Questions by Cameron Watson
Answers by Sarah Lister
SENSITIVITY WARNING – self harm is discussed within this interview.
Can you tell me a little bit about your experience with mental illness?
All my life I have struggled with mental health issues. I was always incredibly nervous and an incredibly awkward person, with mood swings and self destructive behaviour. All those kind of things. I went into counselling aged 15 and that didn’t work out, then went into counselling again in my first year of uni and the counsellor said that it was just because I had moved away from home that I feeling like this.
In the summer of 2014 I was hospitalised for the first time and after being released I got my diagnosis of borderline personality disorder and generalised anxiety disorder. I went into treatment for the BPD, which is categorised by three things – erratic mood swings, self-destructive behaviour and issues with personal effectiveness. Basically I’m terrified of being abandoned, I’m really really quick to flip moods and I drank a lot in first year.
But in the September of last year I was hospitalised twice. Those were the last two times I was hospitalised, and I was kept in for four days both times. It was horrific – never go to hospital, I hate it. I think at that point I realised that I didn’t want to be how I was anymore. I was still in a bad place, I was drinking heavily, I was self harming, I was still doing all these bad self destructive things. It got to the point where I was sat in hospital thinking “Fuck, I’m either gonna die or I’m gonna figure out a way to live”.
I’m still in therapy and still on medication and I’m still probably going to be for the rest of my life. I’ve come to realise that I’m never going to be totally normal, but at least I’m getting to the point now where I realise I can function and I’m an okay person to stick around. I spent a long time hating myself, and now I’m not 100% but I’m pretty cool.
Tailing on from that, why personally did you self-harm?
I started when I was 11 years old. I’ve had a lot of things go on in my past and I’m not going to go into detail, but there’s been some bad relationships and some bad incidents I felt like I couldn’t control. So something I could control was the pain I caused myself.
I’ve been clean for two months now. But it was always for me something that was mine and something no one could take away. With life there was so many things that I couldn’t keep as mine and I could always be like “Well, I’ve always got that blade and I can always control how much pain I can cause myself. Everyone else can cause me as much pain as they want, but I can always control this pain”. It was a coping mechanism.
How do you cope on a day-to-day basis?
Well, through my therapy I have learnt a lot of coping mechanisms. Before I would turn to drink or self harm, but now I turn to video games. For a while I tried colouring but I have arthritic hands so that didn’t work.
I work a lot as well, and as I work in care that’s a good release for me. I don’t have to think about myself or what I’m struggling with, I think about that person in that moment.
I also have a wonderful boyfriend – his family are my family and I talk to them about everything. His mum is my best friend; I get pissed with her for fucks sake. I have a support network now and I rely on them a lot more now than I ever did.
How did you find moving to uni? Was it a hard transition when you first moved or was it easier?
It was easier. I had a lot of shit go on to me when I was in Leeds. I don’t really have that many friends left there. The people that I thought were my friends, turns out they were the ones bullying me. I was bullied all through school. I think as well I didn’t know what was wrong; I just thought it was a norm of me. So when I came to uni and everyone was drinking, I thought great. I went a bit crazy. But it wasn’t as difficult as I expected it to be. I think going home is harder than coming here.
How do you think the uni is at dealing with mental health issues?
They’ve got better. There’s a really good thing where they have mental health mentors. I had one and he was really good, but I stopped going due to complications. When I was released out of hospital for the third time I saw my personal tutor and she was wonderful. She emailed all my lecturers and one of them got back to me saying that’s understandable. Two weeks later another replied saying you haven’t been at the seminar.
There’s kind of a blockage with some people dealing with it and they are fantastic. The others have that old-timey view that mental health is a weakness and it isn’t something we need to discuss. You wouldn’t turn around to someone in counselling and tell them to just get over it, so why should we do that with mental health?
Borderline personality disorder isn’t as present in the media. Do you feel that what has been shown is good?
No. When people think of BPD they go “there’s two of you”. No. I would hate if there were two of me – that would be horrific. It’s represented in Girl Interrupted and the view is that people with BPD are manipulative. Some people are, but you can’t lump an entire mental health issue together and say they are all manipulative. I get a bit sulky if I don’t get what I want but I’ve never threatened anyone… or at least anyone when it wasn’t warranted!
But it’s not represented well at all and it needs to be understood more before people make assumptions about it. Like I said, therapists don’t want to treat it because it’s such a difficult order to understand and no two people are the same. But any representation I have seen of it is negative, and not in a way that would help people who are suffering with it deal with it.
What are your final thoughts?
What I think you are doing is incredible. It needs to be talked about. Mental health is such a prominent thing. I saw in the Metro the other day that student suicide is at its highest. I’ve got friends that have mental health issues, I have nearly lost friends to suicide and have lost one friend and so many people just don’t give a shit. Everyone struggles and people shouldn’t be judged for struggling. By getting people to share their stories, if it just helps one person, it would be worth it.