I’ve known Siân Lacey Taylder for many years. A shared masochistic love of a) writing and b) a non-league football team sort of brought us together a long time ago, but it was much later on I discovered her history of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). It never was and still isn’t a big deal to me, and I can’t actually remember how I came to know, probably because it doesn’t matter. I love her writing, she’s thoroughly individual and supports Weymouth Football Club, so that’s quite enough for me.
But there is one area where perhaps we’re not quite on the same team. I spent many years as a mental health nurse, particularly in forensic secure units. Siân has spent many years living with BPD. I’ve helped physically restrain people like Siân, usually in an attempt to stop patients gouging their eyes out or rip their arm to shreds with pieces of glass. If some parts of the blogosphere and Twitter are to be believed, I’ve more than played my part in a rather nasty, controlling, self-serving, stigmatising and hugely anti-therapeutic mental health ‘system’. And Siân has been one of our victims. We shouldn’t get on. But we do.
We first posted these articles in the summer of 2012 following a conversation where I moaned about my fellow mental health professionals being at least under-appreciated and at worst, branded as some sort of fascist movement dedicated to making the lives of the mentally ill as impossible as possible. So taking her own experiences of BPD and often less than positive contact with ‘the system’ as a starting point, we thought we’d put this series together.
A recent Twitter discussion on the @mhchat community featured BPD and while I didn’t catch it ‘live’ it certainly caught my attention later, not least because of a number of comments from service users highlighting some of the issues which had precipitated the original series, and the fact that as a trainer I’m currently rewriting and updating a shortish book on personality disorder aimed at mental health professionals and community mental health workers. I could have just posted a link but soon discovered that WordPress had somehow mangled the formatting of the original work so here I am rewriting and reformatting my contributions while leaving my collaborator’s contributions in their original and, in my opinion, highly readable state.
Part 1 is a very personal account of BPD from Siân herself. She describes the ‘good Siân’, the ‘gregarious, outgoing, quirky, generous’ person who is very good company and makes people like me like her very much. And she describes the ‘bad Sian’. The one whom ‘mental health professionals would like to eradicate from the face of the earth.’
In Part 2 she looks at some of the pitfalls of the mental health system and how labels such as ‘Borderline’ have proved so spectacularly unsuccessful at describing or helping someone as atypical as she is. But (and it’s a big ‘but’) do professionals and service users really have to be so many poles apart, and might we work together more effectively?
Finally in Part 3, I put a mental health professionals viewpoint on Siân’s observations. And while certainly not agreeing 100% with all she has to say, I ask if it’s possible for both the online and real-world camps of professionals and survivors to ‘put down the weapons’ and work more collaboratively, more imaginatively with a disorder which is so often castigated and misunderstood by so many.