Content warning: Suicidal ideation
Justin Rapier is a teacher, poet and parent who lives in Cedar Rapids. He shares his mental health story in his own words:
For years, I thought I was just depressed.
I was in and out of counseling until my mid-30s: I would fall apart every so often, go talk to someone and then feel better. Rinse and repeat. So what if I was over-emotional and had suicidal thoughts? I thought I could handle it – until I couldn’t.
Until that point, I had avoided psychiatric help because I had heard terrible things about anti-depressants. But by the age of 36, counseling wasn’t helping anymore so I tried an antidepressant. I had a hypomanic reaction to it and landed in the emergency room where doctors got me on the right medications. I felt better, so – once again – I thought I was fine.
Then I had an anxiety attack several months later, so I started anxiety medications. Again, I thought I was feeling better and finally on track. Then I had a bizarre argument with my wife. At this point, I felt like something was really wrong.
After doing some reading, I came across Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The article listed nine symptoms of BPD and stated you only needed to be experiencing 5-6 to be diagnosed. I had them all.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, BPD is marked by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image and behavior. These symptoms often result in impulsive actions and problems in relationships. People with BPD may experience intense episodes of anger, depression and anxiety that can last from a few hours to days.
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Without mentioning BPD, I talked to my psychiatrist and was much more detailed about my mental health history with him than I had been before. He diagnosed me with BPD and suggested that I find someone who specializes Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT), a form of treatment developed to treat BPD. I have been in DBT ever since and it has helped along with a support group I lead for people with BPD from all over the nation.
If someone gets a life threatening physical illness, communities usually rally around them. Mental illnesses are no different.
BPD carries a lot of stigma. There are therapists who refuse to work with people who have BPD because we’re incredibly emotional. We are often labelled as manipulators, when nothing is further from the truth. Manipulation involves conscious thoughts aimed to control, however, people with BPD are so desperate to keep the people we love in our lives that we panic. We do things outside our character in an effort to keep them, and we don’t realize it. Years before my diagnosis, I’ve had relationships fail due to these behavior patterns, but neither I nor the person I was seeing realized what was really going on.
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The main stigma I encounter currently is that other people are skeptical that I have BPD. I have a long-term career and relationship now – things that people with severe BPD typically can’t maintain. People think I seem so happy, but that’s the thing: BPD amplifies emotions, including the good ones, so I am happy when they are there. I’m not when they aren’t. I’m also good at hiding my issues, like so many people with various mental illnesses, because society says we should. If we are open about our problems, society labels us as “crazy” and pushes us away forcing us to hide.
I feel more supported now than I have ever been in my mental health journey. I have a partner who loves me and tries to be patient. I have a wonderful support group with people from all over the country who come and support each other with this incredibly frustrating condition.
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I have an amazing therapist because I have insurance, however this isn’t the case for everyone. I’m lucky enough to have insurance, but because many people with BPD can’t maintain a job, this sets them up for a Catch-22: They can’t maintain a job without the therapy, and they can’t get the therapy without a job. This is the case for many other mental illnesses as well.
If someone gets a life threatening physical illness, communities usually rally around them. Mental illnesses are no different. BPD has the highest suicide attempt rate of all mental illnesses, so it should not be taken lightly. We need support.
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As an individual, it doesn’t take money. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. It takes listening and understanding. That is it. Doing those things with someone with BPD can make a huge difference. Eventually, I hope to help others with my writing. Bottom line: Talking about it helps, so let’s make it OK.
Make It OK is community campaign to reduce stigma by starting conversations and increasing understanding about mental illness. Start by learning what a mental illness really is. Then, find out what to say and not to say when someone opens up to you. You can also help others by sharing your own story to help people know they aren’t alone. Learn more about how you can get involved at MakeItOK.org/Iowa.