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How My Personality Disorder Recovery Changed My Childhood Dream

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How do I know it’s possible to recover from a personality disorder?

Because I have.

I have tossed up the permutations of disclosing this to my audience and to potential clients. I don’t want to be known as an “impaired practitioner.”

But I don’t think I am.

I don’t consider my history of illness a disadvantage or a liability.

Today, I view it as an extra qualification on top of the others I now have. It allows me to help others as they undertake their healing journey.

I have been there and I know what it’s like.

I understand trauma from the inside.

I understand the pain and the isolation, the fear and the inevitable limitations of living every day with the hidden scars of trauma.

It’s taken me almost a lifetime to write this article.

Finishing my own psychotherapy has prompted reflection into my journey — how far I have come, but also where I started from.

I am who I am, and that self — and all the experiences I have had — are part of what I bring to psychotherapy. They are in the room with both of us when I am working with clients.

That self includes my experience of childhood trauma.

I have had a circuitous pathway to becoming a psychotherapist. It wasn’t something I dreamed about when I was young, but as I have grown, so has my commitment to doing this work.

As a young woman, I wanted to be an artist.

There was a strong thread of interest in the visual arts running through our family. I had always loved drawing and painting and the strong feeling it gave me — of being carried away by the moment and act of painting. Color, shape, form, line, the texture of paint and the physical immersion. It was a way of being inside and outside myself at the same time. I suppose, if I had been more sophisticated, I would have said it was my form of meditation.

As an artist, I had my successes and my ho-hum moments.

At 35, I found myself on the treadmill of art world aspiration; painting, exhibiting, networking and, as I got more work, teaching. “Art isn’t a career,” I remember someone saying; well, I tried my darnedest to make it mine. I always enjoyed making work and uncovering ideas. Being in the studio was often therapeutic, but it could also leave me with the terrible feelings of inadequacy and shame I had carried unconsciously from childhood.

I fell into teaching as a way of making a living. I learned a lot from mentoring young artists, and I hope they got something from their interactions with me.

My final role in visual arts was a responsible one, running a department in a university art school. For some, I suppose, this would signal a culmination — the recognition that one was a leader in one’s field. But it wasn’t enough for me. In the end, nothing was enough to stave off the feelings of worthlessness that sat under the surface of everyday coping. As I began to heal, my own pain eventually gave way to a curiosity toward and empathy for others — something that was missing in most of my adult life. It’s taken a while to come to terms with the loss of connection that entails.

As part of this process of maturation and reckoning, I began to wonder how many others might be silently struggling with intense pain that, without the intercession of an empathetic other, might remain unmet and unrecognized.

Reading case studies has, at times, brought me gratefully closer to these feelings. I remember one case in particular which struck me. In Daniel Shaw’s absorbing book on narcissism, he recounts the story of Alice, a client who is in almost constant psychic agony. He describes his own difficulty as he recognizes the pain he inadvertently causes in trying to help.

Part of me still connects with the intense, unrecognized struggle she faces every day just trying to survive.

That struggle is the real reason why I am here and that is my true motivation for coming to this profession.

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash

Originally published: July 6, 2019
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