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January 28, 2021

Peeling Back the Layers – Let’s Talk about Mental Health

There’s a fabulous scene in Shrek where he tries to explain to Donkey that there’s a lot more to Ogres than people think.

“Ogres are like onions!” Shrek says showing Donkey an onion he’s currently eating.
Donkey tries guessing what he means: “They stink? They make you cry? Leave them out in the sun they get brown and start sprouting white hairs?” “NO, they have layers!” Shrek says emphatically!

The truth is, we are all like onions – we all have layers. Layers that have shaped our life and we either expose those layers or keep them hidden.

Arriving at Abraham Lake on a blistery cold morning in January, I was in awe as I looked upon the landscape. Usually the lake was smooth and the famous methane bubbles are clearly visible from above. This time however, the lake water levels had gone down causing the ice to heave, creating incredible layers that allowed me to see what’s under the once smooth ice and some insight into the world underneath the frozen lake. It got me thinking of the layers of experiences I’ve had that brought me to this moment. The layers that have helped shape me to be who I am today. Not all the layers are pretty.

Peeling back the Layers of Mental Illness

I also looked at it from the standpoint of mental illness, looking at the ice as a metaphor of all the layers of causes, symptoms and treatment. The layers of shame, judgment, fear, that hold people back from talking about it and getting help.

As you may know I’ve struggled with mental illness for quite some time. What began as Postpartum Depression in 2004, led to a major depressive episode and panic disorder which landed me in a psychiatric ward.

As the years have gone by, I was diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, experiencing serious bouts of depression at least four times a year. This past two years, I’ve felt there’s something more. Having learned tools, coping strategies and knowing the signs, it was becoming disconcerting that depression and anxiety were appearing more frequently. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was a possibility, yet that still didn’t feel right.

After suicidal ideation in August last year, my husband strongly encouraged and joined me to see our family doctor. She too, felt there was something more and referred me to a Psychiatrist.

The Psychiatrist I saw in October diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), as I display at least five of the nine characteristics of the disorder. At his recommendation I began Individual therapy with a Psychologist, whom I’ve been seeing once a week for three months. It is likely I have been dealing with this disorder for quite some time, it became more clear that I struggled with seven of the characteristics, some more prevalent than others. Both the Psychiatrist and Psychologist believe the events that transpired with a traumatic event in August, triggered and peeled back the layers on a lifetime of trauma and past experiences. 

When the Psychiatrist uttered the diagnosis – I felt a stab in my stomach. I wasn’t versed on BPD and had many incorrect assumptions about it. BPD is an extremely diverse and complicated disorder, with much of the information online being outdated or information quite stigmatized. Thankfully, due to the awareness and coping skills I already have, I am considered high functioning. For me personally it really shows up with fear of abandonment and being ruled by my moods, feelings and urges. I know Depression and Anxiety (which are symptoms of BPD), I don’t know BPD so it’s a little scary, I’ve worried about what people will think and say. In saying that I am feeling more at ease and accepting of the diagnosis as I learn more. 

The recommended treatment plan for BPD is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, this evidence-based therapy helps introduce effective and practical skills to replace unhealthy and negative behaviors. Learning about and applying mindfulness has played a tremendous part in being able to heal and move forward.

Let’s Talk Mental Health

Today, January 28th, 2021 – Bell Let’s Talk Day, I start a 15 Week Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Skills Group program and will continue with my individual therapy sessions for as long as needed. During an appointment with my Psychiatrist yesterday to monitor my progress, he commended me on the commitment and action I’ve taken to heal and said something that really stuck, “BPD doesn’t have to be mysterious.”

This time around, openly talking about my mental illness has taken some time to accept. What I know for sure, and without a doubt – talking about it helps with the healing process. There’s nothing to be ashamed about with mental illness, and everyone must take responsibility and accountability in educating themselves, and not be ashamed or afraid to talk about it!

All the layers of experience, trauma, grief, heartbreak and mental illness continue to shape me into the person I am in this moment.

Resources

Book recommendations from my Psychologist:

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