My Mental Health Journey 

My name’s Thomas Valentine. I’m a twenty-one-year-old from Falkirk. I am a son, grandson, brother and uncle and I have been serving in Scotland’s emergency services for the past four years. I have borderline personality disorder and here is my story…

It all started around the age of eighteen, when I started experiencing anxiety and low mood. Ten days after my nineteenth birthday, I had thoughts of taking my own life, I was under so much stress at the time I felt I couldn’t cope any longer, I left my house in the morning, with a plan to end my life, once I got to where I needed to be, I just broke down, I was scared, it was at this point I contacted the emergency services, the police arrived promptly and they conveyed me to the nearest mental health unit at the local hospital where I was assessed and shortly after deemed fit for discharge, no support in place and was advised to continue liaising with my doctor. 

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the problems I was experiencing with my mental health, In January 2020 I made another attempt to take my own life, again I was taken to hospital for treatment and to be reviewed by mental health services the following day, upon assessment it was deemed I was fit for discharge but this time, it was arranged for me to be put on the intensive home treatment team caseload, this is a service for outpatients who require intense mental health support but don’t meet the criteria for admission to a mental health unit, I was visited by staff daily for a period of time in my own house to provide support in dealing with my emotions.  

A number of months later and after a number of presentations to mental health services with suicidal ideation I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a disorder of mood and how a person interacts with others. It’s the most commonly recognised personality disorder and is one of the most stigmatised and misunderstood mental health conditions. 

In general, someone with a personality disorder will differ significantly from an average person in terms of how he or she thinks, perceives, feels or relates to others. The symptoms of borderline personality disorder include emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking or perception, impulsive behaviour and intense but unstable relationships with others.  

The psychiatrist said the main cause of this is most likely due to the trauma I experienced as a child and other social stressors I have been faced with in my late teens. At the age of twelve I was separated from my parents and placed in foster care along with my younger sister and my brother who was just months old. I remember to this day sitting in a room within the social work office waiting for the social worker to find a family that were willing to take us, I was so upset after having been taken away from my parents but I had to be strong for my younger siblings. It was nearer five o’clock when we were told they had found a family for us and we were all going together, I remember getting in to the car and feeling scared all the way there, we arrived and then it was the long walk to the front door where we were greeted by what was going to be our new family for an unknown period of time. Near enough four years later, we were still in foster care, although by this time, I had been moved to other foster families’ various times, been split from my younger sister and brother in the process, been to multiple social work meetings and children’s panels and to end it, we lost our little brother, he was adopted at a young age by our original foster family, this was one of the worst things I had ever experienced, although we didn’t live with him for the full four years we still had agreed contact at a social work office every week, we went to a visit one day and at the end of the two hours we were told by the social worker that it was the last ever contact we would have with him, he was being put up for adoption and we would not see him again, we were never told this until that day, it was the worst experience ever, our only little brother was taken from us and we had the rest of our lives to live without him, knowing he was still alive but we couldn’t see him, it was horrible.

My life has been a challenge and I have struggled a lot particularly in the past three to four years, I have been at my lowest so many times and I have really struggled to open up about how I have been feeling due to the stigma around mental health, I would bottle it all up then I would just breakdown because I couldn’t deal with it any longer, as of yet I still haven’t learned fully how to cope with borderline personality disorder but I am getting there, although it is going to take a while. I am assigned to a community mental health team who I can seek support from.

I remind myself daily I need to keep fighting and it will get better through time, although it is difficult to think like that when I am at my lowest, I remind myself it does by remembering how far I’ve came so far in life, I was placed in foster care aged twelve, I left school at sixteen with minimal qualifications, had my first job within ten days of my sixteenth birthday working full time. Prior to joining the Scottish Ambulance Service where I am currently working as an emergency call handler and previously as a scheduled care coordinator based with in our ambulance control centres, I was fortunate enough to have been an assistant manager with the Royal Voluntary Service formerly WRVS. From 2012 to now I’ve had the opportunity to take part in so many things I’ve never done before and I’ve met so many wonderful people, on top of this I was able to secure my own tenancy aged nineteen.

I believe we need to change the culture around mental health so people feel confident enough to speak about how they are feeling and can ask for help if they need it, without the fear that they will be stigmatised and discriminated against. Borderline personality disorder is one of the most stigmatised mental health conditions and I struggled to be open about my diagnosis and didn’t tell anyone or talk about it except with my close family up until March 2021, when I decided to take to social media and explain to everyone about what I have been living with, since then everyone has been so supportive and now, I feel I can be more open about my mental health particularly with my colleagues at work, no one should ever be made to feel ashamed or embarrassed to tell anyone that they experience mental health problems.  

I have a keen interest in mental health and always look to support others, I’ve recently become a mental health first aider and peer supporter, this means I can help support those around me who may be experiencing difficulties with their mental health by listening, assessing, supporting or signposting. You don’t have to be an expert to speak about mental health, just asking someone if they are okay can be a powerful thing. 

As I said before I am still learning how to live with borderline personality disorder, I still have bad days, I still have suicidal ideation, I still have intense feelings, it’s something I have to live with but over time I will learn how to cope better with it.

Just before I finish my story, I’d like to remind everyone not to give up, that’s my point, it does get better. It’s important to check up on our peers, make sure they’re coping well and making sure you are too, it is ok not to be ok and just taking that time to have a conversation about how we are feeling can have a massive impact on us, remember mental health will always be part of our lives but it doesn’t define who we are. If we have a bad day, a bad week, a bad month or a bad year, we should look at that as a blip. We will get better again; it’s important though to take the time you need to get yourself better, whether it is time off work, doing some self-care, spending time with family or anything else that you feel helps you. 

Make sure you take time for yourself and give yourself the time to regain control and become the best version of yourself that you can be. 

“We should live life to the fullest, appreciate what we have, love our family and friends and be there to support each other, it’s true, you just don’t know what’s around the corner.” – Thomas Valentine