Deena, 25, works in recruitment in the city. Deena is running in this year’s London Marathon in support of the Mental Health Foundation.
I have battled with mental health problems for 12 years and during this time I have been exposed to numerous drugs, undergone talking therapies like DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) and Psychotherapy and, at my lowest point, I have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Despite the rocky road I have been on, to the outside world I have managed to maintain a ‘normal life’, which many people don’t associate with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).
I asked my mother recently to describe what I was like as a child. She said I was a ‘lovely, easy going, friendly child that enjoyed being in the company of others’. I grew up in a loving home and had good relationships with my parents and all of my siblings. I was an active child: I swam competitively and attended drama school. I enjoyed learning and was known in class as the chatterbox! My father lived in Dubai, but I did see him on school holidays. It was emotional saying goodbye to my father when the holidays came to an end, but I always used to recover. However, the separations between my father and I started getting harder when I was 12. Then, relationships at school started breaking down – I became withdrawn and would go from feeling extremely low to intensely angry, in what seemed like a split second. I couldn’t cope with these emotions – I started having suicidal thoughts and began to self-harm. I was first referred to Child Adolescent Mental Health Services when a classmate found me self-harming in the school toilets. It was from here that my long and difficult journey began.
Despite periods of being able to manage, there were times when I abused alcohol, experienced depression and suicidal behaviour, and refused to engage with mental health services. It was not until eight years later, aged 20, that health professionals collaboratively agreed that my diagnosis was BPD. It was at this time that I was offered DBT) which is a specific form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for those with a diagnosis of BPD. I learnt how to regulate my emotions, as well as tolerate the distressing ones. The most challenging part of DBT therapy for me was ‘accepting’: accepting my condition and accepting the emotions that arose from within me. Acceptance, however, was only the first step in allowing the therapy to really do its work.
An integral part of DBT is mindfulness. I found mindfulness excruciatingly hard at first – having to focus and ignore all the internal voices that were screaming inside my head. In all honestly, at the beginning I thought it was a bit of a waste of time. However, I practised and practised and, slowly, I began to see an improvement. I practise mindfulness when I start to feel my emotions quickly rising. There were times when I was scared to go out without my mum because I feared being at a tube station alone and irrational thoughts would start stirring in my head. But the great thing about mindfulness is that you can do it anywhere. I would focus on something, even if it was a picture on the wall or a pen, and that allowed the intensity of my emotions to settle and rest. The end result was that the severity of my emotions decreased and I stopped making such irrational choices. Mindfulness helps me to stop the intensity of emotions skyrocketing from a level 1 (a slight annoyance) to a level 10 (intense anger) in a second – I can therefore intervene earlier with my emotions.
I’d be lying if I said that anyone with a chronic mental health condition can be totally ‘cured’. But through hard work, determination, and hope, you can create your own toolbox, which will help you manage and enjoy life’s pleasures. I’ve come a long way since my first bout of mental ill health. The small steps that I’ve taken – from saying to myself ‘just get through today’ to being able to get to my sister’s wedding – means that I am now at a place where the good days definitely outweigh the bad. I still have bad days, but now I know what to do and how to get myself out of them. It takes time to build your toolbox of self-management, but when you experience moments of pure happiness it makes you proud that you fought the battle.