My speech was a success and so was the vigil-I found the whole event to be very inspirational. I made some new contacts and may have some new speaking engagements soon, so that is exciting, but even more exciting is the fact that people really responded to what I said. Both family members and people with mental illness seemed to be able to relate to my experiences and liked that I ended on a message of hope. My most touching comment was from a fourteen-year-old who is getting help right now and who appreciated my story. I told her that I was glad that she was getting help when she was young instead of waiting until she was older like I did.
I promised people that I would put my speech on here, so that they could read it, so here it is:
What is it like living with a severe mental illness?
Well, now that I am on the right medications, and have incorporated various coping skills into my daily life, my life now is a lot like anybody else’s, but it was not always that way.
I started having suicidal thoughts when I hit puberty and I started restricting my food then too. I thought that controlling my food and my body would make me feel like I had more control over of my life circumstances, but I was just fooling myself. Instead, I was totally obsessed over what went into my body and those thoughts had control over me. Still, I was able to hide my behaviors and thoughts from my parents until I went to college.
My freshmen year at college is when my mental illness really escalated. By the end of that first year, I was severely depressed-I had totally lost all energy and motivation and I cried all the time. I had horrible mood swings depending on the moods of the people around me. Fortunately, my mom convinced me to see a psychiatrist and that started me on the road to recovery. Of course though, I had to get worse before I got better. The next year, I started hallucinating and having panic attacks whenever I got really stressed. I would self-harm to cope with my emotions. I left that school when during a panic attack I told someone to be happy for me, because I was finally going to kill myself and they called my parents.
I spent the next ten years in and out of inpatient and outpatient programs. I would have periods of stability, only to have a crisis during a moment of stress. At my worst, I got diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder bipolar type, borderline personality disorder, double depression, an eating disorder, and severe anxiety with panic.
I am glad to say that my life has turned around dramatically. When I got diagnosed with borderline, I was at the end of my rope-I had had enough of misery and I decided to do something about it. I took my therapist’s DBT class or dialectical behavioral therapy class, which is a type of therapy that was devised in the 90s for people with BPD and is now being used for anyone with impulse control issues. It is a four month class that teaches concrete coping skills partly based on eastern philosophies. Its motto is that it gives one a “life worth living” and in my case, it really has. I now have better relationship skills, a better ability to tolerate distress, less mood swings, and a more positive outlook on life. In two years, I have taken the series of courses twice and because of my hard work, I no longer qualify as one having borderline personality disorder or one having an eating disorder. My anxiety and depression is no longer as severe either.
I take my medication as prescribed, I see a wonderful therapist once a week, a nutritionist every few months and I attend a support group every few weeks. I also participate fully in my church and have started my own book club-I have learned how important it is not to isolate, but to surround myself with positive people and be part of a community. I have also learned how important it is to monitor my stress level-I do this by only working part time and making sure I get enough sleep. I believe in the power of positive self-talk, which I used to think was cheesy, and now tell myself things like, “I am not perfect and that is okay,” and “my worth is not determined by my weight or my job.” I love being a mental health blogger and speaker for NAMI, telling my story and letting people know that there is hope for people with a mental illness diagnosis, no matter how severe-it just takes hard work, perseverance, and a willingness to let other people help. Hope is real no matter who you are.