What it’s like to have an anxiety attack

Around three weeks ago, I had my first anxiety attack in a very long time. I was at a good friend’s birthday party, surrounded by people who I enjoy spending time with; I recognise what I feel is irrational and I can’t explain why it happened, all I know is that it did. And when it hit, it was terrifying.

I noticed that I started to play with my watch and couldn’t keep eye contact. I began to feel wave after wave of fear. My breath quickened, I started sweating. I could hear my heart pounding so loudly I thought it would beat out of my chest. I struggled to stay standing. Soon after, I became so afraid that I couldn’t catch my breath.

It’s an emotional nightmare. Everything feels surreal, ethereal, and dissociated from my personality. I felt like I was losing control over both my mind and my body; I felt dizzy and claustrophobic, as if I had water in my lungs and fire in my skin simultaneously.

Holding my anxiety in causes me to think about it too much, which only increases it. It can seem embarrassing to tell people that you’re suffering from an anxiety attack, but from experience the best thing for me is to talk about what’s going on so that I can reduce its severity.

Fortunately, I have a great set of friends. I knew what was happening and I knew that I had to leave. I told two of them before I walked out what was going on, and one came outside with me until I calmed down. No fuss, no drama. Which was perfect. The last thing I wanted was for it to be made a big deal; I’m so thankful for that.

I distracted myself by walking quickly home, so that I could focus on breathing properly, and listening to some music. It’s simple but, for me, it works. I couldn’t stop it, but I could lessen its severity by doing something that relaxes me immediately. The less severe my anxiety, the less I fear the attacks, and the easier they are to control.

Perhaps the worst part of an anxiety attack for me is the uncertainty of their appearance. They can occur at any time. The fear-inducing experience peaks around 10 minutes, but the exhausting physical symptoms can extend far beyond that. It took me a few hours to fully calm down, and even after that, I hardly slept that night.

One thing that some people don’t understand about anxiety attacks is how they can be so scary when people know that they get them. Doesn’t the fact that you know you have an anxiety disorder help you realise that it’s an anxiety attack?

It’s just not that simple. Oftentimes the fear is about losing control, embarrassing oneself in public, or being trapped in an uncomfortable situation. So even if you know this is your anxiety talking, it’s still terrifying to feel like you’re not in control and that you can’t do anything to stop it.

I used to ask myself if what I’m experiencing is real or just inside my head. I’ve come to learn that even if sometimes is inside my head, that doesn’t make it any less real.

I used to try to escape and pretend it wasn’t happening. The problem with escaping the situation whenever you have an anxiety attack is that it only works in the short term.

After the anxiety subsides, you can feel like it was a good decision to take yourself out of the situation and can sometimes cause you to avoid those same situations in future. When you have an anxiety attack, you can fear that you’ll have another one, and that can cause you to avoid those same situations that you associate with them.

Your mind is your prison when you focus on your fears; you might tell yourself that these are insignificant choices, but really, you’re avoiding putting yourself in situations in which you might potentially have anxiety and are made to cope with it.

If you start avoiding things, modifying your day, you know you’re giving in to the anxiety. You might feel stronger because you’re not experiencing it, but really what’s happening is that you’re sheltering yourself from the anxiety. Instead of getting a handle on it, you’re giving it more power. Too many of us are not living our dreams because we are living our fears.

Now I acknowledge it. Face it head on. Beat it. It’s perfectly okay to admit that you’re not okay; you’re not fragile or broken, you’re simply experiencing emotions more acutely than some other people. You’re not alone.

If you find yourself in this position, know that everyone feels pain, even if they don’t appear to. It can happen to anybody and it’s not a weakness. Anxiety attacks can appear out of nowhere, with no cause and with no explanation.

The symptoms are very real and very stressful, painful even. But they’ll go away when the attack is over. The more you worry that something is wrong with your mind or your body, the more likely the attack will be worse.

You can’t snap your fingers and simply be okay, but you can understand your body and your mind and learn to control them. Remind yourself that this is an anxiety attack and that what you’re feeling are normal symptoms. Describe what they are so you can let them go. It’s not going to stop an anxiety attack, but it can really help if you find yourself having one.

When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at begin to change. You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.

LGBT and mental health

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender mental health is a real and significant problem. Society treats everyone from birth as if they are heterosexual. If you’re not heterosexual and/or cisgender (where your gender aligns with the sex you are assigned at birth) then it can feel like there is huge pressure to suppress that part of yourself.

The RaRE report, a five-year-long study commissioned by LGBT mental health charity Pace, found that 34 percent of young LGB people (under 26) surveyed had made at least one suicide attempt in their lives. Forty-eight percent of young transgender people had attempted suicide. This is compared to 18 percent of heterosexual and 26 percent of cisgender young people. Major causes were identified as homophobic or transphobic bullying and struggles about being LGB or transgender within the family and at school. Furthermore, the report found that 57.1 percent of LGB and 85.2 percent of transgender young people have self-harmed at least once.

We need to talk more about sexual diversity.

Mind is the biggest mental health charity in the UK, and they acknowledge that the scars left by isolation of LGBT youth can last well into adulthood. Mind wants access and availability of mental health services to be truly person-centred, and for commissioners of services to understand the importance of offering genuinely inclusive and LGBT-affirmative support.

In one of the biggest surveys of homosexuals in England, researchers from Cambridge University found that 12 per cent of lesbian women and almost 19 per cent of bisexual women reported mental health problems, compared with six per cent of heterosexual women.

Meanwhile 11 per cent of gay men and 15 per cent of bisexual men reported problems, compared to five per cent of heterosexual men.

A research project at London’s University College hospital found “significantly higher” rates of mental illness among gay men than their straight peers. “It’s an incredibly sensitive issue that gay men are very defensive about,” reported one interviewee, “because we fought so long to say we’re equal, we’re happy with who we are. While that’s true, we’re are also suffering from the trauma of the journey, the isolation, the secrecy and the shame, and the resulting effect on your mental health that is more likely to happen to you if you grow up gay than if you grow up straight.

The most significant time period for the development of views and, for this argument, the development of those prejudices, is when we are growing up. More than half of younger LGB people experience homophobic bullying in Britain’s schools. Nearly half of pupils who experience homophobic bullying have symptoms of depression. One in six lesbian, gay, or bisexual adults has experienced homophobic hate crime or incident in the last three years.

If there were proper, open sex and relationships education in all schools – discussion of different families and LGBT role models in Britain in the 21st century – then I am almost certain that children would be more aware of differences, and people wouldn’t stand by and allow bullying.

As it stands, the idea of speaking openly about LGBT issues, or even gay sex, is still a taboo idea for so many. The gay-shaming attitudes of some (presumably straight) men towards gay sex are routinely evidenced as a way of boosting social status among heterosexual male friendship networks and self-esteem by exalting the in-group (fellow heterosexuals) through holding prejudice. The human tendency to form out-groups and in-groups is part of our coalitional psychology, but it is also malleable and so can change. Therefore gay-straight alliances in schools are a good idea because they promote a newer kind of positive relationship between LGBT and straight students.

The problem is, though, that gay-straight alliances are thin on the ground in mainstream culture. On TV, we don’t seem to have moved on from the perennial-outfit-judger-carrying-the-shopping-bags for Carrie in Sex and the City template. It’s rare to see a straight guy with a gay best friend on any screen. Socially, too, the LGBT “scene” is – with some noteworthy exceptions – largely segregated. Some might like it that way, but the us-and-them thing produces its own unhealthy mentalities.

Things may be changing, but the damage inflicted by homophobia and growing up “different” has already been done for many LGBT people. “Homosexuality” was not taken off the list of psychiatric disorders until 1993, making it especially difficult for people to reveal their sexuality to mental health providers.

If hate stems from a fear of difference, then understanding is our first step to eradicating that fear. James Taylor, Head of Policy at Stonewall, says: “Our ambition is for a world where every single LGBT person can experience acceptance without exception.” Moral development has not reached its climax with the modern age. In the future, historians will hopefully look back at our culture as brave enough to make all its members feel that they belong.

But if we leave things as they are – if we don’t address society’s lingering stigmas at a formative level – then none of us can lay a finger on the notion of pride.

What’s in a word? Trying to describe depression to somebody who’s never experienced it

Words have a strange way of becoming more focused over time. You might hear people say that they’re “depressed” about something or other all the time: Raining again? Depressed. Team lost? Depressed. Supermarket didn’t have that thing you wanted? You get the idea. In everyday speak, “Depressed” is just another term that means “This is irritating”. It’s a vague concept that, for some, has no applicable meaning, and is a word that can be used with some degree of flippancy.

Like many things, depression can be a difficult concept to understand until you have a real sense of what it’s like. Depression is inexplicable, too, because it comes in waves, without warning. Anybody can be affected by it, and if you are, it’s like nothing else you’ve ever felt. It’s difficult to believe there isn’t a more succinct word or way to articulate something so agonising. You might use the word “depressed” day-to-day, but trust me, you’re clueless about its meaning until that’s the only thing you can think about.

How easily depressive thoughts creep into your conscious brain is, for me, the most terrifying aspect of depression. It might be because of a particular event, sequence of events, or perhaps through no reason at all other than randomness. There’s no explanation, just hurt. It’s difficult to admit, but suicidal thoughts are commonplace when it comes to depression; it’s difficult to understand this if you’ve never experienced it – and I certainly wouldn’t wish it upon anybody – it can feel like most of the time you aren’t in control of your own mind, less so your body.

Suicide is less likely to be an impulsive action in current times – in some cases, this is down to design – but in most cases, a great deal of consideration goes into suicide. Even so, just to have the thought, to have it in your head as something tangible that could be an option, remains the most frightening realisation I have ever had in my life. If I ever think about suicide now, I’m aware that it’s just that: a thought. One that will come, and then go. But for a few weeks it felt so incredibly real that I began to lose a sense of who I was. Thinking something so at odds with the personality you’ve built up until that point shakes you to the core.

Returning to the use of language, the flippancy of how we use these words applies again here: “If I have to sit through another meeting I’m going to kill myself,” you might hear today in your office. But when the notion, the sheer enormity of the word “suicide” enters your head, it’s like nothing else on earth.

I began to disassociate from society. For the next few months I couldn’t think properly. Everything was backwards, sideways. I’d reject offers for people to come and see me. When I was in the thick of it, it was as if nothing else existed, and sometimes I felt that extended to myself. It’s been a while since that period and while I could keep on top of depression, the prospect of it returning is a constant fear. I managed, mostly through reading and writing, to intellectualise it; to separate myself from my thoughts. If I considered the logical aspects of it – being a product of my own mind, which I control – then surely, I could consciously push it out? It took time, but I started to feel the positivity return.

Really, though, it’s always there. The memories don’t leave you. You can get over it, you can beat it, but there’s always a chance it will come back. I’m thankful that my dealings with depression resulted in some positives for me, but others are not so lucky. I tell myself now, when I feel negative, that it gets better – not because I know it will, but because it must. You must steady yourself under the weight of depression however you can, to accept that you’re unwell but that you can cope, and not surrender to finality.

I think about the language surrounding mental illness a lot, how “depression” was just a word to me before. Now it makes me shudder when it’s mentioned, and the memories of a more desperate, dark time flash before me whenever I hear it.

It’s difficult to describe all of this in a way that someone who’s never experienced it can make sense of it. You can’t sell people on an unexplainable, existential crisis that questions every inch of their character. It just doesn’t work like that.

So what is depression? Even trying to describe what it is sounds morbid. Pitching it to people who have never personally experienced depression or loved anyone struggling with it is difficult. It’s detached from any reason or rational thought. We have no idea how many people experience depression. We can do studies and ask everyone in the world if they’ve been depressed – but how many really know what they mean by their answers? Maybe it’s a question of linguistics, maybe it’s a question of self-image. Maybe it’s simple, maybe not. I just don’t know; all I can tell you is how I’ve experienced it.

Words change meaning all the time, but rarely in such personal ways.

A sense of perspective in the face of adversity

Our understanding of the world gets caught up sometimes, in storytelling and mythology. In our own lives, we aren’t content to deal with things as they happen – we must dive endlessly into what everything means, or whether it is fair or not. Our perceptions determine, to a large degree, what we are and what we are not capable of. In many ways, they determine reality itself. When we believe in the block more than the goal, which will inevitably come out on top?
What’s the usual response to a bad situation, an impossible deadline, or a change in circumstance? We get mad, we get angry, we complain, we question. How could they? What’s the point? Why me? We look for a way out and feel sorry for ourselves. None of these things affect the objective reality; not in the way that pushing forward can. Would you believe in somebody who didn’t believe in their own abilities to succeed? Push through those limitations, and create something entirely new. I understand, this is different to the way we’ve been brought up. “Be realistic” we’re told. “Compromise” they say. “Life’s not fair” is how they justify it. But what if that’s wrong? What if this so-called wisdom is all too conservative? It’s this impulse to complain and defer that holds us back.
To argue, to complain or to give up are choices; choices that do nothing to help us accomplish what we need or want to achieve. To achieve great things requires the power to decide what is under our control and what is not – we cannot change those things that simply are not ours to change. Focusing on what is in our power magnifies it, enhances it. Focusing on anything else is simply wasted time. Will you have a chance? Is it up to you?
How we interpret the events in our lives is the framework for the forthcoming response, or even whether there’ll be one at all. The difference between the right and wrong perspective is everything. Small changes can alter what once felt like impossible tasks. Where we once thought we were weak, we now are strong. With the right perspective, we can discover the leverage over a situation that we never thought we had. To aim low results in accepting mediocrity. Aim higher, and you could create something extraordinary. Altering perceptions doesn’t come easily, and that’s understandable. Remember – though our doubts seem reasonable, they have very little bearing on what is and isn’t possible.
Though we don’t control reality, our perceptions certainly influence it. Fear is debilitating, distracting, tiring, and often irrational. The task is not to ignore fear or those obstacles that we face, but to explain them away, to take what you’re afraid of and break it apart. We choose how to look at situations – we can’t change the adversities themselves, but the power of perspective can change how they appear. How we approach, view, and contextualise them, and what we tell ourselves that they mean, determines how daunting they will be to overcome. It’s your choice to frame a situation in a negative light – “I can’t do that” – just the same as it is for you to grant yourself the power to overcome it. The right perspective has a strange way of cutting those obstacles down.
What is behind adversity is irrelevant, it is how you react to it that matters – as Emerson put it: “we cannot spend the day in explanation”. We can get ourselves so worked up because of overthinking, that if we’d just focused on the problem, we could have conquered it already. What matters right now is right now. Perception precedes action; right action follows the right perspective. We do not simply exist but always decide what our existence will be – what will you become in that next moment? You can change at an instant.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s much easier said than done. It’s not a matter of saying “I’ll live in the present now”, you must work at it. But it can be done. Catch your mind when it wanders back, discard those distracting thoughts, and leave things well enough alone – no matter how much you feel like doing otherwise. The past is the past, and it’s a chance to hit refresh and wipe clear what came before. A chance to evolve, a chance to become a better reflection of yourself. How will you learn from what you’ve been through? That is a question that only you can answer through the right perspective. It’s easy to forget that adversity seems huge when it happens, but this is just one moment in your life; this is not your life.
The faith in your ability to make something new when there was nothing before is incredible. Given adversity, see it as a chance to test what you’re made of, to give it all you’ve got no matter how difficult it might be to win. In that state, we are our most creative, our most passionate, and our most open to new ideas. Embrace it. Harness your own power when your obstacles illuminate new options.
Now that you’ve managed your perceptions, what’s next is to act. Are you ready?

Media reporting of suicide is fucking ridiculous

Let’s get this straight. The coverage in the media when somebody takes their own life is appalling. Contrast this with something like a sexually-motivated murder, and all the details are reported, plain for all to read. But suicide? Nobody wants a bar of it.

Only yesterday, The Sun reported on the suicide of magician Daryl Easton. Was there any mention of mental health problems, or how those around have attempted to help him? Absolutely not. What was mentioned, twice in fact, was the debate over whether the man in question was fully clothed or not when he was found dead by hotel staff. A man’s battle with mental illness, reduced into nothing more than a media circus in a crass attempt to sell newspapers.

What’s more unsettling is that this happens repeatedly: terms such as ‘mental patient’, ‘nutter’, ‘lunatic’, ‘psycho’, ‘schizo’ and ‘mental institution’ are thrown around so often – do the writers ever stop to think how this language stigmatises mental illness and perpetuates discrimination? This selfish, insensitive, capitalist culture is shifting the debate from talking about why these people are committing suicide, to some minor detail with no bearing on the situation.

Inaccurate, insensitive or sensationalist media reports on mental illness and suicide can have significant consequences: research by mental health charity Sane has shown that people who read negative articles about mental illness expressed more negative attitudes toward people with a mental illness. Sane also illustrate that exposure to negative media stories has a direct effect on attitudes about people with mental illness, which was not altered by subsequent exposure to positive stories, and that media accounts of mental illness that instil fear have a greater influence on public opinion than even direct contact with people who have a mental illness.

The media fascination with extreme violence, vulnerable victims and having someone to blame seem to make suicide newsworthy. Even when mental illness is mentioned as part of the story, so often are those involved portrayed in a stereotypical manner, with pejorative language used to describe mental illness, alongside inaccurate and speculative reference to mental disorder in newspaper reports. More worryingly, in some newspapers, speculative comments concerning the offender’s mental state are produced with no evidence behind these claims and, in addition to the speculation regarding diagnoses, reporters often seemed to select quotations from witnesses that provided a default assumption of mental illness when there was seemingly no other plausible explanation.

The complexity of the events is so often lost in the reporting, that it’s becoming less frustrating and more imperative to change this.

The media has an important role to play in influencing social attitudes to suicide and, potentially, the actions of vulnerable people. Research by MindFrame has demonstrated that not only is the way suicide reported significant, but that there remains a strong association between media presentations of suicide and increases in actual suicidal behaviour (including suicide deaths, attempts and thoughts about suicide).

Stories about suicide appear to have the greatest impact on people in the community who are already vulnerable. The risk is increased where someone identifies with the person in the report, where the story is prominent, is about a celebrity, details method and/or location or glorifies the death in some way.

Would anybody argue that we need to find ways of increasing community discussion of suicide and suicide prevention? Probably not. Would those people take an active role doing so? I’d guess few would. That’s why, with the media so predominant in our lives, that its role in increasing community discussion is necessary, yet complex, to shift.

The reality is that all of us, every single human being, whether you are suffering from mental illness or not, wants to feel connected to one another. We all want to feel our lives have meaning. If only we could see what this type of reporting is doing to the minds of those who are suffering the most.

We must stand up to stigma and discrimination. We must try to understand, educate future generations, and prevent anyone who experiences a mental illness from feeling ashamed.

The trouble is that ‘suicide’ and ‘mental health’ aren’t sexy topics that the tabloids can print on their front pages with some terrible pun of a headline to churn out copies. They want stories that sell. They want to talk about violence, or preferably sexualised violence, horror, and chaos. All the while, the suicide rate sits quietly in the background, as big a problem as ever but overshadowed by the irrelevance that is printed.

This isn’t a problem that we can simply sweep under the rug and let it be dealt with by someone else. Being honest about what you’re going through might not make for a headline, but it takes real courage to stand up and say something when you’re at rock bottom.

If we start a greater conversation around suicide, wipe away the stigma and let everyone know that it’s okay to admit how they’re really feeling, we can create a culture where people seek the help they need. We all have a responsibility to tackle the silence that leads to suicide. It’s such a privilege for us to be able to talk about our own experiences and contribute to building the momentum around changing attitudes to mental health. Just dive right in.

Love, Sex and Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition marked by a pattern of ongoing instability in moods, behaviour, self-image, and functioning. These experiences often result in impulsive actions and unstable relationships. A person with BPD may experience intense episodes of frustration, depression, and anxiety that may last from only a few hours to days.

Some people with BPD also have high rates of co-occurring mental health conditions, such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders, along with substance abuse, self-harm, and suicidal thinking and behaviours.

While mental health experts now generally agree that the label “borderline personality disorder” is very misleading, a more accurate term does not yet exist.

As with all personality disorders, BPD exists on a continuum, from mild to severe. To diagnose BPD, at least five of the following symptoms must be enduring and present in a variety of areas:

1. Frantic efforts to avoid abandonment;
2. Unstable and intense personal relationships, marked by alternating idealisation and devaluation;
3. Persistently unstable sense of self;
4. Risky, potentially self-damaging impulsivity in at least two areas (such as substance abuse, reckless behaviour, sex or spending);
5. Recurrent self-mutilation or suicidal threats or behaviour. (Around eight to 10 percent of those with BPD commit suicide);
6. Mood swings, not lasting more than a few days.
7. Chronic feelings of emptiness;
8. Frequent, intense, inappropriate temper or anger; and
9. Transient, stress-related paranoid thoughts or severe dissociative symptoms.

The cause of BPD is not well understood, but often it has been linked to neglect, abandonment, or abuse in childhood.

How BPD plays out

Those suffering with BPD tend to develop unstable interpersonal relationships. Those people who do suffer from BPD generally find it difficult to tolerate being alone and experience intense frustration when these feelings do occur. Whilst these outward signs may be obvious amongst some sufferers, some sufferers mask their feelings due to their desire to present a better picture of themselves despite having an unstable sense of self.

Typically, individuals with BPD have difficulty trusting others. Irritability and addictive behaviour are two opposing characteristics of sufferers, with relationships growing quickly and intensely. Individuals with BPD may feel that their emotional needs are not met in a relationship, but sometimes they do not have the capacity to assert their emotional needs in a productive and healthy manner. One study found that those with BPD have a distorted sense of social norms, which impacts their ability to trust or co-operate with others. When something goes wrong in their relationships, they do not respond in a manner that would repair the damage. By doing so, they limit others from being able to fully co-operate in return.

Frequently, these individuals are unable to focus on the feelings of others because their own emotional pain is too great an obstacle. Some demonstrate problematic sexual behaviours and patterns of unstable love relationships, and sexuality is frequently used to avoid the chronic feelings of emptiness experienced by those with the disorder.

Their emotions, behaviour, and unstable relationships reflect a fragile, shame-based self-image. Sudden changes in behaviour or mood often occur, sometimes to the extent that they feel non-existent, and is made worse when they’re alone. They can be desperate to be cared for, yet are hypervigilant for any real or imagined signs of rejection or abandonment. It is common for them to cut off relatives or friends who they feel have betrayed them.

On the other hand, they equally fear the romantic merger they try to create, because they’re afraid of being swallowed up by too much intimacy. In a close relationship, they must walk a tightrope to balance the fear of being alone or of being too close. Whereas narcissists enjoy being understood, too much understanding can be frightening to those with BPD.

Sex addiction and sex avoidance

One of the theories as to why people with BPD have such reckless sex lives is the fact that they constantly feel emotional emptiness. Even when they find a stable emotional relationship, their fear of abandonment causes them to become paranoid about the stability of their relationship and the validity of the love coming from their partner.

A possibility for the link between reckless sex and borderline personality disorder is that the sufferer of BPD gets an emotional high from bonding with the sexual partner even if only for a short time. Sometimes, it can feel like trying to fill in emptiness inside themselves, and sometimes we try to fill that void with sex.

Reckless sex is a huge problem for those with BPD. Sex is sometimes used to stabilise emotions; both low self-esteem and fear of abandonment can be avoided, but unfortunately not for any long period.

On the other hand, sex avoidance is common amongst those with BPD; those who find it particularly difficult to trust can have an intense fear of and inability to feel genuine intimacy. The chemical changes in the brain during sex are powerful and addictive, which is something that many try to avoid.

Every sufferer of BPD is different. Personally, I go through periods of reckless sex for different reasons. Sometimes it’s impulsive. Sometimes it’s to feel wanted. Sometimes it’s just to feel intimacy. There are a number of reasons. As I’ve written before, most of the time I’m fearful of the intimacy involving sex altogether. It’s a complicated cycle. It’s intoxicating.

BPD and your relationship

To truly love someone, you have to accept them for who they are. You must accept their shortcomings, their successes, their bad habits, and their humour.

When being with someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD), acceptance is one of the most important things about that love.

Accepting a person and their BPD diagnosis can sometimes be a difficult task. It helps to be patient, compassionate, and to persevere with us. Having these qualities won’t make being with someone with BPD a flawless experience, but it will make it possible, and easier than it would be if those qualities weren’t present at all.

My BPD causes a variety of symptoms that not only affect my life, but the lives of those around me. Some of these symptoms, like mood swings, irritability and hypersexuality, can be difficult. Having patience with someone who has BPD can be challenging. It’s hard to have patience when the same symptoms continue to surface over and over. But in my experience, to get through to someone with BPD, patience is required. Having patience means having the ability to accept someone without becoming angry or upset. Anger can fuel certain symptoms of BPD, while patience puts the fire out.

Having compassion means showing and experiencing genuine concern and empathy for how their illness makes them feel. Being compassionate when you’re with someone with BPD will mean so much to that person, because compassion is not easy to find when you have an illness that affects how you treat other people. Compassion is necessary because it assures your other half you are trying to understand the complications of their illness.

Those with BPD experience strong emotions, and can be incredibly passionate. What we need in return is patience, compassion, and perseverance. Don’t rush anything, don’t worry about the future or what progress you’re making. Share the umbrella and get through the storm together.

If mental illness has taught me anything, it’s that I can’t give up on anybody I care about. Whatever battle I’m thrown in, we fight it together. Persevering through the tough parts is necessary to arrive at the end of it. It certainly will get tough when the person with BPD is depressed or irritable, but try not to give up. Win the battle together every day.

Social media, self-image and suicide

In the recent past, an explosion of social media platforms has drastically changed the way we communicate. There are almost two billion active users of Facebook; the creation of such a wide-encompassing online community means that we no longer need to wait for newspaper updates, but rather learn from those in our own networks about the issues that are most important or appealing to us.

Social media is a powerful tool for people of all ages – particularly young people – providing a platform for our opinions to be heard on the matters that affect us personally. Perhaps more importantly, social media has proven its power time and again in motivating people to action regarding social, political and economic policies.

Therein lies the true benefit of social media in our lives: allowing the creation and distribution of ideas that can be recognised by new or sheltered audiences. Social media has not only helped us access these ideas, but to explore them, capture them and market them to much wider audience.

While social media can offer many benefits to society, it can be argued that it has also transformed our culture into one of an anti-social physical nature. In the realm of social media, we can be blinded by the pictures, videos, or posts that we share with an online community that we rarely stop to think what impact this has on our mental health.

Self-image

Social media platforms allow us to present our own filtered sense of reality, showing only what we want to show.

Active use of social media refers to the practice of regularly posting pictures, videos, status updates, comments or posts and has also been linked to poor self-esteem and mental health. Many people engage in strenuous impression management, filtering reality with the purpose of seeking the approval and admiration of others. In psychology, this is known as searching for external validation. In the world of social media, it is sometimes known as “fishing for likes.”

Passive users of social media are typically observers of others’ posts. This can lead to a person critically comparing their life with other people’s and using others’ posts as measures for successes and failures in their own life. The impact of this could be catastrophic feelings of low self-esteem, resulting in negative statements, such as ‘I will never be able to be like that person’, or ‘I could never do that’.

The whole process can lead people to question their value to others, sometimes resulting in an unhealthy self-scrutiny of body image, physical appearance, and general lifestyle; ultimately leading to self-doubt and self-loathing.

The constant pressure to look perfect, act perfect, have the perfect body, have the perfect group of friends, or reach the perfect number of likes can affect anyone’s mental health. Some research indicates that feeling compelled to portray this alternate version of reality where one’s life appears constantly exciting can come at a severe psychological cost. Whilst it can be damaging to a person’s self-esteem if posts and photos receive little attention despite the best efforts of those posting them, in worst case scenarios, active use can lead to ridicule or attack, rather than compliments or praise. Taken to extremes, this can result in cyber-bullying, which has been associated with suicidal behaviour in recent years.

Social comparison

Psychologically speaking, social media can give us a false sense of belonging and connecting that is not built on real-life exchanges. This makes it increasingly easy to lose oneself to cyberspace connections and give them more weight than they deserve.

We make connections, and even friendships, that aren’t necessarily real, at least not in the sense that real-world friendships have. That’s not to say that you can’t have meaningful relationships with people you meet online. It just means you’re also open to a lot of false connections that don’t have an equal give and take.

The great moments in our lives, such as spending time with friends and family, learning something new, reaching your goals, or seeing something beautiful in nature, are often interrupted by our social media lives. Sometimes, we are not fully engaged in these activities because we want to document them to make us look interesting on social media. It’s a voyeuristic approach to life that opens you up to all kinds of negative consequences, such as eating disorders, depression, and interruption of your sleep cycle.

Indeed, a large-scale University of Pittsburgh study of young adults indicated that heavy social media users are almost three times more likely to be depressed than occasional users.

Not only that, but a study from the University of Michigan collected data about Facebook users and how it correlated with their moods. Simply put, they found that the more frequent users were overall unhappier than those who used the site less. Over more time, frequent users also reported lower satisfaction in their lives overall.

The effects of seeing how we measure up to others on social media are still in the early stages of research; indeed, it is a concept that is not yet fully understood. But one study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology – “Seeing Everyone Else’s Highlight Reels: How Facebook Usage is Linked to Depressive Symptoms” – also suggests these comparisons may make us depressed.

We tend to compare ourselves to others on social media. It’s a natural human instinct to judge our progress or success in life by seeing how we match up against others – what psychologist Leon Festinger called “social comparison theory” in the 1950s.

However, there is a fascinating phenomenon (and problem) at the heart of social media comparison: choosing who we compare ourselves to.

One step toward healthy comparison – after all, some is good – should be identifying the correct peer group. Then we can make reasonable upward and downward judgements. By identifying the correct peer group, we can feel our own sense of accomplishment and pride while also admiring those above us and striving to achieve what they have.

We should learn to see social media for what it is: a vessel for representing how people want to share their experiences. All the flaws, the dispositions and the setbacks will not be there. But you can be sure they happened.

Remember that people are competing for the spotlight, and trying desperately to appear cool, carefree, happy, funny, or perfect. If you spend hours a day looking at the products of these intentions, you might just end up joining them.

What can we do?

What is really worrying is that repeatedly, studies appear and demonstrate that the mental health of all of us is on the line. We’ve know about online bullying, we know the shaming that goes on in our towns, our places of work and our schools.

So, what are we waiting for? Inaction on these issues is harming the physical and emotional wellbeing of many people in this country. What must happen before we do something? What can be done to mitigate the harmful effect of social media usage? Aside from literally unplugging our online lives, we could start by doing more to raise awareness of its potentially damaging effects so people can make informed choices regarding online behaviour.

We can enter positive discussions with those around us about self-acceptance, noting the dangers of social comparison and approval-seeking. To accept ourselves as we are means to value our perfections as highly as our imperfections; when you are comfortable with your strengths and weaknesses then you can radiate your true, unaffected humanity. And that is beautiful.

To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you be someone else is the greatest accomplishment.