Miss Maryland/Hospitalization

There was a time when I seemed healthy and unstoppable. I worked hard, I did not sleep, and I dedicated my life to helping others. My life was a movie. And a glorious one at that. The truth was the façade I showed the world was just that — a façade. An illusion of happiness and wellness.

the author wears a dress and a pageant sash, and walks down a runway
My first walk as Miss Maryland 2015
Despite my success as Miss Maryland World 2015, being the president of a nonprofit organization, a published author, public speaker and preschool teacher, I was actually deteriorating inside. In this photo, I was mentally ill, but you could not tell. Every day was difficult to get out of bed, but I painted my face, clipped in my extensions, fixed my posture and wore a smile. I had to be my best for the world. It was expected.

The reality was I was struggling with my identity, self-mutilation, severe anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I had not been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) yet during this time, but my struggles with identity and self-harm were symptoms of this serious mental illness. I loved pageantry but I wore a mask to hide the suicidal thoughts and pain I felt every single day.

I had a book published about my battle with anorexia nervosa as a child and my suicide attempts as a teenager. I was candid about my past hospitalizations. I wrote how I was “better now” as an adult. But I wasn’t — I was getting worse by the day. I wanted everyone to think I was cured of mental illness. But that’s not how mental illness works. Mental illness is a slow process to recovery, just like a physical illness can be. But I did not know that then.

I felt by focusing my attention on pageantry and helping others I would never have to face the critical childhood trauma I had experienced. I always expected despite my severe mood swings, depersonalization and self-harm, the pain would go away and I would get better. But I did not.

Even in pageantry and life in the public eye, I experienced significant negative events that further impacted my mental health. After competing in Miss World America 2015 and placing in the top 12 in the nation, I began to search for my own identity outside of pageantry. As a perfectionist, I obsessed over my placement. I did not feel good enough. I slowly began cutting my hair off in search of my own identity — an identity different from the one I had portrayed in pageantry. The thing about borderline personality disorder (BPD) is I can mimic another identity because I do not know our myself. Over the next year, my symptoms worsened. I struggled with suicidal ideation and began isolating myself from family and friends.

After months of worsening symptoms, I experienced a psychotic break on December 30, 2016. I had severe derealization, depersonalization and impulses to crash into a tree. Just to feel something because I had become numb to the world around me. I had been gravely ill for years and my “fake little world” of having it all together began to fall apart in front of me. I could no longer hold it together. I felt embarrassment and shame.

As I turned the steering wheel of my car, I received a call from a friend. I had tried to call her twice before and somehow, by the grace of God, she called me back right in time. She could hear the desperation in my voice and I cried as I explained I could not feel anything. I felt as if I was in a nightmare, watching myself from a distance and I just wanted to get back into my body. I felt by causing myself significant harm I would bring myself back. She stayed calm as I explained this and guided me into driving myself safely to urgent care.

Once I arrived at the urgent care I could hardly hold myself together. The years of pain, sexual harassment, assault, childhood trauma and daily stresses boiled over and caused me to lose touch with reality. The police then came to the urgent care and escorted me to the emergency room.

I am now in my third hospitalization program as a partial hospitalization patient and it has been life-changing. I am learning how to cope with my illnesses and am receiving medications necessary to aid in my normal functioning of life. There is no shame in that and I am feeling better.

I feel myself slowly returning. It will take time to get better, as with any illness, but I have hope in receiving absolute healing through my faith and the counselors and therapists who have been a part of my care. If you are struggling, seek help. Do not be ashamed and do not hide behind a wall of lies. You are not alone and life is not hopeless. There is no shame in being sick. We are human and sometimes we get sick. The key is to not let your illness win. You must win the crown, the trophy, against mental illness every day. You are not alone.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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For the most part of my life I have been living in extremes. However, for the past year I have been living in a such a tortured space that Dante’s “Inferno” is probably the only thing that comes close to expressing what I have been experiencing. I have been either so frozen by depression and feelings of emptiness or tormented for days or weeks by an episode I call a “black high.”

I will try my best to explain something to you that I don’t even understand myself.

Close your eyes and think back, in every little detail, on a big moment in your life. Say for example, your first day at the beach — what did the ocean smell like, what sounds did you hear, what did the sand feel like between your toes, were you scared of the big waves or did the power excite you? Your first dance — see the yellow, red, orange and blue disco lights turning round and round, smell the smoke machine. What song was playing, were your palms sweaty, were you in love, what did you wear, who did you dance with? Let’s make it a bit simpler than that. Think of any day you had to run an errand — what was it for, did you buy something or was it just a to-do item, were you hurried or relaxed, were you driving or walking? What about a day you went to see a movie — what was the movie about, did you like the actor/actress starring in it, is he/she married (if so, to whom), do you prefer movies or books? Now, imagine having these types of thoughts split seconds after each other, racing through your mind on loop about any and every topic you can imagine for days (sometimes weeks) — that is somewhat my “black high” feels like.

I have used examples of pleasant thoughts to better explain in what detail I think about things, but generally I do not think about pleasant things. My thoughts would cover topics of failed relationships, self-doubt, feelings of worthlessness and mistakes I have made and how I could never go back and change them. However, above all, the biggest part of this “black high” is the critical voices that comes with it. These critical voices would speak to me all.the.time. They never leave my thoughts, and they suck the life out of me. They would create a fear and anxiety in me that make me feel as if I am going to lose my mind. They would leave no dark corner of my mind unexplored about how little I think of myself, and they would release every terror, anxiety and phobia I have. These fears and anxieties becomes worse at night time because I fear for the sun to set and for the day to end because then there are no distractions, just me and the silence of the night. I fear for the hustle and bustle to stop outside, for the sense of loneliness is overwhelming. When night settles so does the dark and the racing thoughts are overwhelming. There are no beginning or end to these thoughts and critical voices; they flow into each other like an infinity sign. I am not sure if it is part of “me” or if it is the “good” critical voices, but something is trying to fight the darkness off. They tell me I am going to be OK. The sun will come up tomorrow, and we will face it together.

Why do I call it a “black high”? Well, “black” because of the darkness it represents to me. It drains the life out of me and prevents me from living my life in every way. The depression keeps me from getting out of bed and living my life, but this “black high” hurts my soul in a different way. It takes away what is most precious and dear to me — my own thoughts and my ability to write. I have been trying to write this contribution for weeks now, but I could not string more than a couple of sentences together because I couldn’t concentrate long enough. The words and sentences would become gibberish, I would not be able to spell, and my understanding and ability to edit and spellcheck would become completely voided. Not only that, but I would not remember anything of what I wanted to say. There was one incident where I took a walk around the pond to try and clear my thoughts and I thought of these amazing things I wanted to say. I rushed back to the apartment, sat down at the computer and started typing, and every single thought I had disappeared from my memory and got replaced by who knows what; it broke my heart. The thoughts still haven’t returned.

A “high” well, because what goes up must come down, right? As I slowly start to emerge from this tormented hell I have experienced, I am exhausted. Exhausted from fighting my own mind for days (or weeks), I am back to having no energy for anything; doing everyday tasks, seeing friends, public and noisy places, etc.

I feel the sadness and despair start to overwhelm me again — how is it that my life came to this? A never-ending seesaw ride between needing noise and people, daylight and focus, to silence and isolation, darkness and distraction.

Through all of this there has been only one thing that has remained constant — one piece of advice that has carried me through all of these worlds. My sister once told me when I found myself in a desperate place and felt I had do a million things and couldn’t even see myself doing one, all I had to was the very next thing. Don’t think two or five or even one thing ahead, just do the very next thing. Even if the very next thing was simply to get out of bed, then that is what you do. When you have done that, what is the very next thing? Even if the only “very next thing” you did was just to get out of bed for the whole day you should be proud yourself because “tomorrow” is then very next thing you are going to try.

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I had my first therapy session last night. OK, it wasn’t the first time I had gone to see a “professional,” but there’s a reason why I consider this my first actual session.

Let me explain.

For the past four years, I’ve been struggling with anxiety and depression and through a lot of Googling and talking with people in the industry, I’m pretty sure I also have borderline personality disorder. And in the process of trying to find myself and ways to cope with my personal life, family, work, passion projects and finding time to keep up with friends, I’d lost myself and my way. The anxiety was getting worse. It was spiraling out of control and all-encompassing.

It took a lot of courage for me to ask for help. Despite the stigma and lack of support available to me, I was actually proud of myself for being able to reach out for help.

I understand there is a learning curve between therapist and patient. That everybody works a little differently and their styles of communication are different. But let me tell you, this was horrendous. My therapists (I had gone to multiple because I was desperate for help) didn’t help at all. Actually, they made things worse.

I’ve had a therapist pick up another phone call during my session and actually carry on conversations while I was there. He would talk to nurses and flirt with them, with me sitting in my room trying not to fall apart. I’ve had a therapist do nothing but prescribe drugs to me, at higher and higher doses even though I said the side effects were so strong I couldn’t function. I know medication — just like finding a therapist — takes time to find the right one and for them to work, but the side effects were so bad I couldn’t work or go to school. I was shaking, throwing up. Nauseous to the point I couldn’t eat anything but soup. Some had me awake and wired all night, others had me so drowsy I couldn’t even keep my eyes open at work. The side effects were endless and when I mentioned it, I was just prescribed “better” drugs to help “cure me.”

Not once had these therapists tried to actually talk to me. Help me find the root of my problems. The best advice I’d received was to just “think about what was making you feel anxious and depressed” and then just “don’t let it affect you.” Oh wow. Great. I wouldn’t have thought of that all on my own.

I was looking for someone to listen to me, to help me find coping mechanisms. But instead all got were condescending, patronizing adults who said “I didn’t even know what life was about” because “I was too young and privileged to experience real pain and struggles.”

These terrible experiences turned me off from therapy for years. And in the meantime, I had resorted to self-medication through alcohol. My behavior was getting more and more extreme, erratic, manipulative and difficult to control. Soon it was out of my control.

After a lot of urging, support and unconditional love from my best friend, (I love you Libby) I decided to give it another go. And it was everything I had hoped it would be.

I had lost faith in therapy because of my terrible experiences. I had dismissed the entire field because of my bad experiences, attributing it to the field itself, rather than a few bad therapists. I believed a few bad apples meant all of them would be bad, that I was better off on my own, that I could find a way to cope – until I couldn’t.

My therapist, Natalie, was understanding, open, gentle and everything I needed. She was a good listener and did not once insinuate I was the one to blame for my own internal turmoil. She validated my thoughts and feelings and not once did I feel patronized or looked down upon.

Therapy was a big step for me. Looking beyond those whom I knew to trust a complete stranger with the deepest, darkest parts of myself. To open myself up and expose the most vulnerable places of myself to a complete stranger, the parts that had been ridiculed and prodded by others. What I learned yesterday was not just about the therapy or asking for help. I learned the person who offers you the help is just as important. Finding a professional, someone with the appropriate experience, someone who understands without judgment, makes all the difference.

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Having a life dominated by mental health difficulties and not talking about them is like carrying a hidden world inside yourself. Keeping my experience of borderline personality disorder (BPD) shrouded in secrecy creates loneliness and traps me in an unnecessary sense of shame. Talking about my experiences with people who listen and don’t judge is key for the emotional stability that has been a challenge for me over the years. I’d like to share the five most helpful things for me to hear when I do talk to people in my life about my experiences with BPD.

1. “It’s fine for you to talk about this.”

Historically, I have shame not only about my experiences, but for my need to talk about them. I’ve been told by former friends I was “inappropriate” for broaching certain topics and should “never talk about it again.” Embarrassment rushed through me like a hot rash and an unnecessary sense of shame silenced me for a long time. Luckily, I have moved on and have been able to talk again with open-minded people who have given me positive and accepting reactions. Through talking with understanding and open people, I have been able to release a lot of shame.

2. “You can talk to me again whenever you need to.”

Because of reactions I have experienced when talking about mental health, I am constantly worried I will “make people uncomfortable.” I have since realized if someone is uncomfortable with talking about mental health, it is more likely to be their own prejudices than my insensitivity. I feel very validated when friends say talking about my BPD to them is OK.

3. “I don’t think of you any differently than I did before you told me this.”

When I have talked to people in the past, I have been worried they will see me in a different light once they know about my experiences. I’m worried they will think they didn’t know me before and are judging my actions and character on the basis of the new information they have about my life. So when people treat me just the same as they always did, I am reassured. After all, I am much, much more than my experiences of mental illnesses.

4. “I know someone who has had a similar experience.”

When said without an annoying dose of “I know it all,” this can be incredibly helpful as it can make me feel less alone.

5. “It’s up to you.”

I don’t like being told what’s best for me. I like to supported. But at the end of the day, I know myself and my experiences best, so I’d rather people hold off with any judgments. I don’t like having my experiences and emotions judged, quantified and defined by others!

Follow this journey on BPDOrchid or Twitter.

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All my life I have been told I can’t.

I dropped out of school because I missed too many classes due to struggling with my borderline personality disorder (BPD).

“I can do better,” I said.

“No, you can’t,” my teacher said.

After my diagnosis I got a guardian from social services and they offered me a spot in a group home.

“I would rather live alone,” I said.

“You can’t live alone,” my guardian said.

So I was moved into a group home.

After one year of being certified sick and doing nothing but therapy I decided I wanted to go to college and become a professional in disability and mental health care. I wanted to help others who struggle like me.

“Then we would be co-workers,” my guardian said and laughed as if it was the most ridiculous idea ever.

“You shouldn’t be responsible for other people,” my therapist said.

“You can’t,” my psychiatrist said.

“Yes, I can,” I said and left the city for good.

I went to college to become a professional in disability and mental health care.

“People with BPD can not keep a stable job. Or have a long term relationship. In fact they can barely do anything,” my psychiatry teacher said. “I hope you never have to work with them.”

I sat in her classroom quietly.

I got a job in a group home for people with mental illnesses. One of my clients is a young girl who was recently diagnosed with BPD. She dreams of becoming an artist.

“She can’t,” my coworkers say and laugh.

“Why not?”

“Because she’s a borderliner!”

All my life I have been told I can’t. By family, by teachers, by professionals. Again and again until I believed it. Until I gave up on my dreams and accepted my future would be what others decided was best for me. I would never live on my own, have a family or a job. I accepted I was what they made me feel like: useless.

The stigma surrounding this disorder is real and dangerous. When people hear the term “borderline” they automatically think of what they have heard about “these people.” They are dangerous. They are violent. They just want attention. They do drugs. They will destroy you.

Individuals who struggle with BPD tend to have low self-esteem to start with. The stigma makes it worse. It makes it hard to accept the diagnosis and even harder to seek help because even professionals are often biased. In fact, some therapists turn clients down because of their BPD diagnosis.

A lot of people affected by it keep it to themselves simply so they don’t scare away friends and potential partners.

When you are a “borderliner,” you often get hate instead of help from those around you, although it is the latter you so desperately need.

But there is one thing everyone needs to hear: yes, we can.

We are people like everyone else. We are not monsters.

We can make our own decisions. They might not always be good, but we have a right to make them.

We have plans. We have dreams. And with a lot of work and passion we can achieve them. It might be a lot harder for us than for other people. But we can. And don’t you ever let anyone tell you you can’t.

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We all make mistakes. It’s a given. It doesn’t help if you’re too hard on yourself; something every borderline challenger can relate to.

There are plenty of times I’ve reacted before I could rationalize. As I grow and develop myself each day, the frequency of this reduces, but it rears its ugly head once in a while nonetheless. I’ve learned one of the hardest things to do is to love myself, particularly when I’ve screwed up. Here are some ways I try to look beyond the situation, and consider it as a growth opportunity. A quick word of advice though: Begin to do this when you have totally removed yourself from the situation. Sometimes that may be days or weeks after (you’ll know when you longer feel seething anger or uncontrollable tears and instead these are replaced by guilt and self-pity/self-deprecation).

1. Accept: Part of the reason we sometimes fail to forgive ourselves is that we don’t want to accept we messed up. Instead, we go straight to self-deprecation and punishing ourselves. This isn’t helpful, simply because it prevents you from looking beyond the incident.

First, say out loud what you did. And then follow it with a statement affirming that you accept the fact that it happened, and that you fully embrace the consequences.

2. Acknowledge: Here you acknowledge the emotions you felt then which caused you to react the way you did. For example: Your significant other said something to upset you before you headed out to work, and you carried that with you, acting out through reckless driving. Acknowledge you felt uncontrollable anger at that point, and could not see a way to calm down.

3. Watch: Now that you know what the emotion you felt was, it’s time to watch yourself. Try to replay the incident in your mind; this time as an outsider. Imagine you’re watching yourself drive angrily, and yet you know exactly what’s going through your mind. This is important because it helps you gain perspective on how your actions affect others, despite the action having little-to-no relation with the incident that provoked it.

4. Let go and forgive (this is the most important step): The previous three steps are to help you fully experience the emotions, so that you can finally do away with them (in the context of that situation). Now, you choose to let go and forgive yourself. I’ll admit it — this step isn’t easy even for people who can control their emotions. I realize it might be much much harder for you, given the roller coaster you’re probably always on. That’s why I initially advised doing this days or weeks after the actual incident. But do this, you must. Trust me: harboring the regret and guilt will not help you in your journey to challenge the heck out of borderline personality disorder (BPD). At this point, you once again vocalize the fact that you’re letting go of the incident and associated emotions. Then follow it up by saying you forgive yourself for your actions.

5. Commit to change: They say the best apology is changed behavior. Here you aren’t apologizing to anyone but yourself. (Chances are, you’ve probably beaten yourself up enough about the incident and don’t know how to begin to apologize to the affected people in your life. Or even better, you probably have already apologized to them multiple times). Either way, I recommend forgiving and apologizing to yourself is a pre-requisite in order to work towards the best apology your loved ones could ever get: a fully aware BPD challenger who makes sure his/her life is not dominated by the illness. This is the point where you list out alternate reactions to the same incident and commit them to memory (once again, not an easy task, but something that feels fulfilling when you do it!). In this step, you are planning for a future, which is less governed by your emotions and more ruled by you!

6. Tackle life head on: No explanation needed here. You’ve accepted, acknowledged, embraced, watched, let go, forgiven, committed to change. Now all that’s left is go out with your head held high. Like every BPD challenger should.

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