The scars are a part of me but not all of me: The story of my recovery

Amanda Hutchins

This beautiful story of recovery was sent to us to share with you.

I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and depression in my late teens. This followed numerous admissions to the Mental Health Unit in Whangarei. My behaviour and emotions were gradually becoming more and more erratic and destructive. Still some days were okay where I could function and achieve everyday tasks. However these functional days were becoming few and far between. Every other week I was being taken to the inpatient unit as I could not control my actions. I was self-harming; not only cutting but I developed a desire for alcohol to block all my thoughts and feelings out. I would drink until I passed out or drink until I lost all self-control and overdose, which ever came first. There was no logic to this, the more I drank the worse I felt. I hated myself with a passion. My only goal in life was to destroy myself.

As a little girl I never imagined this is the war I would be fighting. A war within myself that nobody else could fight and it was beginning to look like I would lose. A decision was made that I would be sent to a private clinic in Dunedin as that was the place to ‘deal’ with my problems. Everyone had so much hope. It was such a sure thing that I was going to recover at this wonderful place that people forgot to mention it would only succeed if I worked my ass off. I was turning up to the clinic under the impression that these skilled professionals would share their knowledge and then I’d be good to go. There was never any discussion around, this may not work for you, or, if this doesn’t work for you.

This was the place. Needless to say it did not work and I became really unwell. This clinic was not a stable place for me to find myself and overcome my illness. Budget cuts, staff lay-offs and the constant politics of living with a large number ‘clients’ saw me spiral into a deeper depression, one that I honestly thought would end my life. I was discharged as I was not meeting the expectations of the health professionals. The only things I took away from here was new ways to self destruct and a greater fascination with death.

I returned home worse than when I left, and with the added guilt of wasting all my parents money for a treatment that never worked. I felt like I was the biggest burden, that everyone (including people who did not know me) would be better off without me. My days were taken up with finding the best ways to die, while also dreaming of the day someone would save me. I could not get out of bed. I would stay there for days. I would barely eat. I could not manage to do anything except swim in the destructive thoughts that plagued my head. Days turned into weeks and nothing changed. I hated myself so much. I was evil and worthless and I was so angry that I was so weak and pathetic that I could not snap out of this. The only times I would go out would be when I was going drinking. My parents hating me drinking because 9 times out of 10 I would end up in the hospital after taking an overdose. I was playing Russian roulette with my life and I did not care. I hurt everyone around me, but I was so stuck in my own destruction I did not see what I was doing to others. It’s not that I didn’t care about others, I couldn’t see them. I could not hear them begging me to live over the raging voice in my own head telling me to die. I was labelled the problem patient. My team at mental health were frustrated at my lack of improvement and sometimes that frustration simmered over into anger. I did not trust them. I did not trust anyone.

One particularly bad overdose landed me in intensive care. I think my parents thought that was it, that I was going to die. When I woke up I dismissed the whole situation. Instead of accepting my actions, I decided that it was the doctors at the hospital trying to trick me in to living, that I was never in danger, the doctors just exaggerated the whole thing. That is how distorted my thinking was. Of course now I see how bizarre that belief was, but it was my reality at the time. This behaviour went on for years. A cat and mouse game with the grave.

When I was around 27 a group was offered in Whangarei that specialised in helping patients with BPD. I had not attended any group since leaving Dunedin so I was skeptical as to how this would even work. I did not want to go, nor did I want to participate in my recovery (if I could even recover). My counsellor was extremely supportive, encouraging me to at least give it a chance. I mainly agreed because she was nagging every time I saw her, which was rather annoying.

Whangarei is a 2 hour drive from where I live and the group was every week so this was going to be a serious commitment for me. I met with one of the facilitators who asked if I was committed to this, to changing. I gave her a less than enthusiastic nod. I was left with the impression that she had about the same amount of faith in me as I did in the course. However, on the drive home I make a commitment to myself that I would give this a proper go. Even though it was going to be hard it could not be worse than what I was already feeling.

Going to the first group was one of the scariest things I had ever done in my life. We had to talk in group, about ourselves, which I hated. But I did it. And to my surprise the world did not fall down. We had homework each week, which I found myself doing well at. We tracked our emotions and thoughts which was surprisingly validating. It also helped to get them out of my head. We were taught skills, helpful ways to manage strong emotions, how to challenge our distorted thoughts and how to identify filters. Each week I gained more confidence in myself. I was improving. It was not a straight line improvement, some weeks were crap, I went back to old behaviours, I could not decide if I wanted to give up alcohol, at times I felt like I could not use the skills. However, I kept going back to group. I think this was a key step in my recovery. Even though some weeks I didn’t reach my expectations of being ‘perfect’ in my recovery I still returned to group. I think that is the most important time, when you don’t do so great, but you go back to group and learn from it. I started to believe I could get better. I graduated this first group and the following year moved on to the next group where we cemented what we had already learnt. I started to set goals, I thought about the future, even my future. I started to believe in myself.

Still during this group it was not all smooth sailing. Old behaviours continued to surface, old thoughts still made an appearance daily. The difference was that I understood where they came from. I did not have to act on the thoughts, I could distract myself. I did not have to spend the whole day thinking horrible things about myself. If I did go back to an old behaviour, I did not have to hate myself for it. I did not have to ruin everything because I made a mistake. I could carry on my journey, I could learn from it. I learnt that nobody is perfect. I learnt that I did not have to be perfect. I learnt I could be proud of how far I have come.

Today I am at university, following my dream of becoming a psychologist. I had never thought this was possible. The days where I could not get out of bed I had all but given up on this dream. The two years of group were the hardest years of my life. So much harder than the years I spent trying to end my life. Fighting to live while your brain is telling you to die is the bravest thing I believe anybody can undertake. Even when you think nothing will ever get better, give tomorrow a chance. Even when you think therapy or group is not going to help, give it a chance. You never know what is going to help you lay the foundations upon which you can rebuild your life. I am so glad I gave myself a chance.

I still have BPD, as far as I know there is no ‘cure’. I have good days and I have bad days like the rest of the population. Sometimes I have old thoughts running through my head. Sometimes I want to go back to old behaviours. Sometimes things get a bit too much for me to handle on my own and I need help. I lost many relationships through my illness, some friends, some family. I work to rebuild the ones I can, and, though incredibly painful, I work on accepting the ones I have lost. This is okay though. This is what life is, up’s and down’s, asking for help, sharing your experiences, and connecting with others.

I have many scars from my war with mental illness. Many are visible and many more that are not.

I sometimes get asked about the scars on my arm and if I would ever get them removed. I have thought about that a lot. I don’t believe I would ever get them removed. They are a part of me, a part of my story, a part of where I came from. But they are not all of me, just like BDP is a part of me but it is not all of me. I am much more than a mental illness.