Kayla's story: Living with borderline personality disorder

If I were to tell you that I had an illness that affected only 2% of the population, and which killed 1 in 10 of those who had it, what would your reaction be? And how would that reaction change when I told you that it was a mental illness known as borderline personality disorder (BPD)?

BPD is one of the most stigmatised and misunderstood mental health conditions and its devastating effect can be found in a thousand untold stories by those who live with it, those who exist in a world where no matter how loudly they scream, no-one seems to hear their voice.

In 2007, I was pulled out of a lake in South Yorkshire where I tried to end my own life. I was fortunate. My partner, Nigel, worked with a police helicopter to locate my mobile phone signal by the water's edge, where two dogs found me and I was taken to safety. In that moment, Nigel suddenly became my 'carer', and I became a 'service user'. I had no idea that the journey on which we were about to embark would be such a long and rocky one.

My symptoms began in early adolescence, as I quickly became aware that I was not like my peers. Separation anxiety, fear of abandonment, self-harm and emotional instability prevented me from experiencing what should have been the typical life of a teenager. I spent my days in isolation, not understanding the overwhelming emotions that attacked me from every side, often crying myself to sleep wondering why the feelings just wouldn't go away, and why I couldn't put a name to them.

Throughout my teens I failed to develop an identity, falling behind academically, socially and emotionally. It felt like I had got 'stuck' at age 11 when the problems began and that my body and mind were developing but my sense of self and capacity to regulate emotion lagged way behind. It wasn't until I was finally diagnosed with BPD that I began to realise what all these symptoms meant, and I was finally able to start unpicking my past in order to understand my present.

Kayla singing

Now in my early 30s, I feel that a new understanding of life with my diagnosis is beginning to make sense. The inability to hold down a full-time job owing to my condition has turned into the most positive career move, as I now work as a self-employed professional musician. Four years after the terrible event where Nigel became my carer, his company has released my debut album, which highlights positive awareness of personality disorder.

I have found great support from my local Mind group and a fantastic organisation called Emergence, who alongside the Department of Health, are delivering training to people working with people with PD to educate them around the philosophy “no longer a diagnosis of exclusion€. It is a privilege to work with them as a trainer, co-facilitating alongside psychologists.

So few people are willing to look at the person behind the personality disorder. There can be such immense creativity born in the minds of those tormented by mental illness, and when harnessed through poetry, art, music or writing it can be a powerful tool for recovery. My hope is that by reading these words, that you will see the human being behind the label and perhaps that the stigma can be reduced by just one more person today. Something has to change, and it needs to change now€“ before another life is lost.