Works in Progress // Andy

Diagnosed with anxiety, depression and borderline personality disorder, Andy was growing more and more distant from his wife and daughter. Believing he wasn’t worthy of their love, he turned to meaningless online relationships. When his wife confronted him, he hit rock bottom.

Not wanting to hide his pain anymore, Andy reached out for help. Gaining a deeper understanding and patience within himself, he has a newfound purpose to help others not go through the same mistakes. An honest, authentic man dealing with the demons in his mind, meet Andy.

 

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Name: Andy Wagner

Age: 41

 

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

I have been diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder. I also believe I suffer from PTSD due to my experiences in the Navy, but that’s undiagnosed. I was growing distant from my wife and daughter. I started isolating myself at work. Even though I have a wife and daughter who love me very much, I began looking for meaningless relationships online. I didn’t believe I deserved their love. I didn’t believe I deserved anyone’s love. I was doing my best to shut everyone out.

  

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I call it my bottom. I hit my bottom when my wife confronted me about an online relationship. Of course, I was guilty as sin, but I did my best to make her feel like the bad guy. She refused to budge. She held her ground. I was in the Navy at the time, so I couldn’t just call in sick. I eventually made it in, and my Department Head asked me if I was OK. I said no, I wasn’t. He then asked if I might harm myself and/or others. I knew I just had to say no, fake it a little, and I would be off the hook. He would leave me alone. Instead, I replied, “You know, I’m not sure.” That was the moment I decided to stop lying to myself and others. That short statement was my scream for help. I didn’t want to lie anymore. I didn’t want to hide my pain anymore. I was so tired, both emotionally and physically. I just wanted to be OK.

 

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Communication. Communication is key to coping with the demons in my head. I’ve learned that it’s OK not to be OK. Instead of putting on a brave face, sucking it up, and hiding my struggle, I deal with it in the open. It’s allowed me to discover who I can really rely on in these situations, which is a lot more people than I thought. It amazes me that all of us who struggle with anxiety/depression think we’re alone. We’re not. There are so many others who face the same struggles. Most importantly, I’ve learned that when I’m having a bad day, I reach out instead of internalizing. I’ve found that I have so many friends who understand and share my struggles that I never knew were there before. Just being open about how I feel has been liberating for me.

 

 

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

It has given me a better understanding and a whole lot of patience toward others who fight the same battle I do. It has given me a desire to help people not go through the same things I did. I don’t want others to feel the same pain or suffer the way I did. It’s also brought me closer to my family. Understanding what is going on in my head has led to a lot fewer fights. I’ve been able to acknowledge what I’m thinking and feeling, express it, and therefore deal with it in a healthier manner.

 

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

It’s OK to talk to someone. It’s OK to reach out for help. It’s OK not to be OK. You don’t have to be happy all the time. It’s OK to have a bad day. More people understand and share what you’re going through than you realize.

 

 

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below to potentially be featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Sanya

***** Trigger warning: sexual assault*****

Since she was just 11 years old, Sanya has been combatting suicidal thoughts. Moving from the U.S. to India at a young age, she was forced to adapt to countless changes. Suffering through anxiety with school, depression and sexual assault, Sanya eventually made the decision to focus on her mental health.

Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, she still has her low days. The difference is, she now has the tools to save herself when slipping. Raising her voice and sharing an important story of strength within the mental health community online, meet Sanya.

 

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Name: Sanya Singh

Age: 25

 

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time? 

The first time I thought of committing suicide was when I was 11 years old. My parents had moved us from the US to India and the cultural shock was too much for me to handle. I was bullied in school, I didn’t know the local language and basically everything sucked. While going through puberty I had a lot of angst, I started self-harming and even attempted taking my life multiple times. I thought all this was normal teenage angst. I didn’t realize that this was not the norm. I struggled with body image issues throughout high school, more bullying, erratic relationships and a mess of other things.

I thought going away to college would solve all my problems. I enrolled myself into Boston University. The first semester there, I tried drinking away my sadness. I felt isolated, misunderstood and like my soul was being sucked out of me. Second semester I tried taking several pills, I tell everyone that I stopped because my mom called me but in reality I called her. I didn’t want to die, but I also did? The summer after my second semester I went to a psychiatrist – he diagnosed me with depression and anxiety. I didn’t like him at all, I was defiant and found him to be callous and kind of smug, but I went. They wanted me to start medications but I was resistant, I would skip doses and eventually stopped taking it completely. I went back for a third semester, thinking maybe things would be okay. But they were not.

I started smoking pot everyday. My grades were slipping and I wasn’t eating or sleeping properly. Winter 2011 I went back home and had a major breakdown when it was time to head back to Boston. I think that was finally when my parents realized I needed more help. So I withdrew from college, started going for therapy and Reiki healing. I started feeling better, but I still had a lot of emotions I couldn’t deal with. Therapy helped, but when I started college in Delhi, I stopped therapy. I convinced everyone I was okay, I didn’t feel like my soul was being sucked out, so I must be better. I still had intense mood swings and anxiety attacks but I thought those were just normal now.

Three years of college, with a lot of ups and downs, more self-harm, but all this was kept a secret – to everyone else I was better. I didn’t need medication or therapy anymore, I was over my depression. After I graduated, I took a gap year and was working at an organization and out of nowhere all those thoughts came back.

“I hate this job, maybe I should hurt myself so I can quit. Maybe I should die so I don’t have to deal with this? I am worthless, I am useless.”

I spent hours crying on the bathroom floor wondering “Why am I like this?” I told my parents and they kinda freaked out, but were far more supportive. So I met a new psychiatrist who I loved, and he referred me to a therapist who changed my life. She did a bunch of tests and diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. I loved working with her, she didn’t put up with any of my bullshit. I worked through a lot of issues with her, including some trauma I had faced as a child. I had been sexually abused by my grandfather on visits to India when I was younger. And when my family moved back to India, I had to see him and pretend nothing happened. That was one of the major issues I always struggled with, and even then I didn’t come to peace with it. I spoke to her about my past relationships, one of which was emotionally abusive. I told her about all the issues I had with my body and self-worth.

For a few months I worked on therapy, I was doing well in general. So I decided, “Hey let me apply to grad school!” I did, and got into University of Chicago, which was so unexpected. I was ecstatic, I thought “YAY! I am gonna go to Chicago, it’s gonna be awesome cause I am well now.” I got here, and I thought things would be good. But two months in, I started feeling isolated again. I stopped taking medication, again. I stopped therapy, again. I met this guy, and we were in a “non-relationship,” but I would spend all my time with him. And he would drink and smoke pot a lot, so I would drink and smoke pot a lot. By a lot, I mean five to six times a week. Sometimes, even every single day. I wasn’t eating well; I wasn’t sleeping well.

I went to visit my parents in Malta for Spring break and I had to spend the week sober. I also got news that I had failed a class that week. When I got back to Chicago after that week, I broke down. I spent hours crying and called my uncle and told him I need help. I got to Naperville on Wednesday night and Thursday morning I admitted myself into an In-Patient program. During program, I told myself, listen to what they say, do what they say, tell them what they want to hear. I started medication again and went back to campus. Two weeks in, I still hadn’t made any appointments for therapy, I was taking my medication but wasn’t eating. I was sleeping 14 hours a day. I wasn’t bathing or taking care of myself. I had a presentation in class which I broke down during and I knew I was not ready. I went back to Naperville, and then admitted myself into a Partial-Hospitalization Program. I took a leave of absence and decided that I had to focus only on my mental health.  

 

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

I was in class, trying to give a presentation on material I knew, but I was so tongue-tied and anxious that the professor told me to stop talking. That day I knew I had to do something. I didn’t want to suffer my whole life. I wanted to do so much to help so many people, my goal is to become a teacher and I can’t do that if I am not well. I decided I needed to get my shit together.

 

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

The last few months after getting discharged from the program have been relatively easy because I have been spending time with my family. I still have days when I get extremely anxious. I still have days when I worry I won’t be okay or that I am not good enough. There are days when my thoughts overwhelm me and I lay in bed wondering if everything I am doing is wrong. I have my sob-fests. But now, I know what to tell myself, I know that I have to use positive self-talk, that I have to be self-compassionate. I know that I should just ride the wave and let the emotions flow. I’ve been reading a lot about DBT and I have been practicing my skills and they actually help! I never thought they would but they do! I am going back to school in a few weeks, and I know a lot of stressors are going to come my way. But I feel like I have an arsenal ready for all the stuff that life can throw at me. And I know what I have to do if I feel myself slipping. I am also getting a cat, so yay! 

 

  

 

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you? 

I think that it has given me the ability to empathize with people. I feel like when you struggle so much in life, you have a little bit of an understanding of other’s struggles. I also know that it has given me strength, if I can survive all the shit I have done to myself, I can survive anything. It has also helped me figure out what I want to do with my life, I feel like I could really use my experiences to help adolescents with their struggles and plan to pursue a career in guidance counseling.

I also think that it has given me a new voice. For a long time, I was silent about my struggles, but recently I have started speaking out through Instagram. The mental health community on Instagram has been so supportive and kind. We all cheer each other on and it is so beautiful to see. Mental illnesses can be so isolating, it is important to see that you are not alone. 

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

Do not give up. Things actually can get better.

 

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below to be potentially featured on the blog! 

Works in Progress // Angela

Living in a world where emotion ruled her every moment, this fierce female has been to hell and back suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder.

With a new outlook on life and serious dedication to what she’s learned with Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Angela has found new purpose and a life worth living. 

While she will always have BPD, it will never own her. Read below to meet Angela and learn about her inspirational, emotional journey with mental illness.

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Name: Angela

Age: 28

 

Explain the origin of your mental health issues i.e., what is your mental health issue, how did you realize what was happening, how was it affecting your everyday life at the time?

As a child I would cry over everything and anything. As I grew up, my identity would change based on who I was hanging around with. My mood would fluctuate drastically in short periods of time, and I would hold on to painful emotion for weeks at a time. As I went through my 20’s, I became highly irrational. I would get extremely angry for no reason and would have to resist the urge to act out. At home, the urge would be too hard to resist and I would trash my room. Who would want to be around someone like that?

I knew it, and I would proceed to doing whatever I could to prevent someone from leaving me. I would become so paranoid that my friends were mad at me, and in turn I would get mad at them for making me feel so much pain. I would end the friendship before the pain got worse. Sometimes I would tell them to talk to me, with the hope they would see through it and refuse to leave. Other than banging my head on walls and mirrors, my self harm was unique. I would run away, dressed inappropriately for the weather. I remember laying in the snow in shorts and a tank top, just hoping that “nature would take its course”. It wasn’t until I started dating my current boyfriend that I noticed how abnormal my reactions were. I would walk into a separate room, while he watched TV, and burst into tears. Nothing had happened though. When he would leave to go to work, I would be convinced that he was going to break up with me, and I would beg him not to go. This was a daily thing. I recall sitting on the floor, crying, and offering him an out. Telling him, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, this isn’t fair to you. If you want to end this now, I completely understand… No hard feelings. He refused. This was 2013 and we are still together to this day. Later that same year, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. 

 

What was the resounding moment when you decided to get help? What made you do it?

On New Year’s Eve of 2013, my boyfriend and I went to his best friend’s cottage. My boyfriend’s parents were there, and his friend’s parents were there. It was my first time going to the cottage and meeting his friend’s family, and I was very anxious. Everyone was on the main floor chit chatting, and enjoying some champagne, while I stood by the counter and watched. I was prepared to socialize and stood up straight to confidently walk across the room, when I realized my boyfriend was gone. My mind became a whirlwind of chaos. I became angry, with the urge to throw my champagne at the closest person. Followed by shame and guilt, resulting in utter sadness. I rushed downstairs to the bedroom on the lower level to hide, when I found my boyfriend on the lower level playing ping pong with his friend. Rage filled my body and sadness drowned me.

I said nothing, went into the bedroom, closed the door and bursted into tears. Every minute that went by, and my boyfriend didn’t come in to check on me, would make me cry harder. After an hour, he finally came in, and due to the intensity of my crying, he immediately assuming someone died. I couldn’t talk because of how hard I was crying, I could only shake my head “no”. I cried at the same intensity for three hours. After the third hour was able bring myself to a place where I could cry and talk. As I started to explain why I have become so upset, I felt embarrassed. I realized in that moment, that the intense, overwhelming and painful emotional reaction did not match the “incident”. Thus, I started crying again mumbling, “What’s wrong with me?!” I couldn’t live like this anymore… I wouldn’t survive. I remembered I had received an e-mail from work with the information for their new Employee Assistance Program and that was the beginning of the end of my suffering. 

I remember saying, “I can’t stop crying and I don’t know why”. She proceeded to conduct a deep breathing mindfulness exercise with me. I calmed down and she asked me if there is anything I am holding onto that may be making me upset, I told her everything. My intense long lasting painful emotions, the extreme outbursts of anger, my fear of being abandoned, frequent suicidal thoughts, followed by self-harm or becoming emotionally catatonic. (Medical term: dissociation)

The women on the other line just listened and allowed me to let it all out. She recommended I share this with my family doctor because I deserve to be happy. The following week I saw my doctor and she immediately recommended a program called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). She informed me that CAMH offered an OHIP covered program but she couldn’t refer me. I had to do it myself. On January 29th 2014, after a four hour assessment – I was officially diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. On April 4th, 2014 I began CAMH’s one year outpatient DBT program in their Borderline Personality Disorder Clinic.

 

How does it affect your everyday life now? Challenges? What skills have you learned to cope?

Although BPD is presently incurable, thanks to DBT, I have learned all the skills to cope with it. Through DBT, I learned how to be interpersonally effective, like how to ask for support when I need it, how to say no to people, and how to have conversations that feel difficult to me. I learned how to regulate my emotions before they became too intense. I learned the purpose of each emotion and how to change the emotion, if I felt the emotion didn’t match the issue I was faced with. I also learned how to cope with emotions if my feelings were totally valid. I’ve learned how to tolerate distress, which is when I am unable to catch the emotion before in becomes too intense.

This has literally been lifesaving. For me, I usually start by asking, “What would my Wise Mind do?” and I would go through my options. Forcing myself to conduct deep breathing exercises, using ice packs on my wrists or temples, being mindful of my senses. Radical acceptance is frequently added to all the options. A majority of the time, I refuse to accept that I am in distress and truly believe that my reaction is justified. I cannot proceed to use my coping strategies if I do not acknowledge that I am in distress. Lastly, I practice mindfulness every chance I get. Mindfulness is essential to my life. Being mindful of the present moment is what allows me to recognize when I am in distress, when I begin feeling intense emotions, and when I need to be interpersonally effective. Mindfulness is what prevents me from being negatively impulsive.

 

Neuroscience moment: Essentially as you practice mindfulness, the connection between your amygdala (the impulse center in your brain) and your frontal lobe (the part of the brain that makes decisions) becomes stronger. Individuals with BPD have little to no connection between their amygdala and frontal lobe. 

 

How has living with this mental illness benefited your life? What has it given you?  

I have become amazing at validating people. I have made so many people feel a bit better about what they are going through, and I LOVE IT! Although, I will never solve anyone’s problems, if they want help to do so, I will always offer my suggestions of DBT skills to use. I feel like I have purpose in this world again. I feel like I have found my own identity by following my own morals, values, and doing what makes me happy. I have ultimately built a life worth living. Although I will always have BPD, BPD does not own me. 

 

What is one piece of advice you would give yourself when you were struggling the most with your mental illness? 

Learn to practice mindfulness!

It is okay to ask for help. It is okay to not know what’s wrong. It is okay to admit you are not okay.  Being able to do all this, will save your life.  

 

 

Are you a Work in Progress? Share your story in the comments below and you could be featured on the blog!