Messing With The Mind – My Experience of DBT

For legal reasons, all names have been changed to keep identities unknown.

For anyone who doesn’t know, I suffer from one of the most difficult and stigmatised personality disorders, BPD. I still haven’t fully got my head around it but I’m getting there. However, there isn’t a cure for BPD; there isn’t a pill for us to take. They can give you tablets (although good luck with that because it’s an absolute nightmare) for the symptoms you have but not the actual illness.

I’m a researcher so I always looking things up online and I found out that Dialectal Behaviour Therapy (DBT) is one of the most successful treatments with high success rates. Of course it doesn’t cure you but it does make life manageable and helps you live a more stable life. After battling with my therapist at the time, she finally put me through for an assessment for DBT. I would just like to mention that the thought of group therapy made me sick, I didn’t want to do it but DBT is a group based therapy so for the sake of me getting better, I put my issues to the side. The process was pretty quick in terms of getting an assessment. This is at a well known charity that supposedly helps people who have been through childhood adversity but used to specialise in people who had HIV.

My mum came with me to my assessment and we both thought it was such a nice office/building, seemed really light and welcoming…oh how we were wrong but I’ll get to that later. My assessor, Helen, was extremely lovely and I felt like she really got me. She confirmed that she did think I have BPD which was lovely to finally hear considering I kept on being told by people that ‘I didn’t have it.’ It wasn’t even a week before I heard that I’d been accepted onto it which made my day, I finally thought things were looking up; I was wrong. I found it weird that I hadn’t heard from them after that for 2 months and had to actively pester them before I was given a start date. That should’ve been a warning sign that they’re unprofessional but I needed help.

The first session finally came around. I have severe social anxiety and had to take 2 propranolol’s and diazepam as well to even leave the house. I got there with 15 mins to spare and it was pretty damn awkward. I noticed there were some people who seemed to know eachother which made it even worse for me. When we were called in I was walking behind a girl who also had coloured hair, (let’s call her jade) who seemed nice and we ended up being ‘friends.’ During that session, it was explained that we had to attend every week for 6 months which is a huge commitment but you gotta do what you gotta do right? We had to introduce ourselves which I hated and was long. There were three people taking the sessions: Dan the main therapist, Heather who turned out to be the suicide prevention manager (the irony) and Jolene (please remember they are all fake names for legal reasons); none of these people were Helen which I was annoyed about as I wasn’t told this and didn’t know any of the therapists. I wasn’t very impressed tbh as he forced us to eat fruit making us feel bad if we didn’t, so he was targeting everyone who has an eating disorder 🙄

As the weeks went by, DBT became more and more difficult. While my friendship grew with jade, the therapists became more hostile. The first problem came when I challenged Dan about what he’d said in the first session, he’d said “If you self harm, you’re out of the group” which I thought was unfair. He decided to argue with me in front of the class saying he didn’t say that 🙃 despite people telling me I was right in private, no one else stood up with me. There was also an exercise where we had to decide whether we were more robotic or overly emotional. When I drew my line on the scale he told me I was lying…you don’t even know me. I constantly did the hardest homework’s and was one of the only three that was consistently participating. I made another friend, Andy, she was exactly like me, similar personality and I just loved her vibe. I still speak to Andy so she’s the only positive I got out of this.

I noticed that certain people were receiving better care than I was. Other people were being brought back when they were dissociating, but that wasn’t happening with me which meant I missed out on chunks of the lesson. People were also being checked up on before and after class but this never ever happened with me. The week eventually came when we started Distress Tolerance and we were told we were going to have to do an ice dunk, this is where you dunk your head into a bowl of freezing water and ice. Dan told us, “If you don’t do the activity, get out the class!” I knew it was going to make me sick as I have ME/CFS which I’d made clear at assessment and had reiterated to Heather the week before. Due to having this illness, I have a low immune system and like I thought I caught flu which made my chronic illness worse. As a result of this, I missed the next weeks session but made sure to call in. When I called I was treated really badly for missing ONE session. This was so unfair considering two people had been on holiday for two weeks and were allowed to come back and other people hadn’t turned up multiple times or were late and didn’t receive the same treatment as me. Also someone who I know from rave days had joined the group who I had on social media and she didn’t want to go to therapy because she couldn’t be bothered but Dan paid for a cab for her to get to and from the session…but when I was ill I wasn’t offered this 🤔

When I asked jade about the session I’d missed, she said it was the best session. I felt some kind of way but just thought “Oh it’s my bpd playing up.” She didn’t give me the full homework which I later found out the next week which ended up being the last session I went to. As I was ill, I spent the whole week in bed. The next session was on the anniversary of being raped; I didn’t want to attend the session because I know what I’m like every year. My friends in the group encouraged me to call up and ask if I could have a one to one with Helen instead. When I called I got put through to Heather who told me no I couldn’t have a one to one with Helen and told me to attend the class. I was assured she would be there with me and that her and Dan would have a one to one with me after the session.

So November 28th came and I dragged myself out of bed to attend the session; I’d ran out of diazepam so I was very nervous. I always met jade early and we’d go for Starbucks and I noticed her whole energy was off. She told me she hadn’t told me the whole of the homework and she was going on and on about how great the previous session was. When I got there, Heather was sitting there and she didn’t say hi and didn’t check on me. Dan was also waiting around and he didn’t either 😑 Everytime before class people would talk to me about their problems so I still listened even though I felt like crap. So we go in and the first thing Dan asked was who didn’t do the homework. A girl gave an excuse of leaving the book in someone’s car and he gave her a calm response and another girl wasn’t in like me, he told her next time to ask for it. I put up my hand and said I was only to do half of it, and he rudely replied why. I told him I wasn’t in because I was ill and I’ve been sick since and he came back and said “What until 10 minutes before this but now you’re fine!” I was actually thrown off and said it wasn’t true and I still wasn’t well. When I told him I’d stayed in bed all week, he shamed me in front of the whole class to the point I almost cried. So I didn’t really participate in the session and without any trigger warning he decided he wanted to talk about everyone’s abuse. Again I was caught off guard and shocked considering they knew what day it was for me and I wouldn’t have come. Also, heather decided to throw a fit at the beginning of the session and left, so after saying she was accessible she actually wasn’t. At the end of the session we found out it was all an act and she was acting…neither Dan nor heather had a one to one with me and decided to talk to other people.

I was so distraught my mum had to pick me up from angel. After sending a message to them about me being upset and not receiving a response I called and asked for Heather to call me as I thought she was approachable. When she did call me, she was horrible on the phone, she was patronising, she was mean and hostile. I got the blame and told all of the above issues were in my head. I passed the phone to my mum and she did the exact same to my mum, was very rude. My mum was told Dan would call her instead of me to arrange a meeting after Wednesday’s session which I obviously wouldn’t be attending. Dan decided to phone me…he gave me the complaints email and that was that. I was told until this was resolved I was not allowed to come back. I did email over a complaint which the manager claimed he didn’t get what I was saying. So I sent another one and had to wait till the 21st December to receive a response. The response was awful to the point where I self harmed and became very suicidal. I was told it was in my head and clearly DBT wasn’t for me.

It’s been two months since I last went to DBT and I am a mess. I was robbed of an opportunity to have coping strategies and help change my problem behaviours. Everyday I have self harmed since and have contemplated suicide multiple times. So this is the great DBT that people talk highly of? Nah, it’s shit. Your charity is shit. None of you should work with mentally ill people, EVER. I am now being told that was the only DBT group in Islington & Camden so now I have nothing, I’m left with nothing. I don’t know what’s going to happen now, but I will be taking it further. I’m tired of constantly being mistreated but I’m going to try and keep fighting for what is right and get justice.

I know this was a long one but for me, writing helps me start to try and move on from it. To others, you may not see any of what I mentioned as a big deal, but to someone with BPD and other mental health it is. If I could give anyone advice who may be thinking of doing DBT it would be to not let anyone bully you into not standing up for what’s right. Try your hardest but don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t work out, your life is worth so much and you will succeed and hopefully get the help you need, even if it isn’t with the DBT you are signed on to. I thank Marsha M. Lineham for creating DBT due to her own problems with bpd…it’s an amazing concept. I just wish people would be properly trained in it before giving out services.

By Destiny Crawford-Corri

IG & Twitter: @apathy__xo

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