The New Me: Michelle’s Story
“I was a tornado; I was destroying everything around me.” This is how Michelle described living with Borderline Personality Disorder before she got help. Michelle came from what many would consider a perfect family, one where everyone cares for one another. Despite that, as her illness worsened, she saw her relationship with her family crumbling. She found herself to be so irritable that she would scream at her mother simply because she needed someone to yell at, and her instability pushed her brother away.
In her words, “I saw how much my illness was ruining my relationship with my family. They cared so much for me. I was ruining the positives. I used my best friend as my only support. But I knew if I kept using her like I did, she would eventually burn out and leave me. I didn’t know how to have a healthy relationship with anyone. I didn’t know how to help myself. I was helpless. I was miserable.”
What is Borderline Personality Disorder?
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a mental health condition that affects an estimated 1.4% of the population. Nearly 75% of those with a BPD diagnosis are women. It is often characterized by difficulty in regulating emotions, meaning emotions are felt intensely for longer periods and the individual has a harder time stabilizing.
The emotional irregularity can lead to impulsivity, poor self-image, rocky relationships, and even dangerous behaviors such as self-harm. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, additional signs and symptoms may include:
- Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
- Unstable personal relationships
- Distorted and unstable self-image
- Impulsive behaviors that can have dangerous outcomes
- Self-harming behavior
- Depression, irritability or anxiety lasting a few hours to a few days
- Chronic feelings of boredom or emptiness
- Intense or uncontrollable anger, often followed by guilt
- Dissociative feelings
Diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is not based on one specific sign or symptom and is best determined by a comprehensive clinical evaluation by a medical professional.
Michelle found herself falling into self-harming behaviors and manipulating those she loved with little regret. These behaviors only strained her relationships further. She realized as she felt more alone, she needed help.
Finding Hope and Healing
Michelle’s extreme self-harm and lack of boundaries led her to an inpatient facility, later followed by a Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP). It was during her time at PHP, that she was able to persuade her parents into letting her go to a residential program. She saw residential treatment as a place to escape her illness. Although not convinced it was the answer, her parents took a chance and booked a flight to Orlando.
“All I wanted was help. I couldn’t live life like that anymore. I wanted to get better.”
Going to residential treatment meant leaving her parents; something Michelle was afraid of doing. She had never positively left them, her entire life. Separation was a trigger for a breakdown and led to dangerous behaviors. Despite this, she knew it was the right step.
She and her dad were met by a tech who would then take her to The Villa. She shares, “I found comfort in Kristin who met me and my dad. Somehow, I let her take me alone, without my dad. Except I was not alone. I didn’t feel alone. I felt that I was loved and cared for, at that very moment. This could have gone the complete wrong way, leading to me checking out, going home, and suffering in my old patterns; the old me. Because of this first encounter, it was the complete opposite; I came here with safety.”
When she arrived at The Villa, she was happy and excited; she knew she had come to get better, change, and become a new person. Due to her past difficulty with boundaries, Michelle struggled at first with the challenging boundaries implemented by her primary therapist. Self-harm behaviors led to her arrival at the hospital, but with help, she was able to return to The Villa. Shortly after, Michelle realized her old behaviors would no longer be acceptable.
“It was impossible. I wanted to manipulate my therapist. She challenged me on levels I didn’t think were possible. She pushed me to my limits, but it truly helped me heal.”
Michelle found social integration to be a tremendous help in recovery. “If I didn’t have the opportunities of social integration outlets, I wouldn’t have healed the way I did. Curtis, the recreational therapist, would ask residents about their interests to find a variety of activities to cater everyone. He always went above and beyond to accommodate my interests, because I showed him, I was determined to get better, and he knew this was a major outlet for me. Even though there were fun things to do, I still put in a lot of work and effort because I knew it would change my life. This was the key factor – each staff member was there for me. They went above and beyond; more than I could seriously ever ask for.”
Additionally, she found meditation management to be an integral part of her journey. Dr. Branch, her psychiatrist, was incredible and worked with Michelle to alter and reduce her medication intake tremendously, which is still working positively.
As Michelle was struggling to regulate her emotions before entering The Villa, her mother had always told her mindfulness would help, which in return led to screaming. Although Michelle was truly against this, she reluctantly attended group therapy, and learned something she had never learned before. It works. It has continued to have a positive impact, and today, she listens to her “calm down music” playlist before she goes to sleep and finds solace in meditation.
After a lot of hard work and dedication, a once strained relationship with her brother has begun to heal. For the first time, he took the initiative and planned a trip to spend a few days with her at Universal Studios. Michelle stated how this within itself shows how much her brother saw the constructive effects of treatment on her. This is “my new sister” he told Michelle. Not only did her brother see a difference and choose to rebuild this relationship, but her parents saw a difference in her as well. Michelle’s parents saw a new strength in her. They continuously talk about her astonishing progression, and still cry over who she is today. Michelle indicated that her parents never thought it was feasible to see their daughter become who she is today. Michelle’s parents see The Villa as one of the best discoveries their daughter encountered.
“Pasadena Villa showed us that the once thought impossible, is possible. We couldn’t thank The Villa enough for who our daughter has become.”
“Pasadena Villa took this person I was and put me in the skin of someone I couldn’t imagine being. I see myself as a new person, and no longer a combination of people. I live a life full of colors. For people to value me like they did, means I have done something right. They believed in me and still always do.”
New Steps for Today
Since leaving Pasadena Villa, Michelle has begun a life of independence. She is living on her own, going to school full time, working a part-time job, and recently got a puppy. “I just scheduled my GRE’s and am on a path to graduate school. It is all becoming real. My dreams are becoming a reality. I am getting the best grades I have ever earned in my life, living alone, taking care of my puppy, and have so many good things coming my way. I only have 9.5 classes to graduate, have opportunities I never had a chance at before, and finally have a healthy social life!”
“Pasadena Villa has brought me the life I never thought existed in me. Pasadena Villa brought me connections and bonds I never thought I’d make. I will always be thankful, grateful, and lucky that MY team gave me the chance of recovery. I FINALLY saw a sign, reading “path for recovery” as I was approaching a fork in the road. I immediately chose to take it, knowing there would be hard falls, but also big leaps along the way. I know I put in the tough work, but it sure wasn’t alone. I had the constant support of each person at Pasadena Villa standing right beside me; becoming my biggest fans, and cheering me on, as I was running the bases. It wasn’t a walk in the park, but it was worth every single challenge I encountered, plus a million. The Villa’s treatment approach and program exceeded my expectations. It was more than I could ever ask for. Pasadena Villa gave me the skills to not only believe but to know I am capable of anything that comes my way. I am now able to ‘live the life I love and love the life I live’. This is me. The new me. Thank you for saving my life.”