Ur­sula was a happy lit­tle girl, but then a per­son­al­ity dis­or­der turned her life up­side down, says Joy Or­pen. Her mother re­veals a spi­ral into al­co­holism, self-harm and sui­cide bids

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - HEALTH -

‘Ineed some­one to help me — be­cause right now I feel I am bang­ing my head against a brick wall and get­ting nowhere.” Th­ese are the des­per­ate words of a Sligo mother who has been fight­ing al­most sin­gle-hand­edly for nearly 13 years to get ser­vices for her daugh­ter who suf­fers from a lit­tle-un­der­stood psy­chi­atric con­di­tion.

Anne Hunt, 51, a nurse for the past 34 years, says Ur­sula, 29, the el­dest of her three daugh­ters, was a per­fectly happy lit­tle girl who gave no in­di­ca­tion that she was head­ing into a ter­ri­bly tur­bu­lent adult­hood. “She had strawberry-blonde curls like Shirley Tem­ple. She was bub­bly, friendly and a ta­lented artist. Ev­ery­one loved her. Then, when she was about 12, she be­gan to with­draw at school. We put it down to pu­berty,” says Anne. And, even though that trend con­tin­ued, there was noth­ing too alarm­ing un­til Ur­sula was 15, when she put her fist through a glass door in anger, and threat­ened to drown her­self as the bath wa­ter had run cold.

Anne had to break down the bath­room door to get to her dis­traught daugh­ter. “Even though I knew she couldn't drown her­self in the bath, I had to face the fact that we were in trou­ble,” she says.

Their GP re­ferred Ur­sula to a psy­chi­a­trist, who thought she might be suf­fer­ing from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der, as she had pre­vi­ously been bul­lied. But there was no doubt that Ur­sula was also clin­i­cally de­pressed, so she was put on mild anti-de­pres­sants.

In spite of the med­i­ca­tion, Ur­sula at­tempted sui­cide some time later and she ended up in an adult psy­chi­atric unit for six months, where she did her Ju­nior Cert. Then, when Ur­sula was about 19, she be­gan drink­ing “quite heav­ily”.

Anne says it's not that un­usual for peo­ple with her daugh­ter's con­di­tion to end up with a dual di­ag­no­sis that in­cludes ad­dic­tion. And so be­gan a vi­cious cy­cle that con­tin­ues to this day.

Ur­sula has been in re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for al­co­hol ad­dic­tion at least six times since she was 19 and, even more fright­en­ingly, there have been as many sui­cide at­tempts. When she was 21, she was fi­nally di­ag­nosed with bor­der­line per­son­al­ity dis­or­der (BPD).

Ac­cord­ing to Dr Keith Gaynor, se­nior clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist at St John of God Hos­pi­tal in Dublin: “BPD is best un­der­stood as emo­tional dys­reg­u­la­tion (ED). Peo­ple are gen­er­ally highly crit­i­cal of them­selves for feel­ing like that, lead­ing to very low lev­els of self-worth. The most ef­fec­tive ther­a­pies are long-term, and they fo­cus on build­ing skills to pre­dict and man­age neg­a­tive emo­tions when they oc­cur.”

Ur­sula agrees, and says that her BPD leaves her with a sense of “numb­ness and a feel­ing that I'm worth­less and no use to any­one. I know my fam­ily and friends love me, but I find that hard to ac­cept. I feel like I can't be loved”.

Anne con­firms that Ur­sula can some­times give in­ap­pro­pri­ate or poorly con­sid­ered re­sponses to cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. “She can get up­set very quickly,” Anne says. “She can be ab­so­lutely fine one mo­ment and to­tally out of con­trol the next. Some­times it's like play­ing chess with a blind­fold on. You have no idea what the right move to make would be.”

The worst thing about all this for Anne is see­ing her beloved daugh­ter suf­fer.

“It breaks my heart to see such a be­wil­dered look in the face of some­one who is just 29 years old,” she says. “Ur­sula has such a fear of the world.”

Anne says her daugh­ter has many won­der­ful qual­i­ties. “She's ex­tremely good with her bud­get. She goes to AA meet­ings and ab­so­lutely loves her lit­tle dog; in fact, she loves all an­i­mals. Peo­ple have won­der­ful things to say about her gen­tle­ness and her lovely man­ner.”

Some­times, es­pe­cially when she is not drink­ing, Ur­sula's sis­ters and Anne spend a few nights with her in her house. They, as well as Anne's sup­port­ive part­ner, Frank, love to be with her when she is feel­ing well

Other times, it's not so easy. “The na­ture of BPD is so un­pre­dictable; plans of­ten have to be aborted at short no­tice,” ex­plains Anne.

They all feel Ur­sula is not get­ting nearly enough help. None­the­less, she does her very best to keep her­self to­gether, but with­out proper sup­port it's an im­pos­si­ble strug­gle for her. “She tries to stop drink­ing reg­u­larly,” says Anne. “And some­times she does man­age. She doesn't ex­pect much from the world, so when some­thing good hap­pens to her, she's gob­s­macked. We've had 13 years of frus­tra­tion, drink­ing, self-harm, mood swings and de­pres­sion, yet we are get­ting very lit­tle sup­port.

“Ev­ery time she seeks help, it's a new ser­vice provider and we have to start from the very be­gin­ning yet again with ‘query ad­dic­tion; query de­pres­sion’ — it's so frus­trat­ing,” Anne says. “If Ur­sula had can­cer, a multi-dis­ci­plinary team would have sat down long ago and worked out a care plan for her. So why won't they do that for BPD?”

In the last 18 months, Ur­sula's sit­u­a­tion has de­te­ri­o­rated even fur­ther, due to two trau­matic in­ci­dents that left her with “high lev­els of anx­i­ety”.

Re­cently, she ex­pe­ri­enced seizures fol­low­ing yet another over­dose, and she has suf­fered two frac­tures while drink­ing. Anne is very con­cerned that Ur­sula will hit her head so badly she will end up with ir­repara­ble brain dam­age or even worse.

“I've seen it hap­pen reg­u­larly in my 34 years of nurs­ing,” says Anne.

So much so that re­cently Anne went on Live­line, Joe Duffy's ra­dio

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