The Mental Health System Almost Killed Me


Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

“Ross, there is a reason why medications and treatment for depression have not worked over the past 17 years. You have borderline personality disorder (BPD).”

I’ll never forget these words, said to me by a psychiatrist back in 2015. Honestly, after we went through the DSM (the bible for psychiatrists) and the nine criterion listed for this disorder, I was elated. I could finally piece the puzzle of my life together. I was finally able to understand why I did the things I did and why I felt such intense emotions throughout my lifetime. But that excitement did not last long.

I started doing my own research about borderline personality disorder and what I read was not appealing. I learned that at least 8 to 10 percent of those afflicted with this disorder die by suicide. I was informed there is no cure, medications are many times ineffective and although symptoms may subside with intense psychotherapy, managing this illness was accomplished on a day-to-day basis. I panicked. I became angry that the medical community was unable to correctly diagnose me all those years. I was furious that this was considered “not treatable.” I was scared I would be further stigmatized. I did not want borderline personality disorder. I was in denial and tried to self-diagnose any other illnesses other than this disorder.

It took a long time before I actually “accepted” BPD and made the decision to seek out help. So, I finally came back around to my original thoughts and feelings about finally receiving the correct diagnosis, after nearly two decades. I had a fire lit under me and became determined and motivated to change my life, thinking, emotions and actions that once ruled me. The saga then continues. Then reality took a bite out of that determination.

I first reached out locally, calmly asking for treatment. Strike one: There was none available.

Then I became nervous as I broadened my search to the state level and I’m sure urgency was heard in my voice. Strike two: There were no inpatient facilities that had the resources to treat borderline personality disorder.

I was panicked and made phone calls across the entire United States, crying and begging for my life. The best option I found was a three-day treatment program in Illinois that required private insurance and $5,000 out of pocket. Strike three. All I wanted was to receive the necessary treatment for my illness. If someone with a life-threatening physical illness came into a hospital seeking treatment, they would receive all the help they needed to save their lives. I, however, was turned away countless times. The answer was always “no,” and the mental health system nearly killed me.

I was told the next best thing to adequate inpatient treatment for this disorder was a 30-day dual diagnosis program. I checked into numerous programs but when I asked each facility what type of psychiatric treatment I would receive, the answer was always the same. I would receive medications (as I mentioned before, this does not fix me) as well as treatment for depression, anxiety and substance abuse. So, let me get this straight: The best treatment option I have is to receive substance abuse treatment (which I didn’t have a current issue with) and treatment for illnesses I did not possess? I didn’t have depression and anxiety. I had BPD. They were essentially telling me they were able to place a small band-aid on my large gushing wound. The mental health system again nearly killed me.

Over the next couple of years, I was hospitalized on multiple occasions due to severe suicidal ideation and eventually spent about five months in bed, hopeless, unable to control my emotions and tears. So, I made the decision to end my life by suicide.

Then, something happened inside of me. It was time to develop my own recovery program — a program that has saved my life. I needed to take charge of my life once again. I decided to participate in small, recovery-focused, positive tasks each day. I never took a day off from keeping myself mentally ill, so I refuse to take a day off in recovery. The most important task and mentality that I added to my life — accountability.

I am a strong believer that not enough people in this world hold themselves accountable for their mistakes and do not take enough credit for their successes. Today, I do both. My mental illness was simply an influence on the decisions I made. I have come to realize that borderline personality disorder has never actually caused any harm on my life. My thoughts, feelings and emotions were never my downfalls. Only my actions were. My negative thoughts led to negative feelings and emotions which led to negative actions. Today, I take responsibility for those actions. I also take responsibility for better decisions. But the only way I can do that is to change my thoughts which will change my feelings and emotions, which will change — yes — my actions. When I pin my failures and life’s woes on my disorder, I give it power. I compare my mental illness to a monster who I fed daily until it became big and plump and overbearing. I now make the conscious effort to starve it. That is when I gained control over my life once again.

My life is not perfect by any means, as I’m still trying to pick up the pieces from all the poor decisions “I” made that led up to my change. I will be digging myself out of a hole for years to come, but it is liberating to say that “I” am paying for the consequences of “my” actions. I hold myself accountable and that is a success story. What is truly remarkable is that I have no car and may not possess one for some time now; I have no job but am working hard at obtaining one; my relationships are torn but I hope to mend them; I have no money, but I have everything I need — and I am truly happy today. Up until recently, I’ve never in my life have been able to express happiness without tying it to a car, work, relationships or cash. I’m scratching the surface of recovery but holding myself accountable and giving myself power over my disorder has literally changed my life. The mental health system failed me. It nearly killed me. I cannot do the same to myself.

About the author: Ross Trowbridge has Borderline Personality Disorder and is not ashamed. Having mental illness most of his life, he speaks publicly about his struggles and successes through blogs, podcasts and the media to keep the conversation going about mental illness. His goal is to educate and inspire others and help stop the mental health stigma, one person at a time. He is the creator of #ProjectIAmNotAshamed, a mental health initiative that helps stop the stigma one person at a time by educating publicly.

Follow Ross on Twitter or email him at [email protected] if you would like to participate in #ProjectIAmNotAshamed on August 18th, 2018.

Photo by Jeremy Perkins on Unsplash


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