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What is/was this?

(19 Posts)
elementofsurprise Fri 19-Jun-15 12:37:15

I'd really appreciate it if anyone could shed any light on this. I'm trying to put something into context a bit.
I'm not looking for a diagnosis, or help right now. It's specifically this thing I'm wondering about.

Basically, when I was a teenager and I heard my parents arguing, it would send me into a complete tailspin.
I would feel like there were hands reaching into my chest, squeezing everything, I'd feel overhwhelmed, sick, dizzy and just so crushed and dreadful. This would happen very suddenly - I'd be fine, then hear shouting and instantly would be overtaken by these feelings/sensations. Felt a bit like being stabbed or something.
This also happened if I was the one being shouted at. It wasn't constant and my siblings didn't have the same reaction, but because of the reaction provoked in me it's really affected me. (I did confide in trusted people at the time but the consensus seemd to be I was "overreacting", even if they didn't put it in those words.)

It started when I was about 12 (I have a specific memory of one occasion so can date it). By late teens the arguing was much less, but by then the awful reaction I had to it was happening in response to other things too - eg. if I made a mistake or a customer was rude to me in my Saturday job. Sometimes the feeling would overtake me for no reason whatsoever. I was diagnosed with depression and generally struggled by then. But it was the sudden, dreaful feeling as described above that really crippled me.

After I'd left home, I found I couldn't hold down a job because of this awful feeling - again, it happened if I made a mistake at work or whatnot. I was ok at turning up on time, doing my job, but I'd always get fired because something would trigger the terrified, chest-crushing, sick dizzy shame must-die-now feeling. Tears would stream down my face too. Even if I could keep my composure in other ways, the tears would still fill my eyes and I'd be somewhat dissociated from reality, unable to follow what someone was saying or know what to do because I was using all my brainpower to supress the feeling/reaction I was having.

I went to mental health service for help (via GP) and told them - and GP - the above (aged 19/20). Not being able to hold down a job was my primary motivation. I did not have a good experience with services, but I won't go there now... except to say they diagnosed BPD (in fact I think knobhead GP pre-diagnosed it) despite not really fitting the criteria... think I didn't fit anywhere else...

I thought services would give me counselling and explore the strong reactions to arguing earlier in my life - I thought I'd done well to see so clearly how my problems had developed. But people dx'd BPD in those days (10 yrs ago) were ignored and excluded.

Anyway, this is what I'm wondering:

1) What was happening, when I was so distressed at hearing parents argue? Would that be an anxiety attack? Or just genuine fear/normal response?

2) If it is an extreme/OTT response to have... Would it be 'normal' to develop such a strong response after several months/years of it happening repeatedly?
Or it it because of other influences/low self-esteeem etc. before this time, that I had such a strong reaction?

3) I'd probably frame the arguing/tense atmosphere as ongoing low-level trauma (esp. due to my reaction to it), and then I had complex PTSD by late teens...
I know complex PTSD still isn't an 'official' diagnosis, so I'd never have been diagnosed this way, but why, when I spelt out how my problems had developed, did they not listen? I'd have thought I was a psychologists dream with a clear aetiology like that!
Why did they go "BPD" and not "depression/anxiety/trauma symptoms"? Even if they couldn't/wouldn't call it 'trauma', then surely "anxiety" would have done, and meant I could get treatment?

I guess I'm trying to work out what the "professional" view, and the "woman-on-the-street" view would be, plus asking those who have experienced similar feelings. I'm just trying to frame it all somehow, put it into context.

Thank you

NanaNina Sat 20-Jun-15 01:09:44

Phew - you have oodles of insight and perception for a start. Can I ask did the difficulties you describe only begin at the age of 12 when your parents were arguing, or can you recall feeling anxious when you were much younger? Your description of the physical feelings you were experiencing sound like anxiety, or maybe a panic attack. Later on in your post you ask if your response to your parent's arguing was "an anxiety attack, or just genuine fear/normal response" - BUT anxiety IS fear and being very afraid causes panic. As for "normal" response - what IS normal - it can't be defined and everyone's "normal" is probably different.

It seems as though this anxiety (fear) panic followed you into the work setting and almost became your "default position" when things went wrong and the fear that you felt when younger became re-enacted and hence the symptoms of anxiety emerged again. You mention that your parents shouted at you and this scared you, so maybe when someone at work in authority criticised you or pointed out some mistake, that same fear was played out in the work setting.

Parental "messages" are incredibly strong, be they positive or negative and can re-play like tapes in our head throughout our lifetime. Parental injunctions are potentially destructive and can be the root of low self esteem that you mention.

BPD is as you infer a "catchall" diagnosis when nothing else fits and a GP does not have the competence in MH issues to make such a diagnosis in any event. Most GPs can only diagnose and treat depression and anxiety. I think BPD has now been changed to Emotionally Unstable PD (thought to be less stigmatising......) and yes you're right 10 years ago BPD was not a "treatable mental illness" but now it is, although having said that I think there is only therapy available DBT (Dialectical Behaviour Therapy) I think - but google as I'm not entirely sure I have the exact wording) but it is meant to be specifically for BPD.

Am I right in thinking you self diagnosed "complex PTSD" - and you say in your late teens but wasn't this the time you were seeing the GP at aged 19/20 or have I misunderstood this. PTSD is a distinct possibility I would have thought and it is an official diagnosis. The symptoms I think are anxiety, flashbacks, depression, nightmares, intrusive thoughts etc. There is a specific therapy for PTSD that I've heard MNs speak of in glowing terms - EMDR - again you'll need to google.

As to why you weren't listened to and taken seriously in the past is pretty much why the same thing could happen today - because even though MH issues are very common and account for approx. one third of all GP consultations, a miniscule amount of NHS funding is allocated to MH.

You can ask your GP to refer you for counselling but to be honest the most you are likely to get is 6 sessions of CBT which seems to be the panacea for all ills these days. Can you afford private therapy as I think this is the best way forward for you, although it can be costly, averaging around £50 per hour dependent on where you live, and there are no quick fixes, so it can be a lengthy process. I think you would make very good use of therapy as you are clearly very intelligent and insightful.

Don't know if you've ever read anything on Transactional Analysis (TA) - you might find it interesting "I'm OK-You're OK" and "Games people play" by Eric Berne are good starting points.

BillStickersIsInnocent Sat 20-Jun-15 06:36:03

Sorry to hear you are going through this.

I'm not a medic but have lived with anxiety, panic and depression for a very long time - very much controlled now though.

Our brains are very plastic and a panic response can become a behavioural pattern very quickly. It sounds as though your initial horrible experiences caused a classic panic attack (adrenaline surge to equip you to deal with danger). When you face anything similar now, your brain recognises this as dangerous and mounts the same response.

The good news is that with work this response can be managed - like the above poster I think you could respond really well to CBT, as you show such insight.

Also medication can help, I've been on medication for over 20 years and see it as necessary to control a chronic condition - like living with diabetes.

I found learning about hormone production of adrenaline - the why and the what - really helped too.

elementofsurprise Sat 20-Jun-15 10:47:17

The particular difficulty of feelng this sudden, overwhelming thingy (I call it 'freefalling through terror') started around the age of 12. It's possible I felt it before when younger but I'm thinking probably very young? Like 6 or less.
Wider stuff... I was a bit weird as a child, apparently, school had concerns (and parents felt judged/blamed so that wasn't helpful) but then sort of just punished/ignored me if I did anything 'wrong' like cry too much. By chance I lost a lot of close friends from nursery to 7yrs old (moving away), one of these - 'friend'- from nursery to reception was a horrible bully (I later met someone from the school she went to, this person had a moan about her and I was like Ooh I know that person!), so a sort of prototype abusive realtionship (having to do what she said etc.) I felt different- inferior - for most of my life until I suddenly twigged at 18 I was just like everyone else. Not sure now. I have wondered about aspergers but I dont know whats left without the trauma stuff.

I self-diagnosed complex PTSD a few years ago (I'm 30 now). At 19 unfortunately when I really tried to get help I believed that nurses were kindly beings and that psych nes would be just the same; I was clueles about the harsh realitites of the system. (Had been vaguely to GP at 17 and given AD's, which did nothing, and diagnosed depressed, but no CAMHS). So at first I thought the GP was just a one off evil GP, same with CPN... took a while to realise, I didn't have internet at the time but once I did I started googling... it was like uncovering a mass grave or something, so shocking what they did/do to people who by and large are massively traumatised... nice to know it wasn't me, but so terrifyingly powerless to stop the institutional abuse.

Sorry, rambling a bit, basically I absorbed their messages I was a worthless piece of scum who should just be fine (they used to ask why I called, telling me I was overreacting even when living with a violent man (not partner) - council wouldn't house me if I left saying I'd be 'voluntarily homeless', which is a lie but MH team wouldn't back me up). They used to get cross if I was upset or asked them when I could see a therapist/counsellor. They wrote a care plan that projected me magically getting better with no input/treatment hmm and got cross when I couldn't stick to that. They said the only problem was that I was contacting them, and called it as 'behavioural problems' - they literally thought me asking for help was the problem, they couldnt wrap their minds around the idea that I felt shite and needed help with something quite specific (if I could have held down a job I'd have been able to escape other traumatic things.)

Oops I've rambled again... anyway suffice it to say there was lots of things over a few years that were terrifying and painful - abusive relationship(s?), homelessness, sex when I didn't want to (but couldn't say no, so not rape). I interspersed these with some fun (in a desperate, driven, "I have to make some good memeories" way) but you get the idea.

Thought everything OK and much happier then lost budding career (due to v questionable criminalisation at 19, MH team trying to get rid of me), ended up breaking down just as I thought I was happy. Around this time I started getting specific memeories of things, ended up self-diagnosing complex PTSD at this point. Obvs what with the stuff in early 20's - I might actually be largely 'over' the earlier stuff.

A lot of it's terrifying because stuff happened that was wrong. I was arrested many times on a whim, really, like they had a standard procedure to just lock me up asap to make sure I wasn't dead, but not to actually get any help. But on two occasions there was violence in the house (one time I was thrown into the street and shut out of my own home not properly dressed) and they wouldn't come when I called. People don't believe this stuff. I feel so alone with it.

I see a therapist privately but I think feeling so alone irl isn't helping, because it's so much harder to explore stuff. Because if you open a can of worms there is no support.

BTW the crappy GP had no right to pre-diagnose but I think he did - certainly I was treated like scum from the start. It's sort of as if they took against me straightaway which led to the BPD diagnosis, not the other way round. The GP was very disinterested, said I was probably "just one of those people" (after glancing through notes and seeing concerns from young childhood) and said I HAD to take AD's or he wouldn't refer me on. Had to really push even for that. People also dont believe how bad services were/are, it's incredibly difficult to be kind to myself and put things into context when there's no reassurance from others, because if you told them they'd think you were making it up.

Im sorry for writing so much, had the most awful conversation with crisis team just now. It's like they're trying to make it worse. She kept saying I was shouting at her, when I really wasn't (if voiced raised unintentionally in upset why take it personally?), and telling me I was winding myself up, when actually I was calm when I called but it was her attitude that got me. How the fuck do they expect a very upset person to remain calm when faced with their bullshit? She kept interrputing me, woudnt take in what I was saying. Oh, and apparently flashbacks are my fault for thinking about it hmm

Im sorry, bit of a mess right now.

elementofsurprise Sat 20-Jun-15 10:53:00

ps. I have two close friends, both are male. One is my boyfriend but I need to leave him because of his alcohol issue (not v bad but not getting any better), the other has Aspergers so talking about this stuff just leads to me feeling more shite so I can't.
I'm terrified of sex, this has got suddenly worse and I feel like there's something I'm trying to forget, I'm so scared something happened. Hoping it's just the later sex stuff getting to me.
I'm so sorry, I just don't know what to do. I've tried for so long, it's been 5 years since I broke down. MH team don't want to know. I gave up pushing so hard to remain friends with people when it seemed so one way.

I want to give up, I feel like I'm an idiot for still being alive.

elementofsurprise Sat 20-Jun-15 11:02:48

Bill thanks. MH team think I lack insight! (because I don't agree with them)

I've seen a DBT manual, it seemed really weirdly patronising and obvious. It just sems to be telling you what to do, not how the hell you do it. I can be totally normal when I am not feeling overwhelmingly shite! I would like to feel better, it's not behavioural ffs (ffs aimed at them not you!)
It's like work - I know how to act, but until I deal with the backlog of trauma/pain I'm not going to be able to do that consistently. DBT seems to miss the point.

CBT... I have always been against because it doesn't dig deep. However, might it work on the specific issue of not having a panic attack?
Although it is rare it happens now because I avoid triggers, nowadays it's more of a gradual decline to feeling that bad.

elementofsurprise Sat 20-Jun-15 11:15:04

oops, when I wrote "MH team don't want to know. I gave up pushing so hard to remain friends with people when it seemed so one way" I meant that's how I've ended up so isolated. I thought I'd sort myself out then get on with making friends, but it's taking so long to sort myself out.

aintgonnabenorematch Sat 20-Jun-15 16:46:34

'Complex PTSD' cannot be self - diagnosed the same as any other MH problem. And lots of people in Psychiatry would say 'Complex PTSD) is a more acceptable way of reframing BPD.

Because BPD has historically had a bad reputation but it doesn't mean it might not be an explanation for what you're going through.

It doesn't mean (despite common myths) that you're in control or attention seeking or exaggerating or causing problems. Or putting it on or not trying to get better.

There are lots of misconceptions about BPD and it's a huge thing to consider that might be you but it just might be.

elementofsurprise Sat 20-Jun-15 21:08:59

Great, so at 11-12 when I was frightened heaing my parents argue it was because I have a faulty personality? Cheers.
And saying complex PTSD cannot be self-diagnosed? Or course it can, just like anything can! Psychs aren't God ffs! There is no test, bbut I ma having massive trauma symptoms even as I write this so you can fuck right off if you want to blame it on me!

elementofsurprise Sat 20-Jun-15 21:48:02

I'm sorry if I seem a bit abrupt but I am trying to survive right now and have just split with partner due to asking if I could talk to him and him getting angry. So on top of no-one to talk to about the disturbing things going through my head I'm now cuddle-less and blamed for feeling bad.

Also, I dont actually fit the symtoms as mentioned earlier. Diagnosis was given asap not after seeing a psych even! And they had a really weird view of me (RP accent?) - thought I was loaded and couldnt understand why I left home at 18. I no longer have the BPD diagnosis because they knew it was inaccurate after actually properly diagnosing, however for some reason they all act like I have and use it as a benchmark for (no) treatment.

Also it was only a few years ago I stopped being able to trust people, after one too many times beig hurt, badly. Yet my problems - even the latest breakdown - pre-date that.

And the breakdown, as mentioned, is why I think complex PTSD. Because unlike before, there were memories, flashbacks and nightmares. Random things triggering these memories I'd stuffed away. Because the panic attack thingys meant I coudn't hold down a job, I had little choice over a lot of things like where to live. So bad experiences I couldn't escape, homelessness, and of course being made to feel like a waste of space by MH team - but them wanting me regurlarly locked up in cells 'for my own safety' or held in A&E for them to sneer at and call an attention-seeker... when they'd called the police to drag me there. This is the stuff that I rememeber, have nighmares about etc. So yes, by breakdown (age 25) I think definitely complex PTSD fits.

PictureBook Sun 21-Jun-15 00:33:03

I can relate to much of this, OP.

It's late and I need to sleep but I'll try to come back tomorrow.

aintgonnabenorematch Tue 23-Jun-15 17:35:13

I'm sorry if I upset you, my post probably came across as dismissive and it wasn't meant that way.

BPD isn't the fault of the person, it's not something they want or have any responsibility for. I think that misunderstanding is why so many people fear it, don't understand it and are not wanting it to be an explanation for how they feel.

It might be or it might not be an explanation for how you feel or the life you've led. But you have struggled and still struggle with your emotions and your reaction to things over the years.

If you look up emotional dysregulation that might look familiar to you. And that can be related to BPD or other things.

I have a lot of experience with BPD and in a cack-handed way was trying to suggest that if that's a possible explanation for you - it's not all the misconceptions and scary ideas that people have around it.

It's a mental illness that is the same as any other in several ways - not the fault of the individual, not something they're putting on, not attention seeking and not a sign of a 'faulty person'. It is out of that persons control.

JulyKit Wed 24-Jun-15 11:04:58

element I started reading this thread yesterday afternoon.
Like PictureBook I can relate to parts of what you say, but there is so much to take in from your posts (and also I should be doing other things right now), so it's not possible to write much of a post in response to yours right now.
Are you OK, though? How are you today?

elementofsurprise Wed 24-Jun-15 14:01:44

Aintgonna Thank you for clarifying smile
I just don't see how I fitted BPD in any way back then. I mean, I wasn't struggling with emotional dyregulation in general, it was very clearly in response to one partiular frightening and repetitive stimulus. I guess by the time I saw a GP it was happening at other times, but I wasn't "up and down", I was "normal" (for me) interspersed with these dreadful panicky dissociative times. And I was able to provide a clear history... It's just so frustrating and heartbreaking that if I'd seen a psychologist back then, it would have been relatively simple to work through the problem so close to it's roots, iyswim. Rather than being a 'complex' mess years down the line.

July Thanks. Not in a good way by alive. Sorry for rambly posts!

aintgonnabenorematch Thu 25-Jun-15 20:25:41

You might not fit BPD OP but up to now, complex PTSD isn't an officially recognised psychiatric disorder. There have been articles and papers written but there are for many things. It was considered for DSM V and not included as not felt to be a separate disorder - as many in Psychiatry consider it too similar to other disorders including BPD to be considered as distinct. It isn't in ICD 10 but may be considered for inclusion in ICD 11 but no guarantees.

So i'm really trying not to be mean but self - diagnosing as complex PTSD at this time won't get you much help because you can't self - diagnose anything anyway (I know you disagree and that's fine) but you're self -diagnosing with something which isn't currently recognised by most in Psychiatry and not included in diagnostic manuals.

And I'm not saying it's nonsense. It might well be a new disorder that will eventually be officially recognised but right now it isn't so if you want to access help or understand yourself better, that self - diagnosis might not be helpful right now.

flowers I do feel for you OP. I hope things get better for you.

elementofsurprise Fri 26-Jun-15 13:51:53

Yeh I know - it's so sad the way people struggling with things can get labelled in such an unhelpful way though.

Regardless, I cant get any help from psychiatry. Even if I went with BPD I'm not 'severe' enough for treatment (in this area, anyway. And it's not my offical diagnosis). Because the symptoms they use for 'severity' are not the ones I'm struggling with, and the treatment targets these things iyswim. In-depth therapy to get to the root of the issue is like gold dust.

I'm just trying to work through it myself and with the (private) therapist. It's just so hard to put it all into context. And really hard to understand why they didn't diagnose "panic attacks" or "anxiety disorder" or whatever in the first place. It feels like they looked at me, saw I was worthless, and gave me the label they knew would exclude me from help. I'm trying to believe that's not true, but that's the thing really - trying to put so many experiences into context so they don't keep feeding back into the depression.

I appreciate the replies thank you. x

NotAJammyDodger Fri 26-Jun-15 14:36:47

The DSM 5 and ICD 10 exists as way to diagnose psychiatric opinions in an (apparently) consistent manner. This works well for providing a 'menu' of generic treatment options (and medical statistics).

The DSM is particularly useful in the U.S. for providing therapists and medics a way of providing a diagnostic category that will allow the client / patient to claim on their insurance for treatment (no NHS - so no medical label = you can't claim against your health insurance to be treated). I have read a number of U.S. articles where therapists are 'forced' to 'label' / tick a box otherwise the insurance company won't pay for their client's sessions. I suspect, this is also most likely true for private insurance in the UK.

There is also much overlap between 'labels' as they aren't always mutually exclusive and exist on a spectrum of severity.

Just because your 'label' isn't in the DSM / ICD 10 doesn't mean that you don't have complex PTSD. It certainly 'exists' on the Internet. Remember, being gay used to be a classified psychiatric disorder! It's mental health, it's all a professional's best, educated, and qualified, guess really based on the way you present and your affect.

A good therapist and PDoc diagnoses and treats the person, not makes a label fit the person. That said, self diagnosis on its own is not the best way forward either as its lacks objectivity, or worse can end up directing the professional toward a misleading diagnosis and treatment.

Wishing you well Element with your therapist. I always tell mine how I feel rather than what I think I have - you're paying them after all to come up with their opinion and guidance.

Sometimes, I think we can read to much about our problems and disappear down the rabbit hole along with our medics/therapists and waste years on the wrong diagnosis.

elementofsurprise Sun 28-Jun-15 14:34:05

Thanks jammy

Thing is, my problems are different now to what they were when I first sought help. So I'd say complex PTSD now, due to later experiences. I know about the diagnostic stuff around that etc.

The thing I am trying to understand is why they went for BPD in the first place, when it was quite specific anxiety attacks with a clear aetiology to one repeated event in childhood. Well, teenagerhood. Maybe if it is unusual to develop anxiety attacks from this trigger (arguments) they didn't really factor it in/ignored it as a trigger?

And also was trying to work out what was happening when I had this terrified reaction to the arguing. I think anxiety attack, possibly panic attack is the right description on reflection, since starting the thread.

NotAJammyDodger Sun 28-Jun-15 15:28:37

Element I wonder if because people kick off with any sort of emotional response the shrinks automatically think personality disorder.

It's also tough because I don't think half the time the docs either listen to what you are saying or believe what you are saying (NHS or private) - you're exaggerating because you are emotionally unstable, doh!!

Personality disorder = get them into McTherapy.
If you don't fit into a nice menu option (i.e. has BPD = attend DBT course, depression = CBT, anxiety = GAD course) I don't think they know what to do with you. Hence, they dump people into these labels to get them 'processed'.
But I guess the NHS doesn't have the funding to provide anything else.

I've had a few exchanges with bloggers on "Psychology Today", a U.S. Site - they seem to have a lot more articles and blogs about the range / spectrum of personality disorders in U.S. whereas the UK seems very hung up on just BPD (like its the only personality disorder for 'non-criminals').

Probably the best bet is not to second guess why BPD was diagnosed back then and see how you get on with your current therapist, and what they come up with. What matters is that they give you the help you need now. smile

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