“Yes, we are totally exposed when we are vulnerable. Yes, we are in the torture chamber that we call uncertainty. And yes, we’re taking a huge emotional risk when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
But there’s no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness.” -Brene Brown
Our entire lives we are pounded with messages about not being good enough. Hide the flaws until you can fix them. If you cannot fix them then just hide them forever.
Folks here is a dose of straight up truth for you, HIDING YOUR FLAWS IS WHAT GIVES THEM A FOOTHOLD TO DESTROY YOUR LIFE.
Recently, we had a small blow out happen in our house in Honduras. A lethal cocktail of stressors led to a mixture of emotions from every which angle. Thus the Honduran volcano erupted. While spending hours thinking, crying and definitely not sleeping in my room I felt a nudge from God. The same nudge that is leading me to write this blog post.
Those of you who know me very well know that I have had a history of mental illness. Bouts of depression. Struggles with self-mutilation. A couple of trips to a teenage psych ward. Two suicide attempts. Not to mention the unhealthy attachment to food and the not taking care of myself mentally, physically and emotionally. And blowing my lava all over my housemates I knew I could not hide my secrets from them, I had to be honest.
In order to break apart these lies that have lived inside of me for so long, in order to shine light in the darkest parts of my soul I need to be honest with everyone and not just those that I feel safe around. This is who I am, and I am no longer going to be ashamed of it.
As well as struggling with clinical depression, I have an illness called Borderline Personality Disorder. You heard that right folks, I HAVE A MENTAL ILLNESS. It is not something that can be taken away with medication. It cannot be shocked out of me by electrodes. I cannot get rid of it by talking about it with weekly counselor meetings. It is a part of me at my very core.
For those of you who know nothing about BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) here is a lengthy (BUT EXTREMELY NECESSARY) description of it:
A personality disorder is present, by definition, when individuals have long standing problems with their identity, which involves how they think of themselves, their self-esteem, their impulse control and such, and/or their relationships. The term ‘borderline’ refers to a specific kind of pattern of personality problems. There are three major personality subsystems that are involved in BPD.
First, there is the experiential or emotional system. Individuals with BPD have, relative to the norm, very reactive emotional systems. That is, their sensitivity to responding emotionally to events, especially negative ones, is very high. What others might perceive to be relatively minor events can result a powerful wave of emotion in individuals with BPD. Thus, negative feeling states like fear, rage, shame, sadness, guilt, and jealousy are easily accessible and often difficult to regulate.
The second system that is involved is the relationship system. This is the system that organizes and guides ones’ intuitive sense of self in relationship to others. The key dimension in the relationship system is the dimension of relational value, which is the extent to which an individual feels known and valued by others. Individuals with BPD usually have at least a significant part of themselves that senses or deeply fears that they have low relational value. That feeling is often a function of troubled early attachments formed with their caregivers, dysfunctional roles and relationships in their families, and/or experiences of physical or sexual abuse. Whatever the etiology, the experience of individuals with BPD is that they are judged by others as being lesser or unworthy or unlovable and that they are in danger of being neglected or abandoned or criticized or controlled. This strong sense of relational vulnerability, coupled with their emotional reactivity, makes for very volatile relationships that can be marked by, say, passionate desire quickly followed by reactive hostility quickly followed by guilt, shame and deep fears of abandonment.
The strong emotional sensitivities and deep sense of low relational value sets the stage for disturbance in the third broad domain of personality, one’s identity. The powerful needs and feelings pull an individual’s identity, which is the conscious beliefs and values one has about themselves and the world around the. When relationships are going well, an individual might feel ok, that they are worthwhile, that life will be good. However, when conflicts emerge, the powerful emotional and relational sensitivities drive the individual to see the world through a very different lens. One moment, they might believe that their partner/friend is controlling and vindictive and is trying to hurt them. Later, they see themselves as being hypersensitive or maybe “crazy” and feel guilty that they reacted in such extreme ways.
The constant back and forth, of being pulled by one’s strong feelings and needs, can lead to a fragmented, chaotic sense of self, and much self-criticism. Over time, one can come to believe one is helpless or worthless or be left with a deep feeling of emptiness. All of this internal chaos can set the stage for self-injury. Cutting or other nonsuicidal forms of injury can serve as ways of focusing, grounding, and/or distracting one’s self from the internal chaos. It can also be a symbol of rage or pain, directed at self or others. Suicidal behaviors can either be a way to solve the problem of the deep “psyche ache” or can be efforts at communicating distress or enlisting others’ aid to ward off profound abandonment fears.
From the perspective of others, individuals with BPD are often experienced as dramatic, erratic, attention seeking, and manipulative. *Of course, such a perspective or negative evaluation is precisely what the individual with BPD fears and their first person perspective is that they are not trying to be manipulative or attention seeking. These differences in perspective are why relationships so often are tense and ridden with conflict.
Ultimately, BPD is a descriptive label for a complicated set of issues involving heightened emotional reactivity, a strong sense of vulnerability in relationships, a fragmented, confused identity that often has many highly conflicted self-states, and a pattern of chaotic, conflicted social relations.
If you did not skip over the description I am sure you are connecting some dots in your head about why I am the way I am. And that is exactly the point I want to make. Having any mental illness does not make me or anyone else a freak of nature or messed up. IT IS WHO WE ARE. I am learning to embrace the fact that I am crazy with a slight side of normal. Because guess what God made me perfect! Yes He made me perfectly not perfect, with a mental illness.
Here is the deal. We all have those things that make us who we are at our very core. Yours may be anxiety. Or maybe it is self-esteem issues. Here is my prayer for myself and for you, do not ever hide those beautiful scars. They are proof that you have fought a battle and won. They are medals of honor.
If you are sitting here reading this and saying, “I am honest all the time about everything!” There is a 99% chance you are lying to yourself. Stop lying to yourself and just let go of that control you think you have by hiding. Nobody will ever be perfect, so take some of that pressure off of yourself!
I am fully aware that some may react badly to my brutal honesty. My words to all of you are…bring it on. There is no law or rule that you need to keep matters of mental issues quiet. If someone is diagnosed with mono they can be open about it. So then why can I not be honest about this? They are all illness just the same.
To those of you who struggle with BPD or any other mental illness let me speak some truth to you. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. It is SO easy to feel alone in the battle for mental health. I am here. Even if nobody else is, I am. Reach out to me, talk to me. I was diagnosed when I was 18 with BPD, but had been struggling with it since I can remember. I admittedly have chosen the hard route of not taking medication. Not because medication is bad (it’s not!) I just did not want to have to be on medication for the rest of my life. So I have been studying myself these last four years learning my red flags, my warning signs. Learning how I best cope with certain situations, when I need to be alone and when I need to be with people. Living with a mental illness is not hopeless. Is it difficult? Absolutely. Does it just plain suck sometimes? ABSOLUTELY! But it is possible so do not give up hope! This life is worth living, and living to the fullest. Also promise me one other thing. Do not ever let your mental illness limit you. Do not limit yourself, and do not ever let someone else limit you.
**I want to note that I think medication and counseling are a very important part of dealing with mental issues! SO PLEASE DO NOT HEAR WHAT I AM NOT SAYING. If you need to take medication and go to counseling that is in no way a weakness!**
Having BPD has helped me to be able to feel emotion on a whole new level. A level some people only dream about feeling. Does that super feeling power also come with its disadvantages? Sure does. But does it allow me to love all of humanity more than I think is healthy sometimes? Yes, and for that I am undeniably grateful. I am choosing to no longer hide myself because the world tells us to be ashamed. I will be me, and I will do it without shame.