I am writing this piece to describe my never-ending journey to reach the town of Peace Of Mind. I was diagnosed recently with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) at age 46. My mental health journey is over 30 years old.
Trying to reach Peace of Mind reminds me of the journey of the hobbit in the Lord of the Rings. In those books there is danger everywhere. Frodo Baggins must face the Dark Lord Sauron so that he doesn’t get complete control of Middle Earth. Frodo is a hobbit with a ring, Sauron a monster with armies, dark magic and pure evil.
For me, Sauron is the Dark Lord of insanity. If I cannot fight him off then he takes over my Middle Earth, and forbids me from visiting Peace of Mind. Sauron can overwhelm me and I have felt his hold over me increase over the years.
I got on a train when I started drinking alcohol age 16. The initial love affair was to lead to full-blown addiction. At 22 my doctor diagnosed that a passenger called OCD wanted to travel with me and alcohol. OCD and alcohol fought constantly trying to take the train off the rails. In my late 20’s I was so miserable on the train that the doctor told me that the black dog I had noticed in the carriage was depression. And I had to mind him.
I finally got out of Grand Central Alcohol after 16 years at age 32. If I can keep alcohol off the train I can ‘stay on the wagon’. This will need lifelong vigilance and participation in a 12 step programme.
I was so glad to see the back of 16 years of self-medication I expected a long stay in Sobriety Hotel. I was confident that OCD and the black dog would sit in another carriage. Little did I know that alcohol had been masking some of my underlying demons. The withdrawal of alcohol allowed my deeper soul sickness to really emerge. I spent many days stuck in loops in my head with webs of intrusive thoughts. There were howling hungry black dogs everywhere. I ran up and down the train, hid in toilets and under my seat.
Depression grew stronger every day until at age 37 it tried to kill me. I could not run any more. I had become so psychotic I had to leave the train and spent nearly 6 months in a psychiatric facility. I no longer cared about the train, or any town called Peace of Mind. My mind and soul were in agony and I made some very poor efforts to end my life journey. I often say that I don’t think much of myself, but I am all I ever think about!
I left hospital and got back on the train with a revised diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder 2. It sounds like a movie sequel! OCD and depression were never far away in nearby seats. For a few years the journey improved into my early 40s and I thought I might actually be getting much nearer Peace of Mind.
But at age 44 I ended up in a train wreck due to disgraceful bullying in my job of 23 years in the public sector. As you all know, being able to work improves our health and sense of worth. In my case it was a house against which I could put a ladder. I could write hundreds of pages about the disgusting legal battle over two years to try and have my rights protected and vindicated. But the State is the biggest bully in town. And I am only a fragile hobbit. So I left the job to protect my family, pension and sanity.
While the site of the train crash has been cleaned up, I have had to get on a new vehicle. It’s not a train any more. It’s more like a damaged airplane trying not to fall out of the sky. At age 46 I have now gained two new passengers to keep me company on the plane. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is the star of the in-flight movie which is repeated every day. The more you try to forget the past the more it invades your Middle Earth.
A collection of weird and unsettling images bleed into my sleep most nights. This means I wake up tired and would love to make a career out of hiding under a duvet. If going back to bed was an Olympic sport then I could represent Ireland.
The other new passenger on the plane is Borderline Personality Disorder. Its more modern name is Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (EUPD). I prefer to call him EUPD and I think of him as the food I must eat. Airplane food is not gourmet. It’s pre-prepared, reheated and ultimately unsatisfying. As with other inmates of EUPD it doesn’t matter if you feel you couldn’t possibly eat another trauma burger or distress salad. Like Guantanamo Bay, hunger strikes are illegal and force-feeding can be imposed.
When I look in EUPD’s face it’s like looking into an unstable cracked mirror. The mirror shows me a map I was never able to see before. The map shows my inner mental settings, my wiring, patterns and loops. It helps me understand many bad turns I have taken along the road. The EUPD mirror allows me to recognise parts of myself I was unaware of. Like my lack of emotional regulation, hypersensitivity, and acting on impulses I will later regret. The mirror even shows my chronic sense of emptiness and rapid mood swings. Throw in difficulties in maintaining relationships and all or nothing thinking and it’s quiet a self-reflection.
Now that I am settling into the plane I sometimes see faraway things out the window. The sky and the stars give me hope. The black holes frighten me. The turbulence is unsettling. And yet the plane is still in the sky. It must be going somewhere. I will have to live with EUPD on the plane until it reaches its final destination. If I am lucky we might be able to lose PTSD along the way. Maybe I can find a way to unplug his movie. Or escort him to the emergency exit.
I do have many things to be grateful for and I have to work really hard on a daily basis from now on to appreciate them. Music has always been a magic force that can transport you out of the here and now. It can be intoxicating if you can surrender to it in the moment. And music is free!
My wife and family have never given up on me even though I often have, and have wanted to die when I feel I cannot take anymore. I know that I am not present enough for my family. I am so lucky to have them. My wife and kids are wonderful people, and I have forced them to become survivors of where my journey takes me.
I have fought demons in my head all my life. The bullying at work nearly killed me. I felt worthless and in danger of psychic annihilation. In some ways I think my whole life may have always been destined for me to end up fighting an enemy for my soul. I have at times projected my inner demons onto the people I have met. I am sensitive to extremes. I need adrenaline to feel alive, even if it’s living in fear.
When I can find gratitude I realise that life in my plane is not a life sentence. Or a death sentence. Lots of people suffer at some time with mental health problems. The accepted guesstimate is one in four. So people like me are everywhere. We can fly planes, serve our country, have children, pay taxes and live normal lives.
Sometimes when I look in the mirror I see an enemy looking back at me. But as my doctor recently reminded me, none of the problems in my head are ‘real’. That is not to diminish in any way the suffering we all have with mental illness. My life has been too real, tossed around on a sea of opposing emotions. I have suffered to my limits.
But it gives me hope that I am still here. I must be far stronger than I give myself credit for. I don’t think I will ever stay in a nice hotel in the town called Peace of Mind. I need to focus on my plane journey and not any destination. It can be very lonely marooned in my head but I need to enjoy and reciprocate the unconditional love my family give me. They are the most important and valuable companions I have on my journey.