Culture, gender, race, illness, sexual orientation—we’re surrounded by social stigmas. And while some have become more accepted than others, none are immune to a snicker or sneer from the people around us—especially when talking about mental health. But who’s talking about mental health?
Lydia Giles CPA, CA didn’t think she was going to survive, and at the time, she didn’t want to. She has spent much of her life living with borderline personality disorder (BPD): a serious mental illness that makes managing emotions extremely difficult.
It wasn’t until Lydia accepted her disorder, and started talking about it, that her outlook on life took a turn for the better. “I had to accept that this is going to be with me every day of my life,” she says. “Good or bad, there are things that you have to accept. If you can’t accept them, you can’t change them.”
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health describes the emotional vulnerability of a person with BPD similar to a burn victim without skin. A slight change in environment, such as a noise, a touch, even a look, can set a person with BPD on fire emotionally. Feelings associated with BPD include abandonment, agony, betrayal, fury, grief, humiliation, panic, or terror.
For Lydia, rock bottom came as a hard truth. As a child in South Africa, she was brought up to avoid alcohol, drugs, and other vices. But somewhere along the line, the disorder took over—touching and ravaging every aspect of her life. She began to have suicidal thoughts, and bouts of depression and self-harm were becoming the norm. She simply no longer wanted to exist. After her second attempt at suicide, she was transferred to Peter Lougheed Centre for psychiatric help.
“At that point, I realized if I didn’t do something I wasn’t going to survive,” recalls Lydia. “A lot of people go through life pretending they’re not abused, or not ill. I knew I needed help, but I didn’t want to believe I was crazy.”
Lydia’s control over the disorder came by way of Dialectal Behaviour Therapy (DBT). DBT is a skill-based therapy designed specifically for people with personality disorders. The therapy includes four modules that help people increase their emotional and cognitive regulation by learning about the triggers that lead to reactive states. The four areas are mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interpersonal effectiveness.
Reclaiming happiness wouldn’t be quick and it wouldn’t be easy, but with the support of her husband and close friends, her journey began.
“If you’re suffering from a mental illness, nobody can help you but you,” says Lydia. “A lot of people drop out of therapy programs like DBT because they think the skills being taught are too basic. And while some may be elementary, they are essential life skills that a person with BPD might not have developed as a child.”
It’s been three years since Lydia has no longer shown symptoms of BPD, and has since found joy in helping others suffering from mental illness. She has shared her experiences with patients at Inner Solutions, a Calgary-based organization providing a fully comprehensive program for individuals who want to use DBT, and she would like to raise more awareness for mental health in the workplace—an area where mental disorders can be looked as being unreliable.
“I would like to see more assistance in the workplace around mental health,” says Lydia. “People are scared of labels [mental illness] because they don’t know what they are. They think you’re going to take a lot of sick days.”
Lydia adds that more places should look into adopting a mental health day. If someone is stressed or depressed, adding the guilt of having to lie because they need a day off makes matters worse. “There’s an expectation that you’re going to come in the next day with a cold, or some sort of visible illness,” she says. “Sometimes I just need a day off.”
Of all the skills and lessons learned through her battles with BPD, there is one takeaway Lydia thinks of often. Radical Acceptance. “Radical acceptance falls under the DBT distress tolerance module, and the idea is to stop fighting reality and accept your situation for what it is.” Says Lydia. “Only then can we stop fighting what is, even if we don’t like our circumstances, are we able to make a change for the better. Radical Acceptance will truly set you free!”
As for Lydia, her current situation is something to be proud of—a dedicated and loving husband, a fulfilling career, her CPA designation, and something she always dreamed of having, a daughter.
Together we can end the stigma surrounding mental illness. Don’t be afraid to reach out. CPA Assist provides confidential counselling to Alberta CPAs, candidates, and their immediate families.
CPA Assist is designed to help CPAs, candidates and their immediate families address mental illness, addictive behaviours, substance abuse and other personal or professional issues in order to ensure their well-being and the well-being of their communities, the accounting profession, and the public.
24-hour confidential support (toll-free): 1.855.596.4222 | https://cpa-assist.ca/