My mental health affected my life from a very young age.
When I was four I was happy one minute and banging my head on concrete the next. By the time I was eight I was finding school extremely frustrating. I had undiagnosed dyslexia, I started disassociating (detaching from reality) and attacking people when things got too much. I was sent to the head teacher and disciplined rather than being given help. Things got worse at secondary school. I was bullied, everyone called me ‘the crazy kid’ and I still expressed my distress by attacking people.
The voices started when I was 13. They drove me nuts – I didn’t know what was going on and I didn’t know if it was normal. I couldn’t tell anyone until I was 18 when I told my friends. But I had years of stuff I needed to talk about, my friends couldn’t deal with it and everything felt even worse as I realised that my experiences weren’t normal.
I’d been self-harming every single day since I was 15; even if I’d had a great day I had to do it. I hid it until I was 18 when my parents noticed. I didn’t talk to them, I thought they didn’t understand anything. When I was 19 I started having some general therapy but I didn’t find it at all helpful. I went next to Off The Record in Bristol and although I had a long wait and the therapy was short, their therapist engaged with me much more constructively. I stopped taking antidepressants around that time as I felt they were preventing me from learning how to handle things myself.
When I was 22 I lost my job. I took part in a three-year Prince’s Trust programme for young people aged 16-25 who are disadvantaged by mental health issues, convictions and addiction. It helped with my social life, which by that point was all over the place.
Things got really, really, really bad when I was 25. I’d moved in with friends but I didn’t cope, moved back in with my parents and made several attempts at killing myself. For many years, as well as the self-harm, I struggled with eating, getting to sleep and staying asleep, sleep walking and horrendous night terrors. I was referred to a doctor at Avon & Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust’s (AWP’s) South Gloucestershire services who took time to get to know me well and piece everything together. She explored psychosis, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but nothing quite fitted until we discussed borderline personality disorder (BPD). Suddenly, at long last, everything fell into place.
AWP assigned me to an art therapist with training in dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), which can be helpful for people with BPD. She worked with me for three years and was brilliant. She helped me to understand my condition, learn a lot about myself and change my perceptions.
Four years ago, a year into my therapy, I was referred to Organic Blooms. Jo (Wright, Organic Blooms founding director) worked incredibly hard to get me attending regularly and on time and I’ve had really good support here. It’s built my confidence and brought structure to my life.
I was always very reliant on others and never learned to do things for myself. Through art therapy and Organic Blooms I’ve learned to be more self-reliant and confident and have a lot more stability. A massive turning point came three years ago when my then girlfriend (now my best friend) ended our relationship and I once again tried to kill myself. But I was able to use what I had learned about myself to get through it and I came out much stronger and turned my life around. Now, my social life is healthy, I’m looking forward to learning to drive and I’m increasingly busy with gardening clients.
When I was younger, personality disorders were not treated as mental health conditions. They were considered extremely difficult to treat and it was difficult to get a diagnosis. Now things have changed a lot – personality disorders are fully recognised as mental health conditions and there is much more help available from mental health services. Mental health is also publicly discussed much more and I would really encourage any young person who is having unusual experiences or mental distress of any kind to talk about it with their family, friends, a teacher or their GP. The sooner you start getting help the less your mental health will impact your life.