Stephanie Leary shares her daily recovery journey from BPD with Project Air Strategy
My name is Steph. Thank you for letting me share my experience with borderline personality disorder. It's my absolute pleasure to be able to share my experience and how I'm living with BPD day to day, with you, via this video.
Question: When did your journey start?
I had a pretty long journey towards my diagnosis of BPD. I was first diagnosed with bulimia when I was 17 and minor depression. I did treatment for that and managee my depression but there was a lot of emotional distress that I still felt over the coming years and that did manifest a lot with what we call "episodes" now and it did get worse and worse. I was on and off antidepressants and then when I was 22 I was, I guess, having recurrent episodes, suicidal episodes – to eventually the point where I did attempt suicide. I was in hospital for two weeks and they diagnosed me with depression again and sent me on my way home. I came back in another week later with the same thing and I was discharged two months later from that.
I had, I guess, comorbid eating disorder with that too and I moved up to Brisbane from Canberra and I started seeing a psychiatrist, and she was the one that finally gave me the diagnosis of BPD, which was extremely helpful. Being able to sort of know what I was tackling really helped me understand my emotional distress, why I was feeling a certain way and what I could do about it to sort of help myself in the future.
She recommended I start a dialectical behavior therapy group which I did twice a week with a group of other girls around the same age as me. So I did that for about twelve months, and still saw my psychiatrist twice. We managed my medication as well. I was on an anti- psychotic and depressant and the first thing I wanted to do was get off the antipsychotic so we did a lot of talking therapy together and eventually I came off my antipsychotic. And then in DBT, that was sort of where I found the real changes started to happen. You know, we did a lot of work on identifying our morals and acting towards our morals, identifying triggers, and learning different coping mechanisms like your mindfulness and things like that as well which I started to implement in my daily life.
It took a little bit of practice to be comfortable with it as well and we were trying to manage the eating disorder as well at the same time. But it was sort of like a revelation when my psyche said “you know, once we tackle the BPD I think your eating disorder will fix itself”, which surprisingly it did. And luckily it hasn't come back at all and I'm sort of at the stage with the eating disorder that it doesn't affect me at all. I thought it was going
to be something that it was constantly going to be in the back of my mind like screening calories and watching what I'm putting in and putting out. There all was always going to be a subconscious panic but it’s sort of at the point where I don't restrict on anything. And it's freedom. So that was sort of the first liberating thing that I experienced with my recovery and then from I guess recovering from that I could concentrate more on the BPD recovery as well.
So implementing things like mindfulness, I had a lot of issues with at the beginning because I had to be aware of my body, which I was completely uncomfortable with. But I did find it
triggering for the eating disorders as well. So it was like a perpetual cycle.
But yeah, now I find that meditating is the most helpful thing that I use day-to-day. It helps me sort of manage a calm sense of self, and that sort of allows me to go by my day by day routine peacefully, without any sort of emotional peaks and troughs.
Question: What helps with recovery each day?
I'm always working on my recovery. Jenny, my mum, has this really good saying when people asked if I'm fixed yet (because this question comes up quite frequently). It's definitely better, yet mum says “Stephanie will probably never be completely better. She's just extremely good at managing her illness”. So, for me, I do a lot of running so I absolutely love running. I find that that's been really vital in my recovery, so I run in most days of the week with a group of running friends. They've become family now as well which is brilliant. We call it therapy. So we go for long runs on weekends and things like that.
I try to implement meditation as well into you know most of my daily routines if not it's just five minutes to take out for myself where I can just sort of sit and be present with the moment. So, you know, noticing five green things in the room and just concentrating my breathing and things like that. So I still practice that every single day. I'm living at the moment, currently symptom free, but I'm still practicing all of my things, because I know that all it takes is
for me to just to get a little bit tired and then I start to sort of spiral again and I can feel the elastic band tightening so I know that I need to do these things. And because I'm practicing them when I don't need them I can use them, and they work, when I do need them.
Question: What advice would you give to people newly diagnosed with personality disorder?
The advice I would give is just you really need to be patient with yourself, and be forgiving with yourself, because there's going to be a lot of things that are going to happen that will cause you to stress, but you know it's sort of a two steps forward one step backward thing. You're going to think you're making worlds of progress, but then there's going to be something that will inevitably set you back. But you need to be forgiving with yourself that that happens. It happens to probably every single person that has experienced a mental health episode or you know they are experiencing it day to day. And be proactive with your recovery. Definitely seek the help of a psychiatrist and psychologist - build up a team around you.
I know it sometimes can't be easy and navigating the health system can be quite difficult, but if you can set yourself up with a doctor of some kind who can sympathize with you and can validate your experience; that is definitely helpful. Learn your triggers because that will be sort of the turning of the page, you'll be able to start your recovery and start sort of identifying why it is you're feeling the way you're feeling, and you'll be able to understand yourself a lot better.
I did a lot of learning even about just BPD. So things like the black and white thinking.Yeah, like my irrational responses to certain situations as well. I could just sort of put a word or a label almost on to what I was feeling, and being able to have that ownership of what I was feeling and what was happening to me, helped me in recovery as well. So I think that learning about the illness and learning by yourself and your triggers are two really important things that can really help you move forward as well.
Question: What was the turning point in your recovery?
There was a point where I peaked and had all my suicidal episodes. I thought the world was against me not sort of the other way around. I was very stubborn and very resistant and I thought that you know this person's bullying me and this person's doing this to me, so it's them that needs to be fixed and not me, so if I take them out of the equation then I'll be better. But that didn't happen obviously because I was unwell. So it felt like almost the world owed me something and I was always the victim and I played the victim and that didn't help me in my recovery at all. So I think once I once I was admitted into the psych ward at hospital that was sort of my turning point, my realization point. I just said I was like, I'm 22, how the hell did I end up here?
You know, I was brought up in a beautiful family. My parents were supportive and gave me lots of opportunities and I think when you end up in that place it's yeah I kind of had a realization that no, maybe I need to do something about this. And then for me you know I was on that had to make my appointments and things like that. You know, I learned that nobody else could fix me about myself so I was the one that needed to be proactive. And so, yes, I think that that admission was probably my turning point and I took ownership of that and you know I did have days where I thought it was you know Groundhog Day and I was never getting better and you know I was lapsing. But I guess the blessing of BPD is its, for me, it was episodical. So I’d wake up the next day and probably be a bit more motivated than I was the night before so I
would make my appointments with my doctor's again and take my medication, go for a walk, feel the breeze on my face, see the sunshine, things like that. It would just re-motivate me again. I was the one that had to make the decisions, to make the appointments. I'm the one that has to practice my coping mechanisms and things like that. I'm the one that has to manage my environment. Nobody else can do that for me. People can encourage me to do stuff but nobody else can get better, except me.
Question: What makes having a personality disorder difficult?
When I was put into hospital after my suicide attempt I remember talking to my boyfriend about it and then sort of said if I was in hospital with anything else, you know, broken arm, you know after a car accident, people would have come to visit me and would have got flowers or something like that. Because I had friends. And I said why can’t I tell someone? Why do I have to keep this hidden? And he even said to me he's like “I'm not ready to tell other people yet”.
And then I sort of was reflecting on that and I was thinking, you know, that's not it's not his experience to tell, it's not his experience to be ashamed of, yet he does. So if other people are feeling shame around my experience then I should feel ashamed around my experience. And I kept it really hidden for a you know a long, long period of time. You're embarrassed because you don't have control over your thoughts and you're embarrassed because you get to a place where you isolate yourself and you're embarrassed to reintegrate yourself with people when you are feeling better because you've avoided them for so long. You've avoided going outside because of the anxiety. That's completely irrational but it's there, it's present. These are emotions that are hurtful to yourself. It's, you know, you think about your rational mind you would never think about those things. People don't understand so you can't talk about it. You can't talk about this big cloud that's looming over you, so you just withdraw. People sort of almost forget that you were ever there.
There's definitely a lot of shame and I think that cloud is starting to lift. I think it's a really great thing lots of people are starting to talk about it more so people are becoming a little more comfortable, but one conversation I do have a fair bit is people are more comfortable talking about depression and anxiety, but when they get to the more complex mental health issues there's still sort of a glass panel we’re sitting behind that we just can't break through because, you know, mass media portrays people with schizophrenia in such a negative light. So we're still scared.
I've got this blog that I'm subscribed to and it has articles on it ask questions on BPD and narcissistic personality disorder, and people can reply to these posts and the misconception around the diagnoses is unbelievable. There's not enough education - Well there is but it's not accessible or it's not sort of a saturated just yet so people don't know that. All they can sort of talk about is their own experience which has probably been quite negative, especially with I guess BPD. We've been known to sort of twist situations because we're feeling so much distress that we don't know how to express that verbally. So we twist situations and it can come across as manipulative, but that's just because we don’t understand our emotions just yet so it comes across wrong. So people on the receiving end of that have had the negative experience so we're obviously very ashamed to talk about it because at the bottom of that, we don't want to hurt other people. We don't want to hurt ourselves. It's just we don't have much control just yet. You know, if we're in that certain part of our recovery we don't have just that much control over what we're experiencing and expressing just yet.
Question: Would you recommend peer support work?
If any of you are thinking about being a peer support worker Project Air has got some great programs in place and I would really encourage you to contact them, because I think helping others who have had similar experiences to you can be incredibly rewarding. There's nothing like being around other people who have had similar experiences to you.