woman with her hands out

Yes, I have a mental illness, but I am a person first.

I came across a post on Facebook that someone from The Mighty had written about borderline personality disorder (BPD). One of the comments was, “I think once people know you have a mental illness, they see everything you do as a symptom.” Someone asked the person who left the comment to explain. And I was motivated to write here instead.

I know what it’s like to have BPD, as it is one of my illnesses. I know what it’s like for people to know you have a mental illness and then see everything as a symptom. This is spelled out in the following way. Say you have a mental illness and people around you know this. Someone says something to you or something occurs in your life that makes you angry. You have a right to experience anger, as everyone does. It is a normal emotion. You tell the people around you that you are angry or they notice it.

Now add the mental illness onto the fact you are justifiably angry. You might be asked by the people around you if you have taken your meds today. You might be told you are being unreasonable and maybe you are too angry, they say.

Maybe one of the symptoms of your mental illness is people with your condition are “prone to anger.” This makes people question you and feel justified for doing so. They may tell you that you are overreacting and dismiss your anger as seeking attention or just a symptom of your illness. You are just making things up, they say. There’s nothing to be upset about, they say. You are just being “crazy,” they say, even though you are expressing a normal human emotion. All they can see is your illness and scoff at you for being too sensitive.

As a person with several mental illnesses, and I know my friends will agree, all we are looking for is a little compassion. We are hoping you will see us, and understand when we have a justifiable emotion or opinion. We have regular emotions like every other person, and we would like to be able to express them without being treated like we are just being “too emotional” or dismissed simply because we struggle with a brain illness. We are human and we just want to be treated that way.

So, if you know someone who has a mental illness, and they express a normal human emotion, instead of asking if they took their meds today or dismissing them as “crazy,” try a little compassion. Talk with them about what they’re feeling. Listen. Validate what they are feeling and try to help. This is what you would do for a friend or loved one. So do it for us, too.

Image via Thinkstock.


“Don’t tell anyone you have borderline personality disorder. It would be wise to keep it to yourself.”

That was the first statement my psychiatrist made upon diagnosing me with borderline personality disorder (BPD).

Instead of taking his advice, I went public with my diagnosis.

I knew BPD was a heavily stigmatized illness. Courtney Love, Amy Winehouse, and Lindsey Lohan are a few celebrities who have had public struggles with mental illness. Their actions during difficult moments were erratic and quite frightening. I knew with my past as a public figure and beauty queen I may be viewed differently. I knew, but that did not stop me. I felt I had to say it.

I had been battling mental illness for over a decade. I had been in and out of psychiatric wards during my adolescence with diagnosis’s of anorexia nervosa, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), major depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

I have been honest with my childhood struggle of anorexia nervosa in the past and even published a book about it. But I tried so hard to portray mental illness as my past, and was not open about the fact that I still struggle with it… and will likely always struggle with it to some degree.

Admitting to myself  that at 24 years old I was still struggling was the most difficult part of this process. I really wanted to convince myself that all of my issues were a thing of the past. But the truth is, I was having debilitating panic attacks, suicidal ideation, disassociation, and mood swings that varied within minutes to hours. Sometimes I even self-harmed. I was isolating myself from family and friends, and I did not want to go out. The most worrisome element of this illness was that I wanted to give up. Even scarier than that was that no one outside of my home could tell.

Being able to speak up about my current state of mind made me feel in control when I had felt so powerless before. There was an immense amount of freedom in declaring, “No I am really not OK. My life is not perfect!”

I was fortunate to receive so much support in response to my truthfulness. But I wish I could say that is all I experienced. My truthfulness was also met with judgment and discrimination. If ever I was hurt, the response was, “your illness is making you hurt,” “It’s all in your head,”  or “Your illness is distorting reality.” These remarks made me feel as if none of my feelings were real even though BPD actually means you experience your feeling stronger than the average person. My feelings are always very much real.

The most stressful of all was the way my workplace changed once it was known had a mental illness and had been placed on anti-psychotics. This was distressing to me because I was still the same person I always was. The only thing that changed was that they now knew something about me they did not know before. The only true difference was that previously my illness went undiagnosed, and now I was diagnosed and receiving treatment. And I was actually getting better.

I was judged. At times, subconsciously. At other times, consciously. This can be the reality of living openly with mental illness. Yes, people will undoubtably express support and love for you. But they may also meet you with discrimination, misunderstandings, and even cruelty. Even with this reality, I could still see no other way to progress in my life. I would feel like I was not really living had I tried to hide it.

How would I even improve with dishonesty? How can those who care for me be mindful of my condition if they are unaware I have a condition? What about when I have bad days and I need support, but don’t want to talk? How would they know?

Despite the misunderstandings and struggles I faced in being honest about my BPD diagnosis, I would do it all over again. Even though my doctor told me not to.

I have only improved with being honest. I will continue to be straight forward about BPD, even with all of the ugly it brings.

How else can we triumph over the fear and stigma against mental illness if we are repeatedly told it is something we should be ashamed of? I am not ashamed, and I am not afraid.

Follow this journey on Skating on Thin Ice: BPD and Me.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Image via Thinkstock. 

This morning I apologized for breathing.

I have fallen prey to a cold, and I was breathing funny while talking. So I apologized. I’m sick and my breathing, the thing I have to do in order to live, was making me talk weird. Yet, there I was saying sorry.

I once tried to make it through an entire day without saying sorry, and I failed three hours in. I stubbed my toe in the office and yelped. I apologized because I had a reaction to hurting myself. I was in physical pain, and there I was apologizing again.

Living with borderline personality disorder (BPD), my brain often loves to lead me to the worst conclusions, which has lead to my awful habit of apologizing for stuff that isn’t my fault. Such as being sick, hurting myself or simply existing.

A guy who I like hasn’t messaged me back, but he’s read all of my messages. I better apologize for bothering him because I’m sure that’s what I did. I didn’t bother him. He was busy, but I better say sorry because I need him to like me.

People are looking at me funny at work today. I better apologize extra because I don’t want anyone to think badly of me because surely I must have done something to them that I have no idea about.

I even look like a walking apology. I cross my legs when I walk, slouched over with my arms as inward as possible. I don’t want to be in anyone’s way because then I would have to be sorry for that too.

What’s funny is that I pride myself in being a confident person. I like who I am, and I manage my BPD fairly well with medication and therapy. I didn’t realize I apologized so much until a good friend pointed it out. Then, I started noticing just how much I do it and worse, the reason why.

So now that I am aware of how much I apologize for things I cannot control, for existing, I am going to try to take a moment, breathe and think, “Should I really be sorry?”

Should you really be sorry? Unless you honestly screwed up, then the answer is no. This world is hard enough without us thinking we should be apologizing just for being alive. So today I ain’t sorry and you shouldn’t be either.

Image via Thinkstock.

“I have borderline personality disorder (BPD).”

When I say this, most (not all) people fall into one of two categories.

Category A, (the easier to deal with), have never heard of BPD.

It is complicated to explain. (What even is a personality disorder?) Yet, I’d rather have a blank page and be able to form an idea in that person’s mind than them be in the second category.

Category B believes I am manipulative, promiscuous and attention-seeking.

There are nine symptoms of BPD (according to the DSM). You have to have five to be diagnosed. This means there are huge variations in what one person with BPD has compared to another person with BPD. Even within those nine symptoms, there are more variations. Here’s an example: Impulsive behavior can be spending too much money, driving too fast, gambling, drinking too much or promiscuity, amongst other things.

See what I’m getting at? Let’s say it’s an even spread of people that have each symptom. So five out of nine people who have BPD are impulsive. Well, then let’s say each of those people is only impulsive in one way of the ways I’ve mentioned above. So of the five people who have BPD and are impulsive, only one out of six of those are promiscuous. So of each person that has BPD, potentially only five out of 54, are promiscuous. That is around 9 percent.

Now, this is incredibly simplified and uses a lot of assumptions. However, it seems unfair to tar all people with BPD with the same, promiscuous, brush. I wonder what percentage of the general population are promiscuous? I do not know. I doubt there is an answer, as promiscuity is such a subjective thing, but it’s not zero.

For me, BPD manifests itself as insecurities in my friendships, fear of abandonment, vast mood swings, a bad temper, not having a strong sense of who I am, a constant feeling of loneliness, impulsive spending, self-harm and suicidal ideation. These symptoms can then bring on depression and anxiety for me.

I tick eight out of the nine symptoms at some points. However, it is perfectly possible for two people both to be correctly diagnosed with BPD, and only share a single symptom. One person with BPD may have never self-harmed in their life, while another may not have mood swings.

The point is, you don’t know. Just as much as two people may react to the flu differently, two people with BPD cannot be put neatly into one box.

Image via Thinkstock.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

To my family,

No, I am not ill because of you.

I have borderline personality disorder (BPD). I deal with addiction. I struggle a lot.

Please believe me when I say — this isn’t about you.

I face addiction because I abused drugs and got hooked. Not because you were a bad parent.

I have BPD because of childhood trauma, and because I didn’t have enough resources to deal with it. Also, not because you were a bad parent.

My relapses, suicidal tendencies… they are a result of my illness. There is nothing you have done to trigger this. You are not a bad sister, you are not a bad brother. This is not on you.

Please, stop blaming yourself. This is not about you. You did the best you knew how. I’m an adult now and I need to own up to my illness, my decisions, my mistakes, my life and recovery.

I need you to love me through it, but not carry me through it. To push me to do better. I need you to be there for me without blaming yourself.

You hurt enough watching me struggle, don’t carry this shame on your shoulders. Let it go, and know you did the very best you could.

This is on me.

My illnesses. My responsibility. My recovery.

I own this.

I love you.

This is something I talk about with many of my friends; there’s something different about living with symptoms and illnesses others perceive as “scary.”

I show symptoms of both borderline personality disorder (BPD) and depersonalization-derealization disorder (DPDR disorder), which means I have unstable emotions, suicidal ideation, psychotic symptoms and severe episodes of both depersonalization and derealization outside of stressful events.

There’s an ongoing sense of “I can’t talk about this,” and “I can’t trust my own mind.” When you can’t trust your own mind, you need to seek reassurance, but there’s always a battle of “who can I trust?” Speaking as someone with quite strong paranoid ideation, this is an uphill battle. You find solace in people who are like you; who experience the world through the same tinted glass. When you talk to people who don’t experience these symptoms, you’re often greeted with fear and disdain, which can feel incredibly demoralizing and dehumanizing.

When people find out I have BPD and DPDR disorder, there’s always a change in their behavior, especially when I discuss what that means for me; paranoia, visual disturbances, tactile disturbances, auditory disturbances, identity crises, rapidly changing emotions, impulsive behaviors and an overwhelming level of executive dysfunction/disorganization. This behavior change is rarely a positive — “Oh, that makes sense, at least you’ll be able to manage it now!” It’s usually a fearful — “You shouldn’t talk about that;” “You’re not that bad;” or an ill-informed, “No, you don’t have those, you’re not that manipulative.”

Then, there’s the media; news portrayals of “psychotic goes on rampage” and the ever present slogans in fashion, “I put the hot in psychotic”/”cute but psycho.”

It’s an ongoing, uphill battle dealing with the uncertainty of your own mind and external influences at the same time. I hope more people learn about the proper ways to talk to/about us. Most importantly, I hope everyone with psychosis, BPD and other “scary” illnesses and symptoms are able to find at least one person they can talk to who won’t shut them down, and who will support them. I hope the healthcare system follows, and we get the respect we deserve.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.