My name is Ross. I am a 38-year-old man with Borderline Personality Disorder and I am not ashamed. That wasn’t always the case as I did have a strong sense of shame for what I had, what I’ve done and who I was.
As a boy, I never really felt 'right'. I was shy, I felt intense emotions along with a sensitive side that my peers did not seem to have. Because of this, at around the age of 10, my sense of guilt for not being like other males quickly turned into a strong sense of shame. From that point forward, I would always be searching for something to fill that internal void that lied within.
I never felt adequate. I never felt like I knew who I was, so I was constantly searching for validation of any kind.
As I grew up into my teen years, sports, women, drinking and drugs became my identity and forms of validation that would temporarily fill that void and ease my pain. These things helped me feel like a man that I was supposed to become. But when I wasn’t indulging in these things I felt alone in this world. I did not feel like a man. I felt like a failure.
I was bullied in high school, which intensified my BPD symptoms and took them to a new level. Wierdly, the individuals who were bullying me were the same people I hung out with on Friday nights. They were the same people who I shared a ball diamond or basketball court within organized athletics. These guys were supposed to be my friends. But they saw my weakness, my sensitivity and they knew how to push my buttons.
Fast forwarding over the next 20 years my indulging continued as I would do everything in my power to just feel 'normal'. I was misdiagnosed over a 17-year period with everything from Major Depressive Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar, ADHD, OCD, Impulse Control Disorder and Substance Abuse Disorder.
It wasn’t until shortly after my 35th birthday that I was correctly diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I could finally connect the dots to why I did the things I did and why I felt the way I felt. I wish I could say that my life became better after the diagnosis, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case.
Over the next couple year period I spent many nights in psychiatric wards, had numerous near suicide attempts, became homeless, financially ruined, lost a car, a job and family. And then it happened.
After a moment of clarity leaving an adult crisis center, I knew exactly what I needed to do. I spent my entire life in hiding, being engulfed in shame and feeling like my voice didn’t matter. I remained silent and knew that nearly killed me. I began to speak up and speak out. I started to believe in my abilities. I challenged all negative thoughts and I started to hold myself accountable in life. After practicing self-care daily for quite some time, I not only started to feel like a man, but I became a man with mental illness and carried no shame.
Today I can say, my name is Ross, I have Borderline Personality Disorder and I am not ashamed. Part of my purpose and mission is to inspire others to come out of hiding and help stop the stigma of mental illness that so many of us are affected by—especially men. As a society there are certain expectations of men including having the ability to handle problems by ourselves. I am here to tell all men that silence can equal death.
I recently launched a mental health initiative called #ProjectIamNotAshamed that takes individuals with mental illness (and supporters of those with mental illness) out to the streets on August 18th of this year. Participants will go out into their community (or surrounding community) by themselves, with a friend, family member or anyone in their support system and hold a sign.
On my sign it will read “I have Borderline Personality Disorder and I am not ashamed. Stop the stigma. #ProjectIamNotAshamed”. We will go out into an area that has a high population of foot traffic and as the public walk by, we will simply ask them to read our sign. We will educate the public about our disorder or how mental illness has impacted our lives while feeling a sense of freedom and weight lifted off our shoulders. It gives folks an opportunity to shed their masks, face their fears and accept vulnerability. We will take selfies and plaster them all over social media with the hashtag #ProjectIamNotAshamed.
As of April 25th, we have representatives in 17 states, 40 cities and 4 countries who are confirmed to participate thus far and I expect that to grow. We will show the world, and other men, that it is okay to talk about mental illness. It is okay to not be okay. It is okay not to be ashamed.
We are constantly inspired by those who come through some incredibly difficult times but yet want to help others. Ross is definitely one of those and we're proud to share his story with you.
If you're interested in being part of #ProjectIAmNotAshamed, you can email Ross here or direct message him on Twitter.