Author: Amaal M.
I am a 25-year-old woman of Somali origin who was born and bred in the U.K., and has spent most of her life in the amazing city that is London.
I have struggled with my mental health since I was 17. My problems first started when I started talking to men. I met a man online who I felt a real connection with. Prior to that, I was a shy girl who wore a headscarf and rarely interacted with the opposite sex. I was quite studious and intelligent but rather invisible in school. It felt like no one saw me, neither my teachers nor my peers. I had always struggled with making friends and didn’t fit into any particular social group.
Back to the man. I was obsessed with him. I fell head over heels pretty quickly and within months of talking to him, I felt like I couldn’t live without him. It was literally life or death. I self-harmed for the first time because of this intense fear of abandonment. My life has been a rollercoaster ever since. I believe this is when I first started displaying symptoms of borderline personality disorder, or emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), as it is known here in the U.K.
I continued self-harming occasionally in reaction to emotions brought up in romantic attachments and this self-harming led me to the emergency room sometimes. At some point around this time, I was diagnosed with depression by my doctor. She didn’t explore anything with me. She simply asked me a few questions and gave me a script for medication. I stopped taking it after a week.
At some point, I was referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services by someone and was under them for a while. Again, I didn’t find them helpful and I still didn’t have a EUPD diagnosis. What followed were years and years of seeing therapist after therapist in organization after organization and continuing with my use of emergency services during crises. I was also an inpatient one time. I never received help for my emotional dysregulation. My crises led me to various emergency rooms across London.
I’d like to say something about my experience with the emergency rooms. Overall, they were negative. I was told a few times that I was “pretty” and “young” by mental health professionals, as if that meant anything when dealing with the pain caused by a mental illness like EUPD.
In December 2013, after realizing I was destroying my relationship with my boyfriend, I went to my doctor and told her to refer me to mental health services because I feared I had EUPD. I am proud of myself for this because I took my health into my own hands. At this point, my fear of abandonment was severe. I was spending the whole day in bed calling and texting my boyfriend even though he wasn’t responding. I was calling and texting hundreds of times. I couldn’t focus on anything else. My boyfriend said I was “suffocating” him. My doctor seemed a little hesitant but she referred me, and unsurprisingly, I was diagnosed with EUPD.
I didn’t realize how much this diagnosis would change my life at the time. It was definitely more important than my depression diagnosis. I sometimes feel like I became more unstable after being diagnosed, but I’m not sure. I saw a few more therapists including a psychoanalyst after I was diagnosed and my boyfriend left me that summer. Saying I didn’t handle the break up well is an understatement, as I was an inpatient twice that summer and ended up getting arrested for a crime because of my out of control behavior. Prior to that, I had been a law-abiding citizen.
I completed arts-based mentalization based therapy (MBT) a few weeks ago and probably owe my life to it, as I no longer meet the criteria for EUPD. Mentalization based therapy is one of the evidence-based treatments for the disorder.
Like I said earlier, I am of Somali origin. I rarely see Somalis talking about their mental health problems. My origins are in a country called Somaliland in East Africa. This is where both my parents were born. In this country, one is either sane or insane. This means that you are either “a schizophrenic” or you are 100 percent mentally healthy. This rules out conditions like EUPD, depression and anxiety. What happens when Somalis from Somaliland move to the West? They carry these views and attitudes with them. This means there is a great stigma attached to mental health issues among Somalis in the West. No one wants his or her child to be labelled as mentally ill because to be mentally ill means there is no hope for you. There is no such thing as recovery. Back in the motherland, people with mental health issues are regularly chained up like animals. If you are a woman, there is also the worry no one will ever marry you because of your mental health issues.
My parents did their best with me. However, it is a fact that till this day, we have not discussed my EUPD diagnosis. It is also a fact that when I started self-harming, my parents never talked to me about it. Maybe they did not know what to say. It is also a fact that I can’t talk about any pre-marital relationships with my parents because they are Muslim and very religious. This is hugely problematic as my EUPD was triggered by a romantic attachment and I continued to have serious emotional problems whenever I was involved with a man I really liked. Culture and ethnic background are very important for many reasons as you can see. It determines how much support you get from your family and your ethnic community. It determines how much you can share with your family. I hope mental health professionals recognize this and do their best to address it.
My parents also got an Islamic healer once to read some Qur’an on me to see if it was a religious problem rather than a mental health problem. The healer said it wasn’t a religious problem but he also said that “personality disorders don’t exist” and that
“they are just Western labels.” My dad then turned to me in agreement and asked me whether I heard the healer. I am still angry about this although it happened years ago. It was really not helpful. Imagine if my dad told me not to attend MBT and I listened to him? I don’t want to even think about where I’d be. It wouldn’t be a good place for sure.
I am doing well now. I still struggle with mild depression and anxiety but I no longer meet the diagnostic criteria for EUPD as stated earlier. Keeping my emotions and mental health in check is hard, but I know it has to be done. I don’t want to go back to the place I was in a few years ago. I am trying to go back to university to finish my BA and I am flirting with the idea of becoming a therapist in the future. I hope to see a day where there is no stigma attached to EUPD. I also hope to see a day where more Somalis are open about their mental health problems.