Yesterday I was contemplating what I would write about today - what aspect of mental health should I talk about? I decided that I wanted to convey the voices and experiences of the people I have met through my work as a psychologist.
In the States, it seemed that the kids I worked with as a mental health counsellor were given a mental health disorder diagnosis for insurance purposes. Labelled and boxed so the secure units would get payment for them. In the UK, I feel that it's different. I feel that people sometimes go in search of their diagnosis and have difficulty getting support. Others don't go at all; silently suffering and not knowing what's "wrong with them."
I believe services are now better for those suffering from anxiety and depression. There is more understanding and more openness. Yesterday, I noticed the title of a newspaper article - "I was floored with depression".
This made me think about other mental health challenges - the ones we don't talk about or aren't comfortable saying. We are okay with saying "I am OCD" or "I am a perfectionist" because we can see the positives. I ask my "OCD" friend to come over to clean my flat or when asked about a "weakness" in a job interview, to answer "I am a perfectionist."
What about borderline personality disorder? What do we know about individuals suffering from that?
I have a long standing client who I have asked if I could share a snippet of her experience. Let's call her Sally....
Sally is an elite athlete and was diagnosed with depression at 18 years old. I think for Sally, there were many contributing factors including feeling pressure to please her parents to have the 'perfect' life. Competition became harder in her sport and she was no longer "the best." Sally suffered immensely and began self-harming when the pressure got too much. When she felt like she had let others down, she engaged in risk-taking behaviours as a way of punishing herself. Sally had difficulties in relationships because she would push and pull, attach and dis-attach and would often feel unloved and empty. When others did not meet her expectations, Sally would feel hopeless and have suicidal thoughts. All of these are symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder.
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental disorder marked by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behaviour, self-image, and functioning. These experiences often result in impulsive actions and unstable relationships. A person with BPD may experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety that may last from only a few hours to days.
Sally was finally given this diagnosis last year. In working with Sally, I believe the diagnosis has helped her understand herself more and we work together to try to alleviate her symptoms and help her cope. Sally is doing very well at present - competing at a high level and travelling with her sport.
The foundations of yoga are ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’ which provides us with a guide to reaching Samadhi - that state of bliss. This includes ‘Eight Limbs of Yoga’ of which each limb offers us guidance within our practice, both on and off the mat.
The first limb is made up of the ‘Yamas’. These are moral values which guide the best way to act towards ourselves and others. The first Yama is ‘Ahimsa’, which means ‘non-violence’ or ‘non-harming’. (‘Himsa’ = ‘hurt’ and ‘a’ = ‘not’). The body can hear what we think about ourselves and therefore Ahimsa is not only about physical violence, but mental violence. The practice to help the mental violence of self-deprecation - thinking negatively about oneself.
For Sally, she would often tell herself she was not good enough and not worthy of people's love. She would cause harm to herself both physically and mentally - berating herself when she did not meet her own expectations.
How has Sally been able to manage? By practicing self-care and non-violence towards herself. I have tried to teach her self-compassion and that she is worthy as a person. Through self-love and replacing negative self-perceptions with kindness and acceptance, Sally is starting to manage her mental health disorder.
Yoga helps to diffuse any violence you hold inside of you. By releasing negative energy through positive intentions, your mat is a great place to practice non-violence towards yourself.
Thank you 'Sally' for letting me share your story. Namaste!
Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.