Home Health Former Hollyoaks star Joe Tracini opens up about his borderline personality disorder

Former Hollyoaks star Joe Tracini opens up about his borderline personality disorder


Joe Tracini

Joe Tracini (Image: Jack Barnes for Hungry Bear /Channel 4)

Joe Tracini is in a very frank mood. “Ever since I’ve accepted the fact that my brain doesn’t like me, I’m in a position to make my life more liveable,” says the actor and presenter, who was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) 10 years ago after a period of drink, drugs and “messing things up”.

The mental health illness has nine symptoms, ranging from an unclear sense of self to impulsive and self-destructive behaviour, fear of abandonment, feelings of suicide and self-harm, extreme emotional swings, unstable relationships, explosive anger, chronic feelings of emptiness, and paranoia and dissociation.

Living with that day to day, is “knackering” says the 35 year old. “I would like a day off.

“BPD is the smallest part of my brain but it is the loudest. It’s got an opinion on everything and it’s never positive. There are so many symptoms. You are constantly aware of them and on any one day you could have a combination of them happening at the same time. No-one gets instructions on how to listen to this crap.

“I’ve learnt to accept the negativity. I really hope I can wake up one day and I’m alright.”

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Joe, the son of comedian Joe Pasquale and mum Debbie, lays bare his condition in his very moving documentary Me And The Voice In My Head on Channel 4 tomorow night. He uses a split screen to introduce people to ‘Mick’ – a personification of the voice in his head – to show what his brain goes through every day.

“It’s an artistic representation, to split it up like that,” explains Joe. “It’s not a separate entity. .

“I’ve learnt a way of having those thoughts and living with them. It is constant but I’m controlling it more now. If I have a bad feeling, I say ‘not now’.”

According to the NHS, BPD is the most commonly recognised personality disorder. People with it differ significantly from an average person in how they think, feel and relate to others.

Symptoms usually emerge in adolescence and the causes are unclear – either environmental or genetic – and most will have experienced trauma as children, with about 2 per cent of the country experiencing BPD at some point in their lives, with 15 per cent of those taking their own lives.

“That statistic is devastating,” says Joe, who has attempted suicide six times. “BPD is relentless and exhausting. I still think about taking my life all the time but I know I need to be here.”

The documentary shows him talking to his father about his experience of BPD. “It’s the first time we have spoken so openly about it,” he says. “We have worked through things but communication has never been our strong point. I can’t imagine how difficult it has been because I am very blunt about my BPD. Dad takes a lot of responsibility and that’s his way of coping.”

Pasquale feels he “dropped the ball with Joe” because he was away so much with work. But Joe, who took the stage name Tracini, insists: “Dad not being around a lot is not the reason behind how I am. It didn’t help but he feels like he’s responsible for everything, which is not the case.

“I’m proud of the documentary for how it shows what it’s like for a family to love somebody like me in the harder places and it ain’t great. They are sad and hurt by things.”

As a child, he says he was solitary and didn’t play well with other children, turning to practising magic as a release. Leaving home at 16 and coming to London he turned to drugs as he found it hard to cope. He was finally diagnosed with BPD in 2014, following time in rehab shortly after he left the Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks, where he played Dennis Savage. People with BPD often misuse drink and drugs.

“I was abusing cocaine for three days at a time and I wouldn’t sleep. I would probably do about 15g a day. When I was drinking, I would have two bottles of sambuca and a bottle of vodka over a 48-hour period. When I first went into rehab at The Priory I weighed six stone.

“I went in on a Wednesday and I would have died by the Friday. I was very lucky that I got the help that I did when I was there.”

Once clean, Joe realised that his problems hadn’t gone away.

“The drink and drugs were hiding the BPD, I know that now. It took a good couple of years of still messing things up after getting sober to realise it. My life got worse. I was very lucky I was able to get a diagnosis. It really helped.”

Another person he credits for helping him is partner of three and half years, dancer Holly Housemann.

“I love her so much and I’m so lucky that I met her when I did. I’m not easy to live with. I’m always like this. [Joe is chatty, distracted, funny, polite and swears a lot]. It’s exhausting for Holly as well.

“We go to therapy every week. I’ve got an awful lot of problems that have become our problems. It is really important to me that our relationship is something that we both look after as opposed to it turning into an umbilical cord.”

He also credits Holly with teaching him a healthier lifestyle when it comes to food – “I would eat Oreos but now I know about salmon” – and exercise.

The couple live in Richmond, South-West London, with their corgi dog Winnie, who Joe has brought to the interview.

“She gives me a reason to go out. There’s a spin studio opposite my flat, so I try to get there once a week. It’s annoying but exercise does help. There’s no doubt that every time I go and do something, I’m always glad. It’s 45 minutes to be proud of.”

Treatment for BPD can include individual and group therapies, and over time people can overcome their symptoms. Joe says talking to the BPD specialist helped a lot and the Channel 4 production team provided support for him throughout. He isn’t currently on any medication. “I think it’s an important crutch to help you through things, but I’m not now.”

Joe says he was “broken by things that have happened” which are not related to his family. He finds it hard to recall the details but is coming to understand it. “I’ve realised I wasn’t in charge of the things that have happened to me,” he says.

His nervous energy is mixed with a lot of charm and one gruelling aspect of the condition for Joe is the lack of sleep. “I don’t sleep at night,” he says. “It’s very rare. Physically it’s exhausting.” He uses the time to work – he’s been honing his one-man comedy show centred around his illness, which he hopes to tour.

The panic attacks he was having earlier in his career are subsiding. “I exist at a level of panic that is not desirable,” he says. “The attacks that I was experiencing were awful. It was like panic is a gang and kicking the absolute crap out of me. Some of them went on for days.”

Support groups haven’t helped. “I’ve always struggled with groups,” he admits. “It can become more of a problem for me. But there is definitely help out there because a lot of people are struggling with this.

“I try to limit the amount of people I see in the day because a big part of my day is painting angry faces on people that aren’t angry. The more people I speak to, the more people I have to convince myself that they think I’m an a***hole. That’s something that is counterproductive.”

He has been very vocal – and funny – about his illness on social media and making the documentary has been another important step.

“I’m very grateful that they let me do it the way that we have done it. Everybody cared and at every step, people wanted to look after me.

“For somebody like me who talks about how bad they feel, to be listened to is the only thing that can ever help me, really.

Joe concludes, “The best, most productive thing I’ve done is accept this is how my brain works. But I also wouldn’t wish it on anyone.”

Joe’s documentary, Me And The Voice In My Head,is on Channel 4 tomorrow at 10pm.

If you need help with suicidal thoughts, the Samaritans are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call 116 123 or go to samaritans.org.

To find out more about BPD go to mind.org.uk/bpd.

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