I have kept every little memento of my life: in depth diaries, airline tickets, photos, letters, emails, text messages, cinema tickets and notes from people – everything and anything. I always had an inkling from a young age that my life was different, and that I might one day write my story. But it wasn’t until my depression and anxiety got worse in my thirties, and I embarked on a journey to rediscover my past, that I began to see that maybe I really was different.
I had no idea just how much of my life I had dissociated from, including being raped when I was fifteen. It was like I was reading about someone else. In 2008, after referral to a psychiatrist, I finally had a name that explained the many symptoms I’d suffered since my teens as well as depression, OCD, self-harm, eating disorder, promiscuity and drug-taking to name a few. I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, and for a long time I was still in denial. But I always knew I would eventually have to face up to it.
So I wrote my story; my journey back to me. How I was able to use all those mementos of my past to finally see who I had become, and more importantly with a combination of therapy, medication and my self therapy writing, how I became that alien self and how to find the real me.
But I do believe my recovery and writing of my book was powered by obsession and strength. I used my OCD tendencies to get me through. While they controlled me in some ways, I was controlling them in others.
Obsession has always been part of my life: from the incessant diary entries to writing my story. I have used that obsession in a positive way in detailing every event of my life, in my memoir, but obsession can also be debilitating. Living with OCD is not easy and OCD is common as a co-disorder, in BPD sufferers.
We can all have worries or suspicions but many people can think about them logically and dissolve them with explanation or positive action. Those people can get on with their lives and put their worries to the side. But for others with OCD the thoughts, obsessions do not stop and what’s more some form a perpetual cycle of rituals and routines, the only way to stay safe.
Often a sufferer will know that the compulsive behaviours are not logical, therefore they are not psychotic, but they still cannot stop the destructive behaviours. For me, when I finally moved into a flat of my own again in my late 30’s, an example would be to think I hadn’t locked the door when I left the flat. I would have to go back, no matter what time of day or night, to check that it was locked, even though I knew it was. Or, I would think that a glass near a window would set the flat alight because the sun would shine through the window, onto the glass and cause fire. I knew that these things were not viable, yet I absolutely had to go back home to check, no matter where I was. Every time I did, the door was locked and there was no fire, but it didn’t stop me from going through the same process again and again. I’d even have to get my ex-boyfriend out of bed at 2am to drive me home to check if I was staying at his home. He wouldn’t argue either, as he knew there was no point – he couldn’t talk sense into me.
Stress can make OCD symptoms worse and adverse life events can bring OCD on in those with a tendency for OCD.
We all have obsessions
I used to count.
As a child I used to count everything – steps as I walked along, and pavement squares. That started when I was little and was trying to keep up with my dad’s steps. He’d hold my hand walking along in town. But the counting the steps continued for years even without my dad there. Counting other things too; words in my head, words I would say over and over in my head. How many pages of a book I’d read, statistically analysing what percentage of a book or task I was at.
At fifteen, I became obsessed with my stomach being flat and formed an eating/exercising disorder.
Boys, men, taking photographs, being scared of responsibilities, convinced I couldn’t do my job; my profession…
I didn’t notice the compulsions because I blocked them out
I was a perfectionist. I needed everything done in a certain way and if it wasn’t perfect I’d reject it, like the garage leaking in my old flat, meant I had to sell the flat. I would salute magpies and not walk on three drains in a row having to do things three times for luck, like taking three lots of toilet paper, or touching things three times…odd things obsessions, as you don’t really realise you have them until they are pointed out or you catch yourself doing them one day.
It was only during my therapies I began to realise the full extent of them. As I made my list of ‘Amanda’s mental symptoms’ these things were all added over time and I realised just how many of them I had. The more I wrote my book, wrote about my illness, wrote about my symptoms, the more it became apparent just how OCD I was. No wonder I felt mentally and physically worn out! It became clear that having constant conversations with myself, going over and over thoughts and worries, having all those routines and habits were wearing enough by themselves, and that’s without any of the other symptoms of BPD or depression. But, some of these things were tackled last since they were not the priority on my list of symptoms. When I realised how destructive my daily task lists had been I stopped doing them. But I had many more to eradicate and that was to be sorted out later on. I didn’t want to continue with my internal conversations, my hair playing, my nervousness, but I decided that anger, rapid mood swings and my fear of abandonment were much more important and should be dealt with first.
Obsession led me to bankruptcy… I lost relationships as I tarred everyone with my rules, wanting everyone to abide by them… It led to jealousy…and it led to denial of my own issues.
Lists helped me to put things into perspective, until my whole life ran on lists – endless things to do, non-stop statistical analysis of absolutely everything in my life. I found them easy to make, but still didn’t listen to the fact that I was feeding my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) – which one of my therapists had suggested I had. Lists could end up typed out on numerous sheets of A4 paper. Just looking at them would freak me out – how on earth could I get all that done? I couldn’t, and I knew it, but it didn’t stop me from spending minutes or hours a day worrying about how I couldn’t achieve these things, or couldn’t make the decisions I needed to, all written down, and I wasted so much time worrying I had even less chance of achieving them. My stress would lead to a few things as per – drinking copious amounts of alcohol, smoking lots of cigarettes, a denial of food, taking my stress out on other people (whoever happened to be around at the time), twiddling endlessly with my hair which achieved nothing actually except for greasy hair and more stress
Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT), Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) anti-depressants and Quetiapine anti-psychotics helped me a lot, together with my own self therapy journey, but I will not go into that here.
Like all facets of my illness it’s about control. I control them; they don’t control me
But I wrote my book, all the while learning about myself and therapies and medicines, illnesses and my past to recovery. There was much to plough through – emails, texts, letters, photos, boxes of mementos – it was never ending and hard work. It was hard because I had to get everything in order of date, tonnes of it, all those bits of paper, then read them, then type them ALL up, sort all the photos into order, printed and digital, sort all the emails out and paste them in, write up hundreds and hundreds of SMS texts, read all the letters again, typing up whole diaries, sometimes with one day equalling a whole page; years and years of them, taking months and months to plough through, then sorting out what I wanted in my story, or what was useful to my self therapy, then cutting, and cutting and adding and adding, and narrating and cutting… a huge job that took so long because I wouldn’t let one note go, EVERYTHING had to be logged on the computer in my book word documents – hundreds and hundreds of documents, postcards, little notes, a whole life written up, then trying to find a way to turn those hundreds of thousands of words into a story that people could read cohesively– then writing scenes, going back in time and writing hundreds of pieces about different times and events and people, going back and remembering; feeling, tasting, smelling, visualising and listening – triggering all my senses from the past, trying to relive them in the present so I could write them down.
It made me more ill; getting lost in the past, but with sheer determination to beat my demons – I was not going to give up. I knew it was going to hurt, but nothing prepared me for the pain. When I think of it now I am pretty amazed I got through it on my own. And I was on my own much of the time. BUT, I do not recommend looking back as the best way to cope. It doesn’t work for everyone.
I had to go through a lot of pain.
My brother Ian told me so many times to stop writing my book because he could see that I was feeling worse even from the other side of the world – he didn’t know how bad I was, but he still cared. I knew he was right but there were two things I couldn’t let go – I had to get myself better and I couldn’t give up on the biggest commitment I have ever made – I had to finish my book, and by doing so I would prove so much to myself about my inner strength and dedication – I was not going to fail this one, I had failed too many times and this was my chance to prove myself and help myself.
I was researching my disorders, reading mental health memoirs, reading books that told me I had no hope of cure.
BUT, I also got lost in my writing. It wasn’t all bad. Slowly, sometimes one step forward and another two back but slowly, slowly I was getting better and so was my writing. I was achieving and I was keeping very busy.
Sometimes the pain almost became to much to bear, but I didn’t give up. I would use the symptoms, the obsessions, the passion, the all-consuming need to show the world who I really was. I would turn it on its head and make it work – for me.
I used my obsession to my benefit in writing my book. Without the drive of obsession I would never have had all the memorabilia of my life. Without the drive I would not have had the urge to keep writing. Without the drive I would not have been a perfectionist to learn how to write better and make it the best it could be. And now the obsession that has dominated my life for all these years has been put to rest.
My story, (My Alien Self: My Journey Back to Me) warts n all, can be read on kindle, handheld devices, mobile phones, ipads, iphones, blackberry, Ipod touch, PC’s, MAC’s, laptops and more – See my website at http://www.amandagreenauthor.co.uk for more inspirationa and samples.