Imani Summer writes the Summer Starts to Shine blog, and she is also a Mind media volunteer and fundraiser, vlogger, and passionate mental health campaigner. All Human Here asked her to guest blog about life with a complex mental health diagnosis, and here, she shares her thoughts with us:
How did you feel when you first received your diagnosis?
On the second psychiatrist appointment I ever had, I asked her if I had Borderline Personality Disorder. She said categorically “NO”.
Fast forward eighteen months, a significant childhood abuse disclosure, and several heated arguments later and she announces she thinks I may have *traits* of BPD. Then after a particularly conflict-filled and emotionally stormy session, I notice as I glance at the letter she sent to my GP that she had upgraded me to the full bona fide disorder!
Boy, did receiving that hurtful label sting. My self-esteem, which was already minimal, crumbled to dust. I felt like a second class citizen- defective, inept, weird, judged, and almost frightened of my own self. I reasoned if my personality was so disordered, why should I even exist?
What makes you most frustrated about the misconceptions around personality disorder?
That people seem to believe someone with a personality disorder is automatically a psychopathic, selfish, low-functioning, attention-seeking and deviant manipulator, who is wilfully cruel to others and someone best avoided. That couldn’t be further from the truth!
I am warm, caring, friendly, empathic, and in many ways extremely boringly ordinary. Someone meeting me for the first time would not detect there was anything ‘off’ or ‘unpleasant’ or ‘disordered’ about me. All you will most likely notice is the intense variability and contrast in my moods at different times. But I am never nasty or malicious.
How does raising awareness help you?
I write about life with a personality disorder, both to demystify it to others who may not have heard of it, and also for my own therapy. Stephen Fry, president of UK charity Mind did wonderful things for the public social acceptability of Bipolar Disorder. I want a similar outcome for people diagnosed with a personality disorder.
Not everyone with a personality disorder is the same, we are all unique individuals with distinct gifts. I believe my gift is communication, so I use my flair for writing and communication to create meaning in an existence that otherwise would be potentially quite soul destroying in its daily challenges.
Is it always possible to be ‘well’ – or is the goal to make life with an illness or disorder more manageable and rewarding?
Recently I asked my psychologist if I still had BPD, as I felt so well. Her reply was that I will always have these characterological tendencies, but sometimes I will have to work to manage those destructive emotional symptoms far, far less than at other times. I live with a mental illness, but try and live ‘it’ as well as I can.
What people or organisations have helped you the most, and how?
My psychologist; for always knowing the exact right thing to say to diffuse my painful feelings. My husband; for lightening the seriousness of mental illness by seeing my BPD traits as “cute” and endearing. My children; for making me feel loved and alive with laughter. My healers; for connecting me to a spiritual source and a deeper sense of myself, leading me through the gloom, and Mind; for providing opportunities to do wonderful things that make life worth living.
Imani writes as summerSHINES at Summer Starts to Shine, and there are further blogs (under Imani) at Mind’s website. You can also donate to her fundraising events for Tyneside and Northumberland Mind on the JustGiving page Read Imani’s story.