This is going to be a long read, and I don’t apologise for that because it needs to be a lesson for everyone.
I wrote this post back in 2015, shortly after I started blogging. I was approached by another blogger about writing an article, and I figured, that in that time in my life, this topic was most relevant to me. I don’t believe the post was ever shared, and therefore, 2 years on, I have decided to share the story, because I’m developing these gut-wrenching feelings again (not necessarily with the same person – might I add), and I need to work through the feelings in a safe way.
All I ask of you is to not judge me, because I have already judged myself with this as well as learning that it is not okay to judge others. This is taking a lot of courage to share this now.
I’ll be writing another piece about chronic pain and mental illness again soon.
I’ve been needing to, since…. Well, many, many blog posts ago!
I also would like to apologise to the “friend” – if they ever find themselves stumbling upon this post, as they will know who they are from the information – that I am truly sorry for everything that happened, and I honestly wish things had been different, and that I would really like things to work out so we can learn from this and help each other out in times of need, as those with mental illness and/or chronic illness need to stick together.
And also – a LOT has changed since writing this post, as you’ll have noticed if you have followed me since the beginning, and I know a lot has changed for my “friend” as well, and I hope she truly can forgive me.
This post contain triggers of self-harm and eating disorders.
Okay, so here the story goes….
The Stigma Between Two Mentally and Chronically Ill Friends
I’ve wanted to write a piece about mental illness and chronic pain for a while now. I just didn’t know exactly how to write it, until now.
I want to talk to you about the stigma of these illnesses.
I’d always thought I’d been quite lucky and avoided being stigmatized, but the more I think about it, the more I realise that I’ve been stigmatized by quite a few people, family, friends and work colleagues. But even more so, from those also suffering.
This made me think about the way I treated others. Having a mental illness can alter situations from normal to extreme, depending on the situation and “filter” in your head.
I want to be completely honest with this post, and share with you something, which quite rightly cost me a beautiful friendship.
Throughout my teens I suffered with depression and anxiety. However, there was still something not quite right. By the age of 18, I was diagnosed with PTSD after a horrendous bout of domestic violence. A few years later, I was diagnosed with hypermobility and fibromyalgia, and finally borderline personality disorder. With my mental and physical health in crisis, I sought to friendships for support.
With the few friends I still had, I discussed with them my situation. How much I was suffering and how difficult I was finding life. The amount of medication I was on, the treatments I was seeking and how I felt about my entire life changing.
I’d been a relatively fit and healthy teenager, sure my eating behaviour was AWOL, and I didn’t participate in regular exercise, but by my late teens, I was quite happy jumping around on the dance floors in clubs and drinking the hours away. The last thing I thought was that I’d end up in crippling agony, joints strapped up and dosed up on painkillers to the max. I started to blame my eating for the issues – My lack of nutrition for the lack of strength in my immune system. I felt as though I’d let myself down. I felt as though I was being judged by everyone; The inappropriate stares, looking at someone young with a walking aid, or being pushed in a wheelchair but able to get up and walk for short periods of time. Yes, this has become my life. (Let alone to the fact I can no longer climb and descend stairs without feeling utterly terrified I may fall!)
It wasn’t long after I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia that I briefed a friend who was visiting me after having moved away, on the illness. At the time, it was unheard of. No one I knew had even heard of it. I’d only heard of it through a friend who suffers with Elhers Danlos Syndrome, and she thought that the symptoms I was showing were similar to that of fibro, and after many months and many tests, it was confirmed.
My friend seemed to take it all in her stride. I spoke of the trigger point test and that I’d gone from my GP, neurology and rheumatology before finally getting this diagnosis. At the beginning my pain was specifically in my left wrist and thumb. I was getting splints made for me at the physiotherapy clinic at the hospital, steroid injections and ultrasound, yet nothing seemed to be helping. My friend seemed to be interested, and quite supportive. However, it wasn’t until she arrived back home, that we got chatting in a private message via social media.
She said that she’d been looking up Fibromyalgia, I assumed to help me, and I’m sure it was all in good faith that it was – originally. But it wasn’t long into the conversation that she said she too has a lot of the symptoms. She was a bit hesitant to mention this, almost scared of what my reaction might be. Of course the symptoms of Fibromyalgia come in so many different ways, that you could be “normal” and still have these symptoms. It doesn’t mean you have fibro, and that tests need to be completed to rule out any other illnesses.
Of course, as she looked up the symptoms, as we all do at some stage in our life – Google tells us we’re going to die. She seemed to have convinced herself that she was worried about having a type of cancer. Now, I know that straight away, I shouldn’t judge such a horrendous illness, but when Googling symptoms – You do wonder what to expect. So, in support of this conversation, I said that she needed to see her GP and get a referral and try and find out what was going on. She took my advice on board and spoke to her GP, and to my surprise, she came back to tell me she had been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.
I was practically fuming. At this point in my life, I had yet to be diagnosed with BPD, and I was known to have my adrenaline outbursts of frustration and anger. I tried so much to be polite and supportive, but it soon turned into a vile, nasty argument.
I’m not too sure exactly, when it was during this time but we also had a conversation about her having an eating disorder. She explained to me that she was seeing an eating disorder specialist, and I asked what for. I ended up asking her why she couldn’t talk to me about it, especially knowing about my issues with food. However, she was adamant she didn’t know about my issues, and knew that as soon as she said something, it would be something I could recognise and say, “I’ve got that”.
From this, we ended up having argument after argument, all via our private social media chat. It was then when it entered the public domain when I, somehow managed to make an entire group hate me, and get kicked out. At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d done wrong. It was easy to hide behind the screen and type the fury of thoughts firing away inside my head. It wasn’t so easy to erase them from the people who read them, and the friendship fell apart.
It wasn’t long after our fall out that I went to extreme measures of self-harming. I was cutting and trying to break my wrist, which I felt was the cause of my pain, and seemingly the cause of the entire situation. I hated myself for being so reckless and thoughtless in my friendship, especially when I needed her the most.
I got in contact with a local mental health services, whom then assessed me over the phone by asking a series of questions. I scored extremely high on both the depression and anxiety tests, as expected, and was offered a course of CBT. I was told the waiting list was about 3 months, and within this time of waiting I was diagnosed with BPD and offered a different therapy course called Stepps.
I couldn’t accept that our friendship was over, and I tried to make amends, explaining this diagnosis, but I was ignored. I was pushed away from support groups, as it seemed word was getting around. I created a fake profile, trying to find out what was being said about me, the anxiety, the paranoia inside me was killing me, and I was breaking the law. I just wanted my friend back.
At the time, of course I denied any knowing of myself, and continued to create this online persona. It worked for a while, but I soon found it frustrating that I couldn’t be myself, and even if this fake person was to be friends with the other person, it still would be impossible to gain a physical friendship, thus in theory, a complete waste of time for what I needed.
When I started therapy, I decided to start fresh, I created myself a new profile, and invited all those I wanted to be friends with, and it felt like a clean slate. I named it “[name].business”, so that I would only use it for business purposes (Although, it’s not so much now!) this meant I couldn’t be “aggressive” or “rude”, I had to think before I typed out what I wanted to say. It was the beginning of something really helpful. In time, my now “ex-friend” and I were starting to be on speaking terms. Just the occasional comment here and there, but no hourly conversations. I did try to initiate conversations, but I never felt they got anywhere. My “ex-friend” had put up her boundary, and wasn’t yet ready to let me in. I get that now. She was still living away, and when she visited her hometown, we would never get the chance to meet up because she was busy visiting family (or avoiding me).
Therapy flies past, especially when you need it the most. I’d completed Stepps, and even completed Stairways. My life still in chaos, but I felt as though I could control things a bit better. It wasn’t until I joined a therapeutic community, that I would feel the full benefits of therapy and learn more about myself and my life, than I ever thought possible. (And yes, I will continue to learn more as time goes on, because I am still “finding” myself).
Even still, this process would be the most intense therapy, I’ve ever done. Battling with the demons of BPD head on. Discussing each and every brutal detail of the chaos inside my head, the twisted imagination and the hatred and frustration I felt towards myself, which was reflected off of certain people, often those I felt closely connected to, thus hurting those I loved.
I’d spoken about the situation between my friend and I. I found it frustrating because I felt as though she was copying me. Due to a relative who used me as inspiration to become her own person, it meant that I become lost as to “who” I was. This was a similar situation.
All throughout my life I have had people make small remarks, some weren’t even noticeable at the time. At secondary school, I was harming myself without even thinking about it. I would bang my head on the walls, not thinking of it as self-harm, and at the time I didn’t know why I was doing it, but my friends just thought I was “crazy” and “stupid”, and being an “attention seeker”. If I cried, I had a friend who would cry at the same time. If I dyed my hair, someone else would too. If I said I liked a certain band, or used a certain website, my friends too would say they loved the band or started using the website, which meant my “space” was taken over, all the time. If I got into crafts, they would start doing craft work too. There was no space to be me. I wasn’t allowed to be me. (This, unfortunately I still have to put up with. But I am learning to manage my feelings).
During my time at the therapeutic community, I found communicating with people sometimes challenging. It took a while for me to open up and find my voice, but soon I was able to be honest about my feelings and be myself. I was in a place where I was understood, and during this place I was able to learn to speak up about how I felt and not be afraid of the outcome. I would be able to validate my feelings, and also understand others. I appreciated how other people felt and I gave time for others to talk, and I could sympathise with them all.
In the “outside world”, I decided I wanted to try this with my friends and family, put my learning into actions and try and amend the things I’d broken. After all, I really wanted people to see that I had changed for the better, and learned from my mistakes and behaviour, and most of all, I appreciated them and wanted them to know how much they meant to me, but not in a BPD – I need you way. I have learnt to create boundaries and know when enough is enough.
I tried so hard to get my “ex-friend” to like me. I wanted to show her I’d changed, and learnt to be a “better person”. I wanted to show her how important she still was to me, and that I was begging for forgiveness for my past mistakes. I invited her to my wedding, in the hope it would spark our friendship, and remind us both of what we had, as she had previously helped my wife and I out, and courageously performed our commitment ceremony a few years earlier.
Unfortunately, she didn’t attend the wedding. She wasn’t the only one though, so the disappointment was evident anyway. Over the years, I’d gotten used to being let down, but at every event, it never hurt any less.
At the beginning of the year I was diagnosed with Hemicrania Continua, a rare headache disorder. I have chronic migraine and stabbing headache, but these were already known by my peers. I decided that I would not “announce” this diagnosis publicly on my social media, but I would use the term “HC” instead. I was in hospital to get this diagnosis, when I saw online my friend had posted about her migraines being terrible, and about going to see a neurologist. Rather than me comment on the post, I simply avoided it, and I figured that was the best thing to do, considering the thoughts of the past running through my head.
On her birthday I sent her a message, and I did my best to wish her well. It wasn’t long before she announced she was going to be moving back to her hometown. This meant, there would be high chances of us bumping into each other. I was desperate to get things sorted, and our friendship back on track upon her return. I asked about meeting up before we bump into each other, to avoid awkwardness between us. Except, I’ve already seen her in a local shop, and regardless of whether or not she saw me; I sensed high anxiety and judgement, as I walked alongside the trolley my sister pushed as I held on walking with my stick.
Why am I anxious about seeing someone I am so desperate to make amends with? I guess, my anxiety will be that she won’t believe that my fibromyalgia has progressed. The doctors, they say the illness doesn’t progress – you just get more symptoms. There’s also no cure, but there’s managing it which can limit symptoms. It’s all fair and well if you can manage it.
I sent an essay of an email to her, with my pleads for forgiveness and to explain my past behaviour, after all, I’d understood why I acted out in the ways that I’d done, jumped to conclusions that she was copying me, “seeking attention”, basically stigmatizing my friend, when she needed me, just as much as I needed her. I worked out that I was jealous. Her relationship with her sister was improving, the age gap far closer than my sister and I. Her diagnosis of fibromyalgia and her treatment for her eating disorder both happened very quickly, unlike me who spent months and years being tested and treated before finally getting the correct psychological help, and even yet there is more to be worked on. I realised that I was so desperate to hold onto her friendship because she was the last remaining friend I had from secondary school, and if I lost her – I’d feel as though I’d lost everything, because y’know – that’s how BPD works – we go to the extremes! I was honest in saying that our friendship was an unhealthy one.
There was a lot of envy… and the way I put it was:
“For me there was a lot of envy. Something I know is not my strong point. However, this envy doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from an idealization (great admiration and love). Then as soon as a conflict occurs, I feel worthless, feel disliked, an immense feeling of devaluation, and thus leading to me ranting and raving angrily at you through fear of abandonment, as though you don’t care at all. I need to say here, it is not just you that I have done this to. I realize that it has been a pattern in all of my friendships and that is why I lose them so easily.”
It was probably the most heartfelt, kindest and honest email I’d ever written, and she responded in such a way, which made me realize that rekindling our friendship may be possible. She said she’d looked up BPD when I first told her of my diagnosis, and she’d try and understand why I was acting the way that I was, but at the time she was struggling with her own issues, and it was too much for us both, that someone had to be sensible and draw the line. So she decided that distancing herself would enable her to focus on her own recovery, which was most important. It just meant one of us was going to get hurt – me, and I would have to try and understand that – which I didn’t until later on.
She went on to state she was still having problems with her fibromyalgia, and that she’d been diagnosed with the eating disorder long before we met, that just happened to be something neither of us chose to speak about to each other. But then that could be down to the secrecy of living with an ED in the first place. It has only been the past few years when I have been open to it as I seek recovery.
She said that there were no hard feelings of the past but mentioned that my wife had maybe interfered with the relationship; of which I think my wife was more concerned with my behaviours at the time, than anything else, but perhaps wasn’t able to express it in a healthy way to us all. I had sent an email back about it, but didn’t get a response. Since that email, we have been talking more on social media, publicly and privately. We’ve yet to meet up due to one thing or another, but I do often joke light heartedly that she is trying to avoid me.
We’ve spoken about our mental health and our physical health, most recently about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I tried my best at being supportive and helpful, and I asked if it was about her or someone else, and she said it was about someone else as hers isn’t as bad, and rather me jump down her throat or get annoyed about the situation, expressing my thoughts such as “How can it not be as bad?! It’s still PTSD!” …. I suggested things I have tried, resources I know of and may have used.
I have continued to try and help out on other levels where she has approached me about work and benefits. I have had many issues with employment, and I am currently unemployed due to being at the therapeutic community, and realising that finding employment whilst being registered disabled is actually a difficult thing to do. When I am passionate about something, as I have realised this year – through my time in the therapeutic community – that I express an opinion very well, and can go on quite a bit – which is what I did, so the only thing I need to learn is when to hold back, and just answer the question instead of speaking from experience.
I don’t want to be that friend who competes with illnesses. The world is already full of “normal” people stigmatising those with mental and physical illnesses. We don’t need it going on from the inside too. The reality is that those of us with any physical or mental illness suffer at varying levels at different times. We cannot judge one persons issues against another because everyone’s situation, everyone’s worlds are completely different.
I stigmatized my friend by pushing her away didn’t believe she was ill, I felt as she was challenging me in a war of “who has the most illnesses”, when we both have two very different lives.
She is ill, with chronic pain and mental health, she is currently able to hold a job, despite being fatigued a lot of the time – of which I can completely understand. I have always struggled with employment, I have never worked full time, and my part-time hours were gradually cut as I struggled to work.
Now with my physical health still continuing to spiral downwards, I am anxious about finding employment, as my tremors make me a “safety risk”, and I have to work on ground level.
If I’m being stigmatised around me, I don’t want anyone to feel the way feel when I am pushed around and not believed.
As I have previously stated in this post, I pushed a friend away, when she needed me the most. I am not letting that happen, ever again.
Thank you for reading,
^ So there you have it. If you made it to the end, then well done, and thank you for reading. I did say it was a long post! I hope you don’t hate me too much for sharing this. You’re probably thinking, “Cor, what a bitch!”, “God, no wonder her friends her ex-friend”, “I wouldn’t want to be her friend, she sounds like a right judgemental cow!” Yes, I know, these thoughts run through my head, and maybe, maybe then I was, but I was also very misunderstood (Though, I know that is no excuse for any of my actions). Please remember this was written 2 YEARS AGO and a lot has changed for me now. Yes, I do still struggle with friendships and I do still find myself being destructive with them, but I am able to give/allow room for someone elses problems. In fact, I am more often than not, more concerned about someone else, than I am of my own feelings. And that, I know can also be a very dangerous thing to do. I’m working on it. I’ve been doing so well, and I’m worried I’m going to end up crashing and I really, really, really don’t want that!
So, if you too can forgive me for sounding like a heartless cow in the article, then please continue to follow me. Things have changed. I may still find things hard – but don’t we all? We’re only human afterall.
Thanks for taking to time to read this.
Stay strong xx