I typically identify myself in three ways. Not in any particular order, I am a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), a writer and a person with a severe and persistent mental illness.
When I was around thirty (I’ll be 54 in two months), over the course of three years, I was diagnosed with anorexia, major depressive disorder (the qualifier of psychotic features was added later) and borderline personality disorder (BPD). Those were the days when people didn’t know as much about BPD as we do now; the diagnosis carried many negative connotations and a great deal of stigma. I’ve had over twenty inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations, numerous admissions to day programs and partial hospitalization programs and I lived for three-and-a-half years in a 24/7 supervised residence. I’ve been in therapy for thirty years; the first four were an exercise in futility, the next fifteen were spent in dialectal behavior therapy which was effective in grounding me in the here and now, and putting a halt to the bulk of my self-destructive behaviors. The remaining years have been spent in Transference Focused Psychotherapy (a more psychodynamic treatment for BPD) and it has been extraordinarily helpful.
I’ve been working as an LCSW since 2000. I’ve had to take a bunch of short leaves-of-absence from the two jobs where I was employed for a number of hospitalizations. At my first job, where I worked for almost six years, I returned from a hospitalization and management had curtailed my clinical responsibilities. Humiliated I resigned. I was depressed and it was three years before I could return to even a part-time job. I’ve been working at the outpatient mental health clinic where I am currently employed for six-and-a-half years. My responsibilities include primarily administrative responsibilities and not so much clinical. I prefer the detail-oriented and almost obsessive-like qualities that are needed for this more global approach to my work. It satisfies my thirst for clinical knowledge while feeding my need to be almost, but not quite perfect. Imperfectly perfect. Like the anorexic I once was.
My passion, the one that keeps me sane, is writing. I love creating something where there once was nothing. I derive great pleasure out of choosing exactly the right word, crafting a sentence, then a paragraph and finally a finished essay. Writing primarily about mental health and recovery, about my own experiences with my illness, I find that translating my thoughts to the page helps me process what I’ve been through. Often, I’ll bring a piece of writing into my therapy session and we’ll both be surprised by the insights that emerge. I’ve published my work primarily in literary journals and anthologies. I post a blog almost every weekend on the website of a national magazine and I enjoy reading and responding to the comments.
I’ve come a long way, but I have a ways to go. I’ll continue in therapy and at my job, and with my writing. I’m working on a book, a memoir of how my illness affected me and the insights I’ve gained along the way. I’m proud of what I have accomplished and I also have regrets. A sweet sadness is tinged because there are some deeds that can’t be undone.
It’s been a long haul. And now I can finally say that I like myself.