Living with mental illness: A long and winding road

Fiona Kennedy gives an insight into life with borderline personality disorder and occasional depression

Fiona Kennedy, Mental Illness, Sunny Spells,

Fiona Kennedy | Image: sunnyspellsandscatteredshowers.org

For the longest time, I thought I was a bit different. Not different in a funky, quirky kind of way, just, different - awkward, didn’t fit in. Turns out I was, although it wasn’t my fault.

Eight years ago a diagnosis of clinical depression made sense of some of me, and two years ago a further diagnosis of borderline personality disorder/emotional intensity disorder made a whole lot more sense.

With hindsight, I can see the impact both of these conditions have been having for most of my life, but it became a much bigger problem after I had my kids.

What had previously been a low grade level of depression (enough to make me feel utterly miserable but not enough to interfere with my functioning) quickly became severe postnatal depression. Anti-depressants helped to a degree, and I was able to get on with my life, although not without considerable struggle.

My daughter arrived two years later, and again was swiftly followed by a severe bout of depression. This pattern was to repeat. It lifted, it came back, it lifted, it came back; eventually I landed in hospital because I couldn’t function any more.

Image: Fiona Kennedy - Sunny Scattered Photography

That was 2013, we’re now five years in to trying to get a handle on this.

After five weeks I was deemed well enough to come home, but the following 12 months were incredibly challenging. I was working with a therapist weekly, which was a huge support, and medication seemed to help for a few months at a time. But it never lasted.

My moods were incredibly unstable: I could swing from OK to depressed to back to OK, then on up to elated in a matter of hours, and was having serious trouble managing anger. I was self-harming, I frequently thought of suicide, and I was utterly lost.

Through all of this, I was linked in with psychiatric services in Galway, although as a public patient so I rarely saw the same doctor twice.

Looking back I can see how much this impacted on getting the right diagnosis – seeing someone new at every appointment, trying to explain the same issues over and over. It was incredibly frustrating and all but impossible to convey the severity of what was going on, particularly if I was on an upswing the day I was seen.

The extreme and rapid fluctuations in my mood continued to cause problems, and various diagnoses and treatments were discussed before finally settling on borderline.

The relief at finally having a definite diagnosis was short-lived. Borderline is notoriously difficult to treat, and despite knowing what we were dealing with, things got progressively worse.

This time last year I attempted suicide, thankfully with no lasting damage. I’d like to say that was rock bottom, but it wasn’t.

It highlighted the fact that I was not getting the right treatment, so for the first time we knew which direction to go, but unfortunately the help that was promised fell through. Rather than moving into more appropriate treatment, I finished with my therapist of six years and went on a waiting list.

I could write a book about what has happened since then, particularly around the lengths we had to go to as a family to get me the support I so badly needed, but suffice to say, it has been a particularly unpleasant year.

Image: Fiona Kennedy - Sunny Scattered Photography

I’m now six months out of work because depression came back with a vengeance, but I’m finally working with a psychologist who specialises in personality disorders. Getting to this point feels like a phenomenal achievement.

People are often very wary of labels when it comes to mental health issues, but for me, knowing what I’m dealing with has helped so much in terms of understanding.

Just as when we get physically sick, we cannot hope to get the right treatment without the right diagnosis. Once we know what we’re dealing with, the label loses significance - what’s more important is what we’re doing about it.

So, yes, I may have a wicked tendency towards depression, and borderline sounds horrifying, but knowing what I’m up against means I’m now in the best place possible to treat it. I’ve got a lot of work yet to do, but I’m a hell of a lot closer than I was 12 months ago. That’s huge.

Fiona Kennedy writes regularly about mental health issues on her blog sunnyspellsandscatteredshowers.org

If you are affected by any of the issues raised in this article you can contact Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123 or visit www.samaritans.ie to find details of your nearest branch. You can also find online information at www.yourmentalhealth.ie