Wednesday, May 7, 2008

My Little Stint at Yale...

UPDATE: You can watch the video of my speech here.

Last Friday I had the privilege to be asked to tell my story in front of 325 people at Yale University. Last time i spoke in front of a group, besides my wedding, was in my junior year of high school!... 13 years later I stood in front of a room filled with MDs, PhDs, therapists, parents and those who live with BPD. It was a bit surreal to stand before such a great group of people.

How strange for me to say — after all these years of not understanding why — that perhaps I made a bit of difference, if just for that very moment. It's exciting and humbling, scary and validating, all rolled in one. I do not know where this will take me or what it all means. For now, I'm just thankful that I had the opportunity to share my story.

And the speech? Well, it's rather lengthy as I had to speak for 10 minutes, but if you read it, I'd love to hear what you think.

Like many of you here, I am trying to contribute to this new movement, this shift, this incredible ground-swelling of progress here, within the BPD community. The question of growth really is a question of leadership. Not in the way of politicians or CEOs or directors of organizations — yes — those are all very important.

But today I am talking to you the individual: the practitioner, the doctor, the therapist, the loved one, the parent, the teacher, the friend, even you who live with the same disorder as i do. You see, without you, i would have never made much of my life. I wouldn't have gotten through much of this strife without your compassionate ear or words of hope. My goodness, though, how much I have asked of you in these past thirteen years; you who have encouraged, listened, even cried with me. and I am incredibly indebted to you all.

But still, year after year, week after week, day after day, it would come back. it would come back so hard. with every crisis my courage to die increased. with every doubt my need to match the intensifying pain grew. I needed something harder, a drink, a few drinks, physical pain, wounds that would not show but would take the edge off...

I could not tell you who I was at those times; it changed every day, every hour, every minute it changed. I could not tell you the number of times I'd find myself in a bathroom stall crying this silent wail, holding a belt in my hand. I just wanted out. I just wanted out... and over and over and over again, I had to ask for your help. i'd demand from you this meaning to continue on. I'd demand that you give me something to hold on to. just to stay with me until I fall asleep. just to tell me every thing's going to be okay.

You see, I was not the token patient that comes up in research papers, studies or books; but those lurking around just below our very own radar. I am that person. People did not see my distress, perhaps because I kept it so well under wraps for the most part... But Depression, Attention Deficit Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Bipolar Disorder... even the idea that I had been abused as a child... these were the things impressed upon me, year after year, over and over again... none of them made sense.

Finally you told me I needed help, help you couldn't give or wasn't able to give. help no once a day anti-depressant or once a week therapy session could give. It was the most difficult thing you told me. the most difficult piece of reality i had to swallow. And on Valentine's Day... only a year ago, I checked myself into a hospital.

i was scared, no doubt. it was the one place that I thought would swallow me whole... but slowly, i came around. there were other people there like me, and the social workers and doctors were all working together. Day by day i became more able to identify my emotions, understand my triggers, even work through my urges. It was here that i finally let my guard down and let people in and be strengthen by them.

about a month and a half later, my social worker at the program, she sat me down and opened this rather large, biblical looking book. Thumbing through the pages she began to read these sentences aloud, asking me if I identified with any of them. One by one, she listed each of the criteria and by the ninth bullet point I thought she was reading my autobiography.

"Amanda," she said, "have you ever heard of Borderline Personality Disorder?"

Never in those thirteen years of treatment have I heard those three letters, BPD, put together in front of me.

but BPD... how much it made sense. It was like a breath of fresh air. I learned to think pro-actively, pragmatically, concretely; to stay in the here and now instead of the past, to assess, to learn, to build, to track, to prioritize. Finally it all started to make sense... And even with all the skills and concepts and progress I made in only one year, i learned something even more profound than all of that.

You see, the ironic thing is, the enlightening thing is, is that being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder did not give me the sense of doom i hear that had once prevailed. the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder has instead saved my life forever. The crises, the doubt, the intense emotions — they are all still there. But what differentiates me now from those past thirteen years is that just by the very label of BPD I can choose to step outside of myself. It does not consume me. It is bearable. It is temporary — these feelings... I am not my feelings and I am not crazy. I can never be as hopeless, as desperate, as alone...

I am not alone anymore.

That's what has been so crucial for me to remember and what I want to impress upon you today: that by virtue of diagnosis — whether we know it or not — we become a part of this community. and this community holds hope. However i have found my way up here today, speaking with you, we as individuals — and as a part of this interconnected movement of research, treatment, of grass root programs and support groups, especially for those who have this disorder — we must realize our potential to become enlightened leaders. We have the opportunity to challenge both the bold and subtle biases, prevailing stigma and misunderstandings. We have the opportunity to bring our disorder out of the fringes and into the center of discussion. We have the opportunity to find solidarity in each other and not be ashamed of who we are and what we are diagnosed with.

We become the very hope we are looking for.

So today I stand before you, after a lifetime of not understanding why I needed to continue to exist, to say that my life — just like yours — matters more now than ever before. There are very few opportunities to create sustaining impact and drive change in the world. We must become enlightened leaders of this new movement, this shift, this incredible ground-swelling of progress here, within the BPD community.

There's this great quote that I've always kept close to me: a person is a person through other persons. For the past 29 years, I have searched for my way, my voice, and questioned my existence and value as a human being. Becoming a part of this invaluable and necessary community has allowed me to understand this journey I have been on and, more importantly, to discover answers to my long sought after questions. I would like to leave with one last quote, I need you to be all of who you are in order for me to be all that I am. Finally, I realize how far I have come.

Thank you.


lilsoldier132 said...

Hey congratulations on the talk!

Alex Tarampi said...

That was a great and powerful speech Amanda

Amanda Wang said...

thanks guys!!!