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Mental Health

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Joyous Living

Catherine St. Denis

Visions Journal, 2011, 7(1), p. 16

stock photo of a woman

I am 45 years old and was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (BPD) after making an attempt on my life about six years ago. Since then, I've worked hard to heal and be happy. Right now I'm the happiest, healthiest woman I’ve ever been. I feel vital and vulnerable and strong. My symptoms are under control; most times I consider myself without symptoms at all.

I used to be isolated, unemployed after quitting my job of 10 years, deeply depressed and struggling to form or keep healthy relationships with any sort of limits to them. As someone with BPD, my biggest fears were always the deep loneliness and the unending boredom. I'd engage in all kinds of negative behaviours to try to quiet the fear and panic. In reality though, things like cutting myself, going from relationship to relationship, and creating crises in my life by associating with negative people only served to increase my fear—the exact opposite of what I was trying to do.

I had many hard and unsupportive relationships in the past, which I let go on and on, too afraid to cut them off. I was very fearful and then controlling; very concerned when I couldn't make others do or say or be what I thought I needed. For me, any relationship hardship signalled the end of the relationship and caused me to go into protection mode, which entailed blaming my partner for things that I couldn't tolerate. I expected others to save me from my feelings of abandonment and loss caused every relationship to break down; my panicked feelings were simply put on my partner's shoulders.  

I still have some challenges in a common area for people with BPD—interpersonal relationships. Now, however, I'm much more dependent on myself rather than others for my sense of well-being. Even when I'm dating someone, I take time to be alone and love it. I'm no longer terrified of aloneness.

I'm now also more able to protect myself from the onslaught of fear, worry and helplessness that arises when I'm triggered. I can see someone looking at me and now believe they're thinking positive things. If they're not thinking positive things, I no longer care very much. Just having the ability to protect myself from the belief that I'm not good enough makes my life so much easier. It frees me up to focus on the good things in my life, and there are many good things now! When negative thoughts about my worth come up, I challenge them right away so they don't become my new truth.

And I don't let myself get triggered by boredom any more either. I find activities and I get out of the house as a natural and continuous caring for myself. It used to be that getting out was a chore; now it's a pleasure.

I'm on excellent medications that my body tolerates well. I have close relationships with two of my three kids and live with my youngest adult child, who loves and respects me and with whom I can talk openly, just as he can with me. We're not friends—I am his mom and he is my son—but we have a beautiful understanding and mutual admiration.

I have a great job that I love. It doesn't provide many luxuries, but I do my job well and what it gives me in positive strokes I cannot even put a price on. I have incredible co-workers who know my story and who give me positive feedback all the time, my relationship with my boss is strong, and I feel completely valued at work. These gifts mean the difference between life and death—the ultimate price!

I have acceptance, flexibility, joy and gratitude firmly in my mind now. I've opened myself up to laughing like hell at myself when I do 'crazy' things or make a less-than-perfect decision. I've opened myself up to differences in people, and I'm more able to let things go, things that are not helpful in creating joy in my life.

Letting go has been a big thing for me. I struggled to let go of people, places and things for so long. And I've always been a seeker of answers. I asked people in support groups, in addiction groups and in therapy groups: what does letting go mean? How can I do it? I asked and asked and for a long time never understood.

Now, I see that letting go just happens when the reasons for holding on are gone. As I learned more in therapy groups and individual counselling sessions, and as I began getting involved in the MDA, I found that, over time, many of my unrealistic expectations of other people and what they should do for me changed. My anger dissipated, and biggest of all, my limiting opinion of myself let up.

I credit these slow changes to my persistence in healing activities. There was no book or person or specific thing that happened to all of a sudden change my life. It was my continued efforts to feel better that eventually caused me to feel better!

You want to know the day I considered myself 'healed'? It was the day when, on my way out the door for a walk, I said to myself, "You're okay, Catherine. There's nothing wrong with you, nothing at all." That day, within about 30 minutes, I met a man who gave me much joy for a time. I know having a boyfriend doesn't constitute health, but what this indicated was that I was able to tell myself I was good, with no improvements or changes needed. And, so, I really did feel good and healthy and gorgeous.

I've dated many wonderful people in the past two years and recently met someone special. No matter how it turns out, I am just grateful for the opportunity to explore and let things progress.

If I can say anything to anyone reading this, I would say: please, please don't give up. At work, when I deal with people who are hurting, I tell them that it all adds up. You may not know it now, but everything you do, every day, counts towards your health. I firmly believe that while I struggled and struggled, asked and asked, and often chose harmful behaviours, I was healing each and every moment. Each and every moment was necessary to help me understand. You can heal and love and be loved and work and parent and, and, and...

Joy to you all!

About the author

Catherine is Office Manager at the Mood Disorders Association of BC, where she has worked for about four years. She came to the MDA for help and support, started facilitating a support group, and then began working, part-time at first, then full-time in her current position. Catherine loves the MDA!

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