Editor’s note: This story contains references to and details of self-harm and suicide attempts that may be triggering to some readers.
I find good therapy to be a very fulfilling, rewarding, welcoming journey, and an emotional adventure—especially when coping with various aspects of my mental illness.
I suffer from schizoaffective disorder, which is part schizophrenia with depression; borderline personality disorder, which is characterized by instability in emotions, behaviors, and relationships; and anxiety, which catapults into panic attacks. In the past, I also experienced posttraumatic stress because of trauma associated with sexual abuse when I was 9, and also bipolar disorder. I take an antipsychotic and antianxiety medication now. Previously, I was on five medications which included a mood stabilizer, antidepressant, and a sleep aid. My psychiatrist wants me back on a mood stabilizer but I refused because of the accompanying weight gain.
Thus, I go to bed late and wake up early because of symptoms of mania. I have been seeing therapists since the age of 21, when I was diagnosed with mental illness. Unveiling my deepest thoughts and emotions wasn’t easy at first, because I had to build trust and feel comfortable in that type of setting. At 21, I was afraid of being hurt and misunderstood. Progressively I found it easier to divulge my secrets and receive the comfort I so needed.
My last therapist, whom I saw a month ago, refused to see me anymore. I attempted suicide in November 2014 under his care, without explaining to him my conflicting thoughts and feelings. He told me I needed someone with a more flexible schedule who would see me more frequently. My psychiatrist told me he was more afraid of what I could do because of my history of suicide attempts and self-mutilation. He was a good therapist, though. I was always in deep thought when I would speak to him because he didn’t just listen; he gave good feedback. That is what I have loved in all my therapists. I am not sure how many therapists I’ve seen over the past 17 years, but the number is high—primarily because of my frequent psychiatric unit stays (about 30).
I recall that a few years ago, one of the therapists I had while I was in a long term hospital for six months helped me using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). I was plagued by negative thoughts and distorted thinking and emotions. She helped me reframe my thoughts with a series of exercises that centered on anger with my mom, who was severely abusive, physically and verbally; anger and depression associated with sexual abuse; the hatred I had for myself that permeated my daily thoughts and emotions; and many other events and emotions.
I was much relieved after therapy, but I still had some distorted thoughts, such as polarized thinking, blaming, “should” language, filtering, and emotional reasoning. Most of my therapy would move me to many tears and emotional pain. That’s when I started dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) with another therapist. I was in emotional distress. Learning to stay in the moment, without trying to hurt myself, was very difficult. I had to achieve the wise mind—an integration of the emotional mind and reasonable mind—through mindfulness and meditation.
I learned that my thinking and behaviors were controlled primarily by my current emotional state, and that is why I would try to commit suicide on many occasions. I realize now, because of my suicide attempt last November, that I still haven’t achieved the wise mind. Due to my troubled thoughts and emotions, I tried to hurt myself by overdosing on Tylenol and Valium. Fortunately, these did not hurt me but did make me sleep, which I so needed. I was on a psychiatric unit for a week.
My therapist on the unit saw me every day taught me ways of coping with my emotions, including breathing exercises. I loved when he would put a melody to the counting during breathing exercises. It calmed me down whenever I cried. The therapist, my husband, and I made a coping card that I could use whenever I felt overwhelmed with my emotions. But first, the therapist explained to me that hurting myself is not on option.
We wrote down on the card things that I loved—for example, going for walks, using a sense of humor, baby hugs, talking to someone, breathing exercises, listening to music, and taking hot baths. These coping skills really help. Now, I feel I can handle my emotions more effectively without hurting myself. Even though I get depressed from time to time, I remember that there are alternatives to coping. I just have to follow through.
Most of my therapists were female, but whenever I had a male therapist I would experience transference. I fell in love with all my male therapists, no matter how old they were. I kept journals and would read them to my therapists on occasions. One of my male therapists suggested I publish my poems, so I did, with his encouragement. Of course, there were poems about him in that book, A Drop in the Bucket. I was madly in love with him, and dedicated three poems to him.
It was their care, warmth, compassion, empathy, and kindness that drew me to these therapists. I never knew them or their backgrounds; I never asked about their lives … so why was I falling in love with them? Just for the aforementioned things.
The therapist that diagnosed me with borderline personality (BPD) knew me very well, because I told him almost everything. My visits with him were also during long stays at a hospital I frequented. He saw me three times a week for 45 minutes. My thoughts, behaviors, emotions—he knew them very well. Borderline personality disorder included inconsistency in my emotions and thoughts, impulsive and reckless behavior, and unstable relationships with other people. My life was characterized by this instability.
One problem I had was cultivating good relationships and maintaining them. I am always suspicious of my friends. I would question their motives and regard them with suspicion. I would make friends and discard them whenever I felt threatened. There would be episodes of mania in which it seemed I had no control over my behavior. I would have sleepless nights, shopping sprees, singing in public, thoughts of having superpowers, and other horrendous behaviors. For these reasons and others, he diagnosed me with BPD.
Eventually, I learned that I was attempting suicide not because I wanted to end my life, but because I wanted to end the emotional pain. Self-mutilation was also a way of escaping for me. I learned to stop doing that, as well. I felt closer to my therapists than I did with anyone, because I disclosed my weaknesses to them and they offered comfort and reassurance that everything would be OK. Of course, I still have a long way to go, and I need to find another therapist—a good one, like the others. I can confide in them without fear of judgment; if they judge, they keep it to themselves. Yes, it has been a long journey of 17 years, with more to go. I have a lot to learn and to discover about myself. Until I reach my pinnacle, where I am comfortable with myself, comfortable in my own skin, then I will continue to hold the hands that have helped and will continue to help me through these tough times.
Melissa Brown-Collins is 38 years old and originally from Jamaica, West Indies. She currently resides in the Bronx, NY. She enjoys writing short stories, poems, and novels, and recently published a collection of poetry called A Drop in the Bucket. She experiences mental health issues, but has a supportive team which includes her wonderful husband. You can see her profile on Facebook, Twitter @BroMelissa, Google, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
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