What is the point to this life if I am just going to feel depressed all the time, feel like a failure as a mom and a wife whilst at the same time have everything I need when there are so many people out there that have way less than me? When I say way less than me, I mean waaay less than me, to the point of starvation with no fresh water to drink.
When I was 18 years old, I moved to Canada from South Africa. I had “escaped” my father’s emotional abuse and the family, that I was convinced no longer loved me, because heaven forbid you abandoned your parents. My mother, who moved to Canada when I was ten, which is another blog for later, bought me a one-way ticket to give me a better life. There was no money for me to go to university in South Africa, so really this was a huge gift. In my mind, everything was going to be better in Canada; I was going to be with my mom, have the opportunity to go to university and I was going to live as they do in the movies. Right! Well, within the first 2 years, I realized that my relationship with my mother that I had put on a “she is the best mom and is going to fix all my problems” pedestal was very broken, and living as they do in the movies was not so impressive either. Who knew? I was alone; I missed my friends and family back home, I missed speaking the language and the values I had grown up with. It all seemed lost and so was I. I did go to university and got my Chartered Accountant designation, which to this day, is probably one of my proudest accomplishments, given where I came from.
My first summer during university I spent with my mom. We barely spoke for the most part of the summer and by the end of it, I had made up my mind that I was moving back to South Africa. The last weekend of the summer there was a South African festival in town; I cried all the way walking there, as I could no longer stand the silence between me and my mom and the longing for home. As I got to the gate of the park there was a very attractive man (let’s call him John) selling tickets to the festival. He was also South African and asked me to come and hang out with him and his friends after he was done selling tickets for the festival. Within a few weeks, I had made a bunch of South African friends and I was dating a South African man. Everything felt like it was going to be okay again. When I met his parents, I felt like I was home and no longer needed to return to South Africa as I had created my own little South Africa within Canada. John and I were great friends, even great lovers at some point in time, but there were also a lot of fighting. I had never been in a relationship before and I thought that maybe this was normal. We got married, even though I was confident that I did not want to marry him, but out of fear of what people might think I did not dare say a word. I held on to this relationship for dear life, I wanted him to love me unconditionally. I started to fear every time he drove somewhere that he might die. For fear of him not loving me as much as I wanted him to love me I started cutting myself. We fought a lot as things started to unravel. There were many pressures in our relationship, other than my mental health withering. For our one-year anniversary, he took me camping with his parents. As his parents had caused many of the other pressures in our marriage, I had had enough. In my mind, I was convinced he did not love me. He told me he would never choose his family over me and I was done settling to be second best. Not long after our camping adventure I was admitted into the hospital, as I could no longer keep going with the heavy struggle in my mind. I loved John, I did not want a failed marriage, but I so deeply wanted and needed to be loved and accepted by him and his family. While hospitalized I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I am not sure if we were too young to deal with such a diagnosis and to overcome our marital problems but the fights increased and I distanced myself more and more. At the beginning of 2009, I left our home. Again, I found myself alone and very scared and unsure of what my future holds.
I spent about a 2 years in an apartment downtown Calgary and I was convinced that I no longer needed my medication. I was out of this marriage, even though there were times that I begged John to take me back as I got these waves of uncertainty. I was drinking every day, doing drugs on the weekend, smoking a pack a day until one day I no longer wanted to get out of bed. I remembered my friend, who lived above from me, came down and asked to come party with them and I said no. All I wanted to do was sleep. I failed one of my chartered accountant module exams, setting me back a year in my studies, as I just could not do anything anymore. I wanted to die.
During the time I lived downtown, I started dating a man I had met at work a few years back. I thought dating him would make everything better again, but instead our relationship eventually turned for the worst, just like me and John’s did. We got in bad fights where I would get extremely angry, and opposite to John, Dave got mad back and fought back to a point where it got physical. I had no idea what to do with my feelings of anger so I starting hitting and sometimes even throwing things. These were all the emotions and behaviours I hated from my childhood and here I was becoming my angry father. I was completely out of control. I had no idea who this person was that I had become.
I was out drinking with my friends one night, and after we left the bar I fell down on the ground and refused to get back up. I had enough! My friends called 911 and I was taken to the hospital once again. I broke up with Dave, as I knew at this point, the same emotions I felt with John, I felt with Dave. The same behaviours occurred. I was 26 years old and I was spiraling down so fast my head was spinning.
Again, the psychiatrist at the hospital diagnosed me with Borderline Personality Disorder. This was the third diagnoses by a third psychiatrist! What the fuck? Why do they keep diagnosing me with this disorder? I guess I need to start looking into this diagnoses, what it even means and do something about it. This was the first time anyone mentioned Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) to me. Dave and I got back together a couple months after being hospitalized. I told him about the diagnoses and he wanted to be there for me and help me! I just could not believe that he was willing to stay and not run away. That December, I was accepted into the DBT program offered thought Alberta Health Services.
DBT is a cognitive therapy that is offered in combination with skill training groups. There are four modules of skill groups to complete focusing on mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance and interpersonal effectiveness. I had a designated therapist assigned to me and saw a psychiatrist about once every quarter. I completed all my modules and was in therapy for about a year under this program. In this year, I was able to get to a place where I, for the most part, could control my anger outburst and self-harm episodes by using the distress tolerance skills. My relationship with Dave improved significantly as I learned how to control my anger and effectively asked for what I needed, and validate his feelings.
Here’s what stuck with me the most: By changing your behavior, you can change your emotions and in return you change your thoughts! As an example. Even though I feel angry with Dave because he didn’t return my call, I am going to decide to give him the benefit of the doubt and not act on my anger when he comes home. Instead, we spend a wonderful evening together and we do not argue; in return, I experience thoughts of happiness instead of anger. By choosing to not be angry, at that point in my life, was tremendous hard work and I had to use my distress tolerance and emotion regulation skills. This might seem like common sense but for someone with BPD it is not, as it was never taught as a child. Being angry is a choice and I know being angry is easier than to be happy. Isn’t it so much easier to complain about your job than it is to be incredibly greatful that you have one. Especially if you are depressed, I think we can easily get caught in that downward spiral. Do you see how I changed my thoughts by purely changing my behaviour?
So is the struggle worth it? Yes, because I went through all that pain and intense internal suffering, to learn how to be patient and learn to control my anger when I get frustrated with my daughters. Yes, because through my therapy, both my husband and I are able to learn the value of communication in order to meet each other’s needs and have an amazing marriage. I am not saying our marriage is perfect, but we are good at communicating and meeting each other halfway without killing each other. Life is not always easy but we need to open our eyes to the pain and suffering and look for what we’ve learned from it in order to contribute to our life to live our best life! I am not sure who said this, but I love the quote: “God’s gift to me is my life; how I live my life is my gift to God!”
Things that helped me:
- The willingness to help myself – I did not, nor did I want to accept the diagnosis of BPD for 8 years. It was only after I realized what I will be missing, the things in life that I want the most if I don’t get help, that I started wanting the help. No one in this world can make you better or convince you to go to therapy or change. Sometimes we need to hit rock bottom before we realize we need help. You can bring the horse to the water but you can’t make him drink it.
- Having a community – your community do not have to be huge, but having the support of Dave, my husband, and my incredible friends changed the whole game for me.