My 18th Birthday

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This is another one of those stories that has been a long time in the making. Trying to come up with the combination right words to adequately explain just what happened that night (and over the following days). This is the brief version of events from my point of view.

I had a party for my eighteenth birthday. I invited the people that I use to hang around with at school. I wasn’t really close to a lot of them but they were the closest things I had to friends. I don’t remember how many people came exactly. Probably around ten to fifteen I guess. I was excited. It might sound a little self-absorbed but I was happy that this party was for me. I was the reason for the party. These people may not have come for me and were only there because they had an excuse for a party, but I didn’t care. It was happening for me. Nothing big had ever happened because of me before. I wasn’t on the outside this time. I was at the centre.

Guests arrived, the music played and people started drinking. Especially me. My memory from that night is patchy but I remember enough to piece together what happened. I chatted with a few people. I was having a good time. I stopped caring about anything and was right in the moment. I was drinking. A lot. I wasn’t counting and it didn’t matter. At that moment I was letting go of everything and doing what I wanted. Even if what I wanted wasn’t the right thing.

Then I started feeling woozy. I needed to throw up. I knew I’d had too much and tried to make my way to the toilet. Patchy memory comes into play here. I know I made it and I know I missed and made a mess everywhere. I vaguely remember trying to clean it up with toilet paper but after that my memory goes blank for a while.

This simple truth is this – I got way too drunk, way too fast, by drinking shots in quick succession. My choice of alcoholic beverage was poor. I was drinking vodka and black sambuca. I should never have mixed drinks and to be honest I don’t even know why I had the black sambuca, I don’t even like it, but at the time I wasn’t thinking which meant I made a bad decision.

Re-enter memory. Somehow I’d ended up sitting in the bath with a mate standing by (one I actually did like and was fairly close to) and my Mum telling me to keep my eyes open while I kept insisting I was just resting. Memory out.

Re-enter memory. Ambulance. Someone telling, I assume Mum, that I had purchased marijuana that night. True. I had. But I had also not used any of it and distinctly remember refusing to smoke it despite being egged on by a couple of guys because I didn’t want to mix it with drinking. Yet I still decided it was OK to mix drinks. Go figure. Memory out.

Re-enter memory. Lying in a hospital bed in the emergency department, hooked up to a drip. Being aware of what was going on around me but being unable to move or open eyes. I kind of liked the feeling. I was incredibly relaxed and thought it kind of funny that I was hearing everything around me but no one knew it. Alcohol poisoning was the term being tossed around and I wasn’t at all surprised. Memory out.

Re-enter memory. I woke up and managed to mumble something to Mum who was sitting beside me about wanting to see Natalie (an older friend of mine who I trusted with many secrets). Memory out.

Re-enter memory. I woke up again. I needed to pee. A nurse escorted me to the toilet where I realised I was in a hospital gown and not my original clothes. Shit. Who has seen my legs? At the time I had some self-harm cuts on my upper thighs. I closed my eyes and got told off by the nurse who was still standing there watching me and then I got taken back to the bed. Memory out.

“…I realised I was in a hospital gown and not my original clothes. Shit.”

Re-enter memory. I woke up again but this time feeling completely fine. Whatever drugs they were pumping into me sure were effective. I sat up in bed and a nurse saw me. Not long after I’m told I can go home. Mum helped me dress and I tried to cover my legs in the process. She said she’d already seen the cuts. Double shit.

Some people I talked to about that evening suggested that the hospital was irresponsible for sending me home without having someone talk to me more about my self-harm. I guess to them I was just another teenage drunk taking up space in the emergency department. One of many that they see every day.

We got home and I went to bed. I was worried about the inevitable conversation that was going to happen the next day but I was so tired it wasn’t long before I fell asleep.

I woke up the next morning and I could hear my Aunty in the kitchen with my Mum. I laid in bed for ages, partly because I was too lazy to get up, partly because I didn’t want to face them yet. I was majorly avoiding what I knew was coming.

Eventually I did have to get up though. When I did the conversation didn’t go exactly how thought it might. Mum made me ring all the people that had come to my party and apologise to them for what had happened and for them having to leave early. Some of them had planned to stay the night. I made the phone calls. Most people didn’t care, some thought it was funny. It wasn’t them I was worried about talking to, but it did delay the talk I was worried about.

I muddled through the day, somehow avoiding any meaningful conversation. I had been invited to a fortieth birthday party that night and I was still determined to go despite what Mum was telling me. I knew she wasn’t going to let me so I packed a bag with some clothes and other things and while she was busy hanging out the washing I called out to her that I was going and ran out the front door before I could be stopped.

While I wasn’t looking forward to the ‘you got too drunk’ chat, I could deal with that. I deserved it. It was the chat about my self-harm that I was really running away from. I didn’t want to talk about it. I couldn’t explain it to myself so how could I explain it to my Mum? I just wanted to disappear and hope it got forgotten about.

“I couldn’t explain it to myself so how could I explain it to my Mum?”

I got some distance between me and the house in case Mum decided to follow me in the car. I found a phone box and rang Natalie, who had also been invited to the party, I briefly told her what had happened and asked if I could get a lift with her. I got the train out to her place and we went to the party.

Mum knowing where I was headed but not knowing how I planned on getting there, had already rang ahead and requested to be rung when I arrived. I didn’t know this till later though.

I knew I had drunk to much the previous night and I wasn’t stupid enough to do it again. I, quite responsibly I thought, was downing bottles of water the whole time I was at this party. Not a single drop of alcohol passed my lips that night, or for quite some time after as it happens.

I went home with Natalie that night and crashed at her place. I didn’t go home till the following afternoon. I remember having a brief talk with Mum about what happened. She said she was surprised at my self-harm but I don’t recall going into much further discussion about it. That’s not to say it didn’t happen. I just don’t remember. Things seemed to calm down a bit after that.

Now I come to the part where I need to apologise. I’m sorry. Sorry to my family and to the people that came to my party for having to put up with me. Sorry to everyone that had to clean up the mess after me, both literally and emotionally. I made bad decisions, stupid decisions, that night. But I guarantee you I have learnt from it. I have NEVER been drunk since. In fact the handful of times I went out clubbing and to other parties since then I’ve nearly always been the designated driver and haven’t touched alcohol at all.

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Getting High

I started smoking marijuana at seventeen years old. It was something that I wanted to do and was in no way forced upon me. It was almost the complete opposite of peer pressure. The person who gave it to me the first time couldn’t have been more caring. He repeatedly asked if I was sure this is what I wanted and was with me the whole time for my first ‘session’.

For me getting high was definitely a form of self-medicating. It really did make me feel better. It made me forget about things. It made everything funny. It helped me relax. It helped me sleep. I felt good when I was high. It was also enjoyable to use in social settings with a few mates.

I still stand by my belief that I was a responsible drug user. As mentioned in my story on borderline personality disorder: “Every time I smoked it was thought out. I treated getting high the same as I would if I was drinking alcohol. I never drove under the influence. I never went to work under the influence. I only smoked when I didn’t have to go anywhere, or was at a friend’s house when I knew I would be there long enough for the effects to wear off before I drove home, or had alternative transport.”

It is said that marijuana is the gateway drug. While I certainly had opportunity to try other ‘harder’ drugs, it never interested me. I fully understood the consequence of what could happen if I went down that path and made a conscious choice not to do that. I do believe I had control over my use.

The last time I smoked marijuana was Christmas 2005. I don’t remember having any kind of withdrawals, while I don’t deny there may have been some, it obviously wasn’t severe enough for me to pay attention to it.

Borderline Personality Disorder

*Please excuse the formatting in this post. WordPress is being less than co-operative.

I was first “diagnosed” with borderline personality disorder when I was about twenty years old. I use inverted commas for diagnosed because I don’t believe there was any real assessment done and I was just given a label because it was convenient for the psychiatrist at the time.

I had spent ten minutes in this man’s office and this is what he came up with. I don’t know how he came to this conclusion so quick with limited information. I can only assume he saw my self-harm and picked the diagnosis because it is a common feature of patients with borderline personality disorder.

When I went to see the psychologist who had access to my medical file I asked him more about it. He looked in my file to see the first thing written was “borderline personality disorder”. There was no evidence of diagnosis. No reasons written about how he came to this conclusion. No nothing. Just borderline personality disorder.

Now let’s give this guy the benefit of the doubt. He was an older gentleman so I’m sure he’s made this diagnosis many times before. Let’s have a look at what it take to qualify as a borderline.

In order for a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder to be given, at least five of the following nine traits must be present

  1. Fear of abandonment
  2. Difficult interpersonal relationships
  3. Uncertainty about self-image or identity
  4. Impulsive behaviour
  5. Self-injurious behaviour
  6. Emotional changeability or hyperactivity
  7. Feelings of emptiness
  8. Difficulty controlling intense anger
  9. Transient suspiciousness or “disconnectedness”

Let’s go through this one point at a time.

  1. Fear of abandonment

This is defined as “frantic efforts to avoid being abandoned by friends and family.” An “intense fear of being left alone, which causes you to act in ways that, on reflection, seem out of the ordinary or extreme, such as constantly phoning somebody.”

While I didn’t always like being alone (who does?) I wouldn’t define it as an intense fear. I did not constantly phone people or act in any other strange ways. I do not believe this point counts.

  1. Difficult interpersonal relationships

This is defined as “intense and unstable relationships with other people that switch between thinking you love that person and they are wonderful to hating that person and thinking they are terrible.”

While I did have my moments with co-workers, disagreements and such. I don’t believe my feelings about these people switched as extremely as this. They were regular arguments that anyone could have. I still liked the person despite our disagreements and things usually sorted themselves out. I do not believe this point counts either.

  1. Uncertainty about self-image or identity

    This is defined as “distorted and unstable self-image, which affects moods, values, opinions, goals and relationships.”This point is possibly valid, but let’s face it, I was a young adult still trying to work out what I wanted from life. I’m in two minds about this one but I’ll let the psychiatrist have it. One point to him.
  2. Impulsive behaviour

    For this point to be valid, you have to “engage in at least TWO activities that are impulsive and potentially damaging. Examples include excessive spending, unsafe sex, substance abuse or reckless driving.”Now let’s define impulsive. According to the dictionary impulsive means “acting or done without forethought.”

    impulsive
    The only (ONE) activity I participated in according the examples given was substance abuse. I use to smoke marijuana. However, according to the definition, I would not say it was impulsive.

    Every time I smoked it was thought out. I treated getting high the same as I would if I was drinking alcohol. I never drove under the influence. I never went to work under the influence. I only smoked when I didn’t have to go anywhere, or was at a friend’s house when I knew I would be there long enough for the effects to wear off before I drove home, or had alternative transport.

    To me this is not impulsive. Plus it was only ONE activity I was engaging in. Not TWO. I did not, and still don’t drive recklessly. I actually believe I am a very safe driver. I was not having unsafe sex. I was not spending excessively. In fact at the time I had quite a good amount of savings in the bank. So does this point even count?

  3. Self-injurious behaviour

    I’ll give him this one. At the time I saw him I had made a single (and my only) suicide attempt and was self-harming fairly regularly.
  4. Emotional changeability or hyperactivity

    This is defined as “periods of intense depressed mood, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days.”Another point to the good doctor. I definitely had periods of depressed mood, irritability and anxiety that lasted from a few hours to a few days. Sometimes longer. In between that I could be in a regular mood like everyone else or be a little hyperactive.
  5. Feelings of emptiness

    This is defined as having “long-term feelings of emptiness and loneliness.”This could go either way for me. I did feel like this sometimes, but not all the time. Can we give half points? Half a point to the psychiatrist.
  6. Difficulty controlling intense anger

    This is defined as “inappropriate, intense or uncontrollable anger—often followed by shame and guilt.”First of all, does this not happen to everyone from time to time, especially when they are under stress? I had moments of anger the same as anyone but I don’t think it was anything that was out of control. Yes, sometimes I felt guilty after if I had taken it out on the wrong person but again, I’m sure this happens to most people from time to time. It’s not like it’s something that happened regularly and I believe the moments I was angry there was a valid reason to be feeling that way. I’m not counting this point.
  7. Transient suspiciousness or “disconnectedness”

    This one is defined as “dissociative feelings—disconnecting from your thoughts or sense of identity, or “out of body” type of feelings—and stress-related paranoid thoughts.”I did have moments of ‘zoning out’, I still do. The feeling like you’re there but you’re not there. Kind of like your floating over yourself. I believe this is more anxiety related though.

    I had the odd paranoid thought but that only happened when I had been smoking marijuana and it mostly revolved around me thinking I was being too loud and the neighbours were going to complain. I use to have the volume on the television set so quiet I basically had to sit on top of it in order to hear it myself. Does that type of paranoia count?

    I’ll be generous and give this one to the psychiatrist even though I don’t recall him ever asking me any questions about this type of thing.

 

Now let’s tally it all up

Point 1 – No
Point 2 – No
Point 3 – Yes
Point 4 – Maybe
Point 5 – Yes
Point 6 – Yes
Point 7 – Half point
Point 8 – No
Point 9 – Yes

So that’s four and a half yes’s and one maybe. Based on all this I’d say it’s fairly borderline (pardon the pun) whether I was borderline or not. It’s all very subjective really, it depends on the individuals interpretation of the criteria’s meaning.

Whether or not I actually did have Borderline Personality back then not doesn’t really matter now anyway. The last psychiatrist I saw (who actually did take the time to read my file and ask appropriate questions) has said that this diagnosis does not apply to me now.

References:

  1. http://www.borderlinepersonalitydisorder.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/2012_December_16_v2.pdf
  2. http://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Borderline-Personality-Disorder.aspx
  3. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Borderline-personality-disorder/Pages/Diagnosis.aspx