“If suffering like hers had any use, she reasoned, it was not to the sufferer. The only way that an individual’s pain gained meaning was through its communication to others.” ― Diane Wood Middlebrook, Anne Sexton: A Biography

My name is Ilia Fernandez and I’m in my 5th year of a major in Biological Psychology with a minor in Mathematics. But enough about me – I’m here to talk about my illnesses. Because that’s what they are: mental illnesses. They are not character flaws, they are nothing to glamourize, and they most definitely are not signs of weakness. I’m diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, ADHD-D, and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) with comorbid depression. With this combination, BPD in particular, I can never guess how a day is going to go, how I’m going to feel, or how I’m going to react. Every day isn’t necessarily a struggle to get through, but the stigma around it makes it a lot harder.

Here are some common misconceptions I’ve heard about my diagnoses: 

1.  It’s not that bad/a lot of people have it worse.

This is probably the worst part about stigma – it makes you think you’re simply ungrateful. Telling me that there is much more misery in the world won’t make me happy unless I feed off others’ sadness; perspective just adds to the guilt.

“The problem with having problems is that ‘someone’ always has it worse.” ― Tiffany Madison, Black and White

2. It’s pretty easy to tell when someone has a mental illness.

There is no specific “look” to mental illness – no one is immune, and since it affects 1 in 5 of us, several people in your life have one, even if you don’t know it. To put it into perspective, even people with fame and money have spoken out – the pop singer Demi Lovato has dealt with bulimia and Bipolar II, NFL player Brandon Marshall has BPD, model Cara Delevigne and even Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson have dealt with severe depression— the list goes on and on.

3. My depression would be miraculously cured (!!!) if I stopped eating (blank), spent more time doing (blank), and tried (blank).

Not only is depression not a lifestyle choice, but some of these “helpful suggestions” are things that are extremely difficult to do while depressed. For me, once I started medication and had the energy/motivation to do other things, that’s when combining other strategies helped me feel even better.

4.  I “zone out” because I’m bored.

I can’t really control when my attention will wander (it took me an hour to write this paragraph because of that), but it doesn’t always mean I’m bored or that I haven’t taken my ADHD meds. One of my anxiety symptoms is something called derealization/depersonalization, which is when everything, including yourself, seems to feel ‘unreal’, like you’re just watching a movie. It might sound funny, but it’s actually terrifying, and there’s no telling how long it’ll stay.

5. BPD is the same thing as multiple personality disorder/bipolar disorder/etc etc.

Not at all. BPD is characterized by rapid mood cycling and a lack of identity. A better name that’s being suggested is Emotion Regulation Disorder, since it clears up a lot of confusion.

6. Having BPD means I’m manipulative/attention-seeking/have no empathy.

Again, this makes the assumption that the problem is just my personality (the fact that it’s labelled a personality disorder doesn’t help clear that up). I confess that when my emotions take over, I can do things that come off as manipulative, or attention-seeking, but they’re not on purpose; it’s more about finding a way to ease the distress in my head. Once the storm subsides, guilt takes over. Regarding empathy, it’s suffice to say that I’m vegan due to the emotional pain I feel over the mistreatment of animals.

7. I can’t maintain relationships with BPD.

It definitely hasn’t been easy, and I’ve lost contact with a lot of people because of it, but all the current people in my life have been endlessly supportive — I have them to thank for my life.

8. It’s hip/deep to have a mental illness.

Sites like Tumblr are great for promoting more dialogue around mental illness, but sometimes it has the opposite effect when it’s presented as something trendy. Mental illness can definitely make you into a more contemplative or creative person, but there is nothing beautiful about depression, nothing inspiring about psychosis, nothing funny about anxiety, and definitely nothing glamorous about suicide.

9. It’s easy to get help.

It is and it isn’t. The first step is always the hardest, and then there are some hurdles after that. Finding a good doctor, then the right diagnosis, then the right medication, then the right dosage, etc etc. If you’re like me, finding the right treatment may take a long time, and you might start to lose faith. However, although not every health care professional is well-equipped to treat all mental illnesses and it might take time to find the right person… I promise that you will.

“In my opinion, our health care system has failed when a doctor fails to treat an illness that is treatable.”
Kevin Alan Lee, The Split Mind: Schizophrenia from an Insider's Point of View

10. Medication is changing my brain and who I am as a person.

I sure damn hope it’s affecting my brain – but it’s not changing who I am. If anything, it’s uncovering it. Having irregularities in your brain chemistry and needing medication is no different from having, say, a diabetic needing shots of insulin. On that note, that doesn’t mean I don’t still have bad days – they aren’t “happy” pills.

11. If I’m speaking out, that means my struggles are in the past.

I’m not gonna lie, this was very much written on a good day. But that doesn’t mean that my bad days are in the past — I had a bad day just last week. I’ve just gotten better at managing it, reaching out, and using preventive measures.

Until we start to change what we think we know about mental illness, the stigma around it won’t be going away anytime soon. I’m not proud of my mental illnesses, but I am proud of how far I’ve come despite them. As my main man Nieztsche said,
“One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

If you are currently struggling, whether or not you are diagnosed with a mental illness, or if you are interested in challenging stigma surrounding mental health on campus, check out our club:

Peace, health and love,
❤️ Ilia

The views expressed in this blog are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the policies or views of the University of Victoria. I monitor posts and comments to ensure all content complies with the University of Victoria Guidelines on Blogging.