A Mental Health Win or Fail?

Navi Dhanota, a York University student won a precedent-setting human rights complaint against the school. She pictured near her home on a cold January day.

Image: A young woman (Navi) with black/brown hair that falls just below her shoulders, standing outside on a sidewalk, wearing a black jacket. She is looking directly at the camera.

Recently, a young women named Navi Dhanota (Phd student) got York University to change its policy around academic accommodations for students with a mental illness diagnosis. Presently, many Ontario universities and colleges require a letter from a psychiatrist stating that the student has a mental illness, the SPECIFIC illness(es) and that because of this they require academic accommodations. Navi did not want to provide a specific mental illness diagnosis and when the University demanded one she filed a human rights complaint against the school with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Her hard work paid off!  York University has changed their policy and now,

“…students seeking supports at York won’t have to label their illness to get help. The school still requires an assessment from a licensed doctor to confirm the student has a legitimate condition that may require faculty flexibility or other supports, but the focus is now on determining how the disability affects their learning. For example, some students may need to take tests at a particular time of day because medication makes them drowsy.” ( Diana Zlomislic, Toronto Star, Jan 12 2016)

As with anything, there are critics. Heather Mallick (columnist, author and lecturer) is very much against this policy change stating:

“The legal requirement that a stigmatizing diagnosis be a secret from helpful universities smells of mould and asylums.” (Heather Mallick, Toronto Star, Jan 15 2016)

Mallick may have a point if her article wasn’t written from a place of what I can only interpret as ignorance and privilege (she lectures on human rights so that’s a little scary). Why keep mental disability a secret she asks? There are many reasons, all of them valid and worthy of respect.

In an open letter to Mallick, Rosalind Robertson makes many great points that I support such as the stigma people face when they disclose their diagnosis, that it is not being our job to educate everyone by being “out”, and a person’s right to privacy.

Those who support and oppose are separated by a line etched in stone. Some that I know stand behind Mallick  and others stand behind Navi. I personally, if you haven’t already guessed, stand behind Navi. Many of us with mental health concerns and have gone on to post-secondary education probably have experience with their academic accommodations department. Please read about my experience with academic accommodations here.

I strongly support York’s policy change because the specific diagnosis shouldn’t matter. What matters is that a doctors identifies there is a need, a “mental disability”, and that support will be needed in certain areas. There is stigma when people find out your diagnosis. Keeping that information to yourself is NOT stigmatizing or taking a step backwards. It is respecting yourself. It is respecting where your story is told and who knows your story. IT IS A PRIVILEGE TO KNOW MY STORY! A specific diagnosis doesn’t tell a person about your learning needs. I gave my specific diagnosis, as required, and they still did not meet my learning needs. Our privacy needs to be respect and our exact learning needs have to become a priority.

Image: a hand partially covering the word “privacy”.

Some are arguing that by keeping the diagnosis a “secret” that they are stigmatizing themselves and contributing to stigma. No. I can see how that can be an argument and I truly do not accept it as a decent argument. People should NEVER be forced to disclose. People should NEVER ben shamed for not disclosing. My health is none of your business unless I chose to let you in. If you can provide a service without specific knowledge then provide me with that service. My borderline personality isn’t the important part. The important part is that I have trouble with my memory, especially when under stress, so I would like to write essays instead of tests. Writing essays allows me time to sit down and go through my knowledge and write it all down so it makes sense. A test makes me think on the spot and tests me on what I can remember, not what I know or how I can apply what I have learned (this is also a critique of testing in general). Knowing I am borderline will not tell you that.

Some may argue that many people are blogging about their mental health issues so why should it matter if they have to disclose to their school. It’s about choice. Blogging about my mental health is something I chose to do. I control what I put out, I get to speak for myself. I don’t need or want to disclose to everyone. If I don’t disclose to someone and they find my blog it goes back to knowing that I have control over how I represent myself. I should be given that same control when seeking academic accommodations.

I am big on choice. I believe we should have more choices in treatment, more choices in ways of being and more choice in who we disclose too. If a student wants to tell accommodations faculty their exact diagnosis then that is fantastic. Schools should not force students to share something about themselves that they may not wish to share. Forcing someone to disclose should not be the only way to receive support! You don’t need to know I am borderline. You need to know what I need. 

 

 

 

Suicide is not funny.

A few days ago I saw the same article as many others on social media. Amazon, a popular online shopping website, was selling t-shirts that joke about suicide. I joke about suicide, as a suicide attempt survivor and as someone who jokes to make it hurt less. My jokes are not for everyone and I tend to reserve them for my friends with mental health issues who have a similar dark sense of mental health humour. The t-shirts are being pulled after a great petition and letter writing campaign were launched.

Not all Amazon websites have gotten rid of the t-shirts, though including Amazon.ca, the Amazon I use. I did a quick search and found a t-shirt that reads “SUICIDE. Makes our lives so much easier.” I decided to leave a review. 1 star and a comment that reads

I’m a long time customer of Amazon.ca. I am also a suicide attempt survivor. I cannot imagine how horrible the lives of those who love me would have been if I had been successful. Thoughts of suicide have also made my life very difficult. There is nothing “easy” about suicide. It’s horrible. It’s killing people. I strongly suggest Amazon. ca follows what some of the other Amazon websites have done and get rid of this product.

Amazon aside, when this issue first appears on my Facebook feed via The Globe & Mail, I decided to leave a quick comment. I planned on writing something similar to what I just sent to Amazon and decided against it when I saw the 3 other comments. These commenters went on about how people are too sensitive and cannot take a joke and one claimed that people need to suck it up and accept that life is hard. The unsafe space they had created made me change my plan. I left a comment stating simply, “This is bad.” I was very upset at what the other commenters had said. Comments like those would lead me to believe that they have never known (or think they do not know) someone who has had suicidal thoughts, has attempted suicide or has completed a suicide. When you know someone who has been or is suicidal it is a little more difficult to say that the person should just suck it up and accept that life is hard. When someone has died….how can you say that? That is the discrimination faced by suicidal people.

This is a huge reminder for me that discrimination is still alive and well. Suicide is not funny. The only answer I know is to keep talking. I don’t like talking about my attempt or my thoughts and if it means that by doing so I can educate someone then I will do so, safely. I have always been so proud of the mental health blogging community here on WordPress (and other blogging sites). We make a huge difference in the lives of each other and the others out there who read our blogs. Many of you have taught me and from you feedback, many of you have learned from me. Let’s keep ourselves safe and let’s keep educating others! ❤

Image: “Suicide is not a joke. So stop making jokes. It’s not cool, nor funny.” Image of one hand placed across the other holding a piece of ripped paper that has “happiness” written on it.

Good Morning Discrimination!

Yesterday morning, I posted on a Facebook page I admin a BuzzFeed article called, “23 Things People with Borderline Personality Want You to Know.” I agree with what is written in the article such as,

1. BPD can make it incredibly difficult to regulate your emotions.

12. BPD can make it really hard to maintain relationships.

17. Some forms of therapy work better than others — it depends on the patient and the practitioner.

23. People with BPD are stronger than you know.

I love BPD humour! Image reads: I prefer to not think of myself as having BPD. I prefer to think of it as being really awesome and letting know through outbursts of emotion.

I posted my own comment along with the article on the Facebook page saying, “People with BPD need and want love. It can be difficult for people with BPD is express themselves appropriately because they are sensitive people in a very invalidating world. People with BPD can improve themselves by learning skills (such as through DBT) and by having supportive people in their life who are patient, understanding, trusting and loving.”

The post was Liked and shared and then received a comment that would be the first comment I have ever deleted off of the Facebook page.

Interesting but having lived with someone I am 100% sure was borderline I would say you need to be a freaking incredible person to pull off an intimate relationship with a borderline. I did it for 16 years and had to get out.

I toyed with responding with validation and education (“It can be difficult to be in a relationship with someone who is experiencing emotion dysregulation. Learning about their experience can help both people find a way to be together and there is nothing wrong with needing to end the relationship if it is not working.”) and eventually decided to just delete the comment. This is the first comment I have ever deleted from the page!

I deleted the comment because it is phrased in such a way that I got the impression that education wasn’t wanted. I thought that this person is more concerned with how difficult it can be to be in a relationship with someone who has BPD than how to support a BPD person and how to support themselves in that relationship. It is discriminatory and it had to go!

I have written many times on this blog about BPD discrimination (see links below) and I am fortunate that I do not frequently experience discrimination specifically related to BPD. When I do it cuts me pretty deep as much of it is meant to be mean. What bothers me with the above comment is the idea that only certain types of people can be with BPD individuals and that person must be a god to put up with us.

One of my deep rooted fears is that I am unlovable and unworthy of love. To hear that people think people with BPD cannot be in relationships or can only be in relationships with “special” people is very upsetting and also a lie. Are there some people with BPD that make relationships impossible and maybe even abusive? Yes. Are there some people with BPD who have fun and loving relationships? Yes. You know why both and everything in between can be true? Because people with BPD are like everyone else in terms of having unique personalities, values, experiences, strengths and challenges. Many of us with BPD, myself included, have been in abusive relationships and blamed for the abuse. I wouldn’t say that my abusers are “freaking incredible”.

Let me give credit though to B. He is a “freaking incredible person” BUT not for “pulling off” a relationship with me. He is incredible because he is kind, affectionate, positive, loving, caring, hard working, smart, attractive and MINE! I can only speak for myself when I say that there is no trick to being with me. There is nothing to “pull off”. I ask for respect, love, trust, understanding and support. Is this not what many ask for in their relationships?

Relationships are not easy. I  know that I am not easy. I know that B is not easy. If we want to make it work, if we are both willing to admit our faults, improve ourselves and accept each other then we can make it. BPD has nothing to do with it.

It was a morning of discrimination and hopefully, today can be an evening of education.

Related posts

BPD, Sexual Behaviour & Long-Term Relationships

Bashing Borderlines: Helping Professional Discrimination

New Diagnosis, New Discrimination

The “Science” of Evil

Don’t Stereotype My Anger

 

That time my Diva Cup got stuck

Image: Woman laying on a bed with her back to the camera. There is period blood on her pants and on the bed. Photo by Rupi Kaur.

Aside from being shamed for experiencing emotion dysregulation and intense emotions I am also shamed for having a period. Many cis women and individuals who have periods, all over the world are taught that having a period is something that should be kept a secret and many who do not experience periods, such as men, are taught it is disgusting. I have seen many articles about the horrible backlash some individuals experience when they publicly talk about their periods such as Rupi Kaur, from Brampton, Ontario who received death threats after she posted a picture on Instagram of a photo series her and her sister, Prabh, took that depict periods. I haven’t even really scratched the surface of this issue. but I want to share an example from the summer where I was told I should have kept quiet when I expressed on Facebook an issue with my period.

Image result for menstrual cup

Image: A hand holding a Diva Cup.

It was June or July of this year and to try and save money to move out I decided to finally try the Diva Cup. A Diva Cup is a silicone cup that you insert into the vagina to catch blood. I know a few individuals who use the Diva cup and they have had a good experience. I went to Shopper’s Drugmart and bought a Diva Cup. I believe I inserted it fine but when I went to take it out it took me 30 minutes and the second time, my worst fear happened… I couldn’t get the Diva Cup out. I went to Facebook and asked my Facebook Diva Cup-using-Friends if they had any tips on how to get the Diva Cup out. I received a lot of good suggestions and a conversation about vaginas, periods, and kegels unsued. I ended up having to go to a walk-in clinic to have the Diva Cup removed (I need to always remember that if something is labeled as “rare”, that it will most likely happen to me).

A day or so later I shared this experience with my co-workers, one of which uses a Diva Cup. One co-worker told me that she had seen my posts on Facebook and thought that I should remove them because employers and other potential important people could see them, find them inappropriate and potentially affect something important in my life. I do not remember what I said to her, maybe nothing, but I did start substituting “period” with other physical concerns in my head to see if they would bring about a similar response.

“If anyone has ever broken a bone before can you tell me the best way to get care for it?”

“My nose is really runny, does anyone have suggestions on how to clear it out?”

“I think I’m getting a wart on my foot. Can anyone tell me how to remove it?”

I think you get the picture. Just because my health concern involved period blood and a vagina does not mean I should not have shared about it or thought that something in my life would be at risk  because I shared it. How can I be silent about something that I experience every month, that I share with possibly billions of individuals and something that tells me my body is healthy? From my experience, people would rather hear about how I’ve tried to end my life than about my body’s potential to create life because I bleed every month.

Image: pads, tampons and panty liners laid out on a towel.

I believe the shaming over periods has to stop. There is nothing wrong with having a period and for those who do not get a period for a variety of health reasons it does not make you less than. Cis men, especially, have to stop shying away from periods. Seriously, if you have to, go stand in the “feminine hygiene” section for a bit, buy a pack of tampons or pads for your partner when they have their period, do some laundry that is stained with blood. Get over the fear. I am curious about how many will read this post versus my posts on mental health.

I am glad that there is no shame in my relationship over my period and I do admit there are some things I won’t let B see and I do feel shame around it, not the need for privacy. These are thoughts that I will continue to challenge and he will have to challenge his own as well. I encourage all of you to challenge your thoughts as well. Periods are not bad. Annoying, yes, but not bad.

P.S. I do not want to scare anyone into not trying a Diva Cup. I think it is an amazing idea and is proving to be of great use physically and financially to many individuals with periods.

When it’s not in your head and actually in your life

Image: A silhouette of a male presenting individual standing alone in a room.

For many, if not all of us, who have a mental health diagnosis what we think, feel and perceive, we are told, “It’s all in your head”. We are used to, and I would argue, encouraged to, look to ourselves as the reason why we are suffering from self-deprecating thoughts, negative perceptions of our life and horrible emotions. I have spent YEARS trying to fix myself so the sad things that I think, feel, and perceive will change because like everyone has told me, “It’s all in your head.” I am the one with distorted thinking, I am the one with emotion dysregulation, I am the one with paranoid ideation. Although, what I am finding is that the more I learn to regulate, identify my emotions and become aware of what is going on inside of me, I begin to see how many thoughts, feelings and perceptions are influenced by ACTUAL external events. I have no idea what to do with that…

When I wrote a response to an article on positive thinking as a form of gaslighting, I was searching for related blog posts I had written. I ended up finding examples of how I blamed myself for the abuse in my previous relationship. I wrote something along the lines of, “I wish I could believe [my ex] when he tells me he’s not trying to control me.” Looking back now, with my new knowledge, he was, 100% controlling me. My mental health concern was used as a scapegoat and I had no problem accepting that it was all on me. It’s always been on me. It was very difficult but freeing to realize the role of the other person in creating my pain.

Examples of external events stirring up internal crisis are not always as extreme as the above. Take my current experience of loneliness. Entering it’s third week, I have been experiencing very intense and distressing feelings, thoughts and perceptions of loneliness. During the first week, when I experienced a severe depressive episode, I blamed myself for my lonliness. I told myself that if I only tried harder then my friends would hang out with me. I spent last week doing just that. I asked a few friends if they were available and they said they were not for a variety of reasons. On the extreme side, some are posting pictures of being with friends after telling me they were busy. As a result, I have come to realize that this loneliness is actually happening. I am being turned down by friends for hangouts and that is what is fueling the feelings of loneliness, thoughts of worthlessness and perceptions of abandonment and rejection. It is not in my head. I’m afraid to act on this information.

Image: Says, “Keep pushing forward, especially when you’re rather quit.”

I recognize that in the past I have avoided acknowldging when pain is being caused by external events instead of internal. It is why I am not a fan of thought records or reality testing. Any evidence that support my thoughts are extremely painful to see. I cannot control the external but I can control the internal and that is easier but not productive in any way.

What should I do? I have ideas but my emotion mind does get in the way of me acting on them or even fully acknowledging that it is what I should do. My wise mind, that is trying to burst through, says to persist and keep asking friends to hang out, that I should attend the BPD peer support group to make new friends, confront friends who keep turning down my requests for hanging out, get myself out of my house for any reason and radically accept that I am experincing external and internal loneliness and that is why I should act on the above. I should not hide. I should not blame myself.

Not taking your meds? Don’t worry, there’s a drug for that.

I’ll be blunt. This disturbs the crap out of me.fda

The FDA, in the USA, is reviewing a drug that could tell doctors and caregivers if the person under their care is taking their medication. This is specifically being targeted towards individuals with mental health issues. Using a combination of Abilify (an antipsychotic) and a “digital sensor the size of a pencil tip”, doctors will be able to monitor if their patients are taking their psych drugs as prescribed.

The thought of this drug seriously makes me feel sick to my stomach. I can, of course, stretch my mind and think, “Oh, this is great because people should adhere to their medication to gain the positive effects,”…but…..that makes me feel sick too. This drug just oozes oppression, mistrust and lack of personal autonomy. I can surrender my personal beliefs about psych drugs and admit that some people, to keep them or others safe, need to be on these drugs, but to potentially use such oppressive means such as tracking their body chemistry as very upsetting.

The article opens with, “A digital drug under review by the Food and Drug Administration could offer a solution to one of the largest barriers to treating people with a serious mental illness: adherence to medication.” This sentence demonstrates what I believe is a huge problem within our mental health system and how mental health issues are viewed in society, “Who is the problem a problem for?” It sounds to me that this digital drug is supposed to make the lives of others better, not necessarily the lives of who would be taking the psych drugs or the digital drug.

People do not adhere to their psych drugs for a variety of reasons. I know for myself, I did not adhere to my psych drugs as prescribed because they were making me suicidal and homicidal. I also, as a teenager, abused my psych drugs and took many milligrams over the prescribed dose. I wish that my psychiatrist has listened to me when I told him I didn’t like the psych drugs I was on. So for me, a combination of physiological problems and issues with a mental health professional made me not adhere to my psych drugs.

Not specifically about psych drugs but I can relate to reasons 1, 2, 3, and 8.

I believe that it is important for mental health professionals to LISTEN to why their clients do not want to adhere to their psych drugs. We all have valid reasons even if professionals and caregivers do not agree. Listening tends to yield a lot of useful information. I also believe that a lack of psych drug adherence demonstrates the issue with psych drugs effects on the body and mind and the lack of available and affordable alternatives to psych drugs. For many, it is easier to get a prescription than it is to get a therapist. For some, their concerns could be managed and/or eliminated with proper therapy (and not the one size fits all therapy we currently have) without psych drugs or in combination with short-term use.

Again, yes, I get it, some people need psych drugs to be the best they can be. That is OK! But this tracking drug is NOT OK! As Jennifer Mathis, director of programs at the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law says in the article, “Atypical antipsychotics can have very serious side effects, and uncertain efficacy for many individuals, so we should be extremely careful about technology that could be used to promote coercive delivery of these medications.”

We need to tread carefully as people with mental health issues have historically been treated horribly all in the name of “treatment.