I’m pretty new to the realm of mental health. At least, I’m pretty new to identifying with a diagnosis (which I currently do), and recognizing it in my life, and embracing it and working on a daily basis towards finding new ways to understand and incorporate it.
I’ll start from the sort-of beginning. I am a 32-year-old East-Vancouver woman, the eldest of four children of now-separated parents, and I just came out as bisexual about three years ago (though I currently probably identify more as being pan- or omni-sexual). A few years before that my journey into recovery from substance abuse began. And a couple of years prior to that, I had a son whom I placed with an adoptive family. I have been fat (a word I have decided to reclaim) most of my life, struggling with disordered eating and body image. So living on the edges of societal norms and accepted cultural standards has never really been something I’ve been a stranger to. What I’ve had a hard time with is the backlash from said culture, and a lot of the people in it. But I’ll leave that for another article!
Two years ago, amid working a program of recovery and doing my level best to become a ‘productive and responsible member of society’, I had an episode of panic disorder. The last time this happened to me I was 17 and I believed then that the cause was drug- and alcohol-related. It took me years to recover the first time, and was a major life-shaping experience. So when it happened again, just after my third sobriety anniversary, imagine my shock and horror.
It’s been two years since that episode and I have spent the entire time picking up the pieces, re-examining them, and putting together new truths for myself that encompass the whole of my experience. In short, my entire life has changed again. Everything that I thought I was, all of the things that I once associated with myself, have ceased to exist. This has been met by its fair share of resistance, both from me, not wanting to face the severity and the incredibly limiting nature of the symptoms I was facing, and from the medical profession.
I am sad to report that I was let down by a great number of people in the beginning of my mental health journey (this is my first exposure to psychiatry, to emergency room psychiatry wards, to CBT and DBT and all kinds of other therapy groups) simply because they classified me as ‘too high functioning’ and turned me away, in most cases without knowing anything about me, and without giving any suggestions as to further options. This has been the last two years of my experience. And I have been navigating this at the same time as attempting to cope with the responsibilities of working full time, responsibilities to my spiritual community, friends and family, and an every-changing spectrum of symptoms.
The original diagnosis I was given a year ago was Borderline Personality Disorder. I didn’t think much of it at the time, so I didn’t take it seriously. I didn’t even bother looking it up to find out what it was. It was only through growing frustration of not meeting anyone who had the same diagnosis (and identified with it), and being put in touch with such a person (who is now a great friend and has introduced me to an invaluable online support network for people living with BPD) that I have come to learn about it, identify with it, and look at ways that I can better integrate it into my life.
DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) seems to be the key piece of treatment for people with BPD. I am finally on the waiting list for a DBT group, I have about five more months to go. In the meantime, I have been exploring other symptoms with my psychiatrist because there was a huge part of my experience that was not being validated by my BPD diagnosis, and something was nagging me, telling me that it was something more than just a temporary thing. The other piece of my diagnosis has turned out to be OCD.
There are many different symptoms associated with OCD, things like persistent hand-washing and other compulsive behaviors like light-switch flipping or counting. I experience the counting, the double-checking of everything (sometimes to the Nth degree), and also – and probably the most disruptive and at times downright terrifying part of it all – persistent and intrusive thoughts that are disgusting, disturbing, usually violent, usually directed at people that I love. This has been an ongoing struggle with me, and has worsened in the last two years.
I can honestly say that I am grateful for what this has brought up for me, though not always so. I am grateful that I have been able to learn more about my family history, which was never talked about in the secretiveness of our home. Anxiety and panic disorders, depression, addiction and OCD run in the family, on both sides. I am able to own where I’m at today, though admittedly with occasional difficulty and rebellion.
Sometimes it’s just difficult to get through the day, and especially trying to keep other people informed and aware of what’s going on for me, trying not to let go of the important things in my life, and just going into survival mode when things seem bleak. But it has shed a lot of light on things that have plagued me for years, that I knew weren’t just a simple cut-and-dry case (and when is it ever cut and dry?!) of addiction. It’s enabled me to come face-to-face with things that are a core part of who I am, to be able to finally let go of things which no longer serve me, and to practice patience with myself, something I’ve always struggled with.
My experience of life is literally day-to-day. Some days I feel great, on top of the world (…if I could only get rid of that pesky anxious feeling!). And then other days I find it difficult to leave my room, let alone the house. Sometimes I spend a couple of days like this, not eating much, not sleeping much, not able to shower or put on clothes, not being able to do much of anything.
I have chosen to leave my job (this was my last week) and attempt to seek out financial assistance so that I can dedicate myself to my healing and finally stabilize myself. I am more than a little nervous about leaving behind another big piece of my identity: being employed and having a job, no matter what else is going in my life.
I am currently integrating the idea that I don’t have to look a certain way to have worth, that my body is beautiful as it is, that I have my own strengths and that I am of great value to those who love me and to those I am able to encounter and to be of service to. This is a challenging one for me, as I have a hard time detaching from the duality of good/bad, right/wrong, healthy/sick and living in the grey area of the Unknown. My spiritual path helps me with this a great deal, and the people in my spiritual community and in all of my other communities.
I am noticing the overlap of people from one community to the next, which gives me hope that there just may be something to this whole unity thing after all. 🙂 Until next time…