Ordinary Overcoming

Guest post: Overcoming the Darkness of Mental Illness

By Heather Rose

I became truly ill with my mental illness at 21. Growing up with a father with bipolar disorder and then later a mother with a mental breakdown, I knew about mental illness, but mine did not really kick in until my early twenties. I have had many things that have saved me from myself in my life. I have had supportive family who love me and care for me no matter how sick I am or how bad my behavior. I have had my faith in God and at times an earnest prayer has saved me from injuring myself, suicide attempt, or to reign in my worst symptoms.

I have schizoaffective disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). I have been on a lot of different medications in my life and had a lot of personal and group therapy as well as dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) classes for my BPD. DBT is a type of psychotherapy that has been found to be effective for borderline personality disorder. For me, I took a class that lasts usually a year unless they feel you need another round. I took it for two years. It is a training of over 20 skills. Some of these are for crisis intervention like distracting from overwhelming feelings by doing mindfulness skills and also skills for emotional management.

I have been hospitalized dozens of times. I have attempted suicide three times and been a habitual self injurer since I was 23. I try to help with the stigma surrounding mental illness saying to people it is like any physical illness. It is a physical issue in my brain. I do not do these things to be manipulative or to gain attention. When I injure myself I do it because living at that moment is so agonizing I want to transfer emotional pain to physical pain. It unfortunately works way too well and so is something I struggle with again and again.

I spent a month in 2001 at the S.A.F.E Program in Chicago, an inpatient program to treat self-injurers, however though it taught me some skills it did not end my need to injure myself when overwhelmed. It was a good program, two weeks inpatient and two weeks outpatient. I found out about it at the age of 31.

The number is 1-800-DON’T-CUT (1-800-366-8288). I still have my book (called Bodily Harm) that was signed by the founders of the program and all the friends I made over that month. I actually checked in on September 11 and walked in while New York’s twin towers were being destroyed. That was a really shocking way to begin a treatment program.

Bodily Harm was written by Karen Conterio and Wendy Lader. It outlines the entire program. The skill that really helps me the most is journaling. I am able to solve a lot of my own problems through writing things down in black and white. The Impulse Control Log is good in that if I want to injure, but take the time to write out what I wanted to do, why and what alternative I can do then sometimes I have the time to calm down a bit; this has saved me from many injuries.

What truly saves me is the relationships I create around me. I am blessed with so many friends and family who love me and remind me of that whenever I start to go down the rabbit hole of illness. I feel like I have someone to grab onto when I am drowning in my emotions and thoughts. My church has been invaluable for that as well. I am an Epsicopalian and feel strongly about the love of God the father to be a hand to reach for so I can come out of my darkest places.

The way out of the dark of mental illlness has many doors and it is each person’s choice which door they use to help them. I am grateful every day for all I have, for being here and having a place to live and food in my refrigerator and Social Security Disability Insurance to help me live. I am thankful every day for my relationships with my family and friends and to my church.