BY STEPHANIE ROTH
My name is Stephanie and I am 35 years old. I grew up in Oak Park, Michigan, and currently reside in Novi with my husband. I was diagnosed with depression at the young age of 7. I grew up in an environment where I was very anxious and needed to tiptoe around much of the time.
I had a learning disability and was put into special education classes. It made me feel different from others. I was embarrassed because I was taught grade levels below my own and I felt like I didn’t know as much as others.
I can remember having OCD and Tourette Syndrome from a very young age. However, I wasn’t officially diagnosed until I was 17, when I was hospitalized for the first time. I would blink my eyes, tense body parts and clear my throat, coughing, checking, counting — and the list goes on.
In the hospital, I was also diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. As I was about to type “Borderline Personality Disorder,” I paused for a minute, as I always do when I need to say I have it because of all the assumptions people make. Some of my symptoms consist of having a constant fear of abandonment, probably because of the emptiness I’ve always felt. I’ve dealt with impulsive behaviors. I have self-harmed and contemplated suicide many times. These are just a few of the Borderline Personality Disorder symptoms I struggle with.
In the hospital, I also started on my first psychotropic medication. From that point on, I began to realize that medications are all trial and error, always trying to find that right combination. One medication or dosage may not work anymore, and it is then time to make some changes. It can be extremely frustrating!
Growing up, I felt like the big question from many family members was, “What’s wrong with Stephanie?” I was taken to many doctors, who tried to figure out what was wrong with me and “fix” me. I felt terrible about myself. All I wanted was to be like everyone else. Kids at school and family members seemed to have it all together. I just kept wondering what was wrong with me.
I’ve had several low points in my life. The main one was my mom passing away from leukemia 9 years ago and my grandma passing away last November. The deaths were both terribly hard on me. I was extremely close with the both of them and miss them dearly.
The low point of my illness happened not too long ago. I had made suicide plans and even some impulsive attempts, but never did I plan everything out perfectly. I’d written letters to family members and friends. I knew exactly how I was going to do it and was ready to go through with it. The only thing I hadn’t decided on yet was the date.
Some of the most important people in my life began to sense something was wrong. Finally, my husband confronted me and said we needed to go to the hospital. I was hesitant at first because I’d made the decision to take my life. There was a part of me, though, that wanted to live. If there was a way that I didn’t need to feel so awful, I was willing to live my life.
I went to St. Joseph Mercy Chelsea hospital. When I walked in there, I thought it was going to be like any other hospital I’ve known. I felt hopeless. A staff member told me to give this program a chance because it did help people. Still, I thought, maybe it can help other people, but it’s not going to help me.
I was willing to give it a chance. I went to groups and talked with a doctor and social worker (who were both fantastic.) In fact, all of the staff members there were fantastic! I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but I left feeling completely different from when I went in. Two people from NAMI came to speak with us. I’d heard of NAMI before, but I learned so much more from the speakers.
I then decided that I would want to volunteer with NAMI. Helping people has always been a passion of mine. I began to think that maybe if I do live, I can make a positive difference in the world. Each day that went by, I started thinking less about dying and more about living.
Something that has been a major help to me is Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). DBT consists of four different modules:
- Mindfulness focuses on staying in the present moment, without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future.
- Distress Tolerance teaches us how to handle distress in appropriate ways, without it turning to unhealthy behaviors.
- Emotion Regulation helps us manage and change intense emotions.
- Interpersonal Effectiveness helps us to assertively express our needs and get our point across, while respecting the other person and their needs and feelings.
When I was struggling real bad, before the hospital, I stopped using DBT skills altogether. I sank so deeply into my depression that it was like I forgot how to use them. Luckily, in the hospital they talked about DBT, so I was able to begin remembering and using the skills again.
Since that last hospitalization, I have been feeling significantly better. I still have my depressed moments. However, I’ve made the suicide plan I had no longer an option. I’m excited to get involved with NAMI.
Many years back, I broke my wrist. I received cards and phone calls daily. When my depression and mental illness was at its worst, and many people knew it, they chose to back away instead. I’m sure anyone with a mental illness would agree that having one is torturous! I have found that the pain from my depression and mental illness is so much worse than breaking my wrist. It saddens me how much stigma towards mental illness there is. I would like to believe that it is a lack of education and not that people just don’t care.
My biggest goal is to help break the stigma. When I was asked if I wanted to write a story for the newsletter, the first thought that came to my mind was that maybe my words could make a difference. I thought that my story might help others with mental illness and show them that they’re not alone. For family members, friends, and those who know someone with a mental illness, getting educated, having patience, and being a good source of support are important things you can do to help out. Most of all, please don’t minimize mental illness, because it is not something that we choose to have. I’ve learned that there are so many groups and education for people with mental illness and their families and friends at NAMI. I only wish I had gotten involved sooner. Thank you for all you do, NAMI!