Is “recovery” a choice?

It seems fair to me, to say that having a mental illness is not a choice. If it were, would anyone take it? I think that no matter the source of mental illness, its anything but a decision. But what of recovery, is that a choice?

Firstly, I don’t mean for this post to sound in anyway invalidating, my experience has taught me just how incredibly difficult recovery is, how painful it can be to go against the grain of what some part of your mind is telling you to do and build new tracks, try new behaviors and ultimately fight against “yourself” – does this mean you’re wounding “yourself?”. I’ve lived the horrendous “2 steps forward 3 back” as the scales tip between my being in control, and my illness being in control. The frightening mismatch between how I feel and how I act, between what “I” want to do, and what I am doing. It seems a complicated tangle, trying to unravel yourself from your mental illness, to find where your connected and where you’re not, to distinguish self from not self. The age old “who am I?” identity crisis. The identity mental illness gives  you, the mental illness within that identity. You get the picture – it’s confusing.

I can identify now a number of “choices” I had to make along the way, the choice to try something, anything, other than what my mental illness was telling me to do. To not just exchange one “bad” behavior for another. Others I’ve spoken to speak of “turning points” or times where something just “clicked”. What is this click? Is it something internal, or external? They now speak of their mental illness as though its something distant and separate (which I find myself doing now, too, but used to find odd when in the midst of being “ill”). Remember that constant, voice in your head that guided your life? Maybe you still have it, it becomes a whisper. Now and again, it shouts out like a stubborn child when circumstances wake it, but now, you’re able to kindly say “no”. That is a choice. Whilst I completely appreciate just how important it is to listen to this “inner child” or what have you, to find out what he or she wants, what guides THEM and what motivates THEM. But, similarly, we can’t give in to every tantrum they, or mental illness throws, otherwise we’re never going to recover. We have to set boundaries, just like we might with a child. It doesn’t mean it’s easy though, having a child kicking and screaming inside your head that you “can’t” listen to.

Does this make any sense to anyone else, or am I just crazy? Is recovery a choice?

I recognize the need for support etc. and the right external environment. I’m not saying its an easy choice by any means, but is it a choice?

 

 

 

At breaking point with services

Today marks my last day of DBT. It has been a roller coaster of good and bad, mostly good though. Yet today, I feel upset. I feel angry and frustrated  and dropped. I will try not to make this a rant about the NHS, as that’s not what I want to do, god knows I understand the struggles – I work for the NHS too!

So how have I been dropped?

Within the first couple of months of DBT, my one to one therapist went on maternity leave, understandable and acceptable and though sad, I got on with it. The DBT group didn’t feel this void for MONTHS. I had signed contracts saying I would attend all sessions, I would try and help myself blah blah blah and my therapist signed contracts too. But it would seem this was the first one way street I was to drive around as though I would be picked up on my end of the contract if I slipped with self harm, for example, seemingly there was no need for them to upkeep their end of the deal and find a new therapist for me.

So months later, the void was finally filled with another therapist, and though I had quietly sat tight for the time without, I was grateful and a little relieved. She was a good therapist, perhaps not always entirely in tune with me but far better than nothing, she was kind and caring. I saw her for longer than my first therapist and the only real hang up was she had a number of taboo subjects which we couldn’t visit, which seemed counterproductive to me.

So a few months later, she leaves, very near to the end of my years DBT. Again, this isn’t picked up for a while and then when it is? I temporarily see someone twice, someone who I actually liked and could connect with and let me talk about ‘taboo’ subjects, she advocates within her knowledge that we can continue to see each other and work through these things to the end of DBT and beyond. Shortly after this, the system picks this back up and says I can’t see her. She is based at one centre, and due to my address I should receive treatment at a more local centre.

So, I have travelled for a year to the further away centre to receive therapy, both group and one to one, and now that its not convenient to them, I’m not allowed to do this anymore. My second, beautifully paved one way street.

I cannot see my new therapist anymore and I am alone. Rather than handing my care nicely over to my local team, from hand to hand, I am temporarily dropped once more. Someone at my local centre will, at some point, pick me back up out of the darkness, dust me off for another 7/8 weeks and then, probably, drop me again.

So right now I am feeling pretty helpless, hopeless and powerless, common themes throughout my life. Once again I have no choice over where I go from now, I just have to sit tight and wait. I truly feel like disengaging and giving up with services at this time and just keep running until I fall for good, it is just not worth it anymore. It’s too hard and inconsistent and though I appreciate it is not the therapists fault, I truly feel that nobody cares.

What does abuse do to you?

This is a very difficult post for me, even anonymously, to share publicly. The word ‘abuse’ is a big and scary one and I wouldn’t classify anything I’ve been through as that, though I know others would disagree. 

In light of my recent post ‘recovery’, I’d like to be able to follow it up with a second post that looks more honestly at the shadows behind that word. In many ways, I think DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy) has actually been unhelpful to me. I feel almost as though the past year has taught me how not to cry, how not to react to terror and torment and so reinforced many of the lessons I learned as a child. My therapist, possibly not to her fault, actively discouraged me talking of anything vaguely traumatic and helped gloss over everything that is my life. This has helped me in some ways, it’s arguable reduced some of the ‘BPD’ symptoms (though, I am not sure if I have just made allowances for this elsewhere). The thing it really hasn’t helped me with, and if anything has pushed me further into the hands of denial with, is my PTSD. 

Post traumatic stress disorder. What a phrase. 

I’ve suffered this arguably since I was a child, though obviously I wouldn’t have seen it that way then and I still don’t really now. I have nightmares every night, sure. I have night terrors still, like a child and wake myself up screaming and fighting. And then there’s the day times. Every half step, something seems to trigger my memory and I find myself wincing or bracing to fight my way out. It’s exhausting. It sounds like something out of a movie, but it’s not. It’s really not. This is my life. 

I feel like I am trapped in my childhood, and that wasn’t a good place to be. 

So these are some of the symptoms DBT has not helped me deal with. These are the manifestations of a constant overflow of traumatic memories, one after the other flooding my brain and frying it’s circuits. 
What is it like to have PTSD? It’s exhausting. 

And what of the original trauma? 

Now that I have finished DBT, I am allegedly ‘robust’ enough to start dealing with it. I am not gloating in anyway, but I have ‘survived’ a childhood of abuse, neglect, homelessness but now after a year of DBT you think I might be robust enough – thanks. 

Anyway, so this means onward referal, which I am entirely grateful for. The downside being I must now try and share my story again. 

If admitting to having PTSD is hard, admitting to having been thtough any trauma is impossible. I just can’t do it. So I start scraping around the top of the barrel for some lesser, more acceptable memories. I need to portray to this team I am struggling, but my inner autos kick in and I simultaneously need to portray that I have never been abused in any way shape or form. 

So what does trauma do to you? This. 

It terrifies you to talk and terrorises you to not. 

Even the memories I class as lesser, the one offs, even they terrify me. And it’s only just dawned on me how freaking scary this all is. 

This is all I can share for now. Thanks anyone who reads. 

Recovery

I’ve not blogged for a while, and as such this all feels largely stretched apart. Day one of therapy to day 365 with only a few insights in between. That is certainly not how it has been.

Every session has changed my brain in one way or another, forced me to question something I had never even considered before. I still remember first joining a Dialectal Behavioral Therapy (DBT) group. I remember thinking it absolutely wasn’t for me. I remember reading everywhere that it was the ‘gold standard’ for borderline personality disorder and exactly what I needed, but it didn’t feel right to me. In the end, I was dragged along reluctantly by the NHS and my therapist.

Initially, I thought it was rubbish to be truthful. Mindfulness was the core and most difficult concept to grasp, and I suspect anyone reading this who hasn’t studied it for a prolonged period (or even may have) might agree that at first, it seems like utter sh8t. For me, I think the core of it is just being more present and for now, that is helpful. I do few specific mindfulness ‘skills’ but instead try and make my whole life a more ‘mindful’ experience, meaning I am more consciously partaking in my own life. See, I told you it’s a strange concept.

So anyway, this is titled recovery. Do you ever ‘recover’ from borderline personality disorder? I’m not sure that you do. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that for me, trying just to ‘recover’ from it, may conversely aggravate it. I think it will always be there, always be a part of me. Over the course of the year, I have been forced to accept that I have borderline personality disorder, BPD. I’ve been forced to accept its ways. And in an odd way, it’s been forced to accept me. The core dialect in DBT is the balance between acceptance and change. Me and BPD have had to fight head on for this. For every time I’ve had to accept that BPD ‘makes’ me lash out in rage (for example), BPD has had to accept that I don’t want to do this anymore. That I want to change. For every time BPD has had to accept that I feel happiness, BPD has had to accept that this might be okay (again for example). We’ve had to accept change. I’m never really sure if BPD has helped or hindered, supported or sabotaged. Whose side is it on? I suppose it has always been there for (or against) me.

Now I am on strange and unknown territory. I used to describe having BPD as walking a tight rope. Either side of me, was an abyss. If I moved to far in either direction, I would fall. And often, the abyss meant suicidal thoughts, plans or actions. You can imagine the fear. I fell from side to side into each abyss regularly, never really knowing how I got back out. Now, I do still see an abyss to the left. But to my right, is recovery. I stand facing it, my toes clutching at the surface. I know if I try to move to quickly forward now, I will offset my newly found balance and fall back into the abyss. But I know if I don’t move at all, I will never leave my tight rope. So I am trying to find my feet, I suppose. At least I am aware I have them now.

I no longer fear my BPD, nor it me. In the early fights, my BPD would ram into me with incessant force and pain and batter me while I whimpered helplessly. The first time I fought back, it seemed stunned. It fought me harder and I fought back harder until we both came to a form of impasse. Was my BPD trying to knock me down, or was it trying to teach me I was strong?

Now we just stand like two equals, looking at one another unsure what to do next. I have never not been scared of my BPD, and maybe it not me. I have never stood up straight before. I feel like I’ve had a transplant of so many organs during my year in DBT. My chest breathes freely and my heart ticks away casually. My stomach feels calm and knot free.  I feel free. My head is so quiet – how strange! There is a part of me that wants to reject my new organs for they are not as I recognize and do not seem my own but I think maybe I will take some time to get used to them and see how I go.

There is hope, and to anyone in the early stages of treatment or still fighting head on with their BPD, please do know this. I’m sure you know it already, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. Don’t just take my word for it, find your own ‘recovery’. Take whatever journey is needed. I hope your pain eases soon, you are strong. You might not believe me now, or believe that you’re capable of ‘recovery’ because believe me, 12 months ago I didn’t either. But you definitely, definitely are.

Take care.

“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” – Robin Williams