My life started off as badly as a penguin in a desert. I almost died as I was born due to lack of oxygen and was born epileptic because of it. I had a massive epileptic fit at the age of 2 and the only reason I didn’t die was that it happened on the door step of a hospital. I believe these near death experiences were either the origin of my PTSD or made me much more prone to develop the disorder when I was exposed to later traumatic experiences. At the age of 7 I was sexually abused and developed anorexia. At the age of 8 I had my first symptoms of PTSD. After watching a particularly frightening scene in the movie Friday the 13th where a woman has her throat cut by the serial killer, I developed a fear of serial killers thinking a nest of them was living under my bed. I also developed a phobia of having my throat cut.
After my father left my mother, she became threatening towards me telling me she would put a contract out on my father and that I was “just like him” and that I wasn’t even her daughter. She told me I was a “selfish bitch” when I was 13 and that I should go and live with my father. But my father did not want me to live with him either. My mother kept trying to throw me out of the house. I had no idea that the government would house homeless children so I was terrified of starving to death on the streets. The fear of serial killers escalated to an obsession where I would check under the bed, in the wardrobe, the shower room the bathroom and even the deep freeze for serial killers, plan hiding places from the serial killers and practice my escape routes by climbing along the roof.
As soon as I started developing breasts, I began to bind my chest with belts so tightly I could hardly breathe to stop my breasts growing. When this didn’t work I tried to cut them off with a carving knife at the age of 15. I had no idea that I was self-harming but kept it all very secret not telling a psychiatrist my parents took me to see when I was 16.
Debate is raging in academic and psychiatric circles as to whether Borderline Personality Disorder and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are in fact the same thing. Both disorders are strongly linked to childhood sexual abuse. Trauma experts argue that C-PTSD (which is caused by chronic and repeated trauma rather than single events) is the same as BPD. But some studies have shown there are differences between the two disorders. The main difference seems to be that C-PTSD is always linked to trauma whereas BPD is not necessarily so.
I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder by psychiatrists three times since I got clean at the beginning of 2005. In the past I have had most of the diagnostic criteria for BPD – suicidal planning, ideation and self-harm, extreme paranoia, dissociative states, substance abuse and bulimia, uncontrolled spending, a total lack of self-care in terms of taking massive personal risks both when I was sober and using cocaine and an unstable sense of self. I also have reduced empathy although this may be because I am a Conservative.. I believe I do not have excessive anger but I have fantasized about killing several people who are close to me so maybe I am in Denial…
It is when I am clean, or barely drinking, that the symptoms of my BPD and PTSD are most apparent. It was before I started drinking as a child that I was checking for serial killers and had to go to school with scarves wrapped tightly around my neck to prevent my throat being cut. After I started drinking this all calmed down. Although, when I was performing Lady Macbeth at the Edinburgh Festival when I was at Oxford University, I did have to do all the rehearsals with scarves wrapped suffocatingly tightly around my neck because of the constant references to knives in the play. At the age of 22 I ended up with a carving knife at my throat about to cut my throat. This was mainly because I wanted to commit suicide but also to prevent the serial killers from getting in there first.
As my drinking and drug taking progressed so the symptoms of the BPD and PTSD lessened. But then, when I got clean in 2005, they sprung back up again. As soon as I left rehab at the end of 2005 I started self-harming, cutting my arms, especially when I wanted a drink. I took the 12 Step Slogan “going to any lengths for your recovery” to a BPD extreme. At the beginning of 2008 I came off all psychiatric medication encouraged by my sponsor in Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous. I was alright for a few months. But when I was faced with a serious financial problem I fell apart feeling such anxiety that I would wake up at 4am planning to kill myself. This subsided after I went back on medication.
When I thought I had made mistakes on a building project in 2009, after the traumatic break up with my boyfriend, I attacked my arms with a carving knife on two separate occasions more savagely than before. This led to a psychiatric relapse where I thought a demon was possessing my brain and forcing me to kill myself. This demon was unemployed and kept hassling me 24/7. Every time I left the house in my car I thought I was going to deliberately crash my car and die. I felt totally out of control and was going to go back to the psychiatric hospital where I’d detoxed, St Chillin’s. But my friend Sarah from Divorced from my Drug Dealer Anonymous and her mother, a homeopath, looked after me instead.
I was so frightened by my reaction to this self-harm that, although I have wanted to self-harm many times since then, I have never done it. This psychiatric relapse was an important part of my recovery from BPD.
I had had low level paranoia throughout my recovery. I thought that terrorist groups on the news were going to kill me because of a couple of harmless jokes about muslims I’d written in my unpublished novel and that random people on the street were going to kill me. Also whenever I travelled on the tube at rush hour I would often have to change carriage as I would get “Signs from God” that someone was going to blow up the tube. These signs – someone muttering under their breath or giving a peculiar sneeze – never actually resulted in a bomb but this in no way made me doubt their reliability.
But I had a major relapse into paranoia in 2012 when I suddenly decided my mild mannered lodger was going to kill me. This was because I had threatened to give his address to bailiffs who were hounding me about his parking tickets after he left my house. I asked for a referral to my local psychiatric unit who confirmed the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder but said I could also have PTSD. My personal therapist had long said I had PTSD. I was put on paroxetine but this made the paranoia 100 times worse. I had 9 panic attacks in one day, thought I was having a heart attack and almost called an ambulance, and ended the day vowing that I was going to kill myself. I also decided that the fact that there were tiny cuts in the packaging of all the blueberries at my local supermarket meant they had been poisoned by a blueberry-hating terrorist group. This calmed down when I came off the paroxetine but I was still unable to watch the news for over 2 years because of fears of the terrorist groups. I tried EMDR, the leading treatment for PTSD, but the therapist was critical and unsupportive and it did little to shift the trauma.
Then I had a genuine financial and personal crisis. The dilapidated building next to my rental property, my only real source of income, was purchased by a property developer who demolished and started rebuilding a much larger house. It was a massive building project, incredibly noisy, and my tenants soon decided they were going to leave. I had no prospect of renting my house out. And when my tenants moved out it became clear that my house needed massive damp proofing and that I would have to undertake a large building project of my own. Soon my rental property, which had been a beautiful house, was reduced to a chaotic building site.
Because of my mother’s threats to throw me out onto the street as a child I had had a long standing fear of annihilation that was triggered by threats to my financial security. This extended period where I could not rent out my house made me intensely anxious and triggered an upsurge in OCD, which I have always believed was a symptom of the PTSD. When I found out on Facebook that my ex-boyfriend, the only boyfriend I have had for my 11 year recovery, was having a baby with someone else this triggered a nervous breakdown and the OCD accelerated sharply.
By April 2014 the OCD had gone up to 10 hours a day. I would check door locks, windows, thousands of times for fear that an intruder would get into my house and rape and murder me. I had to take hundreds of photographs every day.
I would also check sockets, lights, the stove, the boiler and all the machines and plug in items in the house repetitively, for fear of fire, taking more photographs. Paranoia was totally controlling my life. The OCD was taking so long that I had had to abandon the building project on my rental property locking it and leaving me with no income.
This OCD made me want to cut my throat. It wasn’t until my anti-anxiety medication, fluoxetine, went up to the maximum dose 60mg per day that the checking started to go down. I also increased my dose of anti-psychotics. I then did CBT for the OCD which helped bring it down. I would also set myself goals for reducing the OCD, updated every couple of days, and use my circle of friends to support me when I was trying to achieve a breakthrough. After a lot of support from my therapist Mei Fung Chung, who has multiple properties herself, I was eventually able to complete the building project on my rental property and rent it out. Because of my fear that my house would be burgled or burn down I had not been able to leave my home overnight for 5 years. I decided to challenge this fear by making a two week trip to my rental property. Although it took me weeks to prepare for the trip I did go.
Once the tenant was settled in my rental property I decided I would renew my search for an EMDR therapist, convinced that the OCD was a symptom of PTSD. I found a Portuguese clinical psychologist on the EMDR UK website and began to see her. EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing, works by stimulating the clients eye movements from side to side while focusing on an image which represents the trauma. The bilateral eye movement is similar to that which happens in Rem sleep or dreams in which we naturally process trauma. So the EMDR forces processing of the trauma which has become “stuck” in the client’s brain causing the PTSD. The image I focused on in the therapy was my mother’s angry face which was linked to my fear of fire and annihilation.
After repeated focus on this image and doing practical exercises every week (such as leaving a light on overnight in my house) my fear of fire decreased sharply as did my fear of annihilation. The OCD went down from 10 hours a day to 10 minutes. I was also able to start watching the news again and reading newspapers.
I then had further breakthroughs in the OCD leaving London overnight for the first time in 6 years and leaving the UK for the first time in over 6 years.
The BPD and PTSD are now almost completely in recovery due to the medication, EMDR and my work with my personal therapist Mei Fung Chung. Although the image based non verbal therapy of EMDR was what actually got the PTSD into recovery, the re-parenting experience I have had with my therapist has re-wired my brain and brought me into adulthood. When I started the therapy I would sit on my ex-armed robber boyfriend’s lap clinging to him and calling him mummy. My emotional age was less than 2.
Now, after 6 years of therapy, I am a teenager ready to go to University. I even, like many teenagers, want a baby. I am now so recovered from the paranoia that I am a news junkie watching it all day and listening to BBC Radio. I never change carriage on the Tube. The “Signs from God” have disappeared.
But I still have to be very careful that I don’t allow the situation where I had no income to recur as financial anxieties trigger my fear of annihilation. I also need to be very careful of building projects which interrupt my income which trigger the OCD. I won’t be seen on an episode of Grand Designs any time soon.