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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


We need to talk about the ugly side of mental illness too

Stony Brook Student Health Services offers mental health services through Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). Students can call the CAPS After Hours phone number to be connected with a licensed mental health counselor at any hour of the day. DOROTHY MAI/STATESMAN FILE

Mental health is one of those taboo topics that’s becoming somewhat acceptable to talk about, but I don’t think we always have the right conversation. I don’t want to normalize mental illness, because mental illness is not normal. It’s a disease that forces its sufferers to battle with it constantly. Fighting it is nothing like Hollywood says it is, and it’s important to acknowledge that too.

The battle for mental health isn’t a straight-line story where effort equals rewards. Getting well, at least in my case, involved lots of failure and many steps backwards.

I have a mild case of borderline personality disorder (BPD), presenting four out of the nine symptoms associated with BPD, one below the threshold for the official diagnosis. I was eventually able to find a good therapist who does dialectical behavioral therapy and a good psychiatrist who prescribes my medication. That means I’m fully functional and able to enjoy a healthy balance between school, work and my social life.

I’m one of the lucky ones.

BPD is 100 percent treatable, but a lot of people afflicted with mental illness, especially ones as volatile as BPD, aren’t as fortunate as me. Their insurance might limit their options so much that they wind up with bad therapists or professionals who just aren’t a good fit for them.

I wasn’t always so fortunate. I have gone through eight different therapists. Some of them were provided by my schools, others were found on my own, others were found by my parents. During these search gaps, I’ve had to deal with untreated BPD, depression and anxiety for years until I found the help I have now. I’ve called suicide hotlines repeatedly and sought help through services at the schools I’ve attended.

One time I called Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) After Hours for help. The operator basically repeated back to me for 20 minutes everything I said almost verbatim without giving any advice. I talked about not being happy with my home life, not having people I can rely on and how I can’t focus on school.

She would say, “Have you tried going to clubs and meeting people? Have you tried talking with your family? Have you tried studying harder?”

I ended up cursing the operator out and hanging up. I was on the verge of my umpteenth mental breakdown and wanted to talk to another empathizing human.

The operator called me back and left a message saying that if I don’t call back in the next 20 minutes, she’s sending the police to my house because she thought I was a danger to myself. I called back and was left on hold for 20 minutes.

While trying to get this person to leave me alone, I wound up having the police knocking at my door demanding that I let them in while I was still on hold. They shouted at me, demanded I keep showing them my hands, interviewed every person in my house and told me I was a danger to myself. All the while they kept shouting at me that they were only there to help.

There are multiple avenues of “help” that end up making the situation worse. There are plenty of people who abandon us at our most vulnerable. There is generally a point where we decide if we want to keep on going or not. Far too often the outcome is not positive.

That’s the reality of mental illness. The battle for wellness is a battle of attrition, there’s a lot of pain and false hope along the way. Surviving to find the proper treatment takes incredible perseverance, but it absolutely does happen.

It took a lot of hard work, but I am where I want to be, doing the things I want to do and that makes me happy. I would not have been able to do this if I kept listening to the people who demonize mental illness and discourage me from getting me help. I would not be here if I let the failures in the system discourage me from getting help. I would not be here if I gave in to my inner demons and gave up on myself.

At this point, if you talked to me in a normal conversation, you would not know I have BPD — which is the point. Therapy and properly-dosed medication are supposed to help you be yourself, and give you the tools to deal with your illness.

All I want to do is encourage people to accept that they need help, that there is nothing wrong with getting help and that they are never “too much.” You’re a human being and you deserve to be happy. If other people who have suffered far worse circumstances than me can come back and heal from their disease, so can you. You just need to be willing to try, and I and anyone who truly cares about you will be all the more proud of you for doing it.

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