Mum of two Sarah had been struggling with her mental health for most of her life. Shortly after becoming a Mental Health First Aider, she was diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder. To dismiss any ‘elephants in the room’, Sarah decided to deliver a presentation about her condition to her entire team. Here is her story.
Having suffered with mental health illness since I was 16, I’ve spent the last 19 years trying to hide or cure myself. Last year I really began to struggle, deteriorating after my mum passed away and my best friend took her own life, Kirsty.
I had only been in my role at Good Things Foundation a couple of months, and having been honest with my line manager and HR manager about my anxiety, mood variations and that I was on the verge of a diagnosis from my psychiatrist, they made room for me on the Mental Health First Aid course that some of the staff were going on. As an organisation we work to enhance lives through digital, and work within social and digital inclusion, including mental health awareness. I jumped at the opportunity because I wanted to know what might be in store for me, and I’ve always had a passion for helping others.
I was scared before going, but fortunately I attended with six other colleagues and I spoke to two of them before attending about my concerns. I also discussed this with the tutor on arrival. He was great at highlighting what was coming up and had made everyone feel comfortable that they could leave the room at any time if they wanted. I worried about being upset, and at times I was, but I learned so much about myself and others. I learned so much about a range of conditions, and came away with a manual to help me, to help colleagues, and my family. The most important thing I learned is that everyone has mental health, and it moves and changes, just like being physically healthy or unhealthy.
It was just five days later that I was diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder, also known as Borderline Personality Disorder.
Being diagnosed hit me hard, so I had some time off work. When I returned to work after a few weeks off and had a phased return, I was asked if I wanted to share my experience and details of my diagnosis. I built up a bit of confidence and decided to give a five-minute, lightning talk at my team meeting in front of around 50 staff.
Here are a few of the points I shared.
I explained my version of my diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder and thanked everyone for their support while I had been off and once I had returned. I also wanted to explain that:
There is no getting “well” and I would probably be on medication for life.
That I want to learn to use my emotions for good, especially my empathy.
Managing my emotions is difficult, and just because I cried it didn’t always mean I was sad, sometimes I just do that as I don’t know how to express myself.
Coping mechanisms are the answer and I am working on them each and every day.
I also made a point of letting everyone know the things I would do that would probably drive them all mad, and once again I’m working on these, but at least now I’m aware. A few things I discussed were:
I’m learning to make these shorter and send less. If you can say one word, I’ll say 10,000.
I like to keep a record of things for when my brain sometimes forgets (foggy mind), so I will often email even if we’ve chatted about it.
I like black and white, I am terrible with grey, but that’s not to say I don’t understand things are grey. I just need more explanation for me to understand some concepts.
Feedback, good and bad, is brilliant for me (I always assume the worst when I don’t hear anything), so even just saying “next time could you add”, “this isn’t what I wanted… can you do” is helpful.
Please don’t step on eggshells, I can take feedback, I love feedback. I thrive on developing and improving, so please don’t worry about offending me or telling me I got something wrong or not to do it again. I want to be better at my job.
I am not yet aware of many of my triggers, but I am learning.
I have empathy and am quite self-aware.
I am genuinely at my best when I am busy, deadlines, travelling, meeting people, creating order in the chaos.
I feel like I can say when I am not having a “good day” and I need to learn to pass the baton onto someone else at work who may help me. I now have set days to work from home, but being in the office is good for me at least some of the week.
If something is really important and you think I may have forgotten, please remind me. I’m working on new ways to combat my “cloudy mind” but please don’t be offended if I occasionally forget.
I had a few weeks of feeling extremely negative about the situation, but now I feel the best way is to try and use my diagnosis for the best. I’m blogging and participating in clinical trials and meetings regarding mental health.
My work has already taken a lot of this this on board and now offer constructive feedback, solutions for recording tasks, and flexible working conditions. I know I’m very fortunate in this manner, but I would still recommend speaking to someone within your HR department for support at work.
I also highlighted the other Mental Health First Aiders in the workplace and it’s becoming a real talking point. Now, people don’t just say “yeah I’m fine”, they tend to be more honest and several staff have approached me who are struggling. I’m not there to advise, but to listen and signpost. I’ll be forever grateful for what I learned on that course.
Sarah is an active mental health and lifestyle blogger and has been tracking her story since her diagnosis. You can follow Sarah's blog here.