(Guest Post) My Mental Illness Journey: Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder

I wasn’t fully diagnosed with Major Depression until about 3 ½ years ago. I’m currently 22, yet I believe my depression (maybe not so severe) started much earlier. You see, I grew up in a rather invalidating environment. My mom and dad divorced when I was at a young age, and the impact of that threw my mom into a pretty bad depression. She was also physically ill, almost dying on several occasions, and as such she didn’t do much around the house. Her main occupation was lying on the living room couch…sleeping. My two sisters and I had to grow up fast and learn how to take care of ourselves. We walked to the store, shopped, put groceries away, made food, did laundry, etc. A lot of those responsibilities fell mostly on my shoulders. Add to that the extremely unhealthy environment of our home and the screaming fights that happened nearly every day and… well, you get the idea.

My depression in my sophomore year of college was triggered by the passing away of one of the most important people in my life in 2011. After that happened, nothing was really the same. I shut my emotions off so I didn’t have to feel the pain, and they basically stayed off for at least a year and a half. I still cried a lot and had anxiety, but I rarely felt sorrow or loss and couldn’t experience really any positive emotion. I became a shell of who I once was. My depression was so intense that I ended up withdrawing from school two different semesters for medical reasons (because of my depression). I did go back though. It was so difficult, but I persevered. I finally started seeing a psychiatrist in 2013 and she changed the medications that my PCP put me on. We had to go through a lot of medications to find the right combination. I’m currently on 3 anti-depressants, 1 mood stabilizer, and 1 sleeping medication.

Almost a year ago, right before I came back to school after my second withdraw, I was diagnosed with another mental illness: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I started Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) in February 2014, which includes individual therapy and group therapy once a week. At first I didn’t believe I had BPD. Both my psychiatrist and my therapist told me I had it, but I really had to come to accept it on my own terms. See, I didn’t think I fit enough of the nine criteria to be considered borderline, but after a time in therapy and talking with my therapist I realized that I do in fact have that personality disorder.

Finding out that I had borderline didn’t really change how I was acting, because I already had it. I was still impulsive, feared abandonment, had mood instability and an unstable sense of self, had irrational/inappropriate anger, feelings of boredom and emptiness, unstable relationships, and self-harm and suicidal behavior (I struggled with cutting for about a year and a half and am currently 9 months clean). I’ve been hospitalized four times since my depression really kicked into high gear. Three out of the four hospital visits helped me immensely while one of the visits was dreadful. I know, that’s a lot of stuff.   Yet, once I accepted that I had these problems, I was really able to focus on learning the skills that are taught on DBT. I started learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation, and Distress Tolerance. I now feel that I am at a point where I can use my skills successfully. Although, there are still those nights where I have to call either my therapist or the on call therapist at night, and I learned not to be ashamed of that.

In fact, I’ve never really been super ashamed of my conditions. I realize that they are chemical imbalances and are partly out of my control. Yes I can use my tools to help me cope, but it’s not my fault that I have them. I’ve been really open about my problems, talking to friends, teachers, and family. I don’t do this to get pity, I do it partly because I crave being taken care of (a result of not getting a lot of that growing up) and also because I think it is important for people around me to be aware of what’s going on with me.

I still have periods where I feel awful and out of control of my emotions (take the last 3 weeks for example), but I just look back at where I was a year ago (cutting, suicidal, really depressed, non-functional) and compare that to where I am now (not cutting, not suicidal, a little depressed, and partly functional) and it makes me feel a lot better. I’m currently going through a lot of transitions: I’m leaving school, moving home to the same house I was in as a child, need to find a new therapist and psychiatrist, and I should be getting a job, but my psychiatrist is advising against it. These transitions have made me feel very vulnerable and afraid of the stigma that comes with BPD. In trying to find a new therapist and psychiatrist I am scared that perhaps the people I find with have preconceived ideas about my disorder and I worry that they will judge me. I wish this stigma didn’t exist. But I’m going to keep on moving forward and onward in my recovery.


Written by Melissa McLaughlin, MI

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2 Responses to (Guest Post) My Mental Illness Journey: Depression and Borderline Personality Disorder

  1. Melissa, thanks for sharing your story – you have done very well and I felt proud of you reading it! Also, I learned something from reading your article – that hospitalization does help some people (whereas it didn’t help me).

    It’s sad that your psychiatrist would advise against getting a job. I don’t know the details, but it seems that they should be encouraging your independence, even if they are afraid you’re not able to manage it yet (and they could be wrong!). But what I do I know…

    I was also diagnosed with BPD a long time ago and have in many ways been able to move past it. I encourage you to check out articles I have which critique the common view of the validity of the diagnosis in an attempt to reduce its stigma and the power “it” has over so-called “borderlines.” Often people don’t know that here are many therapists who think of BPD in a quite different more positive way to the pathologizing, medical model, life-long illness/disease notions of American psychiatry.

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