Dissociation, self-harm & compartmentalising

poem written by me in 2014 about dissociation

I came across this poem dated from back in 2014 that I wrote after an episode of dissociation. Reading it back now, isn’t triggering, but I can really remember the sadness and desperation I felt during that time. 

I would remember some of the time when I dissociated, but most of the time that I spent in that state is still a mystery. There were times where I’d wake up in the morning and find I’d hurt myself somewhere along the way, but often struggled to grab any memory of doing it. Only a few months ago, I found a ‘stash’ of blades that I never knew existed.

Knowing that at any point, there was a chance I could go into this state and hurt myself so much is terrifying. There were times when self-harm brought me out of the dissocisted state; not sure if that was a shock-reaction ‘cos I’d suddenly be thinking “wtf are you doing?” And I wouldn’t know what had triggered that incident of self-harm. When my mood was really low, I lived in constant fear that I’d go into a dissociative state and seriously harm or kill myself. That was more scary than ‘consciously’ feeling suicidal. At least when I wasn’t dissociated, I still felt in control of my behaviour. When i was dissociating,  the bits of it that I remember, it was like I was stood watching myself. And no matter what was happening, how I was behaving, I could only watch. I never knew how to get back to myself. It felt like my spirit had left, I was stood in my body, watching my spirit. In this poem, I describe an “out-of-control killer” trying to kill me. That killer, was also me. At the time, I thought that I was just seeing that because that’s what I was doing to myself. And maybe that is right. But here’s the psychological part that my brain’s just made sense of…

I was’t trying to kill myself, as a whole person. Maybe, I was trying to ‘kill’ or repress a part of me that I didn’t like… My inner child. I had unintentionally distanced my inner child from my adult part, because the adult me couldn’t cope with the overwhelming feelings that stemmed from childhood. My mind created different ‘compartments’ for the different parts of my personality and “I” shifted from these different parts, depending on events, environment, company etc. For example, the ‘adult Kerri’ was very sensible, professional when I needed to be, came across as quite confident. The ‘little Kerri’ felt very hurt, vulnerable, ashamed. The ‘punitive parent’ part of my personality was very hard on little me. Looking back, when I saw my inner child in my own mind, I despised what I saw.

Basically, if you look at the image I scribbled on the poem. The “adult” me, who knew right from wrong and wanted to be balanced and ok, is the one watching from a distance. The punitive me, who despised little me was the one who wanted to destroy that child I saw. The child I saw, was my inner-child.

When I started to try and acknowledge my inner-child and understand her feelings, it helped me to stop separating parts of my personality, and “I” started to become more whole.

Happy to report, no dissociation for over a year. In fact, no dissociation since I started to see my inner-child as a vulnerable child. Also, since I started acknowledging all parts of my personality, by being honest with those close to me about how I was feeling. For example, anger was a difficult emotion for me to share with other people. If ever I felt angry about something, I’d usually hide my anger. It would then build up inside and sometimes lead to self-harm. Now, even just saying aloud to somebody “I’m really angry at…” It helps, because I’m no longer denying my anger.

Anyway, I’ve learned a lot by writing this. I hope it helps you to understand it a little. I do want to point out, everyone is different and I am only going from my own experiences.

Any feedback welcome 😊

Mental illness: Working with Borderline PD

Whilst I can share my own personal story of what it’s like to live with a diagnosis of borderline PD, I have also worked with a lot of people with the diagnosis; and I want to share my perspective as somebody on the ‘outside’.

I co-founded a voluntary organisation to help those affected by self-harm with my mum in 2007. Our main reason for this was to meet other people in the same position so we could support each other and know we weren’t alone. As the group grew and branched out to neighbouring boroughs, I took on the role of a bit of everything; group facilitator, manager & then chair and worked with people with a range of diagnoses. Many had been diagnosed with borderline pd, and it was these people who I really related to most. I could see the chaos in their world, I could see how they desperately wanted to change and make life better, and I also saw how they would stay ‘stuck’ in that vicious circle. As soon as things got too much for them they were self-harming without thinking about it; something I’ve spoken about within my own experiences of being impulsive. I wanted to change their lives, and felt determined to help. But let me tell you, it didn’t half drain me emotionally. Most likely because I wasn’t equipped to deal with my own stuff let alone anyone else’s. But I never gave up on them, on anyone really regardless of their diagnosis. I went to A&E with people who had overdosed, I went to the walk-in with people, I called numerous ambulances, called the police on several occasions when I was concerned about somebody’s welfare and spent hours upon hours on the phone referring people or chasing up referrals. The local mental health trust I worked with (which also happens to be the same trust that I’m under) were brilliant, eventually. I think most professionals were a bit wary of a group being started at first. There was probably a misunderstanding somewhere about what we actually did at the group (ie, was it an unhealthy group), and a lot of question about the safety of people who were a/ being supported and b/supporting others. In 8 years we haven’t lost any members to suicide. I don’t know if that tells you about the support we gave (and that people still give through this organisation) to members, or if that, the majority of times self-harm is about surviving the most difficult things we face rather than about trying to kill ourselves.

It’s nice to see that most of the people I’ve come across in this work are doing a lot better than they were; because of support from friends and/or family, mental health and community services, counsellors, GP’s; anyone really. Most importantly because of the person themselves being open to change, being willing to push themselves so far out of their comfort zone they can’t begin to imagine and being willing to try something different. I try to explain stopping self-harm as similar to stopping smoking, or drinking etc. You have to give yourself a good talking to, take a deep breath and just go for it with all you’ve got. You might relapse, you might not; whatever happens in the future you deal with as it happens. Focus on now, trust yourself and let other people help you.

Somebody very very close to me always says “if what you’re doing now isn’t working, you need to try something different”.

I couldn’t agree more.