I had my son when I just turned nineteen, I was single and had no real relationship with his father. I dropped out of college and rented a little flat where I lived on benefits. My parents lived four miles away at the time and I had a few friends but they were all still young and single, not young and with child. I had no phone or television and of course there was no internet either. Just me and a baby. And two kittens.
Despite being under psychiatric care to some degree or other since I was fifteen I was only diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) last year (I’m thirty-six now). When I was in my teens I was less than careful about who I slept with as I was desperately looking for love and to feel wanted. I took risks I shouldn’t have – a classic symptom of BPD – and fell pregnant.
I decided to keep the baby and at the time I obviously did not understand how difficult parenthood can be. My parents were supportive but at that time in my life I had not learned how to ask for help and I tried to struggle on alone. My son cried a great deal (possibly because of my own uneasiness), and I became very stressed and depressed. I lasted all of four months and then was admitted to a psychiatric hospital.
My health visitor had been told to keep an eye on me because of my mental health history but never set foot in my flat until the day I was taken into hospital. My mum is very maternal, she is the type that lives to look after others and adores babies. I was too ashamed to tell her how difficult I was finding it and so when I was admitted to hospital I had my son fostered. My mum was very upset when she found out but did of course support me and wanted to look after my son until I was ‘on my feet again’. He was taken from foster care and into my mum’s home where he lives to this day.
Being hospitalised was not an answer to my problems. I had my first experience of tranquilisers there and soon learned why people pace up and down the corridors in mental hospitals. The meds make you feel incredibly agitated so you can’t stay still, but at the same time you are locked up in your own mind and can’t express yourself. A chemical straitjacket.
When my mum came to visit me I didn’t recognise her and she was horrified. She went to ask the staff nurse what was wrong with me and was told that I was ‘putting it on’. At that point she decided I’d be better off going home with her and being looked after there and so arranged for me to sign myself out.
I stayed with my parents for a month after that before returning home. I was no better and could still not cope with my baby. Over the next few years I continued to be severely depressed and suffered with multiple anxiety problems that meant I could not leave the house. I did not see as much of my son as I would have liked and I felt very guilty and ashamed. I told myself that he was being well looked after and in a better home than I could give him but that didn’t stop the guilt.
Gradually I managed to overcome my anxiety problems (due to sheer determination and stubbornness) and I got a part-time job. I started to have my son stay with me for weekends. He was around three at this point and very attached to my mum, he did not settle with me and constantly demanded to see my mum. I felt a total failure. This situation went on for some time and I tried to cope with it through drinking (although not when I was with my son).
I took an overdose when I was twenty-three as I could see no future. Shortly afterwards the friends that I did have all drifted away. I moved to be closer to my son and took care of him as much as I could which varied from three to four days a week to not at all depending on my state of mind.
One of the main symptoms of BPD is fear of abandonment and that has been a dominating theme in my life. I went through a series of unhealthy relationships never lasting more than two years and what I am ashamed of more than anything else is that I put those relationships before my son.
At that stage of my life I had a very unstable sense of identity and depended entirely on my boyfriend (whichever one it was at the time) to make me feel valued and loved. If that was taken away from me or even felt like a possibility I fell to pieces. My life was unstable and erratic, my moods swung rapidly from hypomanic to suicidal.
I had no direction or sense of purpose and lived impulsively in an attempt to fill the gaping hole inside me where my sense of self should have been.
This pattern continued until four and a half years ago when I made the decision to move away from the area where I grew up and to start a new life across the country. My son was thirteen then and chose not to accompany me, a year later he did come to live with me for a while but disliked the school here so much that he eventually returned to my mum’s.
I managed to find a good job and a few new friends but the stability was short-lived, after a period of hypomania and chronic insomnia I fell into a long period of depression three years ago and had to eventually give up work.
During this period something changed inside of me. I have always been a natural problem solver and after so many years of living an unconsidered life, I started to analyse what was wrong with me. I read dozens of books on all aspects of mental health and wrote hundreds of pages in my journal to unravel the mess that was my personality. I realised that I was running on fear and in order to move past that I would have to face my fears and the truth about myself.
I went from being into denial, to fighting myself to finally accepting who I am. Only during this process was I diagnosed as having BPD. I was referred for therapy which didn’t start until last autumn, a week ago my therapist discharged me as she thinks I will no longer benefit from working with her. I am recovered.
I am still most definitely a work in progress but I am so far away from that mixed up girl desperate for others’ approval that you would barely recognise me. I am in a healthy stable relationship, I have a few firm friendships and I will be returning to work soon. My relationship with my son now is very good.
He comes for long visits, we have a very similar sense of humour and he chooses to confide in me much more than most seventeen-year-old boys do with their mothers. I respect his right to make his own decisions but let him know my opinions and ideas about his life and his future.
I think this may be the hardest issue in my life to overcome. I am constantly reminded that all good parents put their children first and I didn’t. Friends point out to me that I did the best I could and that my son has grown up into a lovely young man but I still feel a failure as a mother. My best was not good enough.
I am not writing this to gain sympathy and reassurance, if I’m honest, nothing that anyone can say will make me feel better about this.I am writing this in the hope that some other parent out there feeling the way I did will read it and realise it’s not just them. If for some reason you cannot put your child or children first, please find someone who can.
Don’t let shame stop you from asking for help. Find the courage to stand up and say you are struggling so that your child can have the stable happy upbringing that they deserve. I would love to say, ‘Don’t feel bad about yourself.’ But I know that’s almost impossible.
I will always worry that my actions have deeply affected my son, he is sensitive and moody like me and I don’t want him to suffer from the same fears and insecurities that plagued my life for so many years. So far the signs are good but I’m a mum and I will never stop worrying about my son.
You can follow Clare on Twitter @Clare1305