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Alan's Story: 'I tried to drink my mental health problems away'

Alan, 47, regularly turned to drink when he couldn’t face reality, until it became a chronic problem in its own right. He said: “I thought it was completely normal to drink 12 or 13 pints a day. I thought it was just something that men do.

“I was often really depressed and, when I was younger, I used to lock myself away. I just couldn’t be bothered with people and I was behind in school too. I also used to glue sniff and drink from an early age – I just didn’t want to be in the real world.”

It wasn’t until a girlfriend pointed out to Alan that his drinking wasn’t normal that he decided to see a doctor.  He said: “I told the doctors that I was worried about my drinking as well as my depression, but they told me I needed to sober up before they could look at what underlying problems I might have.”

Following doctor’s orders, Alan stopped drinking and was later diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

BPD is a diagnosis sometimes given to people who have very intense emotions that negatively impact on their relationships. They may also experience suicidal feelings, a fear of abandonment, impulsivity and a poor sense of identity.

When Alan was diagnosed around 15 years ago, he’d never heard of BPD and didn’t have a good understanding of mental health generally. He said: “I thought they were taking the mick. Mental health problems were frowned upon back then, and I thought I was being given a label that meant I was a violent person, which I’m not.”

In reality, BPD can cause people to feel extremely distressed or vulnerable, as they experience emotions much more intensely than others. Alan said: “It can be hard work being a NUFC fan when you’ve got BPD! If we win, I’m completely over the moon, but if we lose, I can slide into a deep depression for around a week!’

Once he was diagnosed, Alan was referred to local charity, Launchpad. He said: “Meeting the guys at Launchpad changed my life. I honestly feel that without them, I wouldn’t be alive today, as I often felt alone and suicidal.

“They put me in touch with a BPD peer group and it was such a relief meeting other people who experienced the same things I did. We were just a bunch of average people. It was the first time I realised that other people felt like I did.”

Alan regularly attends peer groups at Launch Pad as well as courses at the ReCoCo (Recovery College Collective). He also takes part in a 12-step recovery programme to help him maintain his sobriety.

“I’m on a lot of medications and have regularly seen psychologists and psychiatrists, but being part of the Launch Pad and ReCoCo community is what’s made a big difference.

“Outside of the courses and peer groups I have made friends who will check in on me over the weekend, and we’ll often go for coffee too. I struggle to feel at ease with people, but in the peer support community, I feel completely at ease.”

Alan, who was also diagnosed with autism last year, is currently completing Maths and English courses at Norham College in addition to attending his peer support network groups.

He said: “My life has completely turned around. I think if anyone else is experiencing mental health problems, they should absolutely speak to their doctor and join a peer support group. I used to feel like I was useless, but now I feel accepted and the door is always open for me.

“Give recovery a chance – like me, I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.”

For more information on how to access mental health support for you or a loved one, visit our designated page.

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