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.
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!