TW// alcohol and drug addiction, suicide
Meg was still only in secondary school when she first began writing about her mental health on LiveJournal, a 00’s blogging predecessor to Tumblr.
“Some of my peers found a post I had written about self-harming, and it was brought it into school,” she says. “My parents were pulled in and I was accused of lying. This was back in the day when mental health was hardly ever discussed. You were either depressed or an attention seeker, and I was firmly put in the attention-seeking camp."
From early adolescence on, Meg had struggled with her mental health, and so she turned to alcohol and drugs as a way of coping.
“I kind of went in at a hundred miles per hour,” she explains. “I would use the alcopops that everybody else was drinking as a mixer for vodka.” As her teenage years progressed, she would later add weed, ecstasy, and eventually cocaine to her survival toolbox. "All I cared about was drugs and alcohol because I felt no one cared or understood,” she says. “Why should they? If I don’t care about me, then why should anybody else?”
Her substance abuse would continue for nearly two decades, interspersed with numerous suicide attempts. Despite all of this, Meg still managed to go to university, achieving a 2:1 in History and Drama, and then holding down numerous office jobs. By her mid-twenties, she was attending drama school and working as a qualified personal trainer. On the surface, her life seemed together – but Meg describes the situation at this point as a ‘high bottom’.
"I think I kind of fluctuated,” she explains. “In terms of addiction, a high bottom is when you decide you need to sort your life out, but you haven't lost your job or marriage or house. On the outside, you've still fairly got it together, whereas a low bottom is when you come to that realisation after you’ve basically destroyed your life. I always managed to make it work whilst having this absolute storm going on in my mind."
It was this need to keep up an image of perfection that helped to fuel her addiction. “I thought that if I could just get the formula right if I could drink the right amount and take the right amount of cocaine, I could become this perfect person. I could be charming and wonderful and get the cool partner and have the cool job,” Meg explains. “It just never worked out. All I was doing was spiralling deeper and deeper.”
By the time she reached the end of her twenties, her dependency on drugs and alcohol had hit a crisis point.
“Nearly every time I got blackout drunk, I would try and kill myself,” she admits. “I’d been hospitalised several times, had my liver cleaned out from overdoses. In the end, I was just like ‘I’m going to die if this carries on. I think the drugs and drink need to go.’”
She began attending online AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings, where she got to hear other people’s stories about their own addiction journeys.
“Getting sober really transformed things,” Megs says. “Not overnight and I kept relapsing with alcohol but I'm nearly a year clean off drugs and coming up to six months with alcohol.”
It would be around this time too that Meg would be formally diagnosed with BPD, otherwise known as borderline personality disorder. BPD is a mental disorder that affects an individual’s mood as well as how they interact with others and is usually defined by emotional instability, impulsive behaviour, intense interpersonal relationships, and self-harm. Many of those with BPD often have other co-existing mental health problems, such as depression or substance abuse.
In Meg’s case, the signs of her condition had long been evident before she had ever been diagnosed with BPD. “The over-arching thing I've struggled with is emotional dysregulation,” she says. “I just could never maintain any equilibrium. I would always be seeking out dopamine, drugs, and alcohol.”
She describes the many outbursts that occurred in the past because she was unmedicated for so long.
“I was so wildly out of control,” she says. “Instead of being a little bit pissed off, I'd be f*cking angry. Instead of being a bit upset, I’d end up in a two-week depression cycle and then use drugs and alcohol to sort that out. Getting sober meant I had to really confront those things."
She would also be diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in her late twenties. Because her ADHD wasn’t determined until much later in life, the perplexity surrounding her behaviour took a strain on Meg and her parents’ relationship whilst she was growing up.
“To them, I was just lazy, uninterested, and unorganised,” she says. Because of this, Meg ended up developing a critical inner narrative, which often reflected the way her mother would speak to her.
“I thought if I push myself, and bully and berate myself enough, I'd change,” she says. “Spoiler alert: you don't. ADHD, they believe, is something that you're born with and kind of a hereditary thing.”
Her BPD, she believes, stems from a series of abandonments during her early childhood. Her mother suffered from postnatal depression right after Meg was born, and it was Meg’s grandmother who then moved in and raised her for the first six months of her life. But because her grandmother believed that they were becoming too close, she then decided to move back home.
“The person I probably viewed as my primary caregiver was gone,” Meg explains. “She didn't even live down the road - she lived two hours away so it's not like I was having daily care with her either.”
Meg was then given to a full-time nanny who would often come on holiday with the family. But when the nanny decided to leave, this had a devastating impact on her former charge. “I just remember going to school and realising that Jill, our nanny, wasn't going to be around anymore so again that was another primary caregiver gone,” she says. “I'd had three primary caregivers in the space of six years all get to a point with me and then go 'Nope, no more'.”
This perceived pattern of rejection would then manifest itself in her other relationships. “BPD, they believe is from abandonment trauma," she says. "If I feel like someone's pulling away from me, I'm like 'Oh god, don't leave me!' but then in the next second, I'm like 'I'm so not interested in you'. I can split on people that quickly if I feel I need to protect myself."
Despite being diagnosed with a condition as serious as BPD, Meg has struggled to get the appropriate help that she’s needed through the NHS. “I have been told by a lot of therapists, 'I can't help you, you're too complex,'” she says.
Although DBT (Dialectal Behavioural Therapy) was specifically designed to treat those with BPD, trying to access it through the NHS has become near impossible. “They all f***ing love CBT!” says Meg when speaking about the psychiatrists, doctors, and therapists that she has dealt with during her mental health journey.
CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is a type of talking therapy often used to treat mild depression and anxiety by challenging negative thinking patterns and behaviours. “I think CBT is great, but it's just a foundation,” she says. “In my opinion, CBT should be taught in schools and not offered to people who have sexual or childhood trauma, or severe anxiety and depression or BPD or OCD. A bit of f***ing meditation isn't going to cut the mustard."
Meg was eventually put on a waiting list for DBT but told that she couldn’t have 1:1 therapy as it wouldn’t be ‘safe’. “I think it was a bit of a get-out, to be honest, or they're just not equipped to handle anything other than people feeling a bit anxious and depressed,” she says. “I think the NHS is just so far behind in research because they're on their knees. I don't blame them for any of it. The funding, the availability, the support just isn't there."
Who does Meg blame then? The Tories primarily. “The NHS trust isn't brilliantly built and it's pretty mismanaged, but the Tories are selling it off,” she says. “There's slowly more and more things you realise you can't get on the NHS. They're doing what they did with energy and with rail. They whittle it down so much until it's broken and then go 'Privatisation is the only way'. Privatisation does not work for public services, because privatisation works for a profit and people's health should never be for a profit."
Now at the age of 30, Meg has once again found a positive outlet for her struggles through her writing. She created the blog Meg Undressed in October 2020, after her last suicide attempt. Her willingness to be open about her mental health is the reason why she has managed to build such a strong community of followers on Instagram.
“It’s small but lovely,” she explains. “And it’s made up of people with BPD, ADHD, OCD, sober curious people, recovering addicts. There are always people in my DM's reaching out and saying that I've helped them or asking for advice.” Her followers also offer her support and guidance in return. “I don't believe self-care is an individual thing,” Meg says. “I think we need to do it as a community, and I stand by that.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by alcohol or drug abuse, the following organisations may be able to help: FRANK is a support service that provides information about drugs, plus advice for people who use drugs, and their parents or carers. It offers a live chat facility on their website, email support, an SMS number (82111) and a 24 hour telephone helpline (0300 123 6600).
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is a free self-help group. Its "12 step" programme involves getting sober with the help of regular support groups.
Drinkline is a free, confidential helpline for anyone who is concerned about their drinking, or someone else's. Helpline: 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm)
Adfam is a charity that tackles the effects of alcohol, drug use or gambling on family members and friends. It has local support groups and helpful information online for families affected by drugs and alcohol.