Works in Progress // Stephany

Diagnosed with anxiety, depression, severe PTSD, traits of borderline personality disorder, GAD, and an eating disorder, Stephany has overcome so much. Fighting her way through an abusive relationship, sexual assault, and even homelessness, this strong soul is the definition of a mental health warrior. 

Meet Stephany.

 

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Name: Stephany

Age: 20

 

**Trigger warning: rape**

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?

When I was a freshman in high school I moved from my La Jolla home to Carlsbad in hopes of escaping the bullies and finding a new sense of belonging. With all the changes of a new home, new school, my mother’s new boyfriend, my best friend moving across the world, and entering high school, I fell into a deep pit of hopelessness.

In the heat of a massive fight with my mother, she threatened to send me to my father and that was the exact moment that sent me spiraling out of control. After 12 weeks of missing person reports, truancy, failing grades, days of hiding behind locked doors, and refusing to eat, I was admitted to a residential treatment facility in Utah where I spent six agonizing months learning how to cope and sharing my deepest fears with strangers. While I was there, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, severe post traumatic stress disorder, traits of borderline personality disorder, generalized mood disorder, and an eating disorder.

With a team of doctors, therapists, and facility staff I was able to work through the wreckage and claw my way out of my first experience with rock bottom.

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

After I was discharged, I returned home and continued my treatment with a team of doctors and therapists and spent three years coping with mild anxiety and the normal stresses of a teenager. Then, in May of my senior year of high school I entered into a depressive episode after becoming homeless and living out my car with only $100 to my name. At the time I was in an abusive relationship with a man who was older than me by four years and I truly believed we were in love. After managing to find a full-time job, graduating high school with honors, and finding a place to live, my relationship began to crumble because I was no longer in need of his help. We broke up in the beginning of July and two weeks later he called to invite me over for drinks. That night is the night that I was raped.

A year and a half later, I came to accept the reality of that night and sought help from a therapist who asked me, “Well did you say no?”

After that session, I was determined to fight my demons on my own and spent endless hours researching the affects of trauma and steps I could take to work through it. I slowly began to share my struggles with my closest friends who helped teach me that the smallest victories are worth celebration and I am worthy of self-love. The most pivotal moment of my recovery though was when I shared the story of the sexual assault with a friend who knew the offender and said to me, “I believe you.” 

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

Today, I still have my struggles with anxiety and disordered eating, but I have learned that I am not alone and by sharing my story I can help others on their journey. I am unashamed of my demons and I often wake up and thank myself for not giving into those low points where I felt like there was no way out of the misery I was experiencing. I am strong and I want to empower others to feel their own strength.

 

 

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

Works in Progress // Elly

Trigger warning: There is mention of suicide in this post. 

Battling severe anxiety, depression, and borderline personality disorder, Elly started out living the life she thought was normal. It was only after several self harm episodes and near death experiences that she looked within and made the decision to attend therapy.

With the introduction of DBT therapy, self care, and saying no to things that didn’t benefit her life, this beautiful soul has come home to herself. Preaching a strong message that each person should fight for themselves, meet Elly.

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Name: Elly Melo

Age: 29

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 was diagnosed in 2015 with Borderline Personality Disorder. To be honest, I noticed that something was different with me when I was 14/15; I felt like the odd one out. At the age of 16, a teacher suggested I go to a counsellor in order to get help for my anxiety around exam time. However, I struggled to keep up with my sessions and stopped going after only a couple of sessions. But I managed to force myself to keep doing the things that everyone else was doing; I finished college, I went to uni, I went into a job related to my degree. 

Unfortunately, I was living a life that others wanted; thus one I really didn’t want or value. At the age of 24, I broke down and was diagnosed with severe Depression and severe Anxiety. It wasn’t until many more breakdowns, near death experiences and self harm episodes that I was finally sent to a psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder.

 

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

I came too close to succeeding with a suicide attempt. I had been in the NHS mental health system for years by this point, and found my NHS experience was very invalidating and the “professionals” I was seeing, were actually making me feel worse. 

After one particularly bad episode, I agreed with my mum that I would seek private therapy. My mum then helped me apply for ESA and PIP, and with that money I am now paying for private DBT. I have been seeing my current therapist for just over a year now; since May 2016, and she has changed my life. I would recommend this type of therapy to anyone with Borderline Personality Disorder. However, please do go through the hard work of finding a therapist you like and feel comfortable with, finding a therapist for you is extremely important. Without that connection, I’m not sure I’d be where I am now; I’m improving slowly, but I am in a very different place to a year ago. In a good way!

 

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

My moods change a lot throughout the day, and they are very intense! I wake up feeling like one person, and by night time I have been at least six different people. I hear voices; good ones and mean ones. I have hallucinations and delusions. I can become very paranoid. My anxiety is still quite bad, and it stops me from doing a lot. My depression really affects me too. I also get manic episodes, and sometimes can experience mania and depression at the same time – it’s a special kind of torture. But, my therapist and psychiatrist (also private now, as the NHS let me down too many times) have really helped me, and continue to do so; I have found a good combination of medications and my therapist has taught me many tools and techniques (such as new/different ways of thinking, setting boundaries, identifying my values, talking about how I’m feeling and asking for help when I need it, and taking care of myself in general – self care has been key!) which I use every day, and they actually work. 

For now, I’m focusing on recovery. I’m not working on anything other than myself, I live with my mum, and use my disability allowance for specialist treatments, such a DBT and other psychiatric support. I am hoping that in a couple of years, I’ll be in a better place and managing a more independent life. I have hope now, which really has been key to keeping me alive and working hard on my recovery.

 

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

I have learned more now, than ever before. It’s been kind of a rude awakening; it’s painful and so hard, but it’s woken me up to life; MY life. Now I try to live for me, and I am more open and honest about how I feel and what I need. I try to live in the moment and be mindful, I have learned to breathe and say “no” to anything that doesn’t contribute to my healing, and “yes” to the things that do help me.

I’m coming home to myself, and it is difficult but it is so amazing. I’m looking forward to my future now. Don’t get me wrong, I still go through relapses and suicidal thoughts are a daily thing. The struggle is real. But I believe in myself now. 

Most important of all, I have met the most amazing people, thanks to my illness. It really seems that your vibe really does attract your tribe! And I’m so grateful for the co-warriors in my life. 

My illness has taught me that I don’t want to be another zombie on the capitalism race, I want to help others and live a more meaningful life, a life that’s more me. I finally have my own values and have set boundaries, things that I wasn’t aware of prior to my breakdowns. 

 

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

ASK FOR HELP! Fight for it, tell those you love and trust that you are struggling; be thorough and do your best to get them to understand you. It’s not easy, but eventually it helps a lot. And you’ll be surprised how many “me too” moments you have, with new friends and with old ones. 

Fight for you, it is the hardest and most amazing thing you will ever do. Identify your values and set boundaries, you’re the only one walking in your shoes and following your path. Nobody else understands who you are and what you want, only you. You can have people who help, love and support you, but it is your journey. You decide what works and how you want to do this thing called life.

 

 

 

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

Works in Progress // Elliott

Suffering from multiple, severe mental illnesses since the age of 16, Elliott’s life has been a constant cycle of instability, chaos, and breakdowns. Locked up in a ward four times, it was only when he hit rock bottom that he made the decision to start attending DBT therapy.

Applying the skills he’s learned from DBT therapy to his everyday life, Elliott fights to have a fulfilling life – despite his mental illness.

 

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Name: Elliott Smith

Age: 47


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?

July 17th of this year is my 47th birthday. The first time I remember being diagnosed was 1986 – I was 16. I was suffering from depression with suicidal ideology. I came home from school one day and decided life was to painful to live. So, I wrote my mom a note, got some rope and went in search of a farm grain silo to hang myself in. A woman from my step dad’s church (he was the pastor) saw me and called my mother who came and found me and talked me into getting help. I then spent two and a half months in a locked ward where I was diagnosed with depression.

That was the first diagnosis of many. My time of service in The US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division left me with PTSD. Then the anxiety, bipolar diagnosis and Borderline Personality Disorder. Because I have so many – I feel – accurate diagnoses, I refer to the group as just mental illness. I don’t know where one illness ends and the other begins. This mix of diagnosis have so many symptoms. The depression, anxiety, mania, aggression, anger, horror and fear in the form of flashbacks. I have always, as long as I remember, felt like something wasn’t right. My life was a cycle. Stability. Then instability. Chaos, then breakdown. Then the cycle would start again.



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

I have attempted or planned suicide four times – all four times I have been institutionalized. But still, my life didn’t change. My illness and my symptoms pulled me around like a dog on a leash. I had little pockets of happiness in an ocean of fear, pain, darkness, and agony. For this period, I didn’t really have uninterrupted medical or mental health care coverage. So, I would try to get help but for years could not afford to stay in therapy. In 2010, after finding out about the VA compensation process I put in for PTSD competition. I received disability status from the VA. This allowed me uninterrupted medical and mental health covered for the last seven years. This was the point my mental illness turned a corner.

Around this time, I had a very horrible episode where I ended up hurting someone then I tried to hang myself. I was again at rock bottom. Somewhere in the process of getting back on my feet again, I decided to figure out how to change the life I was leading. I decided to work to learn how to live a quality life. It was not a bolt out of the blue or “ah-ha” moment – it was a slow realization. I was finally aware that I needed to help myself before I was going to be able to get proper help. I was going to have to work my fucking ass off to ever have a quality life.



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


Well for me it is everyday life. It’s been 30 years (diagnosed) of mental illness. I don’t remember anything else – it is apart of everything. This very reason is why the skills I have learned are so important.


In 2011, I attended Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or DBT. The skills I learned there became the life-changing foundation of not just how I’ve learned to cope, but I learned to really thrive and found a way to maintain and live a quality life. The skills I learned from DBT were practical actions and strategies I could apply in specific or general ways to my everyday life.

  • Mindfulness. Focusing on what it is I am doing and saying. Focusing on my thoughts without letting them run away with my actions.
  • Wise mind. Because I lived in my emotional mind or my rational mind I would go back and forth between chaos and shame. Trying to maintain wise mind (both emotion mind and rational mind at the same time in balance) keeps me able to make decisions that help me maintain a quality life.
  • Distress tolerance. Knowing that life is probably going to get a little dicey and having the skills to tolerate the distress that is going to be apart of my life is crucial.
  • Checking the facts. This skill I learned allows me to challenge my symptoms and thoughts and hold them up to the light to see if they are real or the lies my symptoms tell me.
  • Radical acceptance. This allows me to accept the big unpleasant truths without giving up or giving in.
  • Acceptance. Accepting my reality was a life-changing experience. When I accepted that I have multiple mental illnesses and I will continue to have these issues  – I was set free. This acceptance for me also mentioned being completely transparent with my self and others in my life that mental illness was part of who I am. I would no longer try to hide how my life was to anyone ever again. My mental illnesses are always something you get to know as you learn more about me.

The list of skills go on and on and I talk about them a lot in both my @myrhoughtsracing Instagram and my blog.



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


Mental illness literally has only given me symptoms. I get what you’re asking, but I don’t see it as a gift or a benefit. With that said, I have learned by living through my symptoms that people – all of us – are amazing! That life is hard but worth it. That life is precious and fragile. I learned these gifts not because of my mental illness but in spite of it.



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

My thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings. I don’t have to indulge them. They are not in charge of my life.

 

 

Are you a work in progress? Share your story in the comments below and you could be 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!