Interview with The Times Colonist

Friday, November 4, 2011, by Richard Watts.   Lyle Stafford, Photographer, reprinted with permission of the Times Colonist

TC Interview PhotoWhen Victoria’s Elizabeth Bogod helps someone cope with mental illness, she opens a tool kit filled with her own experiences. Bogod, 34, lives with Borderline Personality Disorder. She wasn’t diagnosed until 26 and spent her life bullied, misunderstood and confused.

She says she attempted suicide nine times, cut and burned her own skin and would lash out in huge bouts of rage at people who cared for her.

“I lost a lot of friends during this period and my family didn’t know how to help me,” she writes in an article for Visions, a quarterly journal that works to provide a forum for people living with mental illness. Bogod now deals with her mental illness with medication — an anti-depressant, a mood stabilizer and an anti-psychotic — and with behavioural modification skills.

She also works as a community mental health worker with the B.C. Schizophrenia Society, leading a workshop teaching behavioural modification skills that allow a person to deal with the emotional overload that can accompany mental illness. “You can live well with a mental illness,” Bogod said in an interview.

“I just want other people to speak out and not feel ashamed.” Bogod describes the behavioural modification techniques as a synthesis of opposing feelings and realities. For example, a person who is feeling worthless will not have their feelings disputed. Instead, the emotions are acknowledged, accepted and then joined with a reality stating that person is actually quite good. “And the synthesis would be ‘I’m OK,’ ” she said.

Bogod’s colleagues at the B.C. Schizophrenia Society believe it is the first time these techniques have been taught by a peer, someone who lives with a mental illness. Hazel Meredith, Executive Director of the Schizophrenia Society’s Victoria branch, said Bogod deserves praise for her leadership and dedication.

Meredith said Bogod offers an authenticity to people who are living with mental illness that can be a transformative experience. “It sure is different to hear someone say, ‘I’ve licked this and you can too,’ ” Meredith said.

Bogod also volunteers leading a peer support group that focuses on people with borderline personality disorders, but also accepts people who are dealing with other mental illnesses.

Here again, in the volunteer setting, she has been an innovator by insisting the group be open to family members of people with mental illness. Bogod believes the learning potential is enormous when everybody can listen respectfully to the feelings and experiences of others.

A relative or caregiver gains insight into the emotional state during a period of inappropriate behaviour from somebody living with mental illness. But the person with the mental illness gains their own insight when they hear how their behaviour made others feel.

According to Dr. Elisabeth Hallam, a psychologist with the Vancouver Island Health Authority, Borderline Personality Disorder is best described as “a disorder of the emotional regulation system.” Hallam said it was first noticed during the 1950s when psychiatry tended to split disorders between neurotic disorders, such as anxiety and depression, and psychotic illnesses.

The “borderline” term arose because doctors realized some patients presented symptoms of neurotic and psychotic disorders at the same time. Hallam said studies have estimated anywhere from three to 10 per cent of the population have some level of Borderline Personality Disorder. It’s also a Disorder that has been researched more thoroughly in the past 10 years. So as knowledge has increased, so has the number of people diagnosed.

VIHA offers a year-long series of treatment therapies but only for 20 people at a time. “There will always be a greater demand for what we can offer.” In the meantime, Hallam said Bogod’s efforts have gone a long way. “She has done great work in having the community pay attention,” Hallam said. “She is really de-stigmatizing the diagnosis, giving people some hope.”

Bogod now looks back at her earlier days with a sense of acceptance. She acknowledges she could be difficult, but she also doesn’t bear grudges against the teen peers who bullied her, or the teachers and social workers who decided some of her symptoms were merely attention-seeking.

Since her diagnosis, she has completed high school and attended Camosun College to take courses in mental health support. And she now allows herself outings with friends, and the luxury of thinking about long-term possibilities, maybe a move to Vancouver, future relationships and even children of her own. “This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life, my whole entire life,” Bogod said. “I have come such a long way.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

Reprinted with kind permission of the Times Colonist

COMMENTS RECEIVED AS A RESULT OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE IN THE TIMES COLONIST. For privacy, the writers’ names have been withheld.

“Dear Liz:

Congratulations on the article in the Times Colonist. It’s such a lovely picture of you as well. One of the staff cut it out for me and it was in my work envelope when I returned from vacation. Hope Camosun is going well and best wishes with The Friendship Club.

(The comment above was from Capital Mental Health Association)

“Dear Liz Bogod:

I read your article from the newspaper and I’m writing to give you support for what you’re doing. I just wanted to say that what you are doing is excellent and you’re an inspiration to all of us and you should go out and talk to all the kids and tell them that there isn’t anything they cannot do and you need to be proud of who you are.”

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