One Year Later

Worth Living Ambassador Ann Ottaway

Ann is a 30 year old former legal assistant, animal lover, and a believer in new beginnings. Ann shares her recovery journey with the hope that her story allows others to realize they are not alone. 

One year ago it seemed as if I had it all. I had a successful career on the rise, an active social life and an amazing home that I shared with my best friend. I was financially independent, I had medical benefits and a pension. I was trying new things, meeting new people, and stepping out of my comfort zone.  Friends and family were praising me for my accomplishments and noting how I seemed so happy and free. I worked hard to make a life for myself and present myself to the world as a successful woman. I had a nicely decorated and personalized home. I made sure my appearance was professional and stylish via an ever growing wardrobe and a wealth of aesthetic and hair treatments.
On the surface it appeared that I had control over my life but deep inside I was in a rapid downward spiral. I faced a constant push and pull of emotions. Not fully understanding the complexities of my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I experienced racing thoughts, episodes of hypomania, bouts of severe depression and, at times, crippling anxiety.

I kept my diagnosis quiet short of my parents and a few close friends, I was terrified of the stigma that looms in our society. I was trying to find treatment but faced wait lists of up to two years in length and struggling to find time to access what resources were immediately available around a demanding career. I experienced constant nausea, tightness in my chest, and an overwhelming urge to cry which, when repressed, resulted in incredibly painful muscular tension and headaches. There were days that I forced myself to get out of bed and use every ounce of energy I had to get through the day appearing as nothing was wrong; only to arrive at home mentally and physically exhausted with no choice but to pour myself into bed.

I was constantly second guessing myself and feeling incredibly insecure. I was terrified to let others down. I feared rejection to the point of paranoia. No matter how many friends I had I was terrified of being disliked. My BPD enabled thrived on a fear of rejection at a subconscious level. People seemed to like this version of me and my illness made me believe that rejection could come at any time and I made all efforts to do what seemed to make others happy to avoid this.

I could spend all of my money on clothes, haircuts, makeup and manicures and still feel ugly.  If I received praise at work, I felt like I could have done more. I felt like my home should have been cleaner. It didn’t matter how much I exercised, I was always uncomfortable with my body. I felt weak in my vulnerabilities which were coupled with shame as I appeared strong to others. I was struggling to build a life for myself while making my best efforts to mask severe illness.

To say that I was overwhelmed is an understatement and eventually it all became too much.  I was exhausted and I felt like nothing was ever going to make me feel anything but misery. I felt completely hopeless as I had worked so hard to try and live my best life possible to no avail.  One day I just stopped. I stopped coping and I stopped feeling all together.  I wanted the whirlwind of emotions to stop. I was tired of trying so hard to make a life for myself and still feeling miserable and then feeling guilty because I had everything I needed and more. I didn’t want to be alive anymore. I just wanted to be free from the pain. One morning I began to cry and could not stop. I could barely breathe and began to feel numb, like I was trapped in some sort of dream. I had fully entered into a crisis which required hospitalization for my own safety.

I remember lying in my hospital bed feeling completely empty. The world felt like a strange and frightening place in which I didn’t belong. The sound of my own voice speaking to doctors was completely foreign to me. My reflection in the mirror looked distant and surreal, I no longer recognized the person looking back at me. I was touching without sensation. In my mind I had already left this world and was in purgatory. At one point I decided that I was going to refuse to eat, speak or do anything but wait for my existence to end. So I just laid in bed and I prayed to fall asleep and not wake up.

One day, the woman I shared my hospital room with said something I will never forget, “I don’t even know you but I don’t want to see anything bad happen to you.” That statement is what got me out if bed. After a rough few weeks of rest, medication, and another hospitalization I chose to work on myself and seek proper treatment. While this may seem like an easy task, it is one filled with indescribable anxiety and guilt.

My recovery journey has been a balancing act of symptoms and treatment inclusive of medication and multiple outpatient programs. I am now in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, which is the only treatment for BPD and is highly sought after but difficult to access due to limited funding. I can understand, rationalize, and utilize the tools given to me. I can make better decisions and practice self -care but the symptoms still surface and I still struggle with them.
A year after my illness took over I am still here. I don’t have my own home, I don’t have my career, I don’t have an active social life and many friendships have grown distant and contemptuous, I don’t have the means to support myself let alone treat myself to any of the luxuries I was indulging in before. I have to depend on others on a regular basis. In spite of all of this I feel a will to live that seemed so impossible before.

I am getting to know myself for the first time and discovering the life that I want for myself. I am starting over and am constantly faced with new challenges every day but I feel incredibly blessed to have a life to start over.  In all of this, I have learned that I don’t need material things to feel good about myself and that I don’t need to live life for anyone but myself. The lifestyle I had did not dictate my character. It did not define my positive attributes. I learned that I am still worthy and cared for as a person simply for who I am.

I used to think that I had lost everything but I now realize that I had everything within myself already.

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