Recovery – Scars and Sticky Labels

Yesterday I attended the 1st day of 3 teaching days of the Personality Disorder KUF course. If you want to find out about it, check out: http://www.personalitydisorderkuf.org.uk/  A couple of issues in terms of recovery came up for me during that day and as usual I just want to put them out there.

1. Scars

In one way I am fortunate because I have scars in other places that are well hidden but when I stopped self-harming I gradually became more used to having the scars on my arms on show.  I’m generally quite comfortable with them. When I’m out and about most people don’t notice or if they do they’ll have a quick stare and that will be it.  There are some people that feel the need to discuss the scars amongst themselves at an audible volume but that rarely bothers me now.  I volunteer at the CAB and none of my colleagues have reacted or treated me differently because of my scars. I’m now OK with having them on show around family members.

Where is this all leading? Well yesterday I decided to wear a cardigan to cover my scars. Why? I knew I would be on a course about PDs as the only service user amongst a room full of mental health professionals. I felt that despite self-harm being a thing of the past, having my scars on display would mean that the professionals would be less likely to listen to my views and personal knowledge of PD. Maybe the individuals on that course wouldn’t act or react in that manner.  However, my past experiences of reactions of medical and mental health professionals to my scars (and yes, shamefully I admit, wounds at some times) have made me very wary.  I’ve clearly been dismissed and not listened to because of being someone who self-harms.  So, in a situation with professionals who should be much more used to and less judgmental about self-harm scars than any other group of people, I felt the need to cover them.  It is a sad indictment of my experiences as a service user really.

This leads me to thoughts of my future. I’m hoping to re-train as an IMHA (Independent Mental Health Advocate) to combine my legal background with my experiences as a service user.  I’ve already decided that I won’t have scars on show.  Again it is because I want the respect of the people I come across. It’s something to which I’ve resigned myself but it doesn’t lessen the frustration.

2. Borderline Personality Disorder label

Secondly, when I fed back on Twitter yesterday how I enjoyed the 1st day of the KUF training and how I was my usual vocal self, I automatically felt the need to clarify that I had participated and expressed my views in a “non-borderline fashion”.  @chaosandcontrol replied to one of my tweets with the following:

Ha! (I am reflecting on the fact that it’s necessary to caveat that sentence saying you were non-borderline).

She got me thinking.  Why do I feel it necessary to caveat my expression of opinions in that way? Again, it’s because a diagnosis of BPD automatically seems to mean to mental health professionals that if you disagree with them (no matter how calm, civil and willing to discuss the issue you are) that the reason you are doing so is because you are “borderline”.  I hate that and I hate that I feel I need to provide that caveat; my views only being legitimate if distanced from a diagnosis I have (although no longer struggle with). I think the only time I’ve expressed my opinions in a “borderline fashion” is whilst inpatient, which is the completely wrong environment for me and in which I was often trapped for long periods of time (my, hopefully, final section lasted for 5 & ½ months). Even then, what could be considered “borderline fashion” was legitimate anger at being forced to be in an environment that increased my risk, made my mood plummet further all the while knowing that it wasn’t a helpful place for me.

Once you have the BPD label there is no shaking it.  Despite no longer meeting the criteria and considering myself cured 😉 it will always be on my records.  It is a label that, sadly, when seen by mental health professionals, immediately conjures negative thoughts and attitudes within them – that my emotional reactions to an event or circumstances are not warranted or over the top and my opinions cannot be valid because I have/had a diagnosis of PD.  I suppose what further worsens this is that although in recovery from it, the prevailing attitude of the professionals is that it is a lifelong condition.

I hate the BPD label anyway and especially because of it meaning I can have no valid views or opinions.  I hate even more so that despite being in recovery from it, it is a label that will always plague me.

I’m not sure any of the above made sense but it was a little rant of my frustrations as a former self- harmer who has/had the diagnosis of BPD. Even if I (and my immediate mental health team) consider myself to be in recovery from BPD and a former self-harmer, will anyone else or will the visible reminders always be a hindrance?

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About Carrie Quinn

I'm a former solicitor whose life was turned upside down due to problems with my mental health. I'm now aiming towards recovery, which to me means rebuilding a meaningful life - not necessarily disorder free.
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4 Responses to Recovery – Scars and Sticky Labels

  1. Ruby says:

    You are choosing to hide your scars. Choice is a very powerful tool. In my experience, feeling you have no choice about key aspects of your life can exacerbate underlying mental health issues. Live for the moment and do what feels right at that time. To me your wonderful sense of humour will give you insight and resilience.

  2. Carrie Quinn says:

    Thanks Ruby 🙂
    Yes, choice is really important to me. I hate feeling controlled and feeling that I have no choice in this situation frustrates me. However, you are right though, it is still me choice.

  3. Borderlion says:

    I really relate to both of these points. It’s extremely frustrating when people make these judgements and only makes recovery more difficult.

    • Carrie Quinn says:

      It does make it difficult doesn’t it. I have to be careful not to have judgments of myself surrounding this. Yes, it was bad etc, but that’s no longer the case. That person in emotional turmoil who used self harm (from a very young age) to cope, has learnt other ways to manage.

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