Editor’s note: This is the first of four special posts in the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Stories of Recovery series for National Suicide Prevention Week (September 10-16). TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) and find more information at tlaphelps.org.
One day the stress of life that most people handle without incident overcame me. That afternoon I put a belt around my neck and tried to take my life. By the grace of God, a loved one stopped me. Then began the journey to recovery. Over the course of three years, I was admitted to the hospital four times and tried to take my life twice. One admission was over two months. It was during this admission that I discovered I had borderline personality disorder, or BPD.
BPD is a complex mental disorder affecting 5.9 percent of the U.S. population—50 percent more than Alzheimer’s disease and nearly as many as schizophrenia and bipolar combined (2.25 percent). There are nine criteria of BPD of which five must be present to have the diagnosis. The common denominator of BPD is difficulty regulating the difficult emotions—sadness, anger, fear, envy, jealousy, shame, guilt, and disgust.
In my personal case, fear and anger were troublesome. While I was not violent, I was verbally abusive toward those I loved. Their pain was real. Unfortunately, for people suffering from BPD, the mental struggle can be too great and they attempt suicide. Seventy percent of BPD patients attempt suicide and 10 percent kill themselves. What made my struggle different was that I learned of my illness late in life, after harming so many.
I missed trial dates, hid from my obligations, and abused alcohol. If it had not been for the assistance of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, my clients would have been doomed. TLAP was there when I got out of the hospital and provided me with resources to educate judges about my illness. Letters were written on my behalf and trials reset. The end result was that my practice was saved.
Recovering from BPD has been a journey. I finally got the right treatment, including individual therapy, group therapy, and medication. By no means am I cured. There is no cure. It, like many illnesses, is something I must live with 24/7. I have learned the right skills to regulate my emotions, discovered mindful meditation, and fostered love of myself. The prognosis is very good for BDP, if the correct treatment is obtained and the patient is willing to do the hard work.
I am thankful for my family, who silently suffered while watching my life spin out of control. I am thankful for my profession, which understands that mental illness is just that, an illness and not a death sentence. I am thankful for TLAP for being there when I needed answers. Every day is a new day, and I am thankful most of all for that.
For more information on suicide warning signs and prevention, go to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at afsp.org or facebook.com/AFSPnational. For the Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call (800) 273-8255.