Shortly after I moved into the downtown Indianapolis area, I started betting on horse races at a bar (off-track betting, OTB). I realized I now had not one, but two addictions when I joked about buying a horse and naming it "Beer Money." While I'm in recovery, I still speculate about how my symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) fueled my gambling addiction. Thankfully, I caught it early.
More than Borderline
I live in a bad neighborhood, complete with an abandoned house next door. About a week ago, I saw a man with a crowbar and a bag enter the house through the previously boarded-up window. I called 911 to report a breaking and entering (B and E), and the police came out to investigate. Or so I thought. I walked outside, identified myself as the caller and prepared to positively identify the suspect. However, the police just looked at the forced-open window and left without saying a word. They didn't even interview me. I later learned that it's not the first time this guy has had the cops called on him--my landlord has called the police, but nothing has been done. The whole experience has caused my symptoms of borderline personality disorder (BPD) to flare up. It has made me think about what a person with mental illness can do when they witness, or, God forbid, are victims of, a crime.
Sometimes, as in the case of Robin Williams, mental health help fails. It's a minority of the time, but it happens. So what should we do when our help doesn't help? How can we change a treatment failure into a treatment success?
It's news that leaves you morose--Robin Williams, the comedian and actor who brought us Mrs. Doubtfire and Patch Adams, is dead from an apparent suicide. The news made me reflect on my battle with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and my own thoughts of suicide. There are three lessons to learn - know when to ask for help, keep on seeking help, and always remember that suicide is often a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
I was diagnosed with severe mental illness while I was a sophomore in college. I was suicidal, which prompted an emergency psychiatric evaluation. Unfortunately, it also prompted eviction from the dorm and suspension from school. I later got the director of the counseling center to admit--on the record--that the policy was more for the benefit of other students than the suicidal student. It was not the most compassionate of policies. So how can colleges and universities help students with mental illness?
After being medically discharged from the Army, More Than Borderline's Becky Oberg returned to Indianapolis to begin mental illness treatment. She soon learned that her location determined her access to borderline personality disorder (BPD) treatment almost as much as her insurance. She first saw a doctor in private practice, but transferred to a sliding-scale clinic after her COBRA ran out. She became suicidal and psychotic, but the hospital that treated cases like hers from her county was full. She was admitted to a different hospital, which wiped out her life savings because she was not eligible for its reduced rate.
If you haven't seen Kristen Bell's take on a minimum wage versus a living wage, you need to. But regardless of where you stand on the issue, there's a side that isn't being told--life below the poverty line while on Social Security Disability. Did you know that a person with the maximum disability benefits receives less than a full-time minimum wage earner? Or that 80% of mental health consumers are unemployed?
Stigma is one of the most challenging aspects of mental illness. A report by the President’s New Freedom Commission states: Stigma refers to a cluster of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate the general public to fear, reject, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illnesses. Stigma is widespread in the United States and other Western nations . . . It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment.
My brother recently posted a picture of a T-shirt that read "It's an Oberg thing. You wouldn't understand." This struck me as funny because our last name is not exactly common. It got better when I started reading the comments--all these other people with the last name Oberg who thought they were the only ones was intriguing enough, but my favorite comment was, "Has anyone else spent their life going 'No, it's not Irish, there's no apostrophe?" I loved the whole thread. It taught me an important lesson about group therapy--namely, it can be just as effective as individual therapy.
Life with borderline personality disorder means accepting the fact that some days will be better than others. Recently, I had a bad day. My therapist has suggested several different ways to distract myself from self-harming in hopes that I can put it off until the urge passes. Here is what's worked for me.