|In case you're new to this blog, welcome! You might notice that there is a ton of information about well-being sprinkled throughout this website, with a heavy focus on mental health concerns. My hope is to share information and stories about all things mental health so that others can learn and not be afraid to reach out.
Learning about mental health and how experiencing issues in this area of your life can not only impact yourself but the other individuals in your life can be helpful, but nowhere near as powerful as hearing a first hand experience of how an individual went through so such intense struggles with their mental health yet found the strength within themselves, as well as support from others, and is living through recovery.
This following article is just that - a fellow guest blogger and helping professional who courageously shares her story of mental health struggles and how she is now able to not only support others, but also recognize her own support needs and take action during difficult moments. A huge 'thank you' to Sara for sharing her journey with us!
Please note: The information contained in this article is not medical or therapeutic advice and if you are concerned about your health, please seek professional support from a doctor or hospital right away.
My Story: One Question Prompted My Recovery
I am a Social Worker, professionally. I earned a Master of Social Work degree. I also work full-time; am a home owner; a runner; and a soon-to-be-wife. I’m also a person who once upon a time didn’t think she would make it. I’m a person living well in recovery.
Today I trained a group of professionals on co-occurring disorders and how to support individuals experiencing mental health struggles. Afterwards I realized, after all the years of struggling, I am truly living well in recovery. What a feat.
It is really an interesting experience to be both a person who experiences several mental health disorders and someone who has conducted crisis assessments, risk assessments, and who has been a therapist both in groups and individually. There have been times when I have struggled with my mental health during my work and I have had to learn to really disconnect from clinical work and return to more administrative work in nature. It feels ethical and responsible to not engage in intimate conversations with people about their struggles when I myself am really struggling.
My journey to recovery truly started with one single social worker who saw me. I never understood the power that being vulnerable and authentically seen had until it happened to me.
After years of stringing together half-baked crisis plans and never following through, she has helped me hold myself accountable for my own recovery. It all changed when she reframed my diagnosis for me.
I experience Borderline Personality Disorder. This, by the way, is the first time I’ve ever written that down. I met my new therapist because my relationship was struggling, which wasn’t a surprise to me, and I was engaging in some risky behavior, which also wasn’t a surprise to me. These were lifelong struggles. Upon my intake with this social worker and after discussing diagnoses, she said one pivotal statement to me: “you know this is really just emotional dysregulation disorder, right?”
After sitting in classes and hearing my professor’s talk negatively about women who experience the same disorder as I do and after being witness to my peers at work avoiding people with BPD, I had developed a hatred for myself. I hated myself for the things that I couldn’t change about myself: that I both loved and hated people fiercely and would transition back and forth quickly. I hated that some days I wanted to disappear but I didn't know why. I hated that I felt abandoned and rejected daily but intellectually knew those feelings didn’t fit the situations that prompted them. I hated these things.
And in that one statement, this social worker tore it all down. She validated my lifelong experience of inner pain and told me that it wasn’t my fault and that it isn’t bad. She reminded me that emotional dysregulation, like any other mental health symptoms, has very effective interventions. She advocated for my admission into an outpatient Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) program that I had been avoiding for years for fear of aligning myself with a group of people that I thought should be hated.
And thus recovery and wellness began.
It began slowly. I learned one first skill: to fact check. I learned a second skill: to cope ahead. Both of which I use daily in my relationship. My relationship that will soon become marriage in June. With a partner who practices and uses the skills with me. Who has learned to validate when I feel invalidated and still holds me accountable for behavior I shouldn’t engage in.
This has brought me back to my work in an entirely different way. Now I’m seeking opportunities to provide peer support. I manage a wellness program. Me! Who has never considered herself well in her entire life? I am running now because I love to run instead of to punish myself. I have almost eliminated any engagement in risky behavior. I wake up every day with a strong desire to live.
It’s because I did the hard work and I started going to individual and group therapy, but also it’s because I found a mental health provider who wanted to work with me and believed in my recovery. She prompted me to believe in my own recovery. I did the work, she just led me down the path. And my partner provided me love and stability along the way. My partner worked the steps with me.
For me recovery is defined as using my coping skills, not self-harming, noticing and intervening when I am sabotaging relationships, working through feelings of rejection, and promoting recovery for all people. A huge part of my recovery is my connection to this work as a peer: not as just a social worker but as a human who has known deep struggle and who works daily to combat it and live well.
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