Dear Dr. Archer,
I never thought I'd live to be my age, 55. I thought for sure I'd be dead by my 21st birthday.
I always felt different, feeling something heavy on my soul, weighing me down and I didn't know how to deal with it. When I was 9, I'd lie deep in the Connecticut snows, waiting to see if anybody cared that there was this little girl hurting inside. Nobody stopped, nobody cared, I thought.
I wondered why I was moody, so "antsy" as a teacher used to call me. Some days I was excited, but most days I was a sad girl in New England, especially in winter.
I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, and felt a slight reprieve when my parents moved the family to sunny southern California, where we had extended family. The reprieve was short, as we soon moved back to New England.
My teen years were a roller coaster ride. My friends were few. My brothers and sisters were my friends. I didn't fit in with the other girls, despite my mother enrolling me in countless activities. I was a round peg which did not fit into all of the square holes.
I was raised in a traditional large Catholic family. There were no protestants, and I grew up in self-loathing and "hell and damnation" of old catholicism. By 17, I had already tried committing suicide. It was kept quiet by my best friend who didn't know what to do.
I was introduced to the world of psychiatrists, doctors and therapists. My sadness ate away at my body, and by the time I was in my 20s I had barely graduated from college, ill with many types of illness which caused my body to ache and moan.
When I married, I chose an abusive alcoholic. Why? I never saw either of my parents drunk, even though they say you choose a man who resembles your father. Throughout my teens I felt rejected by my father and smothered by my mother. My marriage lasted two years. I was 17 and pregnant, and left when he became abusive to my son.
I met my second husband before my divorce was final, dating him for nine months. I remained in that marriage for 20 years, suffering from severe depression and suicide ideations after my son was in a horrible tragedy, becoming wheelchair bound and cognitive damaged because of malpractice.
I suffered from deep guilt because of my son's injury. Why him? It took a huge toll on my marriage. At age 29 I was placed on my first antidepressant before Prozac came onto the market. The year it came out, when I was 32, my counselor kindly prescribed it to me.
I went from traditional Catholicism, to fundamentalism in an evangelical church. I did not yet realize I had a mental illness, not until a year after my second divorce, in 1997.
I had applied for disability due to physical ailments, which were really manifestations of my mental illness. I had scanned articles on Major Depressive Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I dismissed the second one as being crap.
Two more suicide attempts, the last in 2010 over what? Failed relationships, rejection, abandonment and physical pain. I was wondering about the BPD. What was that, anyway? I went back to the therapist's office. It's been nine years now, and 2011 is now here.
I took care of physical ailments, but wasn't until later I asked about BPD. And why do I suffer from Depresion and Anxiety and PTSD? Was I screwed in the head? I had intense anger. I learned anger turned inward became Depression, and bingo! The pieces started to fit. I didn't want to tell family and the few friends I had. Was there a cure in a pill? Therapy? Something?
It has taken me 45 years to come through and survive the stigma of mental illness. I had a career until my divorce. Within two years I was on disability, which I survive on for now.
I no longer have BPD and my anxiety is under control as well as the Depression. How? I am in remission. Today is a far cry from the 70s. Mental illness can be cured. No, you say? I beg to differ.
My better life was when I learned of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, which is different from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. DBT has been around for the past 25 years, but I did not learn about it until 2005.
I had gone through a full year of DBT, though normally the treatment is only six months. It took me longer to grasp the full extent of the therapy. I hope those reading this Google the terms found here.
After DBT came Recovery, also known by some as Peer Support Specialist by the DBSA organization and the NAPS organization. I have taken the Peer Support Specialist three times, receiving two certificates and passing the core competency training test.
My purpose in life now is to educate others with mental illness that there is hope; there is a cure; there is an answer.
I belong to support groups on facebook and facilitate support groups for both family members and peers. I am a peer and a consumer, not a patient or client. I provide support, resources, skills and knowledge to those with mental illness and their families.
Where did all this come from? The field of neuropsychology is changing, and in that lies the key to recovery and a successful life after the diagnosis of mental illness. Brain scans are being done to isolate the area of the brain that is damaged or missing appropriate chemicals necessary for the brain to function properly.
I have attended national conferences and taken online courses in psychology. Many states have hired Peer Support Specialists in health centers. I already have a B.S. in Medical Laboratory Technology.
I spent the first 50 years in denying my condition; now I'm spending the next 50 learning and sharing what I know to benefit others. My treatment includes CBT, DBT, pharmaceuticals, neutraceuticals, dietary supplements and restrictions, aromatherapy, meditation, written and spoken affirmations, spirituality, research and more.
I'd like to finish with two quotes that have helped me since 2006:
"What you thought before has led to every choice you have made, and this adds up to you at this moment. If you want to change who you are, physically, mentally and spiritually, you will have to change what you think." Patrick Gentempo, Ph.D.
"Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny." Frank Outlun
We were told, "you are what you eat." Well, now it's "You are what you think/believe." This is your life. Live it to the fullest in joy, happiness and peace. It's a journey until your last breath. You have one opportunity to find your purpose, your Dharma, your Peace.
I appreciate this opportunity to share my life with you in the hopes of improving your own.
Thank you for your heart-felt letter. I am thrilled that you have found peace and purpose in your life, after experiencing such a difficult past. You are correct in saying mental illness is a physical illness. As time goes, more and more people are starting to realize that. The stigma is dissipating, thanks to research and information.
DBT combines standard therapy techniques for the regulation of mood and emotion along with reality-testing, concepts of acceptance, strategies to tolerate distress and also ‘mindfulness’ which is derived from Buddhist meditative practice. DBT has been researched and does indeed appear to be helpful for BPD.
If this has helped you, Gianna, I am sincerely happy for you and grateful for your recovery. I am always open to anything that may help my patients even if it’s not in the mainstream. If it works for you, then that is good enough for me.
However, I do not believe it is something where we should jump on the bandwagon and use it for everyone. Brain chemistry is a huge factor in causation for mental illness, and nothing can take the place of providing the correct brain chemical balance when that is out of alignment.
By the way, I really like your quotes!