old. It was terrifying. After a month, my mother discharged me, with me not feeling any better. The following years were filled with dangerous self harm, suicide attempts, and lots of hospital admissions. I was set out to destroy myself. I felt disgusting, horrible, pathetic, and worthless. I couldn’t maintain any friendships as I was in and out of school and psychiatric units. I felt so alone, and nothing was helping.

My mum couldn’t cope with me anymore and begged my psych team for help. I was offered a stay in a long- term psychiatric unit, and after thinking about it for a while, I agreed. This ward involved a lot of therapy, and always having my thoughts and behaviours challenged by the staff. I worked hard, even though at times I tried to give up, and 9 months later I was discharged. 

I was doing well until I entered the world of relationships. I was terrified of being abandoned and all I wanted was to finally feel loved. Relationships would end and it would feel like the end of the world. Back came the dangerous self harm. I tried and failed college courses as the stress was too much. After losing my boyfriend of 6 months, I couldn’t cope anymore. I started hallucinating and became paranoid. Soon enough the familiar words, “we’re taking you to hospital” were spoken. I was 18, going into my first adult ward. I was on the ward for 2 months when I had a ward round. The consultant had read through my notes and after observing my behaviour decided that I had a new diagnosis.

No longer was I clinically depressed. I now had Borderline Personality Disorder. I’d heard of it before, and was scared yet not surprised. It felt almost right actually – I fit quite a lot of the criteria. But having a personality disorder? It didn’t feel treatable. I’d heard that it was almost impossible, that I’d have it for life. I was ashamed; it’s so much easier to say “I have depression”, than it is to say “I have a personality disorder”. People would just look at me and say, “What’s that? Are you a psycho or something?”. I hated the judgement, so would keep quiet when anyone would ask. Another failed relationship occurred, followed by the worst suicide attempt I’d ever made. I’d had enough of life, thought I was unlovable, and wanted it over – yet again another hospital admission. But this time I was treated so badly that I vowed to never again get to such a state as to where I get sent back there.

I fought for my life, and for my sanity. I was sick of being sick after 7 years of pain. Seeing the sadness of my 4 year old sister’s face when she bought me back to the ward after weekend leave broke my heart. I didn’t want her to think it was normal for me to be hospitalised.

Here I am, 2.5 years later, and I’m still alive. I haven’t cut myself at all in that time, and have put in a lot of hard work to get me to this point. I’ve opened up so much, and let people in when I’d previously done everything before to stop that from happening. I’m in a stable relationship and we’re moving in together soon. I still have abandonment fears, but I can control them a lot better than I did. I still over-analyse everything, but we can’t change too much too soon, right? My mood swings aren’t so severe anymore, but I’m still dealing with self hatred on a daily basis. I punch myself to deal with the thoughts; at least it’s a lot safer and less damaging. My consultant says that in a year’s time, I may no longer fit the criteria for BPD. It actually scares me, as it’s been my identity for so long now. Who will I be without it? I’ve always been the ‘mentally ill girl’. Now I have to be who I truly am. One day I hope to find that person, but for now I’ll just keep trying.

-Hannah Couch, 21