The Heartache of Being a Young Cancer Survivor

Today, I feel compelled to write about the heartache of being a young cancer survivor. Many might think that receiving the label of ‘cancer survivor’ brings feelings of pure elation and ultimate bliss. Don’t get me wrong; my world turned from scattered thunderstorms to warm, sunny skies. Yet, not every day is euphoric.

Some days, my heart hurts and the world feels heavy. Those are the days when I’ve lost a friend.

One of the hardest things about being a young cancer survivor is simply ‘being young’. Young people are supposed to explore the world and experience life fully, not sit in oncology wards getting pumped full of drugs. As a young cancer fighter, I felt isolated and alone. I didn’t have any friends or knowledge of other people my age going through what I was. I felt like an outcast.

Fortunately, I reached out to Young Adult Cancer Canada (a kick-ass support group!) and took to social media. I needed that feeling of togetherness. I needed familiarity. I needed my youth.

I surrounded myself with fellow young adult cancer fighters. My network of friends exploded, and it was wonderful. I met the most incredible, kind-hearted, perseverant and superhuman people in the entire world. My loneliness faded, and I finally felt at home.

In retrospect, I wish I would have realized that some of us wouldn’t make it. Some of us would pass on, and some of us would have to move on. It breaks my heart to be writing this right now, but I wish that I could have prepared myself for the heartache that I’ve experienced. The deep pain of losing a friend, again and again. It never gets easier, and it never will.

This past year, I’ve lost five dear friends.

Nicole, Justin, Kim, Danielle and Jody

Each one of these five super-humans continued to push and push through the darkness. They never ever gave up, despite the odds. I am honoured to have had the chance to connect with such empowering people.  They were truly one-of-a-kind… Nicole’s warmth, Justin’s ambition, Kim’s bright smile , Danielle’s heart of gold, and Jody’s unwavering sense of humour.

Nicole, Justin, Kim, Danielle, Jody and other friends who have gone too soon,

this is for you.

My heart goes out to your family,

they didn’t deserve to lose you so young.

My heart goes out to your friends,

of which you should still be among.

And my heart goes out to you,

because, you, you deserve more than the cards you were flung.

 

My light,

you are my light.

When times get hard,

I think of your fight.

You may be gone,

but you still shine bright.

I just wish you could,

come home tonight.

What brings me peace is knowing that each of you have gained your wings. Now, there is proof that you are super-humans. May you rest peacefully, and live on in all of the lives that you have touched.

My unconditional love,

Emily

xo

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When Negativity Clouds Your World

Back in May, I had the opportunity to tell my story at the extraordinary Sarnia Speaks: Resiliency. I spoke alongside two other incredible individuals who have been able to bounce back after various hardships. After our talks, we were able to have an open floor dialogue where audience members had a chance to ask questions, as well as share their own personal experiences with pain, loss and mental illness. One beautiful soul asked a question that has forever ingrained itself in my mind.

What do you do when people who are close to you criticize you?” 

This question really resonated with me as negatively used to cloud my entire world. The way that other people viewed me translated into how I saw myself. It was destructive to my character as well as my soul.

Unfortunately, we cannot control what other people say or do. In our lives, we will be judged, criticized and made fun of. It will hurt and it will probably feel like the end of the world. Yet, we have so much power over how we react to this criticism. We can lash out, ignore it, politely defend ourselves, etc. However, many of us fail to realize that negativity cannot grow unless we let it. If we do not want negativity to be a part of our lives, we have the option to set ourselves free.

How do we do that? How do we set ourselves free from the criticism, blame and judgments from others?

We let go. It’s as simple, yet difficult as that.

If someone in our lives is repeatedly putting us down, accusing us of things that we haven’t done and making fun of us, there is no harm in letting that person go. Negativity only thrives if we allow it to. If we want to live a happy and fulfilling life, we must rid ourselves of toxicity – which may include letting go of people that are “dear to us”.

People that are truly close to our hearts would not make us feel so hurt and vulnerable time and time again. Yes, it can be painful cutting ties with someone that we view as close to us. Letting go is never easy. If it was simple, we would do it more often.

However, once we let go of the constant negativity and feel that freedom, we no longer wait for what accusation or put down comes next. We feel relief. We are able to enjoy our lives fully. We are able to live in the moment. We are able to feel the freedom of happiness while staying true to ourselves and who we truly are. The cloud of negativity is in our control. We can either allow it to stay or let it go.

Keep on shining,

Emily

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Physical illness vs mental illness?

*This piece will discuss my personal experience with mental illness (anxiety, depression, bulimia, ptsd, bpd) versus physical illness (cancer). Both mental and physical illness vary person to person. Illness is not all or nothing – people experience it differently. With that being said, this post is not to invalidate anyone’s circumstances or struggles. I am simply voicing my own personal experience on how mental illness continues to be treated differently than physical illness.*

Before I dive into the depths of my personal encounter with various illnesses, I think it is important to touch on the aspect of health. We all have health. We all have physical health (our body) and we all have mental health (our mind, thoughts, emotions). Only when our health becomes jeopardized, we may develop illness. If our physical health is poor, we can develop physical illness. If our mental health is poor, we may develop mental illness. However, we all have health.

Mental illness refers to severe and long-lasting impairment and distress of our mind. This may result in extreme emotions, thoughts and behaviours.

Physical illness refers to severe and long-lasting impairment and distress of our physical body. This may result in physical diseases such as cancer, cystic fibrosis, MS, CP etc.

Mental illness is often invisible to the outside world. By invisible, I mean that it is often happening inside of our head. We may struggle with dark thoughts, crippling anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, etc. We may look like we’re happy, yet we’re actually crumbling. However, physical illness is often visible by the whole world. If we have cancer, we may have lost all of our hair. If we have CP or MS, we may be in a wheelchair or using mechanisms to help us walk. Yes, all illnesses profoundly impact our lives. But, the ominous feeling of our illness being invisible to the outside world makes us feel like we are all alone.

Despite numerous campaigns that bring awareness to mental illness, our society is still conditioned to empathize with those struggling with physical illness, whereas the severity of mental illness continues to be under-looked. When I was going through chemotherapy in 2014, people understood if I couldn’t get out of bed or go to social events. I was reassured that it was completely okay to sleep for 16 hours a day. It was even suggested. I was flooded with love, support and flowers. However, when my anxiety was overwhelming or my depression wouldn’t allow me to get out of bed, I was viewed as lazy, overreacting and attention-seeking. I often felt like I was so damn alone because my feelings were swept under the rug. All I really needed was someone to reassure me. I needed someone to tell me that it was okay to listen to what I need – just as I would if I was battling a physical illness. Unfortunately, feeling profound shame and guilt for having mental illness led me to talk about it less and less. I pushed it away and pretended that I was okay when in reality, I was dying inside.

Not only is mental illness underlooked, it is often invalidated. Nothing feels worse than finally opening up to someone (“I can’t shake this sadness”), and getting the reply of (“Don’t worry, everyone has those days!”). It invalidates our struggles. It makes us feel as though our extreme emotions and distressing thoughts are normal. Because of this, many people do not reach out and receive the help that they desperately need. Yet, when someone says, “Ow, my stomach really hurts today. I feel like I might be sick”, people reply with, “Oh no! You poor thing. You should go home and rest”. We discredit mental illness with our words and behaviours (without even fully acknowledging it).

Furthermore, physical illness is regarded as life-threatening. The majority of people are horrified by the thought of getting diagnosed with cancer. Yes, cancer is a terrible, life-threatening disease, just as many mental illnesses are. Borderline personality disorder often coincides with severe self-harm behaviours. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an abnormally low body weight due to food restriction. As we can see, mental illnesses are just as life-threatening and serious as physical illnesses. However, mental illness continues to be viewed as attention-seeking or selfish. “People have it a lot worse than you.” “Why are you sad? You have every reason to be happy!” “I don’t understand; you have nothing to be scared about.” These sentences should never be a response to someone battling mental illness, just as they would never be said to someone fighting a physical illness.

Additionally, many of us fail to realize that mental illness and physical illness are often interconnected. Individuals with physical illness are more likely to develop mental illness. For example, many people battling cancer are diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Our physical state affects our mental state. We feel grief and loss of innocence and normality. In addition, individuals with mental illness (who do not receive the help they need) are more likely to develop a physical illness. For example, some people struggling with mental illness abuse drugs and alcohol. These substances can significantly impact our physical health. This shows us how interrelated human illness is.

For those who have read this entire post and still fail to see my argument, remind yourself that mental illness is actually an illness of our body. Mental illness is a disease of the brain. As we learned in childhood, the brain is an organ of our body. So, just like we may develop a disease of the lungs, thyroid, heart, etc., the brain may become diseased. You can call it a physical illness if you’d like, as our brain is tangible and concrete, just like all of our other organs.

This gives us something to think about the next time we feel as though our mental illness isn’t that serious. Spoiler alert: it is, and it requires professional help.

My hope is that one day society will view physical illness and mental illness as equally important. They both significantly impact our lives. They are both serious and require attention. Just because mental illness is invisible doesn’t mean it has to stay invisible. Please reach out. You do not have to struggle alone.

Keep on shining,

Emily

 

Left picture: September 2014. One day after chemotherapy. One glance and you can see how sick I look. Oh, the sympathy I received from having cancer…….

Right picture: December 2016. We see a bright smile so we think, she’s happy! She’s doing great! Yet, I was suicidal, abusing alcohol and self-harming.  I was struggling to stay afloat. I was waiting for the day it would all end.

 

I would have missed out on so much

The hurt I’m feeling nobody can see. I use a smile to cover it up. I cry myself to sleep each night in hopes that I will not wake up. But that doesn’t matter because nobody knows. Nobody will ever know the true pain I’m feeling. The ache in the heart and water that fills my eyes. Each morning I wake up miserable and can’t help but wonder why I’m still here. I don’t belong here. Nobody truly knows who I am and what I want from life; to be honest, I don’t either. I’m lost in this huge space, this world of noise, with no direction of where to go. I’m broken inside to many tiny pieces that do not have the ability to be put back together. I’m the deep cracks built within a rock. No matter how hard anyone tries, the flaws just won’t go away. Nothing will change me. No one can. Not even I. I have become something I am stranger to. Each day I feel myself die inside a little more. The days fly by and nothing changes. I’m still broken and hurt. But one day I know it will all stop. I’ll be free and finally experience true happiness.

-2011

When I read this piece, I can feel my heart ache. I can still remember the excruciating pain that I felt. But before I begin, I want to clarify what I meant by “free and finally experience true happiness”. I wasn’t talking about the butterflies, rainbows and flowers kind of happiness. I wasn’t imagining the happiness that I’ve finally found 6 years later. I was imagining the freedom and happiness of no longer being on the Earth. I was envisioning that day that I finally gave in and ended my life.

This pains me. I cannot believe that I was so hopeless at age 17. I hadn’t went to prom yet, I hadn’t graduated from high school yet. I hadn’t… I hadn’t…. I hadn’t.

But, in my mind, I had experienced enough. I didn’t think that things would ever get better. I had been struggling with anxiety for four years. I had developed bulimia nervosa. I began to self-harm. I had lost a friend to suicide. I had severe depression – not yet recognized by the outside world. I gave up thinking about true happiness as I was consumed by sadness and pain. My brain saw a tragic ending to my story and with that, came the happiness that I was so desperately seeking.

This is where I want to touch on the topic of teenage depression. As many of you know, teenagers are very susceptible to suicide. Why? Well, the teenage brain is not fully developed. They lack the development of the prefrontal cortex and executive function. This means that they struggle with decision making, staying rational and seeing beyond the intense emotions that they feel.. This helps explain why teenagers are impulsive and ‘emotional’. Teenagers often view their situation as ‘the end of the world’ because in their brain, they cannot see things ever getting better. This is not to minimize what they are going through. Their feelings are valid, but their interpretations of the duration of sadness and pain is exaggerated.

The reason that I touch on this topic is because I lived this. I had tunnel vision. I thought that the pain that I was feeling would last for the rest of my life. And, I couldn’t live like that. I thought that I would have to end my life in order to feel happiness.

But, no. We may feel as though things will never getting better… that we will always be sad. We will never get better. We will never get over heartbreak. We will never live without a cloud of despair. But, that just isn’t true. We can overcome, and we can thrive.

For any of you who feel like you cannot continue on, please know that there is so much support and love out there for you. I’m not saying that things will be easy and that there is a quick fix, but recovery and happiness is possible. You do not have to suffer alone. You do not have to go through your hardship by yourself. Please reach out and ask for help.

If I hadn’t reached out, I would not be here today. I would not have found a job that I love. I would not have experienced graduating from University, going to Prom, smiling at my reflection in the mirror, etc. I would not have met my best friends. I would not have seen the true beauty in living. I would have missed out on so much. Things are not over for you. Things are just beginning.

Keep on shining,

Emily

Left picture: Living on the edge until I finally gave in to my urges. 2011.

Right picture: Recovering and learning to be in love with the life that I have created. 2017.

How PTSD has crippled my entire world

In university, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was one of the many psychological disorders that intrigued me. I couldn’t read enough research about the ruthless impact trauma has on our emotions and our behaviour. It fascinated me how our brains and neurochemistry could completely change due to trauma.

However… no amount of reading and research could help me when I needed it the most – when I was forever changed by PTSD.

If you’re reading this, you may not even know what PTSD is and that is absolutely okay. In some ways, I wish that I didn’t know what it was either. I wish that I was still caught up reading and reading about it, not living with it.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a debilitating mental illness that affects some us after exposure to trauma. Despite contrary belief, PTSD does not only impact soldiers, but average human beings as well. Any one who has experienced colossal trauma (natural disaster, abuse, neglect, life-threatening illness or car accident) is at risk of developing PTSD. And, unfortunately, I was one of those “average human beings” who was diagnosed with PTSD.

Side note: *My list of trauma is not a definitive. *

I was officially diagnosed in mid-January 2017 after months and months of severe, incapacitating symptoms. I am far… far… f a r from recovered, but I felt obliged to share my experience with PTSD as it is often overlooked. Few people know what PTSD is and the excruciating impact it can have on it’s victims.

Like all disorders, PTSD manifests differently person to person. My experience may be different from yours and that is okay. All of our experiences are valid.

Post-traumatic stress disorder has crippled me with:

Emotional numbness

This began shortly after I was removed from the abusive relationship that I found myself in. I returned home… well maybe, my body did… my mind was somewhere else. I couldn’t feel anything. My body shut down. I couldn’t process what the hell just happened. I couldn’t even remember what had happened… my brain wouldn’t let me. I felt absolutely nothing. I couldn’t remember words. I had no thoughts. I simply couldn’t function. I spent days on end staring blankly at the wall, unable to do much at all. I felt completely gone. So far gone without return. This emotional numbness carried on for a couple of days. I felt as though he had taken my soul from me. I felt like nothing.

As time went on, I was able to feel again. Like a light switch, I went from numb to frantic. For days, I felt nothing and now I was feeling absolutely everything. I continue to have days where the pain takes over and I shut down. Gone, yet again. Each time, wondering how much longer things will be this way.

Avoidance and Isolation

At around the same time that I became emotionally numb, I began to isolate myself. If you know me personally, you know that I am an extreme extrovert. I love parties, social gatherings and meeting new people. However, something in me changed. I began to fear people – even those I have known for a very long time. I questioned everyone’s motives and intentions. I began to label others as bad – inherently evil. He became everything that I saw. I saw negative qualities in others that may not have existed at all. My memory of him and his malevolence flooded my life. I didn’t want to leave the house. I didn’t want to see anyone. I just couldn’t. I wouldn’t let myself.

After much persuasion from my family and my therapist, I pushed myself to go out – but not without significant anxiety. I flinched walking past men on the streets. I could literally feel my skin crawl. I held my breath as I walked past strangers afraid of what they may do. I was conditioned to expect violence.

Leaving the house was exhausting. I was sore physically and mentally. However, with exposure, things have gotten much easier; though I still isolation myself more than your average person. I rarely attend parties or social gatherings anymore. The way that I see it is if I don’t interact with humans, no one can hurt me. And no, I’m not being rude, I am protecting myself. I’m working on rebuilding my self-esteem, self-love and self-acceptance. Please give me time.

Hypervigilance

I honestly didn’t know what hypervigilance meant until I was diagnosed with PTSD. For me, hypervigilance is constantly being on edge. When I’m out and about alone, I’m continuously checking over my shoulders. It’s like living life through a constant stream of anxiety. It’s pure torture and I despise it.

Negative beliefs about the world

All men are evil.

All men are abusive.

All men are incapable of empathy and love.

All men are to be feared.

People are inherently bad.

Our world is corrupt.

Trust me, I never used to feel this way – but it’s what trauma can do to a person. It can change your whole perspective of the world – in the blink of an eye.

Negative feelings towards self

Often times, my mind decides to replay all of the awful things he said to me. After hearing these words relentlessly, you start to believe them.

You deserved this.

You let this happen.

Maybe if you didn’t…

Maybe if you would have…

You’re stupid.

You’re disgusting.

You’re worthless.

Nightmares

I am subjected to graphic night terrors that throw me into full fledged panic. They are often painful scenes that I have been desperately trying to forget. Some are real memories and occurrences while others are just a fabrication made by my mind – both equally agonizing.  I usually wake up crying in a drenching sweat. I have to check my surroundings around 20 times before I can finally allow myself to relax. I have to tell myself that I am safe and that I am okay. I think the most treacherous thing about my nightmares is that every single night I fight the urge to sleep as I am so terrified of what memory will come back to haunt me. Thankfully, as of now, I’m down to about two nightmares a week. This is major progress as they used to be a nightly occurrence.

Flashbacks

Flashbacks are utterly crippling as they take you by surprise and bring you right back to the traumatic moment in seconds. You don’t know when they will creep up on you; you can’t always know all of your triggers. My flashbacks come in hot and heavy distorting my reality and suffocating me.

I can still remember the nights he abused me perfectly. I can remember the clothes I was wearing the nights he hit me. I can remember the exact locations in our apartment. I remember the exact words and phrases I cried as I begged him to stop. I can remember the sound of my skull striking the floor. I can remember the pure horror. Sometimes these sounds and images flood my mind and I can’t escape them… feeling as though I am right back there. Helpless.

Disgust in Intimacy

The thought of another human touching my skin makes me queasy. No, thank you.

Hopelessness

Sometimes it feels as though things will never get better. That things will forever be this way and I will never be free. It’s as if this excruciating pain will cloak me for the rest of my life. I hope that one day it will finally leave me alone, but sometimes it feels like that day will never come. And, I have to accept that.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a happy ending to this post. Most of the time, positive and encouraging words flow out of me like a waterfall. But, nothing positive has come out of having PTSD.

Maybe still being here to be able to write this article is enough.

Keep on shining.

Emily

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Bruised, but healing. [Photo taken August 2016]

Reasons to Recover

When I began dialectical behaviour therapy in February, my individual therapist asked me a question that has stuck with me since.

Why choose recovery?

This may seem like a simple question with a simple answer… “because I want to live”. But, after contemplation, I realized it wasn’t actually an easy question to answer. It was something that I needed to ponder.

Why do you want to recover? Why attend therapy three hours a week? Why do you want to spend the next six months learning and practicing new skills? Why spend the time restructuring your behaviours and emotional responses?

Why?

I think we all have different answers to this questions. We all have different reasons to choose recovery. After much consideration, I discovered my justification for recovery.

My hope is that by sharing my answer someone else may identify with me and find their own reasons to recover.

To me, recovery means being at peace with myself. It means accepting help, not losing hope and striving for a brighter day. It means practicing self care and riding myself of the toxicity in my life. It means finding love rooted deep within myself and spreading it outwards (while retaining a good amount for myself). Recovery means living life again.

So, why have I decided to recover despite the resurfacing of traumatic memories, excruciatingly tiring sessions and complete rewiring of myself?

Because….

  • I truly believe that I deserve to recover. I deserve to be at peace with myself. I deserve help, hope and a brighter day. I deserve to practice self care and remove toxicity from my life without immense guilt. I deserve to live my life again.
  • My family and friends need me. I’ve seen the agony in their eyes after telling them that I do not want to be a part of this world anymore. I’ve felt the pain that they feel. The panic as they rush to the hospital to find out if I’m okay. The horror of the unknown. The truth is, they can’t imagine this world without me. They deserve peace (just as I do). They need me to recover (just as I do).
  • My 10-pound shihpoo, Cinnamon, would wonder where I have gone. She doesn’t deserve that. She’s deserves all the cuddles, cheese and tummy rubs in the world.
  • Warm Julys. The warmth on your skin. The bright sunshine glistening on the water. The feeling that everything will be okay.
  • Crisp Octobers. The smell of apple pie. Pumpkin-carving. My birthday. Halloween. Indulging in pumpkin pie.
  • Breath-taking sunsets. The one last moment of striking colour before the darkness of the night. The kind where pictures don’t do it justice. You have to soak all of it into your memory.
  • The first snowfall of the year. The excitement. The beginning of the festive season.
  • Smiling at strangers. Hoping to make their day a little brighter. You never know the impact you can have on someone. We all need a smile sometimes.
  • The feeling of sand in between your toes. 
  • The sound of crashing waves.
  • The crunch of autumn leaves.
  • The smell after a much needed rainfall.
  • Tight hugs. Being embraced in the arms of someone you love.
  • Feeling loved. 
  • Fresh bedsheets. Enough said.
  • Your favourite scent. A candle. Incense. Perfume. Finding comfort in a familiar smell.
  • Eating your favourite meal. Something with potatoes that’s for sure.
  • ‘I thought of you’ moments. The thoughtfulness sends a shiver up my spine.
  • Singing at the top of your lungs. Whether it be country, rap, pop or rock n roll, there is so much joy in screaming the lyrics to your favourite song.
  • Dancing around your home. The only time I can bust a move without judgments.
  • Laughing until your stomach hurts. The best workout.
  • I have so much left to learn. About yourself. About others. About the world.
  • Flowers. I don’t know what we ever did to deserve flowers. Lively colours help brighten those dark days.
  • Crawling into bed after a long day. 
  • Concerts. Seeing my favourite band or singer live.
  • Naps. Rejuvenating.
  • So many places that I have yet to see. 196 countries and endless beauty in this world.
  • So many people that I have yet to meet. People who share my interests and values. Removing my go-to mask. People that I can be my complete and utter self around.
  • Being understood. Hearing ‘I get you. I have experienced something similar and I’m okay. You’ll be okay, too.’
  • Writing. Thoughts. Feelings. Memories. Let it out.
  • Reading books. The feeling of escaping to another world for a little while.
  • The calm after the storm. Literally and figuratively.
  • Forehead kisses.
  • Bonfires. The crackle of wood burning. The smell of cedar. The orange flame lighting up the dark night.
  • Art. Interpreting a piece of art work. Finding meaning in poetry. Identifying with the lyrics of a song.
  • Getting married and having little Emily’s of my own. Never giving up on the idea that true love exists.
  • Cuddling like a burrito on a winter day.
  • Eating burritos.
  • The excitement of sports. Watching the Leafs win the Stanley Cup and TFC win the MLS Cup. Or, the fact that there are so many soccer games that I have yet to play.
  • Yoga. Mastering a pose that was once viewed as impossible. Feeling all of the muscles in your body work together.
  • Inspiring others. Prove to yourself and others that recovery is possible.  
  • There is so much that I have yet to do. I could start all over again. I could learn to play an instrument. I could cut my hair. I could run a marathon. I could do whatever I wanted – if I put my mind to it.
  • Self-love.
  • Falling in love with my life.
  • Things do get better. The darkness cannot last forever.
  •  I am not alone. We have all experienced trauma. We choose to push on. We all choose recovery.
  • I am loved. Despite what my mind tries to tell me, I am loved, I am cared about and I am enough.

So, why do I choose recovery?

There isn’t one, simple reason.

Keep on shining.

Emily

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Yes, I have a Personality Disorder and no, I am not crazy.

*Note: This post may be triggering for those with BPD, self-harm behaviours and suicidal ideation/thoughts.*

In January of this year, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder (or BPD). Unless you too struggle with BPD, know someone who does or have studied it in school, you probably have no idea what I am talking about. A personality disorder? Does that mean she’s a lunatic? No, certainly not.

Borderline personality disorder is a serious psychological disorder where individuals experience ongoing instability in moods, behaviour, self-image and functioning. In simplistic terms, I have difficulties regulating my intense emotions.

My BPD diagnosis was the missing piece to the complex puzzle that is known as my life. I have struggled with generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, major depressive disorder and disorder eating, yet I still felt as if something was missing. I felt as though I wasn’t fully understood and wasn’t getting all the help that I truly needed. The first time I learned about BPD was in my developmental psychopathology class last year. I went home and cried after the seminar and I couldn’t make it through the textbook chapter either. It felt all too similar, too real, too close to home. I didn’t tell anyone about my concerns; I kept it all bottled up inside. I didn’t want to have a personality disorder. I didn’t want to be ‘crazy’.

As an individual with a personality disorder, I have been extremely hesitant about going public with my diagnosis. I felt as though it was a piece of me that I should be ashamed of; a part of me that should be put in a box, kept in a closet and locked away from the rest of the world. With that being said, this is me publicly announcing that yes, I have a personality disorder.

Let me explain what BPD means for me.

You can’t see my BPD.

Having borderline personality disorder is not like when I had cancer and lost all of my hair. BPD is deep within me. Often times, I only show you what I want you to see. Those who interact with me daily have a glimpse of my BPD tendencies, but they can’t see what is going on in my head. They can’t see how I fight inside of my mind on the daily.

I have been damaged along the way.

BPD is closely linked to trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, with any mental illness, not every case is the same. Just because there is a generic etiology of BPD does not mean every single diagnosis is cookie cutter. For example, I did not experience abuse, neglect or maltreatment as a child. I am fortunate to have unconditional love and support from my family. Nevertheless, trauma is something that has had an impact on my life. I have physical and emotional scars that have shaped me into the person I am today. This led to me create a distorted view of myself, other people and the world in general.

I feel abrupt, amplified emotions and I am often unable to control them.

You know that feeling when a friend cancels on you last minute? Many people would be upset and angry, yet for someone with BPD, feelings of rage become intolerable. You view the situation as an attack on you, yourself. You feel as though your friend planned to hurt you and doesn’t care about you or your feelings. It’s as though you feel this sudden hot flash overcome you and you lose control of yourself. In situations such as this one, I may lash out verbally – and have feelings of shame, guilt and regret almost instantaneously.

Anger isn’t the only emotion where I struggle with regulation. There is also anxiety, sadness and irritability. These emotions encompass me in a thick haze that I struggle to appropriately fight my way out of.

I have all or nothing thinking.

I love it or I hate it. I’m ecstatic or I’m depressed. Things are absolutely delightful or things are completely disastrous. I see the world in black or white – all or nothing. I have never known grey.

I have a continuous, internal monologue inside of my head.

I’m always thinking. Even if I become aware that I’m overthinking, it’s as though I can’t stop it. I analyze every little thing often creating completely irrational thoughts, what if situations and judgments. “They aren’t texting you back because you’re a bad person.” “You’re repulsive, no one loves you and you will be alone forever.” “You deserve every bad thing that has happening in your life.” Because of this, I find that allowing myself to be happy is a challenge. I often believe I don’t deserve happiness or love. I blame myself for situations that are beyond me. If the weather’s bad, it’s probably because “I did something to deserve it. I’m sorry.” As you can see, this constant (no-good) thinking is exhausting. It impairs my relationship with others as well as my relationship with myself.

I can love myself one second and want to end my life the next, multiple times throughout the day.

This topic almost goes hand in hand with the previous one. Because I am always thinking, I find that my beliefs and thoughts can switch multiple times during the day. The main one that I struggle with is my view of myself. “You are beautiful and your scars show your strength”. “Actually no, you’re damaged beyond repair and your scars give you physical evidence that no one could ever love you.” I am able to love everything about myself and two seconds later, sob uncontrollably in disgust. The hardest part about this is that it’s all happening inside of my head. No one can see the pain and distress that I feel. This ominous feeling is completely invisible to the outside world.

I crave affection, yet flinch when someone gets too close.

I want to be loved and validated more than your average person. I often fantasize about how I want my life to be like the fairy tale, love story we see in movies. The issue with this (besides being quite unreasonable), is that I have such an incredible difficulty with being vulnerable. The thought of letting someone in makes my head ache and my stomach upset. I fear rejection, failure and hurt. I struggle with the idea that someone could truly love me (and all of me). Because of this, I don’t like to make close connections with others unless I know for a fact that they won’t leave or hurt me (how can you truly know?) (and even then, I often question it).

I have an irrational fear of losing my loved ones.

One of my biggest fears in life is that, one day, my loved ones will stop answering my calls. They will decide that I am too much of a burden, a lost cause and continue their lives without me. They will leave me to fend for myself.

*Thankfully, this would never happen – but it still crosses my mind from time to time.*

Destructive behaviours distract me from reality.

Drinking copious amounts of alcohol became my escape. I would drink and drink and drink, until I blacked out. Regretfully, I can recall a few times, when I woke up in vomit or urine. Gross, I know. This was all done to forget who I was. To numb the excruciating pain. To sleep through the night. To turn my mind off. To not have to be me for a little while.

With heavy drinking, came impulsive behaviours. I won’t get into too much detail about this as I still deeply struggle with coming to terms with things that have happened to me. But, long story short, my impulsivity has led to sexual assaults and self-harm.

Self-harm became a way to deal with my emotions. Numb? Maybe you’ll feel something. Ashamed or guilty? You deserve to be punished. Sad? Release some pain. Suicidal? Maybe it will go too far this time.

Some days breathing is about all that I can do.

Apart from side effects of chemotherapy (which are finally subsiding), some days I just can’t get out of bed. I am tired of thinking and functioning. I just need a little break from the world for a while. I am not suicidal – I am just tired and need to be left alone. I will come out when I am ready.

Sometimes I feel empty, like a shell without the snail.

This feeling of emptiness is almost indescribable. I don’t feel anything; I feel hollow as if there is nothing inside of me. I can’t smile and I can’t cry. I feel numb. It is unsettling to say the least.

Sometimes I depersonalize, disconnecting myself from this world.

When my emotions become too much for me to handle, my body may shut down. This is where I depersonalize. It’s like living in a thick fog. Sometimes I feel as though yes, I am in my body but cannot move or think. Other times, I feel as though I’m across the room staring back at myself. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does it creates intense anxiety and panic.

I am an empath and have such a big heart.

For as long as I can remember, the needs of others have always come before my own. If I can make someone else, smile or laugh then I am satisfied. I will talk to someone for hours about their problems and do my best to give them advice or help them come up with a solution. The trouble with this is that I often feel other people’s feelings too much. When I was younger, I recall a night when I was watching Team Canada play. Although we won, I cried because I felt awful for the goalie on the losing team. A simple example like this one, shows that I struggle with creating emotional boundaries. I often feel as though it is my duty to keep everyone happy and alive.

I am resilient.

Despite all of these negative thoughts, emotions and behaviours, I strive to be at peace with myself. I take medications nightly and I participate in dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) twice a week. I have only been receiving this treatment for one month now, but I have already made so much progress. I work on the skills that I have learned every single day. I practice self-love, mindfulness and compassion towards myself. I have become sober and in turn, my impulsivity has decreased. I’ve found a creative energy in myself that I had never known. I am able to appropriately deal with my negative emotions.

Something that I’ve realize is that with many mental illnesses (and BPD is no different), you have to want to get better. You have to want to heal and recover. You need to practice the skills and techniques that you have learned every single day. You have to integrate good, happy and therapeutic things into your life. You will sink if you don’t.

I am not crazy.

I am a human just like you and the next person. I love playing soccer. I practice yoga daily. I paint and write. I love to sing loudly and dance around my apartment. I love going to the beach. Laughing is one of my favourite things to do. I am not a monster. I am just another human being who happens to struggle. But, I am hopeful. I am healing, and I am recovering.

I am Emily, and I have borderline personality disorder but no, I am not crazy.

Keep on shining.

Emily

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The Sober Vacation of a Lifetime

Vacations. 

We all want them. We all need them. And, to be honest, we all deserve them.

We rationalize treating ourselves to a little piece of paradise by working hard during the year. Often times, we take vacations to get a break from reality for a little while. Maybe we’ve been going through a rough time, or maybe we’re simply celebrating a special event. Either way, we take time out of our busy schedules to breathe.

When most of us (Canadians) imagine the perfect vacation, we picture unlimited sunshine, sandy beaches, exquisite foods, and copious amounts of alcohol. This description used to fit me perfectly. In fact, every vacation that I went on I was so focused on what I would drink next that time flashed before my eyes like a shooting star. I missed out on many precious moments because I was too intoxicated by the thought of alcohol (and the alcohol itself).

Yet, this March break, I stayed sober and it was the best vacation of my life.

I didn’t miss a second. I was present and I soaked all of it in like the Florida sun on my skin. I saw every deep orange sunset. I tasted every sweet pineapple. I felt every grain of the warm sand in between my toes. I was immersed in the beauty of my vacation, and I blissfully remember it all.

I didn’t wake up in the morning with a throbbing headache or a flutter of regrets. I didn’t hold my stomach tightly and pray for the pain to go away. I woke up every single morning ready to experience more – to see more, to feel more, to hear more. To see the sun glistening on the blue water, to hear the chatter of loved ones catching up, to smell the saltiness of the ocean and to feel myself relax and be at peace. Finally.

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In a world where alcohol in shoved in our faces and we believe that maybe if we just have “one” drink we’ll be more outgoing and adventurous, it is so very important to take a step back from it for a while. To fully indulge in life. To see the beauty of everything around us. To be free. 

I never wanted to admit that there was anything wrong with drinking heavily. Isn’t that how we have a good time? However, now that I have seen the other side, I have felt the freedom and I will never go back.

I have now been sober for 57 days and I have never loved myself or my life more.

“Getting sober just exploded my life. Now I have a much clearer sense of myself and what I can and can’t do. I am more successful than I have ever been. I feel very positive where I never did before, and I think that’s all a direct result of getting sober.” – Jamie Lee Curtis

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol abuse, please know that there is support out here. You do not have to fight alone. You do not have to stay in the dark. There is light. I promise you, there’s a brighter day.

Keep on shining.

Emily

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Resources in Canada:

Canada Drug Rehab

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

Canadian Addiction Helplines

Drug Rehab

Free E-Book on How To Get Sober

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