Tag Archives: Chronic Pain

My Stigma Fighters Journey: Helen W

I’m writing this during a really bad day where my depression and pain are making me feel like I’m crawling through waist deep mud just to get anything done.   I tell you this because it’s important for me to acknowledge that just because my mental health is still relatively stable, it doesn’t mean that I don’t still have bad days. But even in the depths of depression sometimes we just have to finish things that are important.

This is the first post in the new Stigma Fighters Down Under site. I’m proud of the way this page has come together, and I thought I’d share the journey from when I first shared my Stigma Fighters Story (Helen W) in October 2014 to the launch of this site on Australia Day 2015.

When I first shared my story the reaction amazed me. I had so many positive comments from people I knew and my friends were super supportive. One friend was inspired to share her story too (Dani Smith), others made ongoing efforts to educate themselves and be there for me. I was also fortunate to have people who didn’t want to share their story in public message me. In some cases they simply wanted to let me know I was not alone, in other cases it was the first stage of getting help for themselves, and yet more people just wanted to connect with someone who would understand. I have made new and lasting friendships, and found new support networks because of the act of sharing who I really am, mental illness and all.

And yet not everything was champagne and roses. I was expecting some negative feedback, but it never came. I know some of my friends think it is inappropriate to talk about mental illness publicly, but luckily they just scrolled on by. I have had one person comment that they didn’t believe in “all this BS” and that I should just “look in a mirror” and affirm to myself what a wonderful person I am. That being said the same person has been amazingly supportive of this new initiative, liking and sharing our FaceBook page and Twitter feed.

No, the problems came from another and unexpected direction. I got too involved. I began to spend more and more time online, reading blogs, commenting on Stigma Fighter stories, talking to other people with mental illness – you get the picture. In effect I withdrew from the real world into my own online one. And inevitably this led to me neglecting the 2 most important relationships in my life, my boyfriend and my housemate (my ex partner of 15 years, and now my best friend).  I also began to self medicate again with alcohol and pot. Pot in particular made me paranoid and clingy, not desirable behaviors.

My boyfriend tried several times to get the message through that this behaviour was isolating him, but didn’t succeed. It took drastic measures to do that.

About a week before Christmas (which the three of us had planned to spend together) he told me bluntly that he couldn’t continue with this relationship the way it was.  That he had his own emotional needs and I simply wasn’t being there for him. That he was beginning to feel like the carer in the relationship and he didn’t want that. he wanted a relationship where we both cared for each other.  It is safe to say I didn’t take this at all well. I cried, I got mad and lashed out with words, I begged him to stay, I said I wanted him to leave now and give me back his key,  again, you get the picture.

But when I had calmed down a bit I retracted my position. I asked him to stay the night. I said that I would look at how I was acting and work with my psychiatrist to try and change the behaviors.  So we agreed to give it a chance, not right then but the next day when I was able to see the truth in his words and admit to myself that he was right. I had indeed been all take and no give. And I was able to say as much.

The conversation with my psychiatrist was NOT easy. I had to ‘fess up about everything. All my behaviors, what had been said, my substance abuse, the fight, Everything.  But I found support. First of all I recognised what had been happening and we worked out ways to change this. Secondly I was given additional medications to take me through periods when boredom or stress would drive me into the arms of drink. And most of all I committed to following up how I had been going with this regularly.

Christmas was a joy, and New Year was a blast. The clarity I gained also allowed me to notice another behaviour that my boyfriend had been trying to alert me to, emotional over-reactivity. I would get worked up at the littlest irrelevant things. My boyfriend kept saying “not my monkeys not my circus” to me to bring my attention to this behaviour. So once again I took it to the psychiatrist. We figured out that something about the things I was reacting to were “triggering” me because of past events. Rather than go off like a loose canon I had to take a step back, breathe, and ask myself why I was reacting like this. Mostly I have been successful, although the past week has seen me overreact about one particular issue quite badly. But that has passed now.

In amongst all this Stigma Fighters was growing as an organisation and expanding. It became a US company with Sarah Fader and Allie Burke as board members. They are now in the process of filing an application to become a 501C (tax-exempt non-profit organisation). New chapters have also started up;

Ross Hamilton came up with the initial idea for Stigma Fighters Down Under and I was keen to become involved. We have a Twitter feed and a Facebook page that you can link to from the sidebar. We hope you will join us in this exciting new chapter of the Stigma Fighters Journey.

And me? I’m still a work in progress. I’m trying to mitigate the damaging behaviors, exercise more, be present for people. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy, it’s not. But it is worth it.

I am Helen White – Content Manager Stigma Fighters Down Under.  I live with Borderline Personality Disorder and Chronic Pain, which I manage with the help of a collection of amazing specialists. I share a house with 1 1/2 men, 5 fish and 2 very spoiled Siamese. I hope to go back to studying for a Masters in Information Management this year, and I am also learning how to garden – so far the roses are growing and flowering nicely. 🌹

Stigma Fighters: Helen W.

I’ve always thought of it as having a skin too few. The stupidest things upset me. I can be happy and content but one prick and I deflate with a sick feeling of futility and inadequacy acidic in my stomach.

As a child I never seemed to get it right. I would greet beloved relatives with squeals of enthusiasm. Of course I was deserving of the biggest present. On one dreadful occasion I actually grabbed the biggest present and ripped it open. The ensuing yells and ‘so disappointed’ murmurs haunt me still.

In my teens I ran a bit wild, smoking pot, drinking, and a boyfriend in the cool group of older kids. To me my parents were disappointed, angry or at their wits end when I came home drunk, drugged in the early hours. Everything they felt and expressed, echoed and magnified inside me to immense proportions. I would go to bed feeling like the worst person in the world, wanting to never wake up, to not suffer this pain any more.

My memory of my first suicide attempt is swallowing all the pills in the medicine cabinet with a stolen bottle of wine. I repented when I started feeling sick and told my mother who made me drink salt water until I vomited. Her memory is different. Today who is correct is irrelevant.

At University my disastrous first year was spent in a Hall of Residence. I cheated on my long-term boyfriend and did the only thing I really regret – broke his heart. That short-lived affair ended, with a note under my door. I tried to hang myself, but the light fitting broke with my weight. I would alternate between wild parties, and periods when I felt desperately dreadfully alone.

The pattern continued in the years I lived in a shared house. Parties, drink, sleeping around (even though I had a boyfriend).

Then came the rape. My abuser was manipulative and sucked me into a place where I was numb. I was tied to bath taps, tied to the bed head, held down by his weight. I believed this was all I really deserved. When I got flu he vanished. Later when he reappeared one of my housemates drove him off. I couldn’t, I was too broken.

Soon I overdosed again. I remember the feeling of deep shame and abject failure that came with the paramedic telling me how stupid I was, the endless vomiting as my body rejected the drugs, and the rage of my housemate as she screamed about how much I had damaged her. I was a failure even at death.

I was referred to a psychologist. I saw him twice and he thought I probably had mild episodic depression. That was it. No help no follow up.

Work was difficult. I was unable to control my moods, and was repeatedly told I was damaging others. Somehow I became a Chartered Accountant and fled to Australia.

Nothing changed in the new country, except I replaced partying for regular self-medication with alcohol. I became a functional alcoholic.

I lost two jobs, the first for visa reasons. The second was worse. My mood swings had so damaged the psyche of a junior he was afraid to work with me. That night my long-term partner took the vodka and the knives away as I lay screaming on the kitchen floor.

The first turning point came when the world became grey. One morning I walked into my GP’s office started crying and couldn’t stop. I spent about 3 months away from my job with that breakdown. For the first time I received anti-depressants.

The second turning point was when my physical health started to decline. I was given pain medication but no guidance on taking it properly. The anti-depressants were increased in dosage but to no avail. I started to loose my temper at work, and had uncontrollable back spasms. My employers deemed me a safety threat and went through a long process to terminate my employment.

Then my GP did something. Realising my situation was too much for her I was referred to a psychiatrist who also specialised in pain management. My anti-depressants were adjusted and changed until the right balance was found. I was given a regime for pain medication.

I went through therapy that showed me how my past affected my present. I could finally make peace with myself. The diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder was the final piece of the puzzle. Now I knew why I had such manic highs and agonising lows.

I made peace with my family by dragging the whole thing into the light. I talked about everything. My mother struggled with some of this, her memories disagreeing with mine. My father revealed he felt the same way I did all his life. There was, figuratively, blood on the carpet, but at last there was understanding and some peace between us.

I continue to live with periods of highs, followed by crushing lows. My long-term relationship ended but I was able to process the intense hurt, and we remain the best of friends. In my lows there are still times I don’t want to wake up, I take pills to make sure I get to sleep rather than drinking too much and trying to damage myself. I get paranoid that my current boyfriend will tire of me, even though he knows my story.

But I gained a gift in the process – empathy. No longer living in the set of rules and expectations work and society try to place around people I am open minded about people and their lives. This means if I can try to help someone, even just by offering love and support from afar, lending an ear, or posting silly messages or random hug pictures on their Facebook timeline I will. I am repaid tenfold by deep and abiding friendships and support. Finally I know why I am still living this life.


I am Helen White. I studied Ancient and Medieval History at University before graduating as a Chartered Accountant. I have no idea why I chose that career path. I immigrated to Australia in September 2000, my main memory is being bemused by the blanket coverage of some kind of Olympic ceremony on the television – Sydney 2000. I continued a career in finance, to the detriment of my mental health.  In 2010 I was forced to leave the workforce. I am currently taking a break attempting to study for a Masters in Information Management. Frustratingly this in abeyance due to continued deterioration of my spine. My mind is active and stubborn. I live with my ex and 2 demanding Siamese all of whom I adore.