Talking about the elephant in the room has always been something I’ve been ashamed of and a part of my life I have wanted to hide in order to fit in with the rest of the crowd. While writing this piece I questioned my bravery to be able to share my experience, for fear of sharing my elephant, my own self-doubt, and having people run from me. After nearly six months of contemplating whether or not I should share it, I have finally mustered up the courage to be part of the dialogue about mental illness and I do not want to be ashamed of this side of me anymore.
From as long as I can remember I’ve always wanted to fit in and look good; whether that was in preschool when all my friends had a complete family with two parents and siblings (I was raised by a single parent and wanted nothing more than a little sibling from ‘Toys R Us’), or in elementary school where people developed their first friendships and got invited to birthday parties, while I was bullied and then homeschooled as a result. Or in high school where while people formed cliques, had their first boyfriends, enjoyed the stereotypical things like high school dances and prom, I sat home alone crying wondering why I was always so different from the rest of the crowd. Thus, due to my lack of social skills, school was always my first focus and I was an 80s-90s student. I always felt different and out of place at each new social setting I attended, but I always thought others were the problem and not me.
I have gone through therapeutic treatment from as long as I can remember. When I was 4 years old to cope with my mom’s divorce (which has not affected me), through elementary and high school to cope with bullying and other traumatic life experiences like family deaths. Treatment after treatment, therapist after therapist, year after year, and my condition was never diagnosed until Summer 2013. That was when my world turned upside down.
I have always had a great relationship with my parents- my family is my number one support. But that summer was when outbursts within my family unit escalated, I lost friends and lashed out because of it. At one point I did not care whether or not I had friends. I threatened to end my life and had recurring thoughts of ending my life for a few days. I started seeing a new therapist who has helped me come to terms with my illness and has given me ways to cope, along with medication. Eventually, after a year and a half of therapy, it was suggested I move out, gain independence and develop some social relationships – “playing in the traffic” as my therapist put it. So, I moved to Toronto and attended school at Seneca and worked. Once my mom left after setting me up for school, and the grey walls of my residence room were covered with pictures of family, my anxiety got the best of me and I was on the train every two weeks making trips home to see my therapist. There were events and people everywhere around me, yet I felt alone and unable to make friends. Meeting new people in Toronto meant learning how to please people and learn how to fit in in a new community, and I did not have the energy for that. School was also not going great and my 80-90 marks slowly became 60-70s. After two months, I was crying and begging my parents to let me come home, unable to handle being alone and promising them things would be different. As soon as they agreed, I felt so relieved. After two years of treatment, my therapist could not help me anymore and I was sent to an inpatient facility for two months just outside of Toronto. Those two months were the months I came to truths with my illness and learned the tools to not only accept it, but to recognize that I was not alone. However, I was still ashamed of it. My biggest fear while being hospitalized was talking to people and running into someone on weekends away and having them question my situation: “why aren’t you in school?” or “what treatment are you doing?” because being in treatment was not the socially acceptable thing to do for someone who craves to fit in. As the weeks went on, I felt myself losing interest, motivation, and I’d isolate myself in my hospital room with any TV show that could temporarily numb my brain. So I called and begged my parents to let me come home, promising I would work on myself even more upon my discharge.
Now, I am home, and I am starting back at Concordia University in the fall, and I am looking forward to it. I realize that being different is ok, and that wanting to fit in and craving validation from others is all part of my illness: borderline personality disorder. I am working on myself daily and getting the help I need from a therapist in my community.
For those of you out there struggling with mental illness, do not give up and do not be ashamed to speak up. Keeping your illness a secret is almost as isolating as the illness itself. Mental illness takes time to heal. Also, accept yourself for who you are. There is nothing more important than that.
I want to thank everyone who has been there for me this year, I am eternally grateful to have you in my life. And a thank you to The Dialogue Projects for letting me and others share our stories on a social platform and ending the stigma.