DJ Nikki Hayes on living with mental illness: 'I have a constant want to mutilate and inflict pain on myself'
For decades, broadcaster Nikki Hayes has battled intense feelings of inadequacy, which caused her to self-harm. In her new book, she opens up about coping with this challenging condition
I have grown up feeling inadequate all of my life. I was always the child getting into trouble, not fitting in, feeling like a fraud. I internalised all my frustration and believed everyone that I met was above me and I was not worthy to share the air they breathed.
Only recently have I begun to understand why that was the case. Two years ago I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. What is that? I've been asked so often to explain. Our knowledge on the mental health illness is still quite limited.
I have lived with BPD most of, if not all of, my life. It first manifested enough to have medical intervention in my teens but working with psychiatrists and channelling back it is most likely I have had it all of my life.
Diagnosing BPD is complex and psychiatric teams use a DSM-IV medical report to establish behavioural patterns. According to the DSM-IV-TR (American Psychiatric Association, 2000), borderline personality disorder is diagnosed when there is a persistent pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships, mood and self-image, as well as distinct impulsive behaviour, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts. These difficulties are indicated by five (or more) of the following:
- frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment;
- a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterised by alternating between extremes of idealisation and devaluation;
- identity disturbance; markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self;
- impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (eg. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). This does not include suicidal or self-harming behaviour;
- recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behaviour;
- affective instability due to a marked reactivity of mood - intense feelings that can last from a few hours to a few days;
- chronic feelings of emptiness;
- inappropriate intense anger or difficulty controlling anger;
- transient, stress-related paranoid ideas or severe dissociative symptoms.
Not all people diagnosed with BPD will present in the same way, as there are over 100 combinations of symptoms possible if someone has five out of the nine criteria. The diagnosis of BPD is only made when it is clear that these behaviours have been present over time (usually starting in early adulthood) and across a range of situations.
For me, I meet eight out of nine criteria so I am without doubt a screaming beacon for BPD.
I always feared abandonment and rejection and yet created environments for this to happen by trying to intensely keep close relationships, smothering people and then pushing them away. This would then validate my feelings of inadequacy and cause me to hate myself even deeper. It's a vicious emotional circle of Need-want-Panic-Push-Isolate- feel abandonment.
I developed anorexia in my teens. I hated my chubby frame. I hated my bloated tummy and face. So much so I would have panic attacks about leaving my house for school. I was an opportunist.
I was asked if I would like to take part in the women's mini marathon. I used the training and diet plans to extremes where I controlled my weight until it became frighteningly low. It became an obsession, a high. Causing myself pain, withholding food, I felt elated. I felt in control of the person that I presented to the world. I couldn't maintain who I was trying to create. Malnourished and emotionally raw, I swallowed a load of pills attempting to end my mental anguish. I didn't want to die, I was screaming for help. I told my parents what I had done and was taken to hospital. This became my first interaction with the Mental Health services when I was referred on to Dr Mary Darby at St Vincent's for an eating disorder.
The frustrating part of BPD is that up to now, it has been hard to diagnose early. I spent two decades in emotional trauma unable to maintain friendships, relationships and not understanding why.
I have hated myself all my life. Working in radio was a punishment in itself. I was drawn to a career where I could hide behind the microphone, staying anonymous. People could only judge my voice and it was easier to keep relationships at arm's length.
I could function in work yet when I returned home I was crippled with self hatred, isolated and had an extreme need to hurt myself to justify the hatred that I had inside. I self-harmed regularly - two hospitalised events where I cut so deep into my thighs I exposed muscle and had to have quite a lot of stitches. This wasn't attention seeking, Nobody knew except myself. I felt release when I harmed. This was my little secret.
With BPD, you become a master of disguise - on the surface, functioning and living, yet underneath, drowning and in immense pain.
I expect hurt, I expect pain - it's been something consistent in my life. If I hurt myself, no-one can ever hurt me as badly. It's like if I prepare for the worst and then if it does happen, I'm already prepared and if it doesn't, well it's a relief.
I have a constant want to mutilate and inflict pain on myself. It's my way with coping with my isolation. I have been getting better at managing the impulsivity though so I try to talk myself down so the episodes happen less and less. I am on medication which slows me down to stop me being impulsive, to try to regulate moods and allow me time to process the situation and react accordingly.
Will I have a happy ever after? I am a work in progress and I hope so, but every day is a learning day and I will continue to research all I can on my illness and how to manage it best. I don't want anyone else to have to wait two decades for a diagnosis... it's time to stand up and shout #StrongerTogether.
Nikki's book Crying Into The Saucepan is out now