When I moved out of a residential unit, which was my home for two
years as part of rehabilitation from anorexia, I had many reasons
to feel pride and hope. It seemed that six years of food obsession,
self-cutting and ill-health, which had resulted in re-feedings in
hospital and then long-term care, were behind me. Independence and
success were guaranteed when I was selected for a “positive action
traineeship” in a government quango.
Fewer than five months into my new job I lost all sense of control
and purpose. My employers encouraged me to open up about my
personal problems at the same time as starting to consult my social
worker about my health and the way I presented at work. They held a
meeting to discuss whether it was “tenable” for them to have me at
work – I wasn’t invited. They questioned my social skills once they
were aware I was self-harming outside work. Consequently, my
contract was terminated. Ashamed and convinced I was defective, my
only way of staying alive was to self-harm. It filled the void left
by work. It was also a certain route back to illness.
Whenever I tried to give my account of how I had been treated at
work – allocated no tasks or responsibilities then also being used
in a tokenistic way – professionals would conclude I had a
borderline personality disorder.
Without a sense of resilience and tenacity I would have abandoned
cutting for suicide. While psychiatrists would recommend a unit
treating severe personality disorders as “best treatment” I was
fortunate to access support from two exceptional workers. My
community psychiatric nurse didn’t work with me as a “borderline
case” but as an individual with amazing potential, fair
intelligence, bravery and determination. She was responsive, showed
common sense and made herself available to me over the phone during
her working week. The social services department in my area
contracted a support worker to visit me, initially for an hour a
My CPN and social worker arranged for me to be rehoused. My support
worker helped me move and decorate the neglected flat, get to grips
with making self-assembly furniture, talk to my housing association
and sort out benefits. It has felt a privilege to have my support
worker share my success in living on my own for the first time. We
already had a good relationship and I could trust her in areas that
still cause me some difficulty, such as food preparation and
shopping. I see my support worker for a three-hour session each
week and my CPN fortnightly.
Two months ago I challenged my personality diagnosis and it was
revoked by the area psychiatrist. I am beginning to feel more
capable, confident and acceptable. I am now 24, a volunteer in the
offices at the mental health charity, Mind, and a young people’s
representative on MindLink’s national advisory panel.
Alex Williams is studying for a diploma in journalism at
the University of London.