When I was growing up, my parents did their best to provide my brother and me with everything they didn’t have growing up. Despite wanting to stop generational traumas, my parents unintentionally perpetuated some. Without divulging too many details, I experienced several traumas during my childhood and adolescence that obstructed my self-esteem and sense of security. By the time I went off to college, my body harbored significant anger and resentment for not being protected, understood, or heard as a child.
I was first diagnosed with anxiety at the age of nineteen. Between the ages of nineteen and twenty-seven, I was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), several eating disorders, substance abuse disorder, borderline personality disorder (BPD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Each diagnosis is characterized by a set of symptoms. I will focus on my BPD because it encompasses the other disorders.
In short, BPD is a complex response to trauma. Unstable relationships, intense fear of abandonment, mood swings, explosive anger, impulsivity, and self-destructive behaviors can all be symptomatic of BPD. It is also common for people living with BPD to experience an eating disorder or substance abuse disorder. I experienced all of the above. For instance, while in college, I frequently binge drank, went to dangerous neighborhoods at all hours, had unhealthy views on sex, and had been kicked out of several locations for being combative.
Despite all of these challenges, I graduated cum laude from Johns Hopkins University and earned my Juris Doctor from UC Irvine School of Law on an almost full-ride scholarship by the age of twenty-six. On paper, it seemed like I had my life together. But, at twenty-six I was in a toxic relationship, experiencing a quarter-life crisis about my identity and career path, and I still had plenty of unresolved traumas. One of the reasons I am sharing my story is to dispel myths surrounding mental health, such as the myth that mental health challenges always prevent people from achieving their goals. It is important to seek help for these challenges at whatever age you are when they occur.
The therapist I was seeing at the age of twenty-seven diagnosed me with BPD. This diagnosis finally made sense of previous behaviors, heartache, diagnoses, and challenges. I finally understood why I put myself in danger so many times, had black-and-white thinking, seemed to switch from one vice to another, and why I struggled so much with relationships. I felt especially motivated to treat my BPD because it seemed to be the root of so much chaos in my life. I really wanted to stop my self-destructive behaviors and ways of thinking.
Over the years, I went to several rehab programs, saw many therapists, and even went to an unconventional wilderness program. Wilderness programs are controversial intervention programs. In fact, my introduction to the program included being forced to complete an uncomfortable physical search to ensure I wasn’t bringing in contraband. This was before having my picture taken in case I needed to be searched for. After this, they blindfold you and take you to the middle of the desert. Despite some similarities, this program doesn’t compare to being incarcerated. I didn’t leave this program in a good head space because I felt that everything back home was getting worse. It did, however, help me get some perspective about my issues with drinking, partying, and anger. I didn’t want to spiral out of control and end up incarcerated or dead.
None of the professionals I saw over the years suggested Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). My parents insisted I participate in a DBT group once I received my diagnosis. It was nice to be around people who had mental health struggles similar to mine. DBT literally teaches you how to cope, how to regulate your emotions, how to have healthy relationships, and how to live in the present. All of these tools would have made a world of difference to my self-esteem and behavior growing up. For instance, “radical acceptance” is a DBT skill that encourages participants to accept reality without judgments and to refrain from responding with impulsive or unhealthy behaviors to situations we disagree with. DBT has really helped me regulate my emotions and handle stressful situations. I came to replace self-destructive behaviors with these healthy coping skills because they actually worked.
Today, I am eight years sober, pursuing my passions, such as writing and advocacy work, and in the best mental space I have ever been in. I put my all into my mental health recovery and am grateful for these results. I recognize this is a lifetime journey and that I will never be totally “cured.” I will continue to take things day by day and manage my stress as best I can. I am grateful for my parents, who have done their best to support my recovery emotionally and financially over the years.
The pandemic we are experiencing is very challenging. No matter what the world throws at us, we can never let it break our spirits. I refuse to let this happen because I am deserving of a happy and fulfilling life. We all are.
To cope during this uncertain time, I go on daily walks for fresh air, I decompress with funny TV shows and videos, I listen to inspiring music, I check in with my friends, and I focus my energy on achieving the goals I have set, such as creating a successful mental health platform online. Additionally, I see my therapist weekly, and I am taking an anti-anxiety medication.
On days when I feel emotionally heavy, I reach out to my support system and talk through my feelings. We are supposed to distance ourselves socially, but never emotionally. We aren’t meant to go through life alone or to suffer in silence. It’s okay to get help and to lean on others.