Why I deprive myself of medication for my mental health
Trigger warning: this blog discusses mental health struggles and suicidal thoughts.
Even though I’m a journalist by trade, until now, I haven’t publicly shared my struggles with mental health medication. I read many, many magazines, and though all champion open discussion of mental health, I’ve never found the words I needed to read. So here they are.
Google borderline personality disorder (BPD) and you’ll soon realize how much stigma surrounds it. Also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder, the condition’s characteristics include emotional dysregulation, intense but unstable relationships and impulsive behaviour. The world feels like a big, scary place when you’re that sensitive, and it’s incredibly isolating.
For several years I refused antidepressants because I didn’t believe in altering my mood artificially. Even if they did work, I told myself, I wouldn’t deserve this new and improved me. I’d be a fraud.
Photo by Matteo Badini on Unsplash
Then I hit a dark spot and, desperate, I gave them a shot. Antidepressants made me like life in a way I never had before. My future wasn’t a black hole.
A hallmark of BPD is feeling inherently “bad”. I see the world in black and white — I might idolize you one minute and despise you the next. One wrong move can fill me with red hot rage. This black and white thinking applies to my own sense of self, too; unlike everybody else, who are fundamentally good but make mistakes, I am B-A-D.
When I do make mistakes — oftentimes, I’ll lash out when my despair is overwhelming — the shame is all-consuming. At this point, I’ll start depriving myself of medication.
Usually, I’ll go cold turkey, knowing deep down my mental health will deteriorate while also convincing myself the pills don’t work anyway. Surely, I’ll decide, they must be a placebo, ashamed that these tiny pills help me function.
Travelling in Georgia, Asia
For a while, I won’t notice a drastic change in mood. Ha! See? Placebos! Then a week or two will pass. My world suddenly becomes very small. Days go by without brushing my teeth, changing my clothes, or having a shower. My body aches like I have the flu. While in Bulgaria, I make plans to buy a rope as soon as I arrive home in Wales.
Marsha Linehan likens people with BPD to third-degree burn victims: ‘Lacking emotional skin, they feel agony at the slightest touch or movement.’ To experience this without antidepressants is like death.
More recently, rather than going cold turkey, I’ve made excuses not to take the pills. While privately I know depriving myself will make life worse — based on 100% of the times this experiment has failed before — I’ll still find reasons. Maybe I’ll roll in drunk from a night out, telling myself I’ll take them in the morning before immediately passing out. I might “forget’’ to renew my prescription. I love to travel; out there in the world, I feel indestructible and decide I must be cured, or am just so busy — I swear I’ll take a double dose tomorrow. Sometimes I hold the pills between my fingers, willing myself to place them on my tongue.
Travelling in Venice, Italy
I feel terrible shame for my behaviour and even more for not having the guts to end this perceived misery I put everyone through. At my worst, I believe I am a Bad Egg who doesn’t deserve inner peace — in fact, I deserve to feel as bad as possible. I sleep with a razor under my pillow and convince myself I’m repenting. If I go a week, two weeks without meds, God will forgive me. I’ll finally be good. But the goalposts keep shifting.
I ruminate over the many occasions I’ve allowed my moods to ruin. As a child I loved a show called Bernard’s Watch, about a boy with a timepiece which could be paused at any time, leaving Bernard free to make mischief as the world stood still. I fantasise about owning that watch, about having just a few moments to pause and process before the situation hurtles out of control like a train into a brick wall.
Compounding this shame is awareness of how privileged I am to live in a country where medication is free, while friends abroad smoke weed in an effort to keep their mental health afloat.
The waiting list for DBT therapy in my area is obscene so I was offered a mental health nurse to talk to, which helped me become more aware of this black and white thinking. I hadn’t realized just how deeply ingrained my self-loathing was — I genuinely believed I was evil. Every week they would point out how I reverted to this default mindset and it took many months for me to start being kinder to myself.
I didn’t think it was possible, but our talks opened my mind to the spectrum of colours that exist in between black and white; I can be impulsive and hot-tempered but I’m also kind, fun and generous. Now, I’m at least willing to consider the possibility I may not be An Entirely Bad Egg. I’m flawed, just like everybody else.
We recently parted ways after a year of chatting and every day, I catch myself falling into the same old thought patterns and have to give myself pep talks. Because of the pandemic we never actually met — we spoke on the phone — so I find it funny that I might walk right past this person who cared about me without even recognising them.
Over the past few months, I’ve tried hard to hold myself accountable. I anticipate how many days’ worth of pills I have left and ensure I have a fresh supply, and even when I’m sleepy, I force them into my mouth before passing out. There’s a note on my phone which reads ‘Keep taking meds!!! Even when I’m feeling low. Don’t sabotage myself.’ I consider what advice I’d give to a friend in my position and remind myself that, despite what my mind has to say about it, I really do deserve to feel better.
If you are struggling and are in need of support, below are a few incredibly helpful organisations that provide both resources and direct help:
Shout Crisis Text Line — you can text Shout to 85258 if you are experiencing a personal crisis, are unable to cope and need support.
Talk to the Samaritans — they offer 24-hour emotional support in full confidence. You can call them for free on 116 123
CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) offers a chat and hotlines service from 5pm to midnight
Papyrus (Suicide Prevention Charity) offers similar service for adolescents and young adults under the age of 35
Mind — you can call the Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393 / firstname.lastname@example.org, the Mind Legal Advice service on 0300 466 6463 / email@example.com