July Warrior – Shealeigh

July Warrior – Shealeigh

Hello, and welcome to my next Warrior of the Month! This month’s guest post is very special to me because it’s written by one of my best friends! Shealeigh is literally one of my favorite people. While she has had her struggles, she never ceases to make me laugh and smile and she’s infectious to be around. I hope you all enjoy reading her very raw and real story.

March 2019 Edmonton Alberta

Hello! My name is Shealeigh and I am a 27-year-old woman living in Edmonton, Alberta. I am an energetic and passionate high school English teacher, empathetic friend, Bachelor franchise binge-watcher, and enjoy being creative by painting the afternoons away. Despite the qualities I love about myself, I have had a lifetime of uphill and downhill battles dealing with mental illness. I am currently living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) but have also been previously diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and have symptoms of binge eating disorder. I was diagnosed with BPD a year and a half ago, and am proud to say that I am in remission after therapy and medical intervention. After a lifetime of struggling to control my emotions, I can happily say I no longer meet the essential criteria for BPD. Today, I hope to share my story and to give others struggling to control their emotions reassurance that it can, and will, get better. 

What is Borderline Personality Disorder?

Let’s start with a definition of borderline personality disorder. BPD can be exceptionally misunderstood and stigmatized due to representation in the media and medical community. BPD can also be referenced as emotionally unstable personality disorder. This definition is from the DSM 5, which is essentially the psychiatry bible and helps identify mental illness. I’ve changed some vocabulary to make it more digestible, something I wish someone had done for me when I was researching the disorder.

Borderline Personality Disorder: A reoccurring pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships and sense of self, marked impulsivity beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts, as indicated by five (or more) of the following: 

(1) frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment. 

(2) a pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships, alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation 

(3) identity disturbance: persistent unstable self-image or sense of self 

(4) impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating). 

(5) recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, threats, or self-mutilating behaviour. 

(6) constant instability due to rapid changes in mood (e.g., intense episodic dysphoria, irritability, depression or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and rarely more than a few days) 

(7) chronic feelings of emptiness 

(8) inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights) 

(9) stress-related paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms

At the time of my diagnosis, I identified with all 9 symptoms. Persons with BPD are often painted as being manipulative, emotionally inappropriate, crazy, attention-seeking, and have dangerous black and white ‘all or nothing’ (splitting) thinking. Undiagnosed and untreated, these symptoms are a cry for help and are often the cause of childhood trauma, abandonment, and learned behaviour. However, persons with BPD can also have extreme compassion, heightened creativity, superior emotional empathy, great curiosity, immense passion, and a whole lot of love to give. Believing persons with BPD are dangerous, untreatable, or attention-seeking reinforces stigma which places significant barriers to getting the help that is so desperately needed.

My Story with Borderline Personality Disorder

Diagnosing my disorder was a long road as I am a very high functioning individual. Because of this, I fell through the cracks of the system for almost a decade. I aimed to be ‘perfect’ in every aspect of my life: friendships, relationships, and careers. Curating the most perfect image of myself to my friends, family, and followers became an obsession. Behind the facade, however, I was fragile and unable to answer the question of who I was, what I liked about myself, or what I wanted in life. 

From a young age, I knew that I felt emotions more deeply and strongly than a lot of my peers. A stubbed toe, failed test, or a broken friendship would cause meltdowns and a roller coaster of feelings that I could never identify. Mixed with an unstable sense of self, body image issues, and a plethora of out of body experiences, I thought my dramatic and dichotomous thinking was just who I was. I was raised in a household with two loving parents that, despite their traumatic and difficult upbringing, did the best they could. Though not always a healthy environment, I believe I developed BPD as a cause of genetics and learned behaviour from my parents, who had been abused and abandoned their entire childhoods. 

By its definition, holding stable emotions and relationships has always been difficult for me. As a teen and young adult, I felt inconsolable loneliness and felt abandoned by the smallest comments or slights, immediately burning bridges at the first sign of a disagreement. Being called ‘dramatic’ by partners, family, and friends had become a personality trait. My disorder became heightened during my first year of university when I was thrust into a world alone with no coping skills. I felt no validation except for fighting, drinking, and sex during these first two years in university. After a suicide attempt in my dorm room, unbeknown to my friends or roommate, I got into therapy and was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and immediately put on medication. 

This was the first time I faced a barrier to my diagnosis in the medical field based on the stigma of BPD. I asked my therapist about BPD after learning about it in a psychology class. Every symptom resonated with me, even as a 19-year-old. My counsellor told me I couldn’t possibly have the disorder, as one can ‘feel the evilness in the room’ when someone with BPD walks in. She discussed how I, as a functioning, kind, and compassionate young woman could not possibly have the disorder. I had been lying to my counsellor for two years about my suicidal behaviour, cheating, stealing, and lack of sense of self because I didn’t want her to believe I was evil or manipulative. My desire to curate a perfect life continued even in a space that was supposed to be safe. 

Years passed and the negative coping mechanisms got worse. I continued to cheat, lie, fight, steal, self-harm, and manipulate as a way to cope with my guilt and shame. I hustled to be a successful young professional with a squeaky-clean resume and a forged fake personality. I was constantly petrified that the ones I loved most would leave me if they knew the truth of my imperfection, and the cycle of abuse on myself continued. I was engaged and trapped in an unhealthy, co-dependent, and physically/emotionally abusive relationship. Both of us suffered from serious mental illness concerns that went ignored. After threatening to leave me in an ultimatum, I abandoned family, intuition, and supports to move to a new city as I was manipulated into believing I would not survive without him. At this point, my symptoms became unbearable. I went to multiple counsellors and psychiatrists who all reiterated the same stereotypes as the first, even when I vowed to be completely honest in my struggles. More invalidation continued: I was too high functioning, too successful, too empathetic. After a suicide attempt and psychotic break in December of 2018, my then-partner called the police and took me directly to the hospital. This was the wake-up call I needed and I was, at last, diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. 

At my worst was when things began to get better. I got a new psychiatrist and psychologist at the Grey Nuns Hospital who work specifically with BPD

December 2018 – Home from the hospital after diagnosis

patients. I sobbed in their office as they validated that I was worthy of help. I began my journey through Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) which teaches practical coping mechanisms to deal with extreme emotions. This therapy truly and honestly saved my life and I would highly recommend it to anyone struggling with extreme emotional responses. After being thrown on to the streets and homeless after my then-partner discovered my infidelity after reading my journal, I continued to work hard knowing that my life had meaning, despite what he had told me. Over the last year, I have completed DBT therapy can fully manage my emotions and relationships to a point in which I never have before. I lived alone, cut off toxic relationships, focused on my wellness, practiced my skills, and seriously invested in my happiness without the fear of looking imperfect. 

A year and a half after getting diagnosed, I am nowhere near perfect and for the first time in my life, I don’t want to be. I feel freedom like never before and am exponentially happier in life. I’ve lost very important people to me along the way, but it truly showed me the tenacity of my spirit. There is nothing in life I can’t conquer, because instead of trying to suppress and hide my emotions, there is power in learning how to control and express them. 

July 2020 – Happier and healthier than ever!

Resources

– Meme Pages (laugh to keep from crying and know you are not alone)

    • Instagram: BPDepresso, BPD_beautiful, BPD_warriors, emotions_therapy, bpdmatters, lindsaybraman
    • Facebook: Therapy Memes Group, BPD memes and support.

– Support Groups

    • Facebook: We’re Warriors ‘BPD’ support group, BPD partner/family support group.In person support groups are limited due to COVID19

– Alberta Resources

    • Famialberta.ca – leap training and support groups for persons with BPD and family members who want to support
    • Family Connections Program – free course to help you or loved ones deal with BPD. My family members have completed this course.
    • OWLPOD.ca Mental Health Clinic – free and covered by Alberta health with no referral from a doctor. 587-834-6704.
    • Dialectical Behavioural Therapy Program – Sheldon Chumir Health Centre. 403-943-1500.
    • Emotions Anonymous meetup.com/emotions-anonymous-edmonton (online classes – highly recommend)

2 Replies to “July Warrior – Shealeigh”

  1. Shaeleigh,
    Thank you for sharing your story; noone should feel ashamed or alone in their journey of trying to understand their behaviour and begin to heal. I hope that your story gives someone the courage to seek and fight for the care they need and deserve. Being diagnosed with a mental health illness does not define who you are. I am sorry that you were meant to feel like you had to have a “fake personailty” to appease others and that you now have a sense of freedom. You have a kind soul and are very brave in sharing this piece that is both raw and beautiful. Your counselors comment on being evil broke my heart; the true evil is the lack of understanding that society has and how quick people are to label someone WITH mental illness as BEING mentally ill crazy, unstable, or scary. I am grateful that you didn’t give up or give into the stereotypes that can lead oneself into a dark place with a different outcome. May your voice be strong and your confidence unshaken but know that it is okay to not be okay at times. You have a wonderful energy and I am honored to call you friend. I am here for you for who you are. You are a wonderful, fun, and compassionate educator. I am confident that your story will make a difference in a student’s life whether it be an encouraging smile, validation, or a reason to not give up. That my friend is a gift. 💜 with much love girl! Keep doing you. 🤗

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