This week, I started a DBT course. Every Tuesday, for the next eleven, I will make my way into the city and learn about Dialectical Behaviour Therapy for two hours before travelling back home with my homework for the week.
The first lesson was very much an introduction to DBT and I knew most of what was discussed. Between my own research and volunteer training, I had it covered. I’ve not yet sure if this will be the group for me, but since it’s near-impossible to find resources, I had to pay for this group and so will be doing it until the end.
But one topic that the facilitator covered got under my skin. She talked about the “bright side” of having Borderline Personality Disorder (or Emotional Dysregulation Disorder).
Apparently, we’re more empathetic, ‘adapted’ to high stress, and charismatic. And then she said that we are “just great risk-assessors,” with “high threat processing systems which help keep us safer on average.”
Seriously? Is that really a plus? And that was the final thing I really listened to. She had to do a hell of a lot of mental gymnastics to turn the constant ‘fight or flight’ mode into a positive, plus she was just wrong.
My problem, well, one of them, is that I’m a bad risk-assessor. I identify too many things at disproportionate risk levels. Going outside? For my anxiety, that’s one of the highest-risk activities. In reality, it is not.
In reality, most people will not say mean things to me, abandon me, or betray me. But in my head, it’s a guarantee.
Does that sound like accurate risk assessment? I sure think not.
For a long time, I was convinced that I had to find the good in my mental illness, it had to have happened for a reason. I struggle still with that. And where I am now, I believe that I was meant to get sick so that I could do the advocacy and the community work that I plan on doing.
But, I refuse to say that there’s any greater reason for it to have lasted as long as it has. For me to be here, four years later, unable to work, and with a past full of distress and pain? That’s a direct result of clinicians and the healthcare system as a whole failing me. That’s all.
I haven’t been growing empathy or patience, I’ve just been gathering pain and bitterness.
All this to say that I understand why it’s important to many people to find the reason for their illness, but I draw the line when someone tries to convince me that there’s a bright side.
Once upon a time, I did talk about the things that I thought my mental illness gives me. I did an interview with Anxiety Erica in the fall, and I answered the way I think a lot of people do:
This is a tough and weird question because mostly I feel like my illnesses have taken things from me. They’ve taken three years of my life, a few jobs, and my schooling. But, after I think about it a little more and make an effort to look at the positives, I hope that it’s taught me to be more compassionate, patient, and understanding. I also hope that I’ve been able to reach out and help or be a resource to some friends of mine who have struggled.
And I held that with me, trying to be positive, trying to look for the bright side. Until an interview that I did with Unapologetically Angie for my Mental Health Awareness Week festivities. I asked her what I considered a standard question, but she gave an answer that gave me permission not to look on the bright side. Angela said:
There are obviously downsides to mental illness, but are there any upsides that you’ve experienced?
I don’t think there are any positives. At the end of the day mental illness is debilitating at times and if I could get rid of it then I would in a heartbeat. Yes, without this mental health journey I wouldn’t be a blogger or the person I am today but I would be someone else, someone not covered in self-harm scars, I wouldn’t be someone who has lost years of her life to fighting against her own brain.
I can relate so much to that. I think that it’s a wonderful answer. Because I’m not grateful for my mental illnesses, but I am learning to live with them. And if you told me that I could flip a switch and go without it, I would do it in a heartbeat. My mental illnesses take way more from me than they may give. They don’t have a bright side, because that implies that it’s way closer the half-and-half than it is.
Yes, I am the exact person that I am because my journey has involved mental illness, but that doesn’t mean that without it I would be extremely different. Mental illness changed my life, but not for the better. And I don’t think that there’s any shame at all in admitting that.
There’s no shame in saying that your brain malfunctions. It’s allowed to be a terrible thing. It doesn’t need a bright side. You don’t need to be positive about it. It’s not a positive thing.