Am I safe? Sometimes. Sometimes I am safe and can go about day to day life without anything bad happening. Am I able to hold down a job? Sometimes. Sometimes I can do it; the interviews, the conversing with colleagues, the functioning in the workplace.
Can I get out of bed? Sometimes. Sometimes I can force myself out of bed and into the world around me.
But sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I am a danger to myself or others. Sometimes I can’t work because I’m too consumed with thoughts about ending my life in the middle of a shift. Sometimes I can’t even begin to imagine getting out of bed and functioning.
So when am I mentally ill? Only when I can’t function? Only when I’m on the edge, knife in hand? Only when I’m sat in the back of an ambulance?
No. Unfortunately, BPD is present in me always. You might not see it. I’ve become very, very adept at hiding it. I’ve been doing it for years. Sometimes, even those closest to me have absolutely no idea what is going on, even though I’m standing right in front of them.
Those of us lucky enough to not have a mental disorder often feel like therapy, or medication is the cure.
“But you’ve been going to therapy for four years! Surely you’re better now?”
“But you started taking medication! Shouldn’t you be feeling happy now?”
They might even believe that you have no reason to still be ‘unwell’, because you’ve received some therapy, or been on meds.
Then there’s the dreaded, “But you don’t look mentally ill?”
Oh, sorry, hang on, let me just put on my straight jacket and start frothing at the mouth and shouting unintelligible gibberish at you from behind bars in a ‘mental asylum’.
I’m afraid that the knowledge of mental health you’ve gleaned from the movies is a far stretch from what it is actually like. Many of us can and do hold down a job. Many of us can actually seem fairly ‘normal’ every time you see them. Many of us are loving family members, great friends, bosses running companies, or the guy that bags your groceries at the store.
You see, some people think that just because you don’t fit their idea of what ‘mentally ill’ is meant to look like (what does it even look like?!) that you couldn’t possibly be just like them.
The same applies to mental health service workers. If you don’t fit neatly into their little checklist boxes then they can freely wash their hands of you and send you back out on the streets to fend for yourself. Or perhaps they try and placate you with medication. Or even, “Come back when it gets worse.” Which translates directly to: “Come back when you’re already too far gone.” – See, I went to see you because it was worse. I’m not doing this for shits and giggles, you know. I literally am begging for your help because the situation has gotten so bad I cannot deal with it alone.
Mental health is often very subjective. Receiving a diagnosis is subjective. Prescribing medication is subjective. So if you aren’t ‘the right type of mentally ill’ for that one particular person at that very specific time, you could find yourself without any help at all.
However, as we’re all aware, mental health is also fluid. It is in constant motion. Moving where; I cannot say (hopefully somewhere far away), but moving none the less.
Say you have an appointment to attend. You spend the night before in a perpetual state of terror, constantly going over worst case scenarios in your head, working yourself into such a state that you get no sleep at all.
You barely manage to get out of bed, throwing on whatever is closest, haphazardly set yourself straight before rushing out the door late, sans breakfast.
You arrive at your appointment, having stopped at the public toilet to have a small breakdown and hype yourself up enough to walk through the door. You don’t know how to answer the questions, or what really to say, so you try and say the things that you think they want to hear. Then go home feeling like a complete failure and spending the next few days ruminating about it and not moving or eating.
A few days later you receive a report of your appointment: “Client was well-presented and well groomed. Seemed very eager to talk and in a good mood.” is branded across the page in glaring, bright letters.
It’s all subjective. You didn’t go in wearing your pyjamas, you made an attempt at grooming, and so you were fine in their eyes. It doesn’t matter if you hadn’t showered for a few days and sprayed enough deodorant to destroy the last of the ozone layer. It doesn’t matter that you have been wearing the same clothes for a few weeks.
The professional cannot possibly know that, and so they judge you subjectively. In their eyes; you look fine and you sound fine.
That’s the trouble with receiving the right help. You have to appear well enough that you can tell them what you’re feeling (which is extremely hard) yet you must somehow meet their individual idea of ‘unwell’ to qualify for their help.
That’s not to say all professionals, doctors, psychs etc. Are so focused on meeting criteria that they can’t see what’s really in front of them. There are some amazingly intuitive and patient and understanding people out there, who would rather help someone than send them away alone.
In my experience, these people are few and far between. But until they pump enough funding into mental health services; we’re kinda stuck.
Well, that’s not strictly speaking true, we’re not stuck. We may feel like we’ve exhausted all options, but we haven’t. And yet it’s so easy to convince yourself after a few bad experiences that it’s always going to be like that.
Trust me, it isn’t.
It’s just as fluid as your mental illness is. Things will be better. Not always. Not indefinitely. But they will get better. They might get worse again but even that is fluid.
Now the hard part: