Saturday, 4 July 2015

Please stop saying that

"Oh, she's got stress, she won't be back for a while". 

Ok, now wait a minute there - you're saying she's 'got' a very natural and necessary physiological reaction that we need in order to perform? Right. So we'll see her as usual tomorrow then?

"He's already had one nervous breakdown, now he's had another one!" Yeah, I heard he's in a padded cell licking the sweat off the walls in a straight jacket, kicking the potatoes from last night's dinner tray around like the National Lottery balls.

You have to love a good old colloquialism. Unfortunately, the fact that even many GPs don't use the right terminology doesn't do us any favours. 

I've been criticised for saying I don't think 'breakdown' is a useful term. It suggests that you're not in crisis (the more up to date version) unless you're totally lost the plot and are streaking through the town foaming at the mouth. Well, let's see here - my last big one was in 2007, when I was working in a substance misuse service, frontline, crack addicts coming in off the streets and faxes detailing the 30 year criminal history of some of the regulars forced to come in by probation. I'd begun keen and I loved the place, even though I wanted to work with the clients more. Everything was pretty ok, I had my own flat, a car, and a boyfriend. But I had one huge elephant in the room - I'd been addicted to prescription drugs for about 2 years by that point. Finally, after enduring a month of utter hell detoxing on my own with no benzos - bad, bad idea - I was clean. This was the perfect time then for my boyfriend to leave me. I totally lost myself. 

Without the usual crutch of codeine, and its soft cushion of warmth, I nose-dived into oblivion. 

What ingredients do you need to make a good old-fashioned breakdown?

1) Alcohol - check. Maybe 2-3 bottles of wine a night plus any spirit I could find.
2) Cocaine - check. 2 grams minimum.
3) Friends who you didn't really know, but you all did drugs and drank to excess - check
4) Plenty of male attention that tapped into your lack of self-worth and desperation to destroy yourself - check.
5) A stool with your name on it at the end of a bar where drugs were handed out like sherbet - check
6) A job where everyone else there had some level of mental illness - check.

I woke up in bed with strangers in places I didn't know. I gained consciousness whilst running through Whitechapel to escape a man who was chasing me. I cracked my head on the pavement falling down drunk in the road. I showed up at my ex's house, demanded alcohol and then sobbed until I was asked to leave. I was a total car crash. BUT - I still 'functioned'.

I sang in a choir, and during a concert in a cathedral I was in the toilet doing coke off a holy toilet seat. I showed up for work everyday, reeking of booze, still drunk and did drugs off a toilet seat reserved for the abstinent. I'd lost a lot of weight and at work I would only eat peas and gravy. I did another concert in St James's Palace and got so drunk I had to be taken home by a complete stranger, who stayed overnight but left before I woke up still in my clothes and late for work. I went for a night out with friends from work, fell over on the toilet floor and got covered in piss, then took another guy I barely knew home. In the morning I woke up with bruises and my full-length mirror lay smashed on the floor. I have no memory of anything, but that might be my brain's way of protecting me. 

That was definitely 'a breakdown', except it wasn't. I functioned, albeit with considerably less skill than normal. People at work probably thought I was just a bit late and weird about food, I told them I'd had flu when I was detoxing. I did my work, and got good reviews too. If any of them had seen me after 6pm though? They wouldn't have believed I could even show up.

My point is, saying to someone 'I had a nervous breakdown' isn't at all representative of what actually happened to me then. I didn't just stay in bed all day with the curtains closed. I still drove a car and typed emails that weren't just mental rants about pigeons, and the voices in my head. I used a debit card and wrote an entire album in my spare time even - that's more than I've done in the 2 years since giving birth. I was in crisis, of that there was no doubt. 

We all need stress - it makes us perform. But it's not a mental illness, yet doctors still put it on sick notes because it's more socially acceptable than depression or anxiety. The stress bell curve is usually somewhere in any mental health training for a reason, to show that it's a perfectly normal physiological response to certain factors, and because we need it to survive. But if it carries on for a long time and you fall off the end of that curve, that's when you're likely to experience some form of mental aberration. Worrying about whether you've met the criteria for a breakdown is the last thing you need by that point. 

"Oh, well that doesn't sound like a breakdown to me, my brother's girlfriend had one and it was totally different - she didn't leave the house for days! Has the doctor diagnosed stress?" 

Things are moving on, slowly but surely, and it's high time GPs stopped using these terms. Just like asylums, they should be consigned to the pages of history.

Saturday, 13 June 2015


Only recently was I made aware that people's perceptions of me are about as opposite of what I am as is humanly possible. Maybe I'm naive (I am) but I thought people could see past the chaotic exterior and just understand that I talk myself down at any opportunity. Either that or I'm fishing for compliments to try and cover up that I'm talking myself down - it's a duplicitous double bluff.

I used to think I was a confident, empowered woman. I used to also think a fish tank was speaking to me, along the lines of some sort of aquatic radio station. Neither were true. Well, at least nobody else said they heard the fish. Could be an aquatic easy listening format for the future of course. As it turned out, wearing PVC hotpants, a spiky goth dog collar, knee-high boots and styling myself as a Manga cartoon were all more about other people than about me. Just about everything in my life, aside from my beautiful little family (although there are questionable elements there too), is about control of some form or another, and I blissfully (ahem) thought I was immune from. Of course tied in along the way was the realisation that as a woman, even in the supposedly civilised and 'United' Kingdom, my popularity, talent, life opportunities, career and influence were directly and negatively affected by my gender. 

I find the very idea of gender thoroughly confusing - and by that I definitely don't mean that I don't understand what gender is - mind you I can only guess at imagining what being male feels like. What I don't understand is why so much appears to hang on it (yes, I too now have a mental image of a penis-shaped coat hook). I think this is something that is SO ingrained in the world that many women don't actually recognise it until later in life, maybe upon entering the world of work, you know, the bit when you get a real job and start trying to smash through that pesky glass ceiling. Suddenly you're managed and micro-managed by men. And Jesus H. Christ if you dare to point out that your work is as valuable as the man next to you (who incidentally gets paid over a third more than you) then you're being one of those godawful 'radical feminists'. How very dare you love, mouthy bitch. By now you're used to me saying 'I'll come back to this later'.

Somewhere in the mire of my late teens I got on stage (in the rock 'n' roll sense, no longer disguised as a choral singer) and as a result I began to define myself by how I looked. After a few years of bullying based on various apparently unlovable parts of my face, I was fairly easily led when it came to what people should aim to look like - that, plus I genuinely didn't have a clue about fashion - I'd bought myself a green corduroy jacket in my last year of school and wore it unashamedly. 'Buying things from charity shops' was a thing we did because we thought it was cool. It was, but not really until relatively recently. I imagine now teenaged girls go to shops like 'Forever 21' or some such, don't they? 

Anyway, I allowed my very lovely and probably well meaning, but equally very young and quite stupid and superficial (at the time) male band mates to mould me into Saffron-from-Republica-lite. I only knew one of their songs, and this level of un-coolness remained with me well into my twenties, much to the songwriter of the band's dismay. I was informed I couldn't name any of my real musical influences if asked, and instead I had to say Bjork, or some other anti-mainstream artist, rather than saying I listened to Vaughan Williams and liked a bit of Metallica. 

I'm still very affected by what I wear - shoes that make me taller, and coats I can swish dramatically as I stomp along are both things that I use to bolster my ego, mostly to complete strangers who are making their way around London as anonymously as I am. I want to be a ninja, a model, an 'artiste', a lesbian, an actor, a bitch, powerful, or just something - ANYTHING - other than I am. I have an ego just like anyone else, only mine is simultaneously huge and fragile. Not a good combination. I'm like an ostrich egg in a nursery school. I'm fine with admitting it too. The thing that bothers me most is that when 'it matters', i.e. when I'm playing the more professional and competent version of myself, I want people to believe (itself a questionable concept) that I am just that - professional and competent. Until recently I had no idea that wasn't the case. As most work places do, we have a laborious system for reviewing our performance that kicks in twice a year, and which is seemingly invented just to leave us all with even less time to actually DO the work we're writing about doing. I've tried to think that it matters, but I just don't. I went into the performance review period with virutally no concerns - I'd worked my arse off and achieved every objective I'd set out to achieve, plus more, but the feedback I got really pulled the rug out from under me.

"She should focus on trying to do the things she has already started, and not take on too much"

I read this and felt the familiar heat flushing my face as anger (virtually the only emotion I don't struggle to recognise) began to rise. That anyone would deem me incompetent hurts me deeply. In childhood, before puberty ruined everything, I judged my worth on how clever I was. I sat Mensa tests and entered poetry reading and acting competitions, I wanted to be the best at anything I did. I hate being out of control, and other people's perceptions are something frighteningly kamikaze to me.

Today I went to a conference, one specially tailored to those with disabilities. The idea was that we get coaching to give us confidence in our abilities, rather than focusing on our disability. Now, I wear my 'disabled' status with pride and I don't give a shiny shit if someone judges me for that. Why would I choose to label myself as something EVEN MORE STIGMATISED than 'disabled'? I need to be coached just to operate in the same dimension as everyone else. When one of your brain functions is 'disabled', everything is harder to do. I came away from the day feeling trapped in a job where I only get to use the things I'm good at for about 1% of the time. Such a fucking waste. I'm 35 and this is my third career. There was a lot of talk about perception; building your personal brand, influence, impact. All seemingly built around balancing emotional reactions to get good outcomes, and giving others the bits of you that makes their perception positive. Right, ok - so you're saying the one bit of my brain that's broken is the key to my success? Fuckanory. There are so many versions of me that I lose track of which one is coming next. I'm like my own personal covers band. 

Don't panic - there is a point to this post - the question is how does one reconcile the belief that others' perceptions shouldn't define us, whilst making them believe in us enough to respect and allow us to progress? I want to 'bring my whole self to work' but when I do that the whole perceptions thing kicks in.  

I want to change perceptions. Your perception is just that - yours. If you want me to prove myself just ask me. Look behind the scenes where the good stuff happens. You may hear me speak but you'll never know what happens in my head.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

You are not your behaviour.

"I repeat - you are not your behaviour"

Also imagine an RP BBC radio voice announcing this in the style of a documentary about World War 2.

This is something I've often said to people - and it's true. But there is some confusion here: many of us fall victim to thinking that we cannot change our behaviour, because it decides our identity (or our identity decides it) - it's down to our personality; it's 'who we are'.

For BPD, as with many other disorders, the sense of self is something of a confusing concept to begin with - or maybe that's just a universal thing - and I think this is because these behaviours can be all-consuming. If I manage to stop one, or in rare circumstances all, who am I left with? Is there even a me underneath all of this? So many layers I'm like an English spring wardrobe.

I've had BPD since I was 14 (or more likely from birth and just cemented a bit later on) so it's been shaping my behaviour for a very very long time (apparently age is something to be ashamed off despite it not being in anyway a choice, but I'm 35). I have no memory of a 'me' without it. But am I less 'me' because I no longer choose to harm myself in a way visible to others (whilst arguably continuing in ways that are more easily hidden)? Of course I'm bloody not. I'm stuck with me. For life. And beyond. Whatever the 'hell' that turns out to be.

Over the years I've had a lot of what are known as 'target behaviours'. At any one time I could be doing any of them, but always at least one. Taking drugs (including prescribed ones), drinking, promiscuous sex (although mainly due to being so drunk I have no memory of it - both dangerous and also questionable when it comes to consent...), restricting my diet, cutting myself, scratching holes in my scalp, having violent relationships, the list goes on. Just because I change these behaviours, it doesn't mean I'm changing myself. I'm still me, no matter how much I hate myself. As a teenager, I was given a weekly appointment with the nurse at my GP surgery, just so they could dress the cuts properly. This is actually one of the times I felt the NHS served me well. I wasn't made to feel like an attention seeker. The nurse dressed my wounds as she would've done for anyone else. She talked to me like a human being and that mattered to me. I never saw anything other than concern in her face. For anyone who questions harm reduction - I.e. Telling people how to self-harm as safely as possible rather than simply say 'stop doing that!' - think about that. One of the only perks of being thin at the same time was that I had a little less flesh to maim. 

Behaviour may be caused by something we can't control - this might be a developmental difference like autism, a cognitive difference like dyslexia or a mental illness. Sometimes this is true. If we've not had the opportunity to learn and hone skills that enable us to change our behaviour in spite of whatever impairment we have, then of course it'll be more or less impossible to modify behaviours produced as a result. For many there are no skills that will enable flawless interactions with the rest of the world. Neurodiversity accepts this and I'm a huge believer in acceptance of differences in the way people perceive the world. But with some intervention, some of us have the ability to learn to adapt our more harmful behaviours in order to make life easier for ourselves, and for others around us. We may not even need intervention - we might just learn through experience. Adapting how we behave does not mean we are changing the person we are. We'll likely still enjoy sport, and still hate Marmite. BUT The key question here is: Why the hell should we change?

I often hear people talk about their partner's expectations in a relationship, something like this: 

"You knew I smoked when we got together - why do you want me to change now?". 

Well, firstly let me just say if you're really defined by nicotine then frankly you probably should have sex a bit more, and if that means spending less time stinking of cigarettes well then 'suck it up' in a less nicotine smeared way. I'm an ex-smoker and therefore it's my duty to get all holier than thou when talking about smokers. Now I'm not for one moment imagining that my behaviours don't affect those close to me anymore. I'm fully aware that my rigidity when it comes to my diet is probably a) very annoying, and b) very dull. We don't go out for dinner anymore. We don't sit around the table and eat of an evening. I get very cross if someone eats my special 'safe foods'. But I'm at a point (I hope) where I can happily source those things for myself without expecting others to be always considering whether I will or won't join in. I do my own food shopping and everyone else can eat whatever they want. I'll even sit down for a social occasion and not eat without any wringing of hands, and it's not that it doesn't bother me, but that I know it's my problem. 

Back to the point in hand; Recently it was self-injury awareness day. I am aware. And because of me, my parents were also horribly aware. I can no longer ask my mother how it made her feel to see the result of my apparent hatred for my flesh, but I knew. I've not cut myself since 2004, the year she died. 11 years have gone by since I said goodbye to what had been my friend and coping mechanism, but had been turned against me by someone else who tried to control me because his own demons were controlling him. A sort of never ending control loop, if you will. So I changed that behaviour, but lo and behold, I'm still me. I will probably think of cutting myself on and off for the rest of my life. Of all the target behaviours I've had this one seemed the most immediate release. I'm attempting to use writing as an equally immediate tool, but it's not as easy to do. That's probably an unfathomable concept if you've never had the experience, so you'll just have to take my word for it. This literal and metaphorical release stuff is starting to become common knowledge now that we're beginning to talk more about mental health. 

I've just graduated - 'graduated'! Ha! - from an 18 week stint of therapy, where I learned a lot about why I've behaved the way I have since forever. It was both amazing and chilling to spend time with a group of other people who knew. They understood. We probably could've finished each other's sentences, such was the synergy between us all. Even though I've left the group, I still feel a huge sense of responsibility for the wellbeing of the people I met there. I found it heartbreaking to see two of them become inpatients again before they'd even finished the DBT course. I wanted to remove their pain but still the voice in the back of my head wanted to make it about me somehow - because I've never been a 'proper' patient - I've never been admitted and had my struggle confirmed. I'm fully aware of the ludicrousness of that statement, but as much as I want to make it untrue, it just isn't. Maybe it's because I'm expressing that I need to know what I am before I can start to fix me. I'm not fully ill, I'm never always fully ill.

Eating disorders are by nature competitive. There are angry souls littered across the Internet, refusing to 'share tips' with others, saying they don't want someone else to die if they help them out. What they really mean is that they don't want someone else to do it better than them. Of course nobody wants to admit it. We want to be the best at our behaviours. I once found out very unexpectedly that a friend of a friend (who I happened not to know very well at the time) was also a cutter, and she had a lot more scars than me. Up until then I genuinely had no idea that other people did it too, let alone that there might be someone else who actually did it more than me. That feeling of not being ill enough is the one thing that makes being ill unbearable. Having to go that step further just to prove how fucked up you are. 

Somewhere underneath all of the bullshit about harm reduction being 'not sharing tips' and about mental illness being about membership of some sort of special club that normal people aren't allowed to join, there's a need to just be honest about it. It's not wrong to feel you're competing with your fellow thin person. We'd be much better off stripping back the layers of rubbish and just saying it all - if it's all out there it's less inside our heads, and that must be good. 

My behaviours are not me. But I have to be me.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

Proteopathy, you idiots.

This last week I not only feel old, but I feel as if the planet earth has been sucked into a swirling vortex of virtual reality, where women have finally started to become so much more powerful that we finally make men (and the scared women who feel a bit unsettled because their level of understanding of feminism and of themselves is basic/non-existent) a bit nervous. When I say that I include not just the best of us, but the absolute worst. Even the ones whose grasp on knowledge and wisdom is so tenuous that they've gone almost full circle and started to behave like every other woman is a threat to them - so much so that they just constantly attack anyone who gets too close to the truth of it. I'm not going to name names, because I believe that only gives them (her) more of a platform, but I'm sure you know exactly who I'm talking about - more donkey ride than pedigree racer, but about as horsey as they come. Poor old mare, Hopkins. I'm sure she'd love it if I said I find her face offensive - she's already 'spoken out' (god I hate the terminology the tabloids use) about how she's no oil painting but at least she's thin, yadda yadda yadda, but it's not her face that's the problem. It's her desperation. Methinks she doth protest too much; there's got to be some seriously insecure thoughts bouncing off the echoey walls of her otherwise empty skull for her to so widely miss the point of existence. Never has one so publicly displayed a text book mental illness. The woman's literally screaming for help.

"Well gee, whad'll she say next, folks?!"

Of course I have a lot of extraordinarily talented female (and male, obviously) friends, and most of them can outshine all but a tiny minority of the bumbling fools lobbing insults around on various social media sites (Twitter, 'quelle surprise'!). But paradoxically, talent rarely comes with the most vital accessory - a bulletproof shield and selective hearing. What it does seem to provide though is the appearance of having both, plus often a razor sharp wit. Sometimes wit doesn't cut it.

A certain protein product did it this time. 

Across the globe in Siberia, desperate mothers are sending their teenaged girls to modelling castings where they must parade in bikinis in front of men who claim they're doing them some kind of service by judging them purely on their bodies. That's why it's such a nonsense to say that media that reinforces the idea that women should look a certain way is innocent. There's a frankly a stratospheric difference between encouraging obesity and the subtle yet still pretty bloody obvious repetition of the message that a woman isn't 'ready' to enjoy the experience of going to the beach unless she ingests some chemical crap and has visible abs. If you were to do any level of research you'd find that most of the women in the world who work out don't actually have perfect bodies. It's those extremes that are damaging, not the idea of being fit and healthy.

I stupidly bought Grazia magazine last week to get 25% off a dress to wear to a wedding - I wondered if the front cover was just using shock tactics to entice us in to read the then carefully researched stories about women's issues that lay between the covers, so I decided to have a bit of a read and find out.

Firstly, the use of single quotation marks in "Kim to become dad's 'transgender' stylist" was irksome. It's not a made up term. If the rumours are true, then her dad is transgender, not 'transgender' as if this was some fantastical situation invented by a sleb to get more famous. It's not a game Grazia. 

Next up was "Grazia election survey: Who's got your vote... And who do you weirdly fancy?" Oh right, sorry yes I forgot - women are too stupid to know who to vote for unless one of them is someone they fancy. Because everything is reduced down to sex, isn't it. Grazia, you idiots.

Next up is "Pret announced you can get your coffee free if you're pretty - boss Clive Schlee revealed that staff can give away free drink to customers at their discretion. He said (allegedly) 'They will decide "I like the guy in that tie" or "I fancy that girl or boy". It's supposed to be a cheaper and simpler alternative to a loyalty card scheme'. Well, hold on a gosh darn minute - that doesn't sound like an official announcement from Pret exactly does it? That's just something the boss dreamed up and then let slip, which is not only nothing like any kind of loyalty scheme ("Being pretty and being loyal in 'not the same thing' shock!!") but it's also sort of encouraging customers to try and hit on staff in order to get their drink for free. Either that, or they only employ people incapable of instigating relationships through conversation, or other more usual methods that have more to do with the person involved than how nice their tie is.

By this point I've lost all hope of finding any decent (or any) journalism in Grazia. I only had to peruse the first few pages to have myself reduced to an object, sexualised, judged and shat out. At least More magazine had position of the month, which was actually pretty informative.

I DO expect companies to be morally as responsible as they can be. I DO expect them to consider that because of the society we live in, there are insecurities shared by the majority of women - even the ones who don't think they do - and to knowingly play to those is the wrong thing to do. I know why young women react angrily when you tell them an image they aspire to is wrong - it's because you're telling them they're insecure. I was exactly that way until I was in my late twenties; and what did it make me? Well, it made me ill actually. The only difference between the teenage me, and the now me is that now I know why I do it. I'd love to say that's half the battle, but it isn't. Something so sewn into the fabric of young womanhood doesn't just wash out when you realise you've been lying to yourself. 

The fact that anytime a woman calls out those who perpetuate these stereotypes, naysayers everywhere pipe up with badly worded retorts centred around her being ugly, fat, jealous, hairy, fairy, sexless, unfit, bitchy, snooty, blahhhhhh yadda, zzzz... Sorry I drifted off there - they're just proving her point. "We say you should look like this, and if you say otherwise, we'll say you look like shit. Nerrr Nerrr ner nerr nerrr!" 

See? Sounds dumb, doesn't it. 

Saturday, 4 April 2015


Let's talk about 'pro ana', shall we?

'Ana', for the uninitiated, is the personification of my good (bad) friend, and hopefully not yours - Ms anorexia herself. Sites named in her honour, touting hints and tips for how to starve oneself to death, were rife at one time, until someone quite rightly decided that they'd be culled, along with their sister, 'Pro-mia' (bulimia) sites. 

After the cull, nothing changed. Ana sites just added in transparent disclaimers:

"This is a site dedicated to the support or recovery of those suffering from eating disorders or body dysmorphic disorders. Please be sensitive to this fact when creating an account and contributing to the board."

This seems a little out of place at the top of a forum which in its description on Google calls itself 'the leading pro-ana forum and community to discuss diets, thinspiration, results and find pro ana support groups'. We'll move on to 'thinspiration' later. Be prepared for that, don't sit down with a nice meal in front of you and save that bit to read, will you.

As a 30-something woman, I'd guess the majority of the writers and posters on these sites to be early teens, which makes them even more scary, but the content also raises some interesting considerations. There is usually one board for the oldies, but the language is very different as you might expect. We know how dangerous it is, but we do it anyway. It seems hopeless. I use these forums when I feel hungry. People have visible 'tickers' showing their weight loss, many of them for BMI (body mass index) with a goal of 16. We're grown ups, yet we want our bodies to shrink to the size of children. 

The fact that most of the users are children only adds to the mystery - I think a lot of the problem comes from the medical professionals dealing with eating disorders. At what point does someone become anorexic? How can a body mass index (BMI) be an accurate measure of illness? Weight is deceiving after all. If you find reading about weight triggering, please don't continue reading - the very last thing I want is for something I've written to add to another's misery. That's definitely not the point of this blog. The competitive element of these forums is what bothers me the most - it draws me in and makes me take part to be the thinnest. You'd be surprised how it IS about being thin. Not just control, as we're told so often in the media. 

Psychiatry often relies on several shaky pointers to diagnose anorexia and other EDs or EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified - catchy name huh!), all of which I deem to be completely unreliable. Body mass index - my consultant gets out his little cardboard wheel of weight vs height, and as long as I stay above a certain number that's outside the normal range but not considered 'critical' I'm fine to just go back out into the world. If I don't, I get shut into a big house full of other people who may or may not have similarly chosen to lose a lot of weight. So why am I the odd one out again? I feel like an ana-fraud. This system also relies on me being honest about my weight - thus far nobody's made me stand on the scales. 

To be technical, I don't have 'an eating disorder', I have 'disordered eating'. Apparently I'm standing at the crossroads, trying to decide whether to have an ED and relinquish all the DBT skills I've learned by choosing that path - because 'DBT doesn't work for anorexia'. Sucks for me then that I can't see where I vote on this at all. We're told that no mental illness is a choice, aren't we? But I know I'm definitely not the only one who restricts what they eat to be thin. I like feeling my hip bones. I like wearing size 6 clothes and being able to slot myself into small spaces. I can't let go of my illness easily.

The first time ana reared her ugly thin head, I was still at school. Cue arguments over the dinner table and smashed plates as my mother despaired at my refusal to sit down and eat with the family. The second time I was 21 and in the midst of the break up from hell. I was taken to the Priory by my mother after being asked not to keep coming to the local gym, because they were worried about how thin I was and how much exercise I was doing. After a successful ana diagnosis (does that label stick for life, or do you need to get a new one each time you relapse?) I decided I didn't want to put on the required stone to meet the goal they'd set for me, and went to university instead. Probably a big mistake, but what's done is done.

So, do I think the 'pro-ana' sites serve a purpose? Well, yes they do if you want to look at 'thinspiration' - it's like porn for people with anorexia. Images of very thin people, and I mean VERY thin, skeletons with skin. It's how we get off. But there're also plenty of fellow crazies with big eyes who can validate your craziness and get you through when things get really dark. People you can be completely honest with. They know it, they live it too. 

Right now I'm hanging by a thread. I'm not standing at any crossroads. This is just happening to me, and then one day it'll stop. It always does.

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Anger management

In recent weeks I’ve seen a lot of so-called awareness pages/groups on social media posting factually incorrect articles with no scientific basis about the horrific traits of people with borderline personality disorder (my diagnosis). I’m sure I’m not alone in finding this not only unhelpful, but actually pretty upsetting. It’s definitely not a good way to raise awareness, unless the aim is to warn people about how awful people who have BPD are. 

This sort of ‘BPD bashing’ tends to be kept alive by people who’ve been in a relationship with someone who has BPD, and have pinned all the blame for the breakdown of their relationship on their ex-partner’s mental illness. This is convenient for them I suppose, but it doesn’t absolve them of blame and it probably doesn’t make them feel any better either. I’m the child of a parent with this much misunderstood disorder (although it went undiagnosed), and it’s a safe bet that I inherited it, but what’s the point in ruminating on that? It is what it is – so deal with the here and now. After all the present is all we have. 

Let me blind you with a bit of science:

Emotions are key to our ability to reason, plan and make decisions and they’re controlled by the emotional nervous system in the brain, which also contributes to memory formation and a whole lot of other magical intangible things. Not bad for a lump of soggy tissue and electrical activity. You keep your neural pathways to yourself. In people with BPD, physical differences in the part of the brain that would normally regulate emotion remain inactive when the person is exposed to something very emotionally provoking. This means that the reaction is likely to be very extreme in BPD sufferers. We know this because we can see it using FMRI scanning. My brain is broken.

Biosocial theory says that this double whammy of biological dysfunction in emotional regulation (i.e. not having the skills to recognise and deal with emotions in the usual way), plus an invalidating environment (where feelings are denied or made out to be ‘wrong’) results in pervasive emotional dysregulation. It’s not difficult to see how things might get messy. Assigning blame to someone with BPD for their inability to navigate something as emotionally complex as a romantic relationship is akin to chastising someone who has epilepsy for having a seizure. It’s about time this ‘neurodiversity’ was accepted – some brains work differently; we provide tools for people with dyslexia, but there’s no software to help someone regulate their emotions. Yet.

It is possible to learn how to regulate emotion and start to behave differently, in a similar way to how people with ASD can – we can adapt to living and interacting with neurotypicals (that’s basically the rest of humanity), because we can’t expect neurotypicals to allow for our neurodiversity can we? No we can’t. That would just be silly! ‘How would we know where you were to avoid you?!’ I hear you cry. 

At this point, let me reinforce the severity of these effects – 10% of people with BPD complete suicide. We’re far more likely to harm ourselves than anyone else, especially because of the combination of a high suicide risk with sometimes reckless or self-harming behaviours (anorexia is also very high risk for suicide and common in BPD). 

We (and by ‘we’ of course I mean the ‘royal we’ because no two people with BPD are the same, we’re not a homogenous tag team of emotionally inept troublemakers) are likely to attempt to ‘jump off’ when a wave of emotion comes, using so called ‘target behaviours’ which provide the coping mechanism we don’t have through normal emotional regulation. These target behaviours are troublesome at best and life-threatening at worst.

Another problem is recognising what emotion one is feeling. Imagine that! Not only feeling something really extreme, but not even being able to name the emotion? Apparently there are 6 basic emotions, but the only one I can recognise is anger. Anger’s the kind of emotion that tends to hurt the person feeling it more than it hurts whatever has made them angry. It’s destructive by nature. I can vouch for the fact that it really doesn’t take prisoners. Just now I was told that only butter, not margarine, was free with the jacket potato I bought for lunch. You have to pay 10p to choose a healthy option. THAT JUST DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. HOW COULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?!!

So funnily enough, at the end of a typical day all I want to do is SWITCH IT ALL OFF, but instead I get a guilt trip courtesy of good old social media. 

I’m feeling… angry?

Friday, 13 February 2015

'The successful candidate will have proven experience of making it upas they go along'

By now I'm sure it's fairly obvious that nothing is safe from this blog. No subject is taboo, and you're right - I have no shame. But I know others with much less shame. 

I've always foolishly lived through the ideation that one always reaps the rewards of hard work. But year upon frustrating/punishing/soul destroying (delete as appropriate) year, it's become increasingly clear that no matter how many times one reads 'Lean In', one who has a CV that looks like someone dropped a scrabble set and picked all the letters up at random before arranging them in one line across the middle of the board is not going to succeed in convincing an employer that those 'transferrable skills' are something they want to touch with a barge pole (or even a Scrabble dictionary).

This is how a line of questioning during a recent job interview went:

"Tell me about a time when you managed a project, end to end?"

"Erm, well, I got a phone call from the studio engineer saying we had 24 hours so could I write something to a rough cut of the film."

"So, how did you plan the project?"

"Well... I didn't I just stayed up all night and wrote the music, and then booked the musicians to come in on whatever days they could."

"How did you manage your time?"

"I don't know really, we just stayed there until it was done."

Needless to say I didn't get the job. 

Now, I know that I do actually have some skills, but in a situation like that where it's in no way representative of or similar to any other situation I've found myself in, for any job, I just go blank. The problem is a combination of the following factors:

1. I take a shitload of medication - this means my short-term memory is awful. I can't remember the conversation we had 5 minutes ago, unless it covers something I can pin to an older memory. I have to write everything down (or type it into an iPad, because my neurological issues have scuppered my previously gorgeously neat handwriting).

2. Job interviews don't actually give people a chance to showcase what they're capable of; even those who don't have any sort of disability are just talking - and there are very few jobs where one just has to talk (OK - maybe politicians).

3. Having the questions in advance so you can prepare, or papers with you to refer to are both frowned upon. If you have dyslexia, you can have more time to think, and you can have pretty much any physical adjustment you like, but it's the format of the interview that is prohibitive to those with memory problems, difficulty with communication, or anxiety. 

To help prove my point, I've been put in many many challenging situations, and I've always risen to them. Here are some examples:

1. I arrived to my new teaching job in a sixth form college, having got the job by talking about music, and taught a class of 20 students - every single one of whom had additional needs. Some didn't speak English, and I mean they didn't speak it AT ALL. One student tragically died during the year, she was knocked down by a car right outside the building. Despite having no teacher training, any advance notice of the needs of the class (and one had asperger's meaning the role playing element of the course was just completely out of the question for him), and having to deliver the news of their comrade's death, all of them passed the year. I have no idea how it happened, I barely remember a thing about the actual content. What I do remember is the feeling of pride swelling in my belly and bring a lump to my throat. There is nothing in the corporate world that even comes close to teaching. 

2. After a year of another job teaching music at degree level, the studio manager I worked with to deliver a performance assessment mentioned to the head of course that she should have let me know what we had available to do this beforehand. She didn't like having her shortcomings pointed out, so she got her revenge by ending my contract. That's some warped logic. I held back from doing what I should've done to be reinstated, and just left quietly because I knew the politics would never work in my favour. My students all passed the module and many of them have done much better than I have in the music industry. Many of them stayed in touch and I've also worked with some of them professionally. Not bad for someone who only graduated a couple of years before.

3. I successfully delivered a music theory lecture to 30 strangers on a degree course at another university, despite only having scraped a pass in music theory grade 5. One of them nearly caught me out, but I pulled the old 'I wanted to see if you'd notice the mistake' trick. I'm a talented fraud.

4. I've delivered more speeches this year than ever before, even though I suffer from sometimes crippling anxiety and I don't like to hold any prompt sheets because people will be able to see I'm trembling. I stand up in front of my peers and my superiors (in grade but definitely not in character) and I talk about my mental health condition, about self-harm, and about my eating disorder. The most important part of this is that none of the senior execs are brave enough to show they're human by talking as openly as I have. This is the one area where I get recognition - just one person saying it touched them makes this painful honesty worthwhile.

You get the idea. I'm good at making something out of nothing - I can wing it in most situations, but I can't get through a sodding job interview. I've got all my previous jobs based solely on merit, not on what lines I've learned to churn out for a performance with no script. It's about time people realised that just because it's 'what we've always done', doesn't make it right.