(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):
- marked tendency to act unexpectedly and without consideration of the consequences;
- marked tendency to quarrelsome behaviour and to conflicts with others, especially when impulsive acts are thwarted or criticized;
- liability to outbursts of anger or violence, with inability to control the resulting behavioural explosions;
- difficulty in maintaining any course of action that offers no immediate reward;
- 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?