Reading your own medical records: SCUNDERED

(Scundered is a Northern Irish word for mortal embarrassment).  I debated posting this because, well, it’s unflattering!

So, was I an unstable manic depressive teenager, unstable borderline teenager, just a teenager, or all or none of the above?

Oh god.  I read my records.  I saw them.  I laughed. I cringed.  It was in parts painful and hilarious.  They were mostly concerned with my teenage years and very early twenties, when I was in and out of, “the system” (I was always chucked back to it when I became depressed, to appointments and shit where they made my mum come) with people being concerned about me at school for my dreadful attendance.  The hilarious bits were my teenagehood, letters from school and etc- I was the self-harming, stroppier version of Adrian Mole, morbid and obsessed with death.


So, they were only my GP records, not the juicy psychiatric stuff, but there was enough of that in there.  I had taken enough money with me to photocopy things, but I didn’t need to, in the end.  There were few surprises.  Some big inaccuracies (but in retrospect, there were important things I never disclosed to the doctors and I was only ever sent to doctors when I was depressed- the inaccuracies were things I’d mentioned before- I didn’t cut my throat on a hospital ward, I didn’t taken an overdose after a fight with a boyfriend), some mistakes (some amusing- I saw the forms for my asthma attack aged 2, which referred to me constantly as Shannon, a two year old boy), some omissions (there was about a year of stuff not there) but not many surprises.

It was mostly embarrassing.  As I suspected, borderline personality disorder has been on my rap sheet for some time- in fact, since 2002 when I was seventeen, which I didn’t know.  It was this, in fact:

F60.30 Impulsive type

At least three of the following must be present, one of which must be (2):

  1. marked tendency to act unexpectedly and without consideration of the consequences;
  2. marked tendency to quarrelsome behaviour and to conflicts with others, especially when impulsive acts are thwarted or criticized;
  3. liability to outbursts of anger or violence, with inability to control the resulting behavioural explosions;
  4. difficulty in maintaining any course of action that offers no immediate reward;
  5. unstable and capricious mood.

Isn’t that…being a teenager? Or hypomanic for the bipolar flavoured people. It’s one of the reasons I think it can be irresponsible to diagnose anyone under 18 with a mental disorder. If you grow out of it, it’s still on your records and it will colour the opinion doctors have of you.

EDIT!  Referring specifically to PDs here.  Unless the symptoms are very severe, I don’t think you should diagnose under 18s, as they are stigmatising diagnoses, and at that age your personality is still forming.

Reading those records- which included worried letters from my teachers- was an exercise in covering my face in my hands and squeaking with embarrassment.  I can really see why they diagnosed me with that.  It is one for the stroppy, cynical, low-self esteem, moody, attention seeking self harming teenager.  (I am not saying this is what BPD is.  I’m saying if you are the above, you might get diagnosed with BPD).

Which I was.  In spades.  In embarrassing, “Oh my fucking god” spades.  I RANTED ABOUT SYLVIA PLATH.  I USED LITERATURE TO MARK MYSELF OUT AS AN OUTSIDER.  I saw Camus in there, too. And Richey Edwards.  I was a teenage Manicsfan.  My background of alcoholic dad didn’t help, I guess.

A fair amount of my teenagehood was more extreme than that- particularly when I hit seventeen and decided to move country.  My first full-on, proper what-I-thought-was-manic-episode was when I was seventeen.  Those things became more pronounced as time went on.  Having read my notes from then, well, a bit before then, the doctor admitted she, “wasn’t sure what (I’m) dealing with here”.  I remember waiting for that appointment thinking I was being filmed and set up.  I didn’t say that, obviously.  But she noted I was evasive.  And, “cynical”.  That was the first time bipolar disorder was mentioned. Before then I had gone through phases where I wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t stop talking and was agitated and hyperactive, though people thought I was on drugs. Didn’t mention this to doctors and never saw them when I was like that.

It was, “all change” in 2006, when the person I was being counselled by after my dad’s death flagged up a psychotic illness.  Subsequently I went, um, psychotic for a good long while and was hospitalised, where I was got the diagnosis of bipolar disorder- but also, I noted, BPD traits, which I was aware of.  I did have them, at that time, particularly self harm and thinking most people hated me.  After that most things concentrated on medication.  I read the psychiatrist’s letter from April this year.

I feel okay about it all, lighter in some ways, albeit a bit battered and shaken (it is hard to see things like that in black and white) because I’m not that person anymore.  I am quite different now.  Even though sometimes when I am depressed I feel like I haven’t made any progress, reading things like that remind me that I have, a lot of it.   I do think BPD was something that was due to being a teenager. Not having had any therapy for it makes me think that, too. In my early twenties, the symptoms of it I had started being picked off one by one- and now, here I am, twenty five, with none of them.  I grew up. I learned to cope better.  I become more comfortable with who I was and even started liking parts of that.  I am a moody person, but not in the respects of constantly changing moods.  They change, yeah, and fairly dramatically, but not constantly.  The above (impulsivity etc) happens in high moods and nowhere else.  And I certainly do plan ahead. There was possibly two things going on at once, feeding off the other, but I don’t know.

I wish I could get it off my rap sheet as I truly believe I don’t have it, but I’m no longer confused and hurt by being diagnosed with it.  I see why.  There was a lot I had dismissed and laughed off regarding my teenage years- I always did view it as me being a pretentious little oik, even self harm I view mostly as a teenage thing- but clearly, that hadn’t been the case elsewhere. At this point, given that I’m not being treated for it anyway, I’m not sure how much it really matters.

Reading them, I feel bad for the crap I put people through in my teens.  I wasn’t particularly badly behaved (I didn’t drink, for example, I could count the number on one hand how often I did), but I was a bit of an idiot.  My biggest issue was just massively low self esteem and huge mood swings.  The things I did- like self harm- didn’t seem like problems to me, but they really worried my family.  But now, as an adult, I just think, “Isn’t that normal? Aren’t you insecure in your teens, not sure who you are, trying to mark yourself out?”  With any luck, that period of time means you grow up to be adult who knows who they are, even if they think they’re a bit of an idiot.  Maybe I should send my family a “sorry” present.

Now, I have no idea.  The records give me a good timeline, which I didn’t have in my own mind, due to gaps in my memory.   I’m not convinced by bipolar, and reading the notes makes me less convinced.  My social worker is more convinced, having just taken the past nine months as proof that there is that going on as well, as is Robert, having been shocked by the huge contrast between the summer and the fall afterwards, and it is in the most recent correspondence.

But a large part of me wants to write off my past, start over as a non-mentalist.  If I just say now, “No more”, would that work, or would something happen?  To live like other people, without medication, without even questioning the need for it, without constantly monitoring sleep etc.  But I am really coming round to the thought that it might just have been… I don’t know.  Just when you read that stuff it does put ideas in your head. Am I burying my head in the sand? Am I using it as a justification to want to get out of the system and deny the more serious things that have happened, that I can’t laugh off? Fuck knows! Doublethink. I still don’t really understand everything that has happened in my head. It’s the future that worries me- part of me wants something solid and concrete so I know how to deal with it. I have a real, deep terror of becoming ill when pregnant. I have seen it happen and it scares me so much. Likewise career things. I want be sure so I can deal with it. It’s not so much the label I need as knowing that if I go mad there is something I can do.

But I needed to read them, to make sense of some things.  I didn’t know why certain stuff had been given to me in the past (I was always puzzled by Tegretol when I was seventeen).  This digging was largely set off by the hereditary aspect of bipolar and its effects in pregnancy leading a lot of weight to a decision I made, and my annoyance at not being told, explicitly, sooner, even though I asked, what they actually thought. And it will inform my very-broody decisions in the future so I NEED to know what I am dealing with. I need to know, for certain, what will happen and what I need to do- if I will need to take medication, if it is risky for me to have a baby at all. So that tidbit of information kinda ruins the, “haha” of this entry, but there you go!

And I was curious.  I do wonder if the nurse there was also curious as to why I burst out laughing once or twice.  My teacher wrote, about herself- “I prefer the classics”.  She’s told me (we’re friends now, oddly!) not to be too hard on myself because I, “was a wee gem” and most things noted that I was clever and funny, too.  Which is nice to know, and I do know.  I don’t feel too ashamed or pissed off- I’m aware even though I was annoying and put my family through a lot, they wouldn’t wish me away and love me as I am.

And although I’m now 25, I don’t regret a lot of it.  I grew up alright, and my own shenanigans then gave me a good footing in understanding, well, what it’s like to be a difficult teenager.  The things at the time, and shortly afterwards, that I felt to be exquisitely painful and embarrassing aren’t anymore. In a way, I think it’s nice that as a teenager, things are so immediate, so overwhelming. It is passionate! I remember it at the time feeling important. I remember feeling these were the depths, and these were the heights.

But fuck me, I’m glad I’m not a teenager anymore. I would have sneered at me for reading Take a Break with genuine joy as a grown up.  I prefer being an adult.  I’M SMOKING  FAG RIGHT NOW AND YOU CAN’T STOP ME!

So, chaps, what were you like as a teenager, then?

23 Responses

  1. Mental Illness is never easy to diagnose because there’s nothing that will tell you: that’s IT. It’s so attached to our identity.

    In your case, I get the feeling that nobody ever really knew what you had. Or have.

    I was first diagnosed with depression at the age of 16 but I already knew what depression was because I had read about it in university. Sometimes I wonder if I just slapped the diagnosis on myself and manipulated all the psychiatrists. But then, why would a sane person do that?

    Now, at the age of 24I’m pretty sure I’ve had depressive episodes at least in the past 2 years when I stopped being functional. I was very functional as a teenager.

    I was kind of an easy teenager to deal with, even according to my parents. Never caused any trouble. Was in Uni at 15. However, I was always too quiet, too lonely, too shy, too introverted, dealt with books much better than people, couldn’t speak to someone unless they gave clear signs that they liked me, my self esteem was unexistant, had several moments when I thought life and everything was absolutely pointless. Had a best friend that I worshipped for being everything that I wasn’t, and tried to imitate her, which in retrospect is very embarrassing.

    I have always been worried about my depression being “just me”. I mentioned all of this to the psychiatrist but he seems to be adamant that it wasn’t me, that it’s the illness. That I AM in fact, a shy introverted person, but that doesn’t mean I’m naturaly miserable either. But it’s really hard to know where one thing end and the other starts.

    You were very brave for going over there to read your medical records. I would try to do that myself but I don’t think I’d find much.

    • yes, it’s really hard to know and understand where one thing stops and another begins, however….
      do you really need to know? is the label really THAT important? of course, everybody wants to know they’re ‘normal’ in some respect, a label will help you to accept that you are a different kind of normal (and may even help you to understand how to help yourself), but it sounds to me as though you’re way past that stage.
      as we are all individuals, we need to get to know ourselves, – other people can help, people within ‘the system’ too – but ultimately you are your own doctor/nurse/therapist. each of us must learn how to make ourselves stable and happy. having a mental illlness doesn’t make that a different job from everyone else, it just makes it more difficult! lol.
      bless you for being so open, don’t spend any time thinking that the depression is part of you. it’s a way your brain reacts to … well who knows what really? do you really need to know? all you need is to learn how to take control of it and turn it around. easier said than done (believe me i really do know!). but learning how to cope and change the environment to suit you is the best attitude to take to remain functional.

  2. You have ADHD get over it… also YOU went to the doctors for help. If you thought you were a “normal teenager” you wouldn’t have gone to them for help with depression… fail.

    • I didn’t go to the doctor- I was sent there by the school and accompanied often by my parents. I didn’t get any solid treatment until I was hospitalised.

    • Kind of an obnoxious comment to leave on someone’s blog, esp when they open up like this.

  3. It must have been tough as you say to see it all written down, but hopefully cathartic in time. I didn’t get official BPD diagnosis until age 38, I wish I could grow out of it, but unlikely some how! x

  4. Hey anon, mr can’t even put my name up. You are an asshole. Bugger off.

  5. hi seaneen, reading this bit of your latest entry :
    “But a large part of me wants to write off my past, start over as a non-mentalist. If I just say now, “No more”, would that work, or would something happen? To live like other people, without medication, …”
    in the context of the rest of what you’ve said makes me think, “yea, actually you can”. you’ve come a long way, particularly over the last few months; i think your attitude towards your own way of thinking seems to have matured.
    so yes, i think you can do just that. and maybe, at some point in the future, something MIGHT happen. but then again it might not. and if it does, who’s really better to know how to manage it than you, with all the experience you have?
    personally, i was able to live this way and stay ‘well’ for over 8 years. i had a child in that time and have been a good mother. yes, i’ve gone downhill again, but it’s not so bad this time around, i’m so much further away from those teenage years. i’ll be well again soon.
    don’t let what MIGHT happen ruin the enjoyment of what you can make happen now. enjoy your life. xxx

  6. I think you’re very brave for going and reading it all. I’m still too scared to ask.

    I do think it is dangerous of them to suggest you have BPD when you’re a teenager. You are still forming a personality, so how can that personality be disordered when it isn’t even developed? bah.

    Of course once you’re labelled it probably doesn’t matter how much you change, if someone reads the label they will make assumptions.

    I do still think Bipolar is the dx that suits you best from what I know of you and I think your social worker and Robert are best placed to know too, but perhaps it doesn’t matter any more. Hopefully you can manage things without psychiatric intervention and then the label means nothing.

    Take care x

  7. Wow what an amazing insightful post. Seeing the counsellor that I am over the past 4 weeks has actually made me think more about my teenage years and what kind of person I was, some of it is very hard to take in because of the things I did to my parents especially my mum, but despite it she always forgave me… maybe it’s a post I might articulate one day and publish!

  8. I asked to see my GP records. They were fairly uneventful except that at one point I turned into an eight year old girl called Milly Manners. Milly had broken her arm.

  9. I wish I was able to let go of all the guilt of my previous teenage misdemeanors, I am too scared to see my notes, and as I am so embarrassed about the parts I do remember, what if I come awful things I forgot?! Arghhhh.
    Ah well, at least you did it, and I admire your attitude about it, fair play. I am a teeny bit jealous.
    That’s for a great post. I keep thinking about those damned notes of mine. BettDoublethink.

  10. Is scundered like the scunnered we have in Scotland?

    Oh, and “Aye, yer ma” — we’ve got that too.

  11. I don’t know how I feel about not dx’ing teens. I’m a teen still. Stuff’s been dismissed as me ‘just being a teenager’. I saw plenty of other teens every day at school. They didn’t act like me. They didn’t have the problems I did.

    • To clarify:

      Referring specifically to PDs here. Unless the symptoms are very severe, I don’t think you should diagnose under 18s, as they are stigmatising diagnoses, and at that age your personality is still forming.

      I felt the same as a teenager and as far as I knew, I was written off as “just being a teenager”, except it was a PDed one. I didn’t get treatment for that, really.

  12. Hi, I was a quiet compliant introverted undramatic teenager. Much the same till I was 36 – then it all went ‘wrong’.
    I am now a 41 year old noncompliant and generally ok ‘teenager’. (I put myself somewhere around 23 in my head) but I am still not dramatic enough. perhaps I dont need to be. I am getting a feel of what I call ‘me-ness’ which is finally being comfortable and not worrying if I am being ‘nice’ to other people.
    I am glad you have got where you are aged 25, sounds like you are a wonderful person.

  13. EEeek I’ve been reading my old diaries lately and it’s been similarly mortifying. Can empathise.

  14. i think its very daring of you to go through your records.

    i was assertive since my teenage years, but i was made to feel that i was aggressive by my very dysfunctional parents – mom and stepdad.

    they took me to a therapist who pegged all my frustration on missing my real dad, not teenage angst or unreasonably strict parenting. that was the first and last time i met with her. had that therapist labeled me bpd, i can only imagine that my life would have been loads worse.

    i’m glad that you don’t regret who you were or how you were because you did nothing wrong.

  15. I went to a “Face2face” counselling service when I as 14, as my self-harming had started again. I did discuss some of the more worrying of my experiences (eg. I thought everyone I passed in the street was watching me, and that they knew what a bad person I was), and they wanted to refer me to a CAMHS psychiatrist. I asked why, and they mentoned BPD.

    At this point I withdrew from counselling, ignored attempts to engage me and slipped through the net. I am so glad I did.

    After 4 years in services (I eventually gave up and requested help during a depressive episode when I was 17), I know have a mouthful of a diagnosis : Severe Recurrent Depressive Disorder, on the Bipolar spectrum, with Psychotic features.

    Me, as a teenager, I was a mess at times. I’m 21 now, and starting to learn to cope. I don’t think I have BPD, although I can see why someone could see that in me at 14 – but I totally agree that personality disorders should not be diagnosed at such a young age – diagnosis for anyone under 25 should be considered very carefully. Also, I don’t think people always understand why someone exhibits symptoms which can attract a BPD diagnosis, such as self-harm and eating disorders – for example my “eating disorder” was related to psychotic depression (I believed I had been responsible for the deaths of my grandparents so deserved to die, and everyone around me knew, and might be trying to poison me). Sometimes the underlying issues are a lot more complex than people think.

    Regarding pregnancy, Seaneen, it does appear to carry more risks of postpartum psychosis or depression in women with existing psychosis or mood disorders, however it can also affect women without any previous mental illness. Nobody can tell you exactly what is going to happen. Certain medications are more risky than others during pregnancy/breastfeeding.
    Does your Trust have a perinatal mental health service? Would a practitioner from there be able to meet with you and give you an idea of the service, how they can support you etc? You may in the future have a totally uneventful pregnancy and postnatal period, however, having access to support and a plan in place in case you did become unwell may help put your mind at ease.


  16. oh, well maybe in your case the BPD is still “current” on your diagnosis, but it’s not unusual to have several maybe’s before they see more symptoms and decide on a diagnosis. In fact, the diagnosis is almost never set in stone and can change in future, regardless.

    I’m still annoyed because in one of my first psychiatrist appointments he decided I was “hystrionic personality disorder”. Now I could list many ways in which that was wrong and the psychiatrist was completely out of line. For one thing he decided my clothes were “flamboyant” (red jeans, I knew I shouldn’t have worn them but they were the only thing that was clean), and to be honest I had only gone out and bought new clothes after splitting up with my partner and wanting a change of image – after a lifetime of poor self esteem and frumpy clothes. He just decided that I was “obviously” HPD, which means that you must have consistently over many years and since teenagerhood have been an attention-seeking bimbo, to put it mildly. He basically dismissed things like my distress (I cried) as attention-seeking behaviour (shallow emotions just designed to manipulate). And so on.

    This was so far out of whack with what was going on and who I am that it’s just not funny. Eventually I was hospitalised with a severe psychosis and the new psychiatrist backdated the psychosis for all the time I had been seeing the other one. There are 2 reasons why it hurts – one is that I was in fact severely ill and he thought I was exaggerating for attention, and the other was that it was such a short period of a year or two in my whole life where I looked nice for a change, I wasn’t “flirty” – ever – and they had pages and pages in my GP’s notes from previous years which describe me as “dirty” “dishevelled” “unkempt” “smells” and so on, basically obvious self-neglect, plus many injuries from domestic violence.

    It really upsets me to think it’s still there, that someone can read it and judge me on it and maybe believe that any time, just because I happen to look nice on that day, maybe, and/or seem to be in an emotional state.

    Remember folks, personality disorders are supposed to be very long-term stable things going back over your whole adult life and for many previous years. If you have recently changed your behaviour after some trauma, that is supposed to rule it out. PD is who you ARE, not something you come down with for a while and then get over. If you think they haven’t really understood who you are and aren’t listening, you may well be right….

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