In July I was diagnosed with a personality disorder. This finally confirmed for me something I always suspected; that I do, in fact, have a personality.
The professional opinion came as something of a shock – at least to me. Not so much for those close to me who knew intimately the recurring issues I faced and how they found expression in my behaviour. For them it was more like the last piece of a difficult but rewarding puzzle. However, much to my surprise, reading the diagnoses on paper didn’t bring the sense of relief I had hoped for.
Since my first trip to the child psychologist at the tender age of 17 I had always been searching for an answer to explain the conflict engulfing my inner world. Initially, the first emotional foe I’d lock horns with, other than disappointment, was anger which I remember describing to my psychologist as feeling like ”a ball of fire in my chest.”
The weekly appointment was something to look forward to. At lunch time on Thursday I would leave school and take a short bus trip to Govan before jumping the underground to the fabled West End. The first thing I remember upon stepping off the escalator was a strange feeling of relaxation:
People here didn’t dress like they were afraid of being stabbed.
The Notre Dame Centre for Children and Young Adults was five minutes away from the boutique-ridden strip known to many a Glaswegian as Byers Road. Using the only thing familiar to me as a means of navigation – in this case Greggs – I made for the pass of Rutheven Street.
There was a sense of genuine exploration as I waded deeper into unknown territory; up a leafy winding road flanked by century-old trees which appeared to be springing from the foundations of dangerously slanted tenement flats that hung over the pavements like lanky bouncers; colour-coded bins and beastly off-road vehicles piled on top of one another though never any sight of neighbours or residents coming or going.
It was like that drawer you throw everything in and always dread re-entering for any reason except that here people borrowed three times their salary and more just to say they lived in this drawer.
I came across things I had never seen before in my life such as: private gardens, schools only girls went to, humus and litter-free streets. It was like something out of a good Tim Burton movie and I was clearly enjoying my freedom in the absence of Helena Bonham Carter.
The sessions were quite heavy going but I persevered. I learned some helpful strategies to cope with my rage and got some valuable insights into my behaviour. But I also got the sense my life would be easier to compartmentalise if I could just get an over-arching diagnosis; a theory for everything I felt and experienced but couldn’t explain.
This desire to diagnose my thoughts and emotions eventually became second nature and I started to think of my personality in medical terms. To my mind, my personality was no more than a cascade of psychological ailments. A slide-show of everything wrong with my childhood. I externalised the source of my discomfort in life and from that point on began looking outside of myself for solutions.
The years passed me by and new words and phrases entered my ever-expanding lexicon as I came into contact with more and more services, agencies and professionals. At one point I had a team of support workers, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a cognitive behavioural therapist and a neurolinguistic programmer. Unbeknownst to all of them I also had a drug dealer.
I was living in a 24-hour staffed supported accommodation project and was now in receipt of high rate Disability Living Allowance for both care and mobility. If I had an inkling I wasn’t too well then the world unfolding around me was all the confirmation I needed. On paper I was exactly what I had always secretly assumed I was: mentally and emotionally deformed.
But running parallel to this slightly more observable, documented, life was another rooted in denial and dangerously wishful thinking (and increasingly shrouded in secrecy – sometimes even from myself.)
It never occurred to me to tell anyone how much I was drinking or how many drugs I was taking. At that time I never made a connection between my lifestyle and my mental health. Even before I became an alcoholic and an addict these more common forms of excess were having a massive impact on me which I just explained away as symptomatic of my self-styled disposition.
On top of this I was using junk food, retail therapy, hardcore pornography and various unhealthy personal relationships on a daily basis to tide me over in between binges of substance and alcohol misuse. It’s no wonder I felt so overwrought and depressed. My whole life was about avoiding my emotional reality and kicking the can of discomfort down the road.
It was far more preferable for my now Cyclopean ego to be told that my problems were a direct result of a difficult childhood and that my present difficulties were down to a run of typically bad luck. By accepting those falsehoods as fact and proceeding to pump a thousand forms of unleaded petrol into my diesel engine I was now quite stubbornly feeding the fires of my own discord. But try telling me that back then.
Back then I recycled adversity as renewable creative energy which powered me through a prolific period of artistic output despite being basically homeless and suffering duel addictions. Emboldened by local fame cum notoriety, that seductive mix of booze and self-exaltation induced powerful narcissistic fantasies. Truth be told these bled into my sober life too – and still do.
They became a way to avoid painful truths or anxiety-ridden unknowns such as other people’s perception of me and whether they liked me or not or whether it was fair that this person thought such and such and so on and so forth. I didn’t mix well with others so I cast myself in the roll of the outcast who raged against things. I had to create reasoning for what I could not otherwise explain so I adopted a skewed self image in which certain facets of my character were grotesquely inflated while others that did not serve my current social aspirations were struck from the record altogether.
But it was all a ruse to hide the fact I was lonely and always felt uneasy at a party.
Emotional boom and bust
For someone so young I was hideously self-concerned. It’s almost embarrassing to admit. My ego would expand and contract, bringing with it all kinds of emotional down turns and maniacal booms punctuated by increasingly longer periods of depression. One day I was taking over the world and the next cowering beneath the weight of it.
I was oblivious to the fact that this constant unease was directly relative to that aggressive egoism. An egoism that spoke in a language specific to me and hid patiently in my psychological blind-spots.
People mistake the word ego for arrogance but there is more to it than that. Arrogance is something someone else calls you. Arrogance is someone else’s ego interpreting yours. If someone thinks you are arrogant it’s because their ego is ruffled by yours. It means even the most painfully humble among you may harbour massive egos you are blissfully unaware of. If you have a fixed notion of what someone with a big ego looks and sounds like then your ego will find a place to hide right behind that.
My ego was something I constructed to protect myself but ultimately it’s an obsolete array of emotional adaptations that no longer serve a purpose, no matter how much it insists on itself.
My childhood, like many others, was pretty shit at times. People were not dependable or emotionally available. Everyone around me was suffering from chronic stress or the various illnesses it triggers. Pollok was a production line for chain smokers, stiff drinkers and maladapted vagabonds. Obviously these experiences become a valid part of your story and also a useful reference point when confronted with emotional difficulties but at some point I made a decision to root myself in a sense of victimhood – absolving me of responsibility for my emotional well-being.
I marshalled a sizeable cross-section of my mental faculty in the singular pursuit of denying that I was a self-obsessed, bitter, envious, paranoid, emotionally unavailable, borderline narcissist, wandering retail cathedrals and digital brothels as a distraction from the fact I had forgotten how to be with my pain.
Worse still, that I felt entitled to avoid suffering altogether as if somehow emotional law did not apply to me.
The Self and Others
I became a fully paid up member of the cult of the self. Where you and your aspirations are the be all and end all. Where strangers are disposable characters and non-speaking extras in the screenplay of your life and woe betide a world that isn’t awaiting your imminent arrival in the pantheon of awesome things. When your life is only really about you then you become deeply unhappy but unable to face the truth as to why.
So you shout loudly about your principles and convictions while privately wishing failure on others; longing for that all encompassing diagnosis.
I felt deeply sad because I was a deeply deluded human being. A human being who had become so detached from the reality of my selfishness that I had to construct complex myths just to stay afloat in the torrent of nonsense swirling around my own narrow mind.
The main myth propagated being that I was suffering from an incurable, debilitating mystery mental illness and that only western medicine could deliver me from a misunderstood life of melancholic martyrdom.
So when a random, genuine, diagnosis came in July in the middle of an alcohol-induced court case I should have been over the moon right? Finally, I can actually say I have a personality disorder.
Instead I was plunged into more confusion and inevitable existential-angst.
That’s when I decided enough was enough. Fuck it.
I walked away from the idea of the diagnosis and the idea of defining myself as a mental ailment and I haven’t looked back since except to console my younger self, still smarting from all the reality.
For me, the difficult emotional symptoms I experience are almost always a direct result of how I am choosing to live my life. How I choose to deal with other human beings and what I choose to put or not put in my body.
If I could change the world…
If I have a worry or anxiety that I am keeping to myself instead of opening up honestly with someone I trust about my true feelings, then I knowingly invite uncertainty and dread.
If I am not conducting my affairs in an honest manner, manipulating people for my own ends or ducking and diving responsibilities then there will be emotional consequences which I have to accept.
If I am growing overly fond of red wine or codeine has found its way into my diet or I spend two hours a day watching violent pornography then I shouldn’t act confused as to why I feel tired, paranoid, agitated and emotionally distant from my partner – and myself.
If I sleep in late, wake up and drink three cups of industrial coffee, smoke five cigarettes and have a fudge doughnut for breakfast then I have to be prepared to accept that I may experience what feels like a mild downer later that afternoon. I also have to accept that spending £80 in Foot Locker will not help perk me up either.
If I choose to repetitively log into energy sapping social media sites and concern myself with the cherry-picked, stage-managed and entirely false personae of abstract strangers then I can’t feel hard done by when life itself begins to feel shallow and unreal.
When every scrawl through the newsfeed is like fishing idly for resentments then I shan’t feign bemusement at being riddled with feelings of inferiority, professional envy or vicarious outrage.
Essentially, if I spend the majority of my time wrapped up in my own hero-journey, pursuing my own interests, making little genuine time for others then I have to be mature enough to accept that this may lead to feelings of isolation, self-loathing, low self-esteem and depression.
If I then use a thousand forms of fleeting comfort to patch over those difficult feelings; each coming with its own little army of negative side effects, then why complicate the issue further by medicalising myself?
Surely my problem is serious enough without distorting it?
I, personally, have had to learn to make a distinction between the causes and effects of my lifestyle choices and try to face the consequences honestly. Am I living poorly because I am depressed or am I depressed because I am living poorly?
It’s a very tough question to inflict on yourself but I can say from my own experience that once I let go of the idea that something external could fix me, I began to feel real for the first time in my life.
Adding a doctor’s prescription into the mix would only have complicated what was, usually, a very simple matter that started and ended with me. A doctor can only diagnose the symptoms you present and I was always selective in my presentation, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Because I always went in with a shopping list of my own.
Turns out I needed more than a spoonful of sugar to make the truth go down.
Editor’s note: October 10 was World Mental Health Day but millions are suffering globally 365 days a year as the Mental Health Foundation points out: “One in four adults and one in ten children are likely to have a mental health problem in any given year. This can have a profound impact on the lives of tens of millions of people in the UK, and can affect their ability to sustain relationships, work, or just get through the day.”
Darren says: “My sanity and peace of mind depends on being honest. It helps other people to see someone else telling the truth. This piece is designed with people who are struggling in mind.”
Main image: Irais Esperza (Wikimedia)