Today’s SameHere Hero Story: Stephanie Silva
I’m not bipolar, but I have disorder. They call it borderline. I don’t know why they called it that though. My personality is fine. “Emotional regulation disorder” I think is a better name. My mood can change in the blink of an eye and I don’t feel things the same. Rejection is hard. I take it harder than most. And I’ve been hospitalized for my pain. Reactive, impulsive, sometimes explosive. But please don’t call me insane. If you know someone who has this disease, don’t treat them with disdain. Mine comes from trauma, childhood drama, but slowly I’m healing my brain. I know that you feel like you’re walking on glass. One move and they break so fast. Be patient, my friend, I know that it’s hard, but for us the pain is vast. Thank you so much for listening to me and holding space for how I feel. Sometimes that’s all we really need, and the time for us to heal.
(trigger warning: sexual abuse and suicide)
When I was 5 years old, my half-brother began to molest me. This went on until he was kicked out of my home for doing drugs when I was 13. He groomed me into thinking it was normal, so I didn’t tell anyone. My trauma began to manifest physically. I would faint “randomly” and I used to become so sick to my stomach that I would vomit. Doctors had no explanation for my symptoms. I discovered later on that my environment was triggering me because I had repressed everything, which is called Conversion disorder. When I was 14, I began dating a boy who was 3 years older than me. We dated for a few years, but due to my trauma, I was not a very physical person. We rarely kissed or held hands. When I was 17, he sexually assaulted me. Soon after, my parents got a divorce and then they each got remarried in the same year.
I felt broken and alone. I was so uncomfortable in my skin that I would imagine what it would be like to remove it. I hated who I saw in the mirror. I wondered if I would ever be good enough, pretty enough…enough. I felt like a mistake, or a burden. Like a misfit toy. Everyday felt cold, miserable, and rainy, with no sign of the sun or warmth. I thought it would be like this forever. I couldn’t handle the immense anguish I was feeling. As a result, at just 18 years old, I attempted suicide and ended up in a psychiatric hospital. The first time I was hospitalized, I was diagnosed with depression and complex PTSD. After my release, I began going to individual therapy and group therapy and things were looking up. I thought everything was better. I started going to college that fall, but the habit of repression came back. I began shoving everything down, and I still did not have good coping skills. The people around me used to tell me they felt like they were walking on eggshells around me. Every seemingly little thing would cause me to react in ways people did not understand. I didn’t even understand it at the time. I was an emotional rollercoaster, and I constantly changed my mind. Dating was hard because of my volatility, but when I was 21, I started to date a guy who didn’t make me feel crazy. He used to say that he was a broken thing that liked fixing other broken things. It sounded romantic at the time, but now I see how toxic it all was. We moved in together after 8 months of dating, and my mental health began to decline again. He made me feel like he was the only person that would ever understand how I felt, so I began seeing my friends and family less. He became my whole world, and I lost myself along the way. I graduated college with my degree in English when I was 22, but I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was just letting life happen to me at that point. I felt out of touch with reality and thought that my life was as good as it would get. At the same time, my grandma, who was my absolute favorite person in the world, was dying. She was diagnosed with chronic breast cancer 10 years before, and she was living with it, but it invaded her brain and her body was done fighting. I was done fighting as well and did not want to witness her dying, so I attempted suicide for the second time.
Again, I went to a psychiatric hospital. This time, I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. They were able to diagnose me because I tracked my mood all day for a while and they realized my mood changed based on external triggers. There are 9 criteria for a BPD diagnosis:
- Distressed efforts to keep away from true or imagined abandonment.
- A form of unstable and extreme interpersonal relations described as alternating between extremes of devaluation and idealization.
- Identity disturbance: significantly and relentlessly unstable self-image.
- Impulsive behavioral patterns in at least two aspects that are possibly self-damaging (e.g., substance abuse, sex, spending, binge eating, or reckless driving).
- Recurring suicidal patterns, threats, gestures, or self-harming behavior.
- Affective instability because of a significant reactivity of mood (e.g., irritability, anxiety, or intense episodic dysphoria that typically lasts a few hours, rarely more than days)
- Chronic empty feelings.
- misplaced and intense anger or trouble controlling anger (e.g., always angry or often temperamental).
- Short-lived stress-related paranoid thoughts or extreme dissociative symptoms.
To be diagnosed, you only need to meet 5, but I met all 9 criteria, so I started treatment for BPD. I began to take Latuda, which is an antipsychotic, to stabilize my mood. I also began dialectical behavior therapy (DBT).
The main goal of DBT is to teach people how to live in the moment, develop healthy coping mechanisms to deal with stress, learn to regulate emotions, and improve interpersonal relationships. My biggest takeaway from DBT was mindfulness. I began studying the origins of these techniques, which is the Buddhist religion. I also began doing yoga daily and meditating often. After being released from the hospital, I quit my job as a medical scribe, and began teaching ESL online so that I could have time to work on myself and devote time to therapy. After a year of building up my ESL business and working on myself, I broke up with my boyfriend and decided to travel the world. “Why not?” I would say. I wanted to do everything that lit me up. I no longer wanted life to happen to me. I wanted to follow my dreams and become the person that 5 year old Stephanie would be proud of. I have a tattoo of the map of the world on my back that I got in 2015 and it was always my dream to travel, so that I could fill in each place I went. So that’s what I set off to do. In Colombia, I discovered that I’m a girl who loves the planet and the people on it. Being in Argentina deepened my love for art, music, and dance. In Brasil, I found an appreciation for nature, animals, and language. And while living in Chile, I rediscovered my love for meditation and yoga. I had a spiritual awakening and I learned that I am so much more than what happened to me. I became grateful for my suffering because it made me who I am today.
Scientists estimate that there is a 1 in 400 trillion chance of you being born exactly the way you are. Buddhists say something similar. They say that the possibility of this precious incarnation is like this: Imagine there was one tube thrown into the ocean, with 1 turtle in all of these oceans, swimming underwater. The probability that you are born is the same as that turtle sticking its head out of the water into the middle of the tube. What does all this mean? You are a miracle. You have a purpose. It is my hope that through sharing my story here and on social media, people will see that they are not alone. I am so happy to be alive to share my story. And I am happy you are alive too.