Jul. 17, 2018 - “My name is Ross. I have borderline personality disorder and I am not ashamed.”
These are easy words to type, but not so easy to say out loud.
Back in mid-February, I was sitting at my kitchen table, looking at Twitter. It seemed like I kept reading the same message from so many people, urging others to be more open about mental health. People were angry in their tweets. They were hurt. They wanted things to change.
While it is noble to encourage awareness and openness on social media, I suspected that the message was being relayed to others who felt the same way.
I felt a deep desire to do something different. I started thinking back to 2016, when I was homeless on the streets of Des Moines, Iowa. I had lost a job because my position had been eliminated, and I had no resources. My BPD took hold of me. I was scared and felt hopeless. I was angry at our mental health system for not providing adequate resources to treat BPD. I was angry at the way people judged me and my illness: a perspective that seemed prevalent in our society due to lack of education. I felt silenced.
I had an idea. I went down to a local distribution center and asked a supervisor for a box and a marker. I wrote on the box that I had borderline personality disorder and that I wasn’t ashamed. I sat down at a local park with a lot of foot traffic and held up my sign for seven hours.
I engaged in conversation with the public, and educating people about my disorder. I felt as though I was tearing off a mask and facing my fears. I felt a sense of freedom I had never felt before.
I decided to offer this same experience to others who had been sitting in silence.
#ProjectIamNotAshamed is a mental health initiative I’ve started that encourages people with mental health conditions and those who support them to go out into their community on August 18th and hold up a sign identifying their condition and letting the world know they are not ashamed. On my sign, for instance, it will read, “I have borderline personality disorder and I am not ashamed. #ProjectIamNotAshamed.”
As the public walks by, we will simply ask people to read our signs. Once a conversation is sparked, we will educate the public about our disorders or how mental illness has impacted our lives. We will take selfies and plaster them all over social media with the hashtag #ProjectIamNotAshamed.
The event isn’t limited to those with mental health conditions. Many people will be holding signs that read, “I am a supporter of those with mental health conditions, and I am not ashamed.”
As of now, we have representatives in 30 states, 107 cities and 16 countries who are confirmed to participate, and I expect that number to grow.
If other people’s experiences are anything like my own, I predict they will feel a sense of freedom, and of a weight being lifted off their shoulders.
For many years, I felt I needed to remain quiet and hide my condition. I felt a sense of shame about what is a health condition. I now believe that the only way I can help to end the sense of shame many people still feel is by speaking out in public. I need to face my fears and be vulnerable. Together, we can promote awareness of mental health conditions, one person at a time.
My name is Ross. I have borderline personality disorder, and I am not ashamed.
For more information on #ProjectIamNotAshamed follow Ross on Twitter.