This Life:I can cope with despair

How a community psychiatric nurse has helped Alex Williams come to terms with her mental disorder

What is a personality disorder? Since I have this diagnosis I have asked this question many times. The answers I have received are about what it is not. For example, it is not a mental illness, not a sign that someone can lose capacity, not normal. This isn’t reassuring when you are looking for answers to why you act and feel the way you do.

I can only describe how it feels to have a borderline personality disorder. I don’t know who “I” am. Repeatedly abusing
myself with a lack or excess of food or blades bought me some time out and I’d need to be “rescued”. Now if I am not
self-harming I will be torturing myself mentally and my thinking can be black and white.

While I have friends I will worry about new people turning out to stalk me or being less than trustworthy. It is also hard to keep in my mind the fact that people care for me especially if they are not immediately to hand.

It is a reactive condition. Frequently I have gone to bed wishing I was dead and the next day woken up and things were bearable again. Seeing my community psychiatric nurse will always help shift my mood as well. But when someone is offhand it feels devastating and I experience it as personal rejection.

In the past I would not properly think through the consequences of my actions. As an in-patient I would use escorted leave to buy razors which I realise now would compromise the position of the people I was with.

I once overdosed on medication a visitor collected for me before it could be handed to staff. I hadn’t thought of what would happen if I had come to serious harm and people who tried to support me were implicated. I have learned from my mistakes and to take responsibility for myself. Facing reality was painful.

There have been times when I wished I could have a different set of problems that would give me some justification for the way I feel and where there could be remissions.

With a borderline personality disorder there are no breaks from distress although your mood can be unpredictable. There are no quick fixes and medication has its limits.

I saw my CPN for several years before I started to open up about all areas of my life. We are now examining my life and my relationships in a way that isn’t just going over old ground.

Recently we have even spoken about “what if?” I became a mum. Until now I couldn’t have looked after anything living, not even a plant. Through working with her I recognise that distressing thoughts won’t kill me and I can sit with them and use distraction techniques.

Living with a personality disorder is challenging, tiring and until you have good support you feel very alone. I don’t believe the condition can resolve itself and many people who are marginalised by services go through untold suffering.

Despite my diagnosis I am more than a collection of symptoms. I have Alex’s unique personality.

Alex Williams is a volunteer worker


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