Acceptance and Stigma

March 30, 2015

Saviors use their perceived vulnerabilities and differences to create, strengthen, and creatively transform community. (170, Monica A. Coleman, Making A Way Out Of No Way)

I recently did an IOOV presentation for a group of pharmacy students who had just learned about personality disorders, so I took them step-by-step through how I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2012.  I felt awkward during the presentation, as it was a departure from how I usually present, but it was received very well, with many of the students saying that they could see that there is hope for people with mental illness, so my job there is done.  I am not going to post my whole presentation here, but I am going to post some of the parts that are different from what I have posted previously.

One of the major criteria is recurring suicidal gestures or self-harming behavior.  I usually do not talk about that here, but I did talk about it during the presentation.  I think it is important for people to know some facts about self-harm, specifically cutting, as it is very stigmatized and misunderstood in our culture.  It is popularly portrayed in our media as just "teenage girls looking for attention" and that idea belittles people who are in a lot of emotional pain.  For one thing, the act is not just limited to teenage girls and for another, it is not a signal that the person is selfish or manipulative, but that he is in a lot of emotional pain and needs help.  Cutting is a coping skill for a person who does not know any other way to give themselves immediate relief from the intense emotional pain that they are experiencing.  There are many reasons why someone may self-harm, but at the core of all of them is the fact that physical pain actually produces endorphins.  It is the same kind of endorphin rush that an addict gets and I consider cutting/self-harm to be a kind of addiction.  People do not become addicts because they are trying to be difficult, but because they do not know a better way of living - they need help, not judgment.  Dialectical behavioral therapy helped me get to the point where I no longer needed a quick fix to feel better so desperately because after using the skills enough I finally came to understand that all pain is temporary and will eventually pass.  I still struggle with that concept sometimes, but now I have more constructive coping skills to get me through the dark sides to the other side.  I do not want people to judge others who self-harm, but to see them as people who do not have the skills yet to be more constructive and are trying the best they can to stay alive, despite their intense emotional pain.

Acceptance has been hard for me.  I used to go off of my medications, because I either felt like I didn’t need them or wasn’t willing to take responsibility for my recovery.  Even now, I have to give myself a pep talk every night.  I have struggled with shame and resentment.  By the time, I was diagnosed with BPD in 2012, I was finally ready to accept my diagnosis because I was so miserable.  I was at a bottom and actually felt some relief because I had a reason for my behaviors and I was ready to work hard to change.  Acceptance for me now means that I realize that I will never be magically cured and that is okay-I will work on becoming as better as I can, while realizing that mental illness is only a part of me and does not totally define me.  I am more than my mental illnesses and disorders.

By the way, in the beginning quote I am not meaning to elevate myself to capital "S" savior status, but I am recognizing that all who creatively counteract society's message of stigma and shame are together helping to save humanity.

If you feel this post can help counteract stigma, please do not hesitate to share it.  We must work together to save each other.

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