Repression of Mental Illness

I luckily remember very little from my childhood, it’s incredibly evident that I along with many have buried all painful and uncomfortable memories to the very depths of my consciousness. I wouldn’t argue that I had a terribly traumatic childhood, I’ve always been a very deep and profound in comparison to others around me. I’ve always had trouble expressing what and how I feel and how deeply these emotions control and dictate my daily life. I never thought I was normal, per say what even is normality? In adolescence I was advised that all these feeling were normal, a phase, a blip. I was promised they would pass. I reached 18 and had begun to develop an increasingly rapid pattern of destructive behaviour directed towards myself to cope with these intense feelings and in effect, block them out. I lived for the weekend, I lived for the ice cold pints and sweaty nights, the constant jaw ache and blurry bright lights. I repressed the constant feeling of apathy with the only thing I was capable of getting excited about: altered states of consciousness or to quote Jip from Human Traffic(1999), ‘getting more spaced out than Neil Armstrong ever did’.

Freud believed that repression was a psychological process adopted by the mind to defend from harm, Dally and Watkins (1986). Leon Wurmser (1974) argued that ‘drug abuse is the use of any mind-altering drug for the purpose of inner change’. Wurmser goes on to describe that ‘[he] considers all compulsive drug use an attempt at self-treatment’(835). The idea of self-medication is nothing new, humanity has been self-medicating since time began, be it the shamans or literary icons, recreational drug use has always been around. What I’m particularly interested is why escapism from my own identity was of such importance to me. I have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, a mental illness. At the time of my habitual drug abuse I didn’t explicitly know what I was repressing, yet since my diagnosis I’m now aware of how I was trying to repress my overwhelming psychotic confusion and paralyzing emotions.

Being considered to have a personality disorder does not come without it’s challenges, especially with the language boundaries. The word disorder explicitly means ‘a state of confusion’, having to define myself as an individual whose personality is in a constant state of confusion is quite degrading in one’s own opinion. To relate this to Paul Abberley’s(1987) article Oppression and Social Theory of Disability, Abberley quotes

‘This[ …] rejection of ‘impairment’ as a viable form of life and to the ’commonsence’, ‘natural’ and ‘unconscious’ nature of ideologies of impairment, disability and handicap. This rejection of the authenticity of impared life forms is exhibited both in the obvious forms of what Dartington, Miller and Gwynne (1981) call the “less than the whole person” view, and it’s inverse, the ‘really normal” ideology, which finds it’s expression in everyday life in the exceptionalism of ‘but I don’t think of you as disabled’, denying a key aspect of a disabled persons identity in what is intended to compliment. ’ (1987:9)

Although physical disability and mental illness aren’t necessarily the same in the way they are treated socially, I empathetically relate to the concept of being denied a part of my identity. If I didn’t disclose my mental illness, then people wouldn’t know. I recall talking about some symptoms to some of my peers and them adopting the ‘but you seem to be coping fine, maybe you’re over it’ approach. One of the symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder is addiction, although the self-medicating benefits of substances sometimes alleviate the mental pain they can also enhance and amplify many of the symptoms. In adolescent substances were an incredibly valuable crutch in coping with trauma and I found solace in films that reinforced that ideology. Trainspotting, Pulp Fiction and Human Traffic were very important to me in evaluating and revaluating my life choices and helping me define the line between too little and too much. ‘Freud (1930), described that narcotics as a means of coping with pain and disillusionment’ Wurmser(1974:830) Human Traffic helped me make sense of my mental state of the time, and if there was a particular scene that highlighted my mental state it would be ‘The weekend has landed’.

Human Traffic is a cult film that appeals to the ‘other’ and are not necessarily explicitly popular to the mainstream. If perhaps this had been a film targeted towards the mainstream, then the characters would have been portrayed as being more deviant. Bob Pease(2010) explains that:

‘The normativity of privilege provides some insight to the process of ‘othering’. Othering is a method of portraying difference as if it were in some way alien to that which is normal. The flipside of the ‘other’ are the insiders who constitute the privileged group. Pickering (2001: 73) reminds us “that those who are ‘othered’ are unequally positioned in relation to those who do the ‘othering’. The latter occupy a privileged space in which they define themselves in contrast to the others who are designated as different”.’ (2010:13)

Perhaps what is so radical about the film Human Traffic is the fact that it is set in the 1990’s when rave culture was at its pinnacle in the Uk and deviant behaviour, like substance abuse, was considered the norm. Human traffic offers an interesting paradigm where in fact the mainstream could be considered ‘the other’ in contrast to the group themselves. Unlike the film, I have always considered myself different, and could have ‘otherness’ tendencies, I have never been part of a big friendship group or as Jip calls them ‘[his] chosen family’. I have only ever experienced relationships on an individual basis and I have always yearned to be part of a group, (another symptom of BPD). Human Traffic helped me transcend me to a fantasy in which I was a part of the ‘chosen family’.

Although my bpd won’t be going away anytime soon I have found new ways of dealing with it and film narratives and education are key in helping me to cope and understand myself through a psychoanalytic framework and deal with issues more efficiently.


Abberley, P. (1987). The Concept of Oppression and the Development of a Social Theory of Disability. Disability, Handicap & Society, 2(1), pp.5-19.

Dally, P. and Watkins, M. (1986). Psychology and psychiatry. 1st ed. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Human Traffic. (1999). [DVD], UK: Justin Kerrigan.

Pease, B. (2010). Undoing privilege. 1st ed. London: Zed Books.

Wurmser, L. (1974). Psychoanalytic Considerations of the Etiology of Compulsive Drug use. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 22(4), pp.820-843.


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