To anyone with Borderline Personality Disorder who is feeling hopeless
I wrote this because if someone who had been in DBT had shared their story with me when I was beginning DBT, I would have felt less alone and slightly hopeful. So I wanted to try to be able to do that for someone else. It was written about a year ago for a social worker to hand out to individuals in her groups to give them a bit of insight into DBT, and a bit of hope. Obviously now the “a few months ago” part doesn’t apply because it was a year and a few months ago, but everything else definitely still applies. I thought I would post this in case it could help even one person.
A few months ago, I was almost admitted to a psychiatric ward. I could launch into a sad story filled with detailed events and emotions that ultimately led up to this, but it would be ridiculously long. So I’ll try to sum my life up in a nutshell, with the hope that someone might see a bit of themselves in my story, and feel even a little hopeful about their own situation.
Growing up, I heard a lot of yelling in my house, and it was often directed at me. My parents were both verbally and physically abusive. This had a lasting impact on my self-esteem and certainly caused me to feel uncared for. School was also miserable for me, as I was extremely shy and an easy target for bullies. I recall being very depressed from around the age of 8, but of course, couldn’t put a name to the feeling back then. I felt isolated at school and miserable almost always. I felt unable to cope with so many different things, and so I started self-injuring at 11.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression and an anxiety disorder by 13. I attempted suicide a few times throughout middle school and numerous times during high school. As the years passed and I was in and out of therapy, I began to feel even more depressed, as well as increasingly hopeless. I had no idea of what to do and wanted to improve my life, but didn’t know how.
When I was 18, I reached my absolute rock bottom and began meticulously planning my suicide. My thoughts and the determination I had about dying terrified me, and a small part of me didn’t want to go through with it. Somewhere deep down, I wondered if things could get better and whether this was my only option.
When I was being evaluated at the hospital, the reality of the decision I was making sent me into a panic. I’d always had an intense fear of being unable to extract myself from situations and felt the need to have planned escape routes. Being unable to handle the realization that I was about to give up control in that aspect, I started downplaying the way I felt and the predicament I was in. I was free to leave shortly after.
After leaving, the only thing preventing me from committing suicide was that there was a chance someone might have cared if I did. Soon enough, I became convinced that no one would. Shortly after this, I received a call about the possibility of attending an intensive Dialectical Behaviour Therapy group. I was definitely unconvinced, because I’d been through therapy so many times and didn’t find it very helpful. Why would this be any different? I showed up with a completely negative attitude, convinced that I was beyond help.
I didn’t want to attend the individual or group sessions. During the first few days, I spent the majority of the groups zoning out and telling myself why they would never help me. I was angry that someone I was close to insisted that I go and frustrated because no one seemed to understand that nothing could help me. Finally, I told myself that I had two weeks. If I made an honest effort and saw no improvement, then I could give up on therapy and life.
I was profoundly surprised when I did see an improvement. In order to start making an honest effort, I forced myself to stay as much in the moment as I could while in group. Once I pushed past willfulness and reached willingness, I was able to complete the homework without being excessively angry about it, and my homework sheets were suddenly empty of my usual sarcastic comments.
As part of my effort to stay in the moment, I decided to try to get past the intense fear I’ve had of being judged and participate in the group. I had been mostly quiet unless prompted to contribute something. Once I started sharing thoughts and experiences, I found that people actually related to me and seemed to care about what I had to say. I learned more from the other group members, became less frustrated about the therapy, and also made friends. The decrease in frustration made me more willing to give therapy a chance, and having friends in my group made me look forward to going.
During the course of the group, I gathered up all the courage I had and left my parents’ house, no longer willing to deal with the abuse. I don’t think I would have been able to do it without the support of the group and the amazing social worker I had. I became more confident in my ability to cope with things and I’ve found that I’m more willing to work at solving problems. I’ve found that I’m happier, not as bothered by what others think and more productive in general. I’ve also found that, even though I’m definitely a pessimist at heart, I’ve been trying to think more positively.
DBT helped me a great deal, although I sort of think that goes without saying. I still have to work at using the skills sometimes, but I know pushing myself to continue using them is worth it. When I don’t feel like using them, I remind myself: Opposite action prevented me from crying in bed all day. Mindfulness helped me to stay more aware of what was happening in the moment. And I used my knowledge of willfulness and willingness to put my best effort into therapy.
DBT has not been a magic cure, because one does not exist. Like anything worth having, it takes a lot of work. I still struggle with everything I used to on a daily basis, but now I have skills that make coping with the struggle easier. It is unbelievably hard, but I have to keep going. After completing the intensive DBT program, I messed up and self-injured a few times. The recovery process is not easy and some days are worse than others, but I’m learning that it isn’t perfect and doesn’t have to be. Mistakes happen, and it does not indicate that you aren’t able to recover. We learn from our mistakes and try our best to avoid making them again. We just have to keep trying. After my mess-ups, I got back up and tried again. I still figuratively hit a wall at times and become convinced that there’s no way I can do this. Then I remind myself that I’ve already been through the worst of it, so I can’t give up. I never thought it would happen, but I have hope again.