Katja Pavlovna (pictured above) is fully aware of the stigma attached to mental illness, but unlike most of us she did something about it.
The 34-year-old from West Midlands is the brainchild behind the Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You initiative which sets out to change people’s perceptions about mental health.
“When we think about mental health,” Pavlovna told The Guardian, “we often think depression, anxiety, PTSD or bipolar disorder. But have you ever talked to someone about schizotypal personality disorder?”
Language teacher Pavlovna launched the project in 2021, after she was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BSD).
“I set it up with my friend Kay Garbett, who also has a personality disorder,” she explained. “We had numerous conversations about the way that if you Google ‘personality disorder’, you get loads of information, but few stories about lived experience. We set up the project to give a voice to people who don’t normally have one.”
In the early days anonymous people across the globe shared their personal stories living with a mental illness, but the website now publishes articles related to posts updated on social media.
But it hasn’t been smooth, as Pavlovna recalls the first few months came with their challenges.
“People didn’t want to talk to us. Most representation of serious mental illness is really negative and reinforces harmful stereotypes.”
Although as time passed, the site built momentum with first hand accounts from people suffering their mental health sharing their stories.
It took professionals six years to diagnose Pavlovna with BPD. “I am what you would probably describe as high-functioning,” she told the publication. “I have a family. I work full-time. It’s hard, unless you know me well, to know something’s not right. I’d be put on a waiting list to be referred somewhere, go for my appointment and be told, ‘There’s nothing wrong with you’.”
When Pavlovna was told she had the condition, alarm bells started to ring, would she be able to hold down her career? But after reading people’s personal stories about living with BPD she realised her life hadn’t gone through so many changes.
“You can have a relatively normal life with a personality disorder,” Pavlovna wanted to tell others. “That really put my mind at rest.” In fact, the diagnosis has been helpful at work. “It meant I could communicate what was wrong to other people, and make adjustments.”
Readers of Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You can read about other people’s experience and find reassurance to control any anxiety they may be going through.
“Knowledge is power,” Pavlovna stated. “And a personal resource is so helpful. I related much more to people sharing their own experiences than to NHS guidelines.”
Nothing is off the table when it comes to publishing personal stories. According to Pavlovna: “This is about awareness. We’re not saying everyone with a personality disorder is perfect. It’s about acknowledging how damaging stigma can be, and how it stops people seeking help.”
Pavlovna’s hard work has not gone unrecognised by SMMIISEFY’s co-founder Garbett, who believes, “Katja deserves to be recognised for her tireless work.
“She has given a voice to some of the most discriminated-against people and helped educate the world. It has been a privilege to work alongside her and share her passion for making the world a less hate-filled place.”
Over the years Pavlovna has seen attitudes change towards those living with a mental illness.
“I went to school in the early 2000s,” she recalled, “and mental health then wasn’t even a discussion.” But there is still work to do. “When we talk about mental health, the conversation veers towards general wellbeing. People have this idea that mental illnesses are quite fixable, but that’s not always the case.”
Pavlovna dedicates around 10 hours a week working on the site and managing its Instagram account, but it’s time well spent.
She said: “I get messages saying, ‘Thank you for bringing awareness to my personality disorder’. And messages from people in relationships with people with personality disorders, saying that it’s given them a different perspective.”
For more information visit the Sorry My Mental Health Isn’t Sexy Enough For You website.
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