“It’s easier to put on a mask than to have to tell people what I’m really feeling. Being praised, being recognized, being paid a lot of money... All these things can make a very depressed person happy. While I was being funny I felt loved. But take it away and there was a girl who wanted to cut herself to pieces to release the anger and pain.”
Tania Lacy is a writer and ‘recovering celebrity’. She danced from the age of eleven, but after an injury in her second year at the Victorian College of The Arts went in to choreography. After a chance spotting by Molly Meldrum from Countdown, she began a career as a comedian.
“I seemed to be a comedian that polarized people very much. People loved me or they despised me,” she says.
“Fame was all I’d ever wanted to have in my life. From a very young age I’d always thought, ‘I just want to be rich and famous’. And I got it, and I think it was probably the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
Lacy was the roving reporter on The Factory, and then became the co-host of Countdown Revolution, the successor to Countdown. In 1990 Lacy and her co-host Mark Little staged a mock strike which led to them being fired and the show being axed.
“I brought my career crashing down… and when it was gone, I was left with me. No fame, no money. I had money but I put that up my arm with heroin, and I drank a large amount of alcohol on a daily basis. It was really a form of self-medication.
“I used heroin for two years. And if I didn’t have smack there in the morning I couldn’t go to work, because I’d already be in withdrawal. I checked myself in to rehab. It took me seven admissions before I stayed and got clean. It was horrific.”
"It includes depression, it includes obsessive compulsive disorders, it includes some slight schizophrenic tendencies. I have all twelve."
After meeting her husband in LA, Lacy returned to Australia as her symptoms escalated. “I was thinking things like ‘the police are going to come and arrest me because I’m such a bad person,;” she recalls. After a visit to her GP she undertook emergency treatment with a specialist who happened to specialize in borderline personality disorder.
“Borderline personality disorder is not very common. It affects about two per cent of adults…There are twelve criteria. It includes depression, it includes obsessive compulsive disorders, it includes some slight schizophrenic tendencies. I have all twelve.
I was 44 when I found out I had borderline personality disorder. When I really had a firm diagnosis from that second doctor my treatment was incredibly different. The medication was different. And things did get better.”
Lacy has now been managing the illness for five years. She lives with her husband and her young son Per.
“He has been an incredibly wonderful, healing part of my life. I’m ashamed to say [BPD] does affect my family life quite a lot. If I feel like there’s too much coming at me, like I’m being bombarded… I just don’t cope. So I have to work very hard to keep it in and just not harm them in any way.
That’s the worst part of it. And sometimes Pear will sense that something’s wrong and he’ll be worried about me and I’ll just think ‘he’s a child, he doesn’t have to do that’. It’s a huge burden. I don’t want to harm him.”
“Borderline personality disorder has caused me a lot of pain and hurt but has also driven me to do some pretty amazing things. I feel like I’m probably at the highest level of self-acceptance I’ve been at in my life. True self acceptance – without fame, without money, just me. And for that I am really grateful. That is growth for me.”
"I am pretty damn good under pressure, because compared to my mental illness that shit is playtime.”
Lacy is now managing a handful of creative projects. “I’m working on a 3D animated family feature, an animated kids’ series, I’m writing a kids’ book, and I have my own film that is close to going ahead... There is no way that I would ever tell an employer that I have a mental illness. They wouldn’t want me on the job. It’s just too much to worry about. But sure, have a beer in the middle of the day, and no-one will blink an eye.’”
She still feels that there is an unacceptable level of stigma againt mental illness. “People are afraid of mental illness. Now people are going to know that I have a mental illness I am actually putting myself in a fairly difficult position by doing this, by saying this publicly. Because there is a chance people will go ‘what does that mean if I employ her?’ Well actually, I am pretty damn good under pressure, because compared to my mental illness that shit is playtime.”
What is borderline personality disorder?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), states that the essential features of a personality disorder are impairments in personality (self and interpersonal) functioning and the presence of pathological personality traits.
To diagnose borderline personality disorder, the following criteria must be met:
A. Significant impairments in personality functioning manifest by:
1. Impairments in self functioning (a or b):
a. Identity: Markedly impoverished, poorly developed, or unstable self-image, often associated with excessive selfcriticism; chronic feelings of emptiness; dissociative states under stress.
b. Self-direction: Instability in goals, aspirations, values, or career plans.
2. Impairments in interpersonal functioning (a or b):
a. Empathy: Compromised ability to recognize the feelings and needs of others associated with interpersonal hypersensitivity (i.e., prone to feel slighted or insulted); perceptions of others selectively biased toward negative attributes or vulnerabilities.
b. Intimacy: Intense, unstable, and conflicted close relationships, marked by mistrust, neediness, and anxious preoccupation with real or imagined abandonment; close relationships often viewed in extremes of idealization and devaluation and alternating between over involvement and withdrawal.
B. Pathological personality traits in the following domains:
1. Negative Affectivity, characterized by:
a. Emotional liability: Unstable emotional experiences and frequent mood changes; emotions that are easily aroused, intense, and/or out of proportion to events and circumstances.
b. Anxiousness: Intense feelings of nervousness, tenseness, or panic, often in reaction to interpersonal stresses; worry about the negative effects of past unpleasant experiences and future negative possibilities; feeling fearful, apprehensive, or threatened by uncertainty; fears of falling apart or losing control.
c. Separation insecurity: Fears of rejection by – and/or separation from – significant others, associated with fears of excessive dependency and complete loss of autonomy.
d. Depressivity: Frequent feelings of being down, miserable, and/or hopeless; difficulty recovering from such moods; pessimism about the future; pervasive shame; feeling of inferior self-worth; thoughts of suicide and suicidal behavior.
2. Disinhibition, characterized by:
a. Impulsivity: Acting on the spur of the moment in response to immediate stimuli; acting on a momentary basis without a plan or consideration of outcomes; difficulty establishing or following plans; a sense of urgency and self-harming behavior under emotional distress.
b. Risk taking: Engagement in dangerous, risky, and potentially self-damaging activities, unnecessarily and without regard to consequences; lack of concern for one‟s limitations and denial of the reality of personal danger.
3. Antagonism, characterized by:
a. Hostility: Persistent or frequent angry feelings; anger or irritability in response to minor slights and insults.
C. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual's personality trait expression are relatively stable across time and consistent across situations.
D. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual's personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual‟s developmental stage or socio-cultural environment.
E. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual's personality trait expression are not solely due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, medication) or a general medical condition (e.g., severe head trauma).
For further information on the disorder, visit Sane Australia.