You are not your illness.
It’s always nice to have a name for what you’re struggling with. It’s true that people want to know what it is that’s taking over their life. “What is my diagnosis?” However, the true challenge is ultimately to find the name… and then let it go. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) at 15 years old. I held onto that diagnosis for five years. It fit me perfectly. If people asked what I deal with because of BPD, I would list off the all the symptoms and challenges from the National Institute of Mental Health.
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
- A pattern of intense and unstable relationships with family, friends and loved ones, often swinging from extreme closeness and love (idealization) to extreme dislike or anger (devaluation)
- Distorted and unstable self-image or sense of self
- Impulsive and often dangerous behaviors, such as spending sprees, unsafe sex, substance abuse, reckless driving and binge eating
- Recurring suicidal behaviors or threats or self-harming behavior, such as cutting
- Intense and highly changeable moods, with each episode lasting from a few hours to a few days
- Chronic feelings of emptiness
- Inappropriate, intense anger or problems controlling anger
- Having stress-related paranoid thoughts
- Having severe dissociative symptoms, such as feeling cut off from oneself, observing oneself from outside the body, or losing touch with reality
It was easy to tell people about these symptoms because personally, I dealt with all of them… plus more. However, this disorder began to define me. It told me what to do in the morning, day and night. It told me who I was and how I should feel. I became my illness. I got comfortable in that space. I would tell myself I’m suffering… but it will end. I can end it anytime I want. I was right about that point. I could end it at any point I wanted, but not in the way you would think. I’ve attempted suicide twice and it was extreme. Both of these instances I was saved by police or a civilian. During both instances I would realize at one point that I didn’t want to die — I wanted the pain to end.
I didn’t want to be healthy. I didn’t “deserve” it. I didn’t want it. I was the sick person in the family, at school and at work. I got special treatment, I got attention. I liked getting those things, but most of all, I liked being sick. It was my identity and I didn’t know who I was without the title of borderline personality disorder. If I wasn’t institutionalized, what was I going to do with my life? With my days? It was boring, and everyone who knows someone with borderline personality disorder knows that when we struggle, it’s certainly not boring! I was living life on the edge when really all I wanted was to step back and find out who I am.
I grew older and went through drug addiction, eating disorders, self-harm, suicide, abuse, financial problems and more. I knew it was time. I moved out of my parents house and into my own apartment in downtown Toronto. I started my own little organization, a non-profit for LGBTQ mental health and it has begun to grow into something incredible. I started attending Ryerson University. I was out of all abusive relationships. I had friends, family and a girlfriend by my side. In those three months, I found out who I am truly as a person. I found out that I am Zee. I love running my organization. I take the time to take homeless people to Tim Hortons, buy gatorade and feed the homeless dogs biscuits.
I know this all sounds like a quick turnaround and truly — it was quick. As if I blinked and my whole life changed. You see, I was hospitalized at a private institution. In this institution you never got stripped checked, you got to wear your own clothes, have electronics, there was even a shopping center in the middle of the facility and restraints were only used if you were put into a different unit. I wasn’t used to this. I was used to having no privacy. I was used to having cameras everywhere, getting patted down and I was not allowed anything but one brown crayon with a sheet of paper. For therapy in the hospital, I would look out my window, or sleep. For therapy at this private institution, I would sit in massage chairs, work out, go swimming, tennis, learn to play the ukulele, meet people who have been through a lot at a different level. I didn’t stay long. I left after 10 days.
Those 10 days changed my life. I got to see the difference in care between the well-insured and the non-insured. The difference is incredible. That’s when I found my purpose. I opened Revolving of Doors (ROD) because of two people who were revolving door patients just like me. We used to joke around and say “see you next month” when one of us got discharged — but it wasn’t a joke, it was true — we always did see each other at least a month later. I dedicated my life to bettering the mental health system. If you go back to one of my dangerous suicide attempts, I was saved by a police officer. How? He asked me what I wanted in life — I was 16 and I said I wanted to be a mental health advocate. At 20 years old, after going through 33 hospitalizations, one group home, one crisis house, three institutions, and three consecutive years in a hospital bed — I learned who I was in 10 days. I am an advocate. I go to peer support groups, shop at thrift shops and live off potatoes and diet coke. However, I am well educated, I have a university education. I was a scholar in high school, I have won multiple awards such as Scotiabank Game Changers, Accessibility Award, EA2014, Special Achievement Award and more. I’m grounded, I know what it’s like to be scared every time I close my eyes and I also know what it’s like to walk on stage and tell my story — fearless.
I said earlier “I can end it anytime I want… not in the way you would think” my point is when I was in a dark place I could have ended my life, but I grew stronger every day and I ended my major suffering in a different way. I ended it by coping. I no longer went to the hospital to avoid coping. I only went when I absolutely needed it. I spend an hour every day on “vacation” from electronics, I read, write, color, knit, anything. I just want to be with me and that’s enough. I cope on a regular basis, not just when I am in crisis. Growing up with borderline personality disorder gave me the chance to blame everyone, especially myself. But, I no longer hate myself. I know people love me and I love them. I know that I have a purpose. I know that even if nothing is happening in my life and it’s “boring,” I can enjoy my own company.
What helped me survive was coping by myself on a regular basis. I used to hate the word “coping” and now I use it regularly. I’m not saying you have to see the world to understand and find yourself. I’m saying you need to take that time for you and only you. Get to know what you like, hobbies…anything. With borderline personality disorder, when I had nothing to do, I would go to something unhealthy — I have changed that to healthy and I’ve never been as content. Don’t get me wrong… I still struggle. I’m anxious every time I leave the house, sometimes I just stay in bed all day because my migraines are incredible and I’m heavily medicated. I have help at school to get through it without exploding from stress… but, not all my days are bad now. I have “OK” days, good days and sometimes even great days.
BPD is known as the “hopeless” diagnosis. Doctors to this day don’t know how to diagnose or treat the disorder properly. But to everyone with BPD, I want you to know you are special, you have a strong purpose, you feel everything so deeply and no one except you and other who have it will understand that. However, please know your journey isn’t to be as sick as you can, but to find your purpose and live it to your full potential while still receiving help. We feel emotions so intensely and that means we are extremely passionate about everything in our life — imagine finding that one thing you are passionate about. That is your purpose. It could be as small as smiling in the mirror at yourself every day to being Prime Minister. That is the purpose. I know you are struggling, I know it’s hard, I know you think no one understands, I know you feel hopeless, I know some doctors give you attitude because of your title, but I know you can get through this. I know that you were blessed with a curse and that you can overcome anything. You are strong. You are willing. You can do this if you try. I promise. Remember that you are not your illness. Use it.
Following this journey on Revolving of Doors.
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.
We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.
Image via Thinkstock