Great highs and deep lows are often difficult to communicate with the outside world. The life of Ida Storm, a 28-year-old woman from Norway, has been shaped by the struggle to adjust to borderline personality disorder (BPD), and a powerful new video-diary documentary reveals the inner turmoil—the mood changes, impulsive behavior, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm—Ida has endured since she was a teenager.
The Norwegian started to record her own life using a small HD camera at the age of 18, and it's these clips that have been crafted into the documentary Ida's Diary. The film follows the next eight years of adult life: snorting speed at parties to self-medicate, trips in and out of psychiatric care, and the big emotional breakthroughs as she gradually comes to terms with the condition. We have an exclusive shorter cut of the film on VICE, Being Ida, which you can watch here.
Ida's Diary is often a tough watch, but it's also utterly compelling, full of tender moments of philosophical reflection. Few films have ever captured the internal whirlwind of a serious mental health condition so well.
I caught up with Ida over email recently to discuss the recording of her formative years. (Some of the topics we spoke about aren't included in Being Ida; to see the full-length version of the film, Ida's Diary, on Vimeo on Demand, click here.)
VICE: Hi Ida. How have you been since finishing the film?
Ida Storm: I've been up and down, but things are moving forward. There are still some battles every now and again, but I handle it a lot better than before. I've learned a lot of good ways to deal with my illness.
Why did you start recording a video diary?
I bought a standard digital camera to take pictures. I happened to find a video function and started filming and talking to myself. After a while it became a friend I could always talk to when I had something to say.
How have family and friends reacted to the film? I imagine it's been difficult for them to watch you at such low moments.
Some were pleasantly surprised because it was milder than they had expected. Others were surprised how much I struggle, even though I don't self-harm any more to cope with the painful thoughts and feelings.
What about people who have been through similar struggles?
I've got feedback from families who say they understand their loved ones better, and health professionals who say they learned something from watching the film. And it means so much to me to get feedback from young people who are struggling and say they greatly appreciate the movie and my openness.
The trailer for the VICE cut of 'Ida's Diary,' "Being Ida"
You say in the film, "You never hear people tell a cancer patient 'Get a grip—can't you see you're hurting us?'" Are mental health problems more difficult for people to understand?
Most people understand that cancer patients can't get healthy just by pulling themselves together. But I've had many experiences when people both in and outside of psychiatry have asked me to pull myself together. If healthy people without illnesses don't have information or experience, it's harder to understand.
Did being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder help you understand what was going on in your brain?
Yes, it did help me to gain more insight into the illness. It helped me get some tools to cope with the illness and taught me thinking techniques and other alternatives to self-harm.
How do you feel about the way in which we categorize mental health problems and personality disorders?
I feel that a psychiatric diagnosis can be like a stamp. That diagnosis is perceived as if the diagnosis is more important that the person is. But a diagnosis is not an identity—a person is not pneumonia even if they have pneumonia, just like a person is not borderline even if they have borderline. But getting a correct diagnosis did help me. There is help and hope. And there are tools. There are many different ways to live with the disease. You can feel less guilt and shame. It is possible to get much better.
Self-harm is still difficult for a lot of people to understand. How would you explain to people what the self-destructive impulse feels like?
I would describe it as a coping mechanism to deal with painful thoughts and feelings. You can't just stop self-harming. To replace this destructive way of dealing with things, you have to learn healthy alternatives. When I have moments when I get the urge, I try to feel a sense of empowerment. I switch focus. I tell myself that I've been good. I think it's very important to feel a sense of achievement. Even if people outside don't recognize it, you can try to feel it yourself.
The film shows you had a "special place" by the sea. How did it feel being there in the woods, in the dark?
When I go there, to Spornes, in the dark, it provides an outlet. Especially during a storm when the waves come towards me. It gets my attention off of my need to self-harm. But I do it mostly because I love the ocean, especially during a storm.
You've enjoyed moments of great, joy too. Does that make the lows more painful, knowing what happiness feels like?
The tough times are hard no matter what, but I've experienced several times that it will pass. When everything is at its worst I think it will never be over, but deep inside I know it will be better if I continue to fight. The moments I feel good, I try to enjoy as much as possible. I find a lot of pleasure in things that others might easily overlook. Like picking flowers for others, spreading joy to random people.
How do you look back at your drug use—smoking weed, taking speed? Was it unhelpful when you were first dealing with BPD?
Yes, it was a form of self-harm also. Self-harm is not only scratch and cuts. Self-injury may also be substance abuse, for example, or through eating disorders.
You mentioned "living in the moment" in the film. Has it helped not to think too much about the future?
When I think of the future as something positive, it helps to think ahead. If I think that the future will be hell, it doesn't help. But, as I say in the film, it's important to have dreams.
What do you hope people take from the film?
I think people need to recognize themselves in someone else. Someone who understands. I wish I had someone who understood and had someone to recognize myself in many years ago, but I knew nothing. What I hope people get out of the movie is that it's OK to say that you're suffering from mental illness. It should be OK to tell it like it is.
WATCH: Being Ida
If you are concerned about your mental health or that of someone you know, visit the Mental Health America website.
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