Seeking Safety: Week 4 of Trauma Recovery Group - Recording My Story


 
To read Week 1, click Here.
To read Week 2, click Here.
To read Week 3, click Here.


Hearing your trauma story, in your own voice, has to be one of the most difficult and perhaps one of the most powerful experiences one can have.  This past week in Trauma Recovery group, it was my turn to record my story aloud in front of our small group and to then take this recording home to re-listen to daily and re-record at least a couple of times.

During the class, I was so scared. I was anxious. I felt embarrassed about my story. I was comparing my pain to others and thinking that maybe it was unjustified for me to have such a severe experience (flashbacks and reactions, for example) when others, according to my evaluation, had been through so much worse.  I felt it was very important to talk about these issues before recording so that they didn't interfere with the process.  The doctor reminded me to have compassion and to never compare your trauma with others', as each person is unique as far as their sensitivity and reactions to events.

With a greater sense of acceptance, I moved forward.  I spoke my story.  We were supposed to speak for about 20 minutes. Although I don't feel that I rushed, my story came to under 12 minutes. I realized after we stopped recording that I had forgotten a couple of details, and I spoke about those.

I got very anxious about midway through my story. I began to feel all of the physical sensations and emotions that I had when the actual trauma occurred. It was overwhelming, but I also had the awareness that I was in the room at the clinic, on the floor, in a safe place, and it was so many years later. That was then, this is now. This is for my healing. At one point, I remember shouting out, "I'm so nauseous right now!" to which the doctor replied, "You're doing a great job."  I kept going forward.

After the group, I felt quite emotionally dysregulated, which was to be expected. My plan was to go home and watch Xfactor to distract with some entertainment that had very low potential for emotional triggers and to soothe through taste with some biscotti.  When I got home, I ended up putting on the show Parks and Recreation on Netflix.  By some bizarre stroke of chance, the topic was so closely aligned with the neglect/trauma incident that I had just spoken about, as it was about people having the flu so severely that they were in the hospital for dehydration.

I wondered if I should watch it, especially before bed.  I felt I was strong enough and that maybe it would help me laugh at the situation, as I often find this show so quirky and funny. So, I watched it.  I felt a bit anxious at parts and I also did get some giggles. It helped me make light of my fears a bit.

That night and all day yesterday, though, I noticed that I was experiencing physical symptoms like those that I described during my recording: feverish, chills, and such. I kept taking my temperature, but I in fact had no fever.  It seems I was generating these symptoms as part of PTSD flashbacks. Our minds are so powerful!  I am determined to keep going with this process so when future flashbacks happen (and hopefully the will diminish) I can handle them as flashbacks and not interpret them as present danger.  This will help me live in so much less fear, which will be wonderful.

I kept comforting myself through the experience, reminding myself that the incident happened long ago. I am safe now.  It helped a lot to continue grounding, as in the past when I would have these vivid flashbacks, I would run to the emergency room.

I am proud of myself for this.  I am not going to sugar coat it: this work is NOT easy.  Who wants to remember and put a magnifying class on past trauma? It's not something that most of us want to do, and that's what makes it so hard, but I am determined to overcome this aspect of my pain and further heal on my journey.

For homework, we have the following assignments this week:

  • Listen to the recording everyday (I skipped yesterday, as I was too overwhelmed), and re-record it at least a couple of times before the next class.  While listening to the trauma story I became very anxious, but I also noticed something else: IMMENSE compassion for the eight year old child I once was. When I heard myself crying on the recording over how scared I was, I shook my head and imagined holding and comforting that child part of me. How frightened she must have been. My embarrassment went away. I understood that as an eight year old, that experience must have been terrifying. Compassion for one's self is very healing.

Thank you so much for being by my side and witnessing my journey. I'm half way through the group at this point.

More soon.

To Read Week 5, click HERE.

The Split Self in BPD and PTSD




Have you been told that you have different "parts" of you that sometimes show up?

I was shocked when I became conscious of a "split" that I had -- a young eight year old version of me who would show up in times of great distress.  I didn't believe it when other people told me, but I talk about the incident in the emergency room that finally woke me up and helped me to discover and integrate all parts of me cohesively.

A split is different than an alter, which is a complete and separate identity, that one with DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder, formerly Multiple Personality Disorder) may experience, and I get into all of that in this video.








Links mentioned:

Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse
The book we are working from in class. It is the source of the worksheet I was referring to in this video.

My posts on regression:

Sometimes I Act Like a Little Girl
Fear of Getting Older & Borderline Personality Disorder
Who's Your Daddy? Behaving Like a Child in an Adult Relationship
Fear of Abandonment: When You Go Away, I regress to a Child
Childlike Aspects of Borderline Personality Disorder  

Post on a different kind of splitting in BPD:

Splitting in Borderline Personality Disorder: The Pedestal Push 

Learn the DBT Skills that helped me to face past trauma and my weekly online classes:

DBT Path
 

Thank you for reading and watching. More Soon

Seeking Safety: Week 3 of Trauma Recovery Group







To read Week 1, click Here.
To read Week 2, click Here.

This week in PTSD Trauma Recovery Group, we did two things.  We covered the concept of "Red and Green Flags" (triggers and indications that we are becoming dysregulated) and we began the process of participants, in vivid and disturbing detail, recounting their trauma incident aloud with the group.  I was very, very upset by the latter portion of the class, which I wont get into for obvious reasons.  Instead, let's learn some skills.

From the book Seeking Safety: A Treatment Guide for PTSD and Substance Abuse* we did an activity labeled "Signs of Danger Versus Safety." The goal is to "[l]isten to the messages your behavior is sending you." (*side note: in our group, we substitute "substance abuse" with any self-harm behaviors).

Here is the worksheet. We were told to check off the red and green flags we notice in ourselves from time to time, with it being okay if we check items on both sides of the chart and on the same line.



During group, one of the doctors said that there is a saying in American lexicon that people "spiral downward." By noticing our red flags and working toward more of the green flags, we can work on reversing the process and "spiraling upward." At anytime that we notice ourselves spiraling down, we can take action to go the other way toward health, balance, and feeling regulated.




This week, I was repeatedly reminded of the terrible story I heard from one of my peers, and of the fact that it is my turn to tell (and record, as we must re-listen to it and re-record it throughout the week as part of the exposure therapy) my trauma story.

I'm scared. I feel embarrassed, even though I "shouldn't." I feel vulnerable.  I am just feeling ICKY about it. At the same time, I really want to invest completely in this opportunity for healing, so I consider that aspect.  This week, until next session, my homework is to keep writing my story out, so I do it, even though it raises my anxiety. I remember that it always returns to baseline at the end of the twenty minutes that I set on the timer. The doctor told us that studies have been done which show that twenty minutes is the magic number for exercises like this, as it give the brain the opportunity to rise in anxiety and then return down again.

I've noticed an increase in anxiety and other PTSD symptoms, which as I mentioned on Facebook and Twitter, the doctor says is all very normal during this treatment. "It gets a little bit worse before it gets a lot better," she said.

In the meantime, I have been engaging in a lot of little self-care activities to calm my nervous system. When in distress and wanting to get through the pain effectively (without acting in ways we will regret or sabotaging, for example), Distress Tolerance Skills are the best.

I've been practicing many, including:


1.  Mindful, slow, deep breathing (Grounding)



2.  Painting my nails (DBT Skill = Distraction, Self-Soothing)



3. Watching "fun" TV shows (DBT Skill = Distraction)



4. Listening to Music  (DBT Skill = Self-Soothing through sound)



5. Relaxing Showers (DBT Skill = Self-Soothing through tactile/touch)

6. Keeping Busy (chores, errands, helping others)  (DBT Skill - Distract)



Facing trauma from the past is no easy task, but equipped with DBT skills, a great clinical staff, and a willingness and desire to be well, we can do this!

One of the MOST important things to remember is to treat ourselves with as much kindness as possible in the process.

 I recently made this video for you, and I chose this song because of the message of kindness.  I hope you enjoy it and find yourself soothed.







Thanks for reading, watching, and listening.
More Soon.

To Go On to Read Week 4, Click Here

Easily Emotionally Triggered by TV, Movies, & The News? : Ways to Protect Yourself


For most of my life I’ve been very sensitive to certain types of content on TV, in movies, and on the radio.  How I ever managed to watch and enjoy the HBO series The Sopranos for years is really beyond me, because now all it takes is just a brief image of violence in a commercial, and I get upset.
I’m highly sensitive, and for the most part I make the choice to do my best to avoid programming that has any type of violence. Occasionally, something unexpected will happen in a show that I consider safe (such as “The Office,”), in a movie, or even on a commercial break during what is marketed as a “family” show (such as “America’s Got Talent.”)   Even though I Tivo pretty much everything and can fast forward through commercials, I inevitably often, if ever so briefly, exposed to upsetting content.

We obviously can’t avoid all triggers when it comes to the media. Even if you don’t have a TV and do not go to the movie theatre, and let’s say you don’t even listen to the radio, chances are you’ll be exposed to these type of media when out and about in the world.
So how do we cope effectively as emotionally sensitive people?

Therapist Alicia Paz explains in this guest post, which arrives at HFBPD just days after the twelfth anniversary of 9/11, an event that triggered PTSD symptoms in people who were not only near the site of the events but also those who witnessed the happenings on television from afar.

-- Debbie Corso

Please welcome back guest blogger, therapist Alicia Paz, MA, LLPC.

During a recent online DBT group at DBT Path, the topic came up about feeling unsafe when watching TV.  Some group members spoke about watching TV and how the content can be upsetting or overwhelming.  From my point of view this topic comes up in almost every group I facilitate, not just DBT, and as a counselor I always tell my clients they are not alone. 


(Trigger Warning/ TW) On a date once, the movie The Girl with The Dragon Tatoo was recommended. It  was a bestselling book, and it seemed like everyone but I had read it.  About 30 minutes in there is a very violent rape scene and my body began to react before my mind could have processed it.  I jumped up and fumbled for the remote and start crying.  After calming myself down, I realized that the movie triggered me, not from my own experience but from a client who had recently been raped and processed it with me. 
(End TW)

Being triggered can happen to anyone and at any time, but those who have experienced previous trauma are more easily triggered.  Following the terrorist attacks on 9/11 there numerous PTSD studies were conducted, including this one. to see how it affected the people in the area where the incidents took place.  

In these studies they found a correlation between the hours people watched the events replay on TV and PTSD-like symptoms.  The most interesting finding to me occurred within one of the largest studies: those who had experienced previous traumas had higher rates of PTSD symptoms following 9/11, as they were re-traumatized. 

There are many articles out there about numerous coping skills to handle the aftereffects of a trigger. I am a firm believer in the “ounce of prevention,” motto, so here are some tips on how to protect yourself from being triggered as best as possible.  Keep in mind there are going to be times triggers are unavoidable, and some may come without warning.

Ways to Protect Yourself:

·        Read your news: - There is more control in being able to select what stories you will read rather than watching the TV news. There are also less pictures in print news.

·        Create Google alerts:- If you are interested in following a certain news story or topic, you can sign up and receive a daily e-mail or news stories from Google on that topic.

·        Check Reviews:- Before watching a movie, visit imdb and check out the “plot” section.  Although this can include spoilers, it will also include some basic information regarding topics that will be covered in the movie.

·        Watch Children’s Films- This might seem silly, but especially if you are feeling vulnerable, choosing children’s movies might be the safest choice.

Pretend You are a Parent:-There are numerous sites on line that have family friendly reviews of movies and include ratings for violence, sex, drug use, and profanity.  Parent Previews and Kids in Mind being my favorites. 

Stay Safe: Remember that keeping yourself safe is most important, and if you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed with emotions, you have the right to ask someone to turn something trigging off, no matter who they are or what the situation.  

Always honor your experience. It is real and valid for YOU.  

-- Alicia Paz, MA, LLPC

Alicia is a licensed therapist and works in a women’s prison providing counseling and teaching Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). She also co-facilitates entirely online DBT courses with Debbie Corso of Healing From BPD at DBT Path where skills are taught to help emotionally sensitive people create the lives they want to live.

Seeking Safety: Week 2 of Trauma Recovery Group



If you'd like to start by reading Week 1 of my experience in Trauma Recovery group, click here, then return to this post. 

Week 2 of 8...

It's week two of group, and when I arrive, I noticed that only 50% of the people from last week have returned, and only one man among them.  I am so relieved that both members of my small group have returned.  Wow.

During the first hour in the large group, we talk about grounding exercises that can be used when feeling triggered and when experiencing flashbacks.  Grounding is an active, conscious choice to DISTRACT from the intense feelings that are causing the distress to become unbearable (to the point of having dissociative episodes and/or flashbacks.)

Some examples that we went over and practiced in group include:

Mental Grounding:

  • Quickly describing, in detail, how to make spaghetti
  • Naming as many television shows as we could think of
  • Naming as many cities as we could think of
  • Read the letters of words backwards. For example, I saw the word "health" on the wall, so I slowly read it to myself as h-t-l-a-e-h.
Physical Grounding:
  •  Notice our feet on the ground. Dig our heels into the ground a bit to literally "ground" ourselves.
  • Gripping the rails of the chair and describing how they feel (cold, warm, round, hard, plasticy, sturdy)
  • Standing up and reaching our hands high above our heads
Soothing:
  • Thinking of favorite things (colors, TV shows, animals, seasons) 
  • Imagine people who we care about
  • Remembering, in vivid detail, a safe place
 All of the above exercises are from the book we are using in group, called Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse by Lisa M. Najavits.   (As a side note, in our group, "substance abuse" and "self-harm behaviors" are used interchangeably, since not everyone in the group abuses substances as their method of self-harm.)

Next we break off into small groups. Tonight our assignment is to take out our notebooks and to write out, in vivid detail, the incident of trauma which brings us the most symptoms and distress.  I'm anxious. I'm afraid of losing my composure and crying. The doctor asks us to let whatever shows up just show up.  This is a safe place where we will not judge each other. We are all here because we have been suffering and want to get well. We are here to get help.

We are given twenty minutes.   About midway through, the doctor comes and reviews our writing. She says something compassionate to each of us and writes in the margins where she has questions:

Please add more detail.
Please describe the thoughts and feelings you had when x happened.

At the end of the group, we check in. We are all visibly upset and shaken up.  The doctor reminds us that the worst is over.  It may feel really bad right now, but we are safe, and those things are in the past. This is now.  She tells us that our assignment is to write our stories out again, with more detail each time, at least 4-5 times before our meeting next week.  She tells us it gets easier with each entry, as we will become a little bit desensitized to the intensity of the story.

Trigger Warning

Here is an excerpt of my story. Many of you are familiar with some of my trauma history through this blog and my previous books.  I am now working on my memoir, and this story will be in it.  Here is a glimpse.  Please use GOOD self-care and decide whether you feel up to reading this potentially triggering content.  I don't get into anything really gruesome, but I do realize that this content can be upsetting.


End Trigger Warning


When we do our check out, I burst into tears.  I share my concern that my incident probably isn't as bad as everyone else in the group. Who am I to be here having this reaction to something like this when people have been through so much worse?

My peers console me (as I've done for them when they spoke), and the doctor asks me to have compassion for this part of me that feels undeserving. She assigns me a similar assignment as last week: to write down harsh thoughts I have toward myself and then re-write them as compassionate statements. I'll be working on that this week.

This morning, I re-wrote my story. At least three times to go before next Wednesday.  The journey continues.


My favorite highlight from the second session's material:

"Remember that pain is a feeling; it is not who you are. When you get caught up in it, it feels like you are your pain, and that is all that exists.  But it is only one part of your experience - the others are just hidden and can be found again through grounding." (Najavits, 2002, p. 133)

I'll keep you posted.

Thanks for reading. More soon.

To go on to read Week 3, click HERE.

Seeking Safety: Beyond the Borderline Into Trauma Recovery




Week 1 of 8 in Trauma Recovery Group...

Many who suffer from Borderline Personality Disorder also suffer from PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. As many of you know from my latest video, last week I began attending an 8-week trauma recovery group.  I attempted to attend this group years ago but was unable to handle the intensity of my emotions. It was recommended that I first go through DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy). I've done that, graduated, and here I am giving the trauma recovery group another try.

I showed up to the clinic and felt so incredibly nervous. I didn't know what the night held, and I was prepared for the worst, which in my mind would have been to share the story of my most severe trauma memory and get triggered from this as well hearing those of other people.

Fortunately, this did not happen.  This is the same clinic at which I attended DBT, so I probably should have known better that they would ease us into this whole thing.  We started in a large room with chairs all around in a circle. There were two PhD level psychologists and twelve attendees, including myself. Three of them were men, the rest of us ladies.

We did a brief check-in during which we said our first name, said how we felt emotionally, shared if we have had any avoiding or self-harm behaviors in the past week, and talked about whether we kept our commitment that we made in the group last week. (Since this was our first week, we acknowledged that we kept our commitment to show up.)

Here was my check-in:

  • My name is Debbie.
  • I feel good but nervous. I'm anxious about sharing my story and hearing other stories, but I'm also excited to finally feel ready to face it.
  • I've had no self-harm behaviors, but as far as avoidance, I've avoided some wonderful business opportunities because they involve travel.
  • I kept my commitment to show up tonight.

We went around the circle, and I felt a kinship to one participant in particular, a British woman with a short pixie hairstyle who uttered words during our segment on the experience of PTSD that were really relatable. Some of the things she hears from others and often tells herself (and so do I):

  • You're such a smart girl. Why are you still letting this bother you?
  • It's been over 20 years. When are you going to get over it?

I always accepted these thoughts and harshly judged myself.  I wasn't the only one. Maybe you have thoughts like this too. One of the exercises that we did was to observe and notice a harsh thought like the two above then turn them into compassion statements. An example would be:

  • It's reasonable to still have reactions and symptoms to trauma twenty years later, even though I am a smart woman, because I've never fully processed through and received intensive treatment for the horrific trauma I endured.  Now I'm getting help, and this will help with the process of "getting over it" and healing.

The exercises we did (and will continue to do) come from a book called Seeking Safety: A Treatment Manual for PTSD and Substance Abuse by Lisa M. Najavits PhD.  (As a side note, in our group, "substance abuse" and "self-harm behaviors" are used interchangeably, since not everyone in the group abuses substances as their method of self-harm.)



After this, we broke up into small groups of 3-4 patients per doctor for those who would go on to do the in-vivo/exposure therapy segment of the group (some only came for the first hour to learn skills and then left). We also did a worksheet that I needed to take home and do as homework. Group is Wednesday, and I haven't started it yet, so I need to get on it.  Here. I'll let you take a peek.

 
 

Essentially we had to pick three steps that would help us get closer to coping with something we've been avoiding (in my case travel) and report back next week.  This is practice for handling the more intensive in-vivo scenarios we will do in the group with regards to our specific trauma history.

Next week, we will write our stories in the company of our small groups. We won't discuss them, just write them.  I like these baby steps.

My favorite highlight from the first session's material:
"PTSD has been called 'a normal reaction to abnormal events'" (Najavits, 2002, p. 118)

I'll keep you posted.



Thanks for reading.
More soon.

Click HERE to read my Week 2 Entry

P.S. Curious about the significance of the yellow notebook? Click here to watch this video where I explain as well as update you on 6 other awesome BPD & DBT related announcements.

Announcements and Updates for my Readers (by Debbie Corso)




Hello dear readers of Healing From BPD.

I have a number of exciting announcements and updates and thought it would be nice to deliver them to you in a video.

Enjoy, and I look forward to your thoughts, feedback, and questions!





Topics of discussion include:

  1. "Border _" - a compassionate documentary on Borderline Personality Disorder. I am a subject in this film, and it is available to watch in it's entirety here at Healing From BPD by clicking HERE.
  2. Psychology Today Article: Kings and Queens of Chaos, by Elizabeth Svoboda. I am one of the interviewees. 
  3. My books on BPD and DBT - a thanks to you!
  4. Partnership with OPI - Optimum Performance Institute and the Roanne Program - how this collaboration will allow me to bring you more.
  5. Board of Advisors at PDAN.org - Personality Disorder Awareness Network
  6. Online Dialectical Behavior Therapy classes at DBT Path
  7. Trauma Recovery Group for 8-weeks

This is Your Brain on DBT - Strengthening the PFC and Amygdala in People with BPD




In their book Mindfulness for Borderline Personality Disorder, doctors Blaise Aguirre, MD and Gillian Galen, PsyD discuss how certain mindfulness exercises affect and strengthen two key areas of the brain that are affected in a person who suffers from BPD: the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Over time, such exercises can help to retrain the brain to be able to better handle emotions.  I've seen this in my own life and practice these exercises regularly.

They note: "Mindfulness practice that focuses on paying attention activates the prefrontal cortex [PFC], the part of the brain that doesn't seem to work all that well in BPD...these practices will strengthen attentional circuits in your PFC and reduce the reactivity of your amygdala" (Aguirre & Galen, 2013, p.48).

For going on three years, I've been blogging about the real-world practical applications of these skills in my life, and recently I began helping to bring these skills to the world in an additional way.

By now many of you know that I co-facilitate online, globally available DBT classes alongside licensed therapist Alicia Paz, MA, LPC at DBT Path.  These skills have helped me to radically change my life for the better, and it is my great pleasure to be able to serve in this capacity other emotionally sensitive people who want to learn these skills.   I wouldn't feel comfortable doing so on my own, as I am a peer and not a doctor or therapist, so it's fantastic that Alicia and I have joined forces. Those who have already taken some of our classes say we make a pretty good team. We genuinely care about the people we serve and build a real sense of community in our groups.

If you're wondering what it's like to take an online DBT class with us, here's some information:

  • Course Length: Courses are intensive and are 4-weeks in length
  • Teachers/Group Facilitators: We offer a supportive format that is co-facilitated by a licensed therapist and a peer.  
  • Weekly Live Group Online: Each week, we meet once for online "live" group sessions where we answer your questions and you can share your experience with learning and practicing the skills. If for some reason you are unable to attend the live sessions (for example, if you're in a time zone that would make the classes be in the middle of the night for you -- although we have had students in Japan and Australia attend at these odd hours!), no worries. While we highly recommend participating in real-time in the once weekly live sessions, if you simply cannot, a recorded version of the class will be available within 24-hours, and you can listen to it at your leisure.
  • Lectures: Each week you are emailed links to video lectures by Alicia and myself as well as text lectures and links to supplemental materials
  • DBT Skills Coaching: Each week you will have access to DBT skills coaching via email to support you in learning and practicing the skills.
  • Certificate of Completion: Upon completion of each course, upon request we will email you a certificate of completion that you can keep for your records that acknowledges your participation and accomplishment.
  • Required Texts: Some classes have required texts, for others, the texts are optional. You can get the book(s) at your local bookstore, online, or use the electronic (i.e. Kindle) versions if you prefer.

If you're committed to the process and willing to work hard, you will probably see some real changes in your life as you shift from sabotaging to learning new ways to cope with intense emotions. I know I did and continue to do so.

We're getting ready for classes that start on September 9th and the 11th, and new classes open up every four weeks. We hope to see you in class!

Visit us now at www.DBTPath.com

Thanks for reading.
More soon.

Work / Employment History and Borderline Personality Disorder (Sue Sibbald)




Please welcome back again, all the way from the UK, our guest blogger, Sue Sibbald as she writes about the challenge of work and a fragmented work/employment history while coping with Borderline Personality Disorder.

My Multiple Careers

I have worked for most of my life, various jobs from shop and bar work, selling space in newspapers for advertising, working for social services as it was called in my day, managing a nightclub, training
door supervisors, licensing training, and more recently my new job as a Peer Support Specialist for people with Personality Disorders, I will talk about that later on.

Early Family Upbringing

I was brought up by my dad to believe you had to work hard, people who didn't work were lazy, and you had to keep going no matter what. You couldn't fail. There was no giving up or giving in.  That wasn’t  allowed. I also have a mother with schizophrenia, and I learnt to hide my feelings in order to survive. My childhood was quite traumatic.

Work As a Refuge (and Escape)

Two sides to a coin,  as work kept me safe as I was occupied away from thoughts of my childhood. I kept busy. I was always doing; in perpetual motion and with no time to think. This became my pervasive pattern a coping strategy. It's how I existed. I essentially repressed my feelings by keeping busy. Sound familiar?

I was also driven to be the best. I had to be perfect. I couldn't fail.

In many ways, I consider myself to be successful. For example, I’ve managed to purchase my own house. I'm still proud of my achievements. The other side to the coin is that I wasn't happy, I was out of touch with my feelings, never really felt joy, and I found life so hard.

My Work Behaviors in Retrospect

I had a couple of spells in my late teens early twenties where I gave up work. Once such time was when I walked out of a bar job as my best friend left. I couldn't lose him as a friend so I walked with him. I look back and realise my fears of abandonment were with me back then. During these spells I drank, took drugs, got up at three everyday just doing nothing. I couldn't possibly think, so I hid from my feelings behind alcohol and drugs. I felt huge guilt as I should have been working. As a coping mechanism, I learned to laugh about some of my past my childhood when it just wasn't funny.

When I actually was working it was hard. I got sick to my stomach most mornings before going due to extreme anxiety, and I found it difficult to eat whilst at work. Looking back on things, I was also making shallow friendships and pushing people away if they got too close. I part owned and managed a night club. I worked there for twenty years and I found being a manger suited me, as no one wanted to be the manager’s friend. I didn't have to deal with any rejection or abandonment.

Also, the nature of the job suited me, I had insomnia but working at a club meant you had no time for sleep. The hours were long, and it was exciting:, loads of live music, and you never knew what was going to happen… a fight, drug dealers, but mainly lots of amazing music. I love music.

In time I began to get tired. I couldn't work the hours, and I was slowly feeling worse.

My incidents of self-harming and bouts of anger increased, and due to these circumstances I left the club, sold my shares and went to work for my local college as a trainer in all things to do with licensing. It was there that things began to unravel. I was so tired, the stress of working everyday began to take its toll, and I was literally becoming undone. Life as I had got older became too hard and I became triggered by a visit to my mum which brought back childhood memories. I ultimately had to stop working. I wanted to carry on, I couldn't give up. "You don’t give up. Now you’re a failure" were my thoughts at the time.

It was then, as I was quite ill, that I got a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. I had been hiding my illness, panic attacks, inability to eat in restaurants, and self-harm because of my fear of psychiatrists. They had taken my mum away from me and made her a zombie. In my family, we couldn't talk about mental health -- it was too shameful, and I couldn't give in.

I carried on work for a while but I couldn't go on. I had been told I was mentally ill, and for me that meant I couldn't work ...that was the message I sent myself, so I stopped.

How I Created My Career Path in Mental Health Advocacy

I spent my time researching about BPD, learning DBT skills, helping myself, and I began to volunteer for my local NHS Trust and became a Governor. I began to recover.

A little back ground on the NHS Trust: Mine has a Board of Directors and non-executive directors. Governors are voted in by members of the Trust to call the Board to account and to represent their constituents.  I am a Service User/Consumer Governor and have been elected to this position for three years.)

I then wrote letters asking why there was no help for people with BPD in my area, initially to the complaints department (and the reply was not very helpful), however upon writing again and making a phone call explaining myself further, I was invited to join the Personality Disorder Strategy Team as a Service User/Consumer representative. In the meantime, I came up with some ideas to help others.   I began educating professionals as well as people with BPD. I realized my internal message about being mentally ill and being unable to work was false for me. I can work and I'm going to.

I am now working full time and will be running DBT skills courses in the near future with my NHS trust alongside psychologist colleagues, which makes me really happy. What helps me work is the support from my colleagues, and I have a mentor I can talk to about work issues. I also have support from my care coordinator and psychiatrist. It's really hard some days. I still find being with people difficult, and the conflict and power struggles that happen in large organisations affect me. Some days I am so exhausted, but I would rather be working as it helps give me self-esteem, keeps me busy, gives me hope, and I know I am helping others.



I would love to know your thoughts about work. Are you able to work?
Do you suffer stigma around work?  How do you mange working while having BPD?

Til next time,
Sue

Check out Sue’s first guest blog post here at Healing From BPD: Do It Yourself DBT – her story of learning Dialectical Therapy when no such services were offered in her area of the United Kingdom.

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