Overcoming borderline personality disorder: A mental health success story

She struggled with school, dating, and other compulsory behaviors, never understanding why she was the way she was.

With constant feelings of loneliness, she continually looked for “escapes” from her emotions, which led her to live with an undiagnosed mental health disorder for more than a decade. But, it wasn’t until a failed suicide attempt in 2016 that she finally decided to seek help.

Samantha Hedden (submitted photo)

Samantha Hedden (submitted photo)

Samantha Hedden, 32, was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder in 2016 and, through a regiment of therapy, prescribed medications and the support of loved ones, this year, she received her master’s degree in curriculum, pedagogy and schooling from Metro State University.

“It’s a really fancy way of saying, teaching teachers how to teach,” said Hedden.

Currently, Hedden works as an outreach coordinator for Mental Health Minnesota whose mission is to “enhance mental health, promote individual empowerment, and increase access to treatment and services for persons living with mental illness,” according to the group’s website.

However, the road to her success has been a constant battle full of emotional bumps all along the way.

Colleen Kennedy, mental health professional at Lakeland Mental Health Center in Fergus Falls, has diagnosed and treated patients with borderline personality disorder. She said one of the most difficult parts of diagnosing this mental health disorder is that patients can present differently each time they come to the office.

“Kind of a hallmark for borderline personality disorder is the emotional disregulation is very intense and easily triggered,” said Kennedy. “They are more emotionally sensitive.”

Kennedy also said something that might make an average person frustrated can easily be amplified by someone with this disorder, spurring a furious rage.

“The emotions come very intensely and very quickly and then they are hard to bring down,” said Kennedy.

As a younger teenager, Hedden said she exhibited risky behaviors, like lying, and other compulsive actions that she knew were wrong, but did them anyway.

“Never feeling that you fit in really messes with you head,” said Hedden. “This paranoid idea that you’re unlovable and no one is around for you, and you kind of turn into a loner, and you close yourself off.”

People said she was bubbly, but only to a point, she said. She kept herself closed off to others and dealt with loneliness for much of her teenage years.

“With borderline personality disorder, you can see a variety of intense emotions within a day, or within an hour,” Kennedy said. “There are so many high risk behaviors…with the suicidality, substance use…and a really difficult time with self-image.”

Kennedy said to imagine yourself on a rollercoaster that is out of control and that is what it’s like to be inside the mind of someone with borderline personality disorder. She also said an invalidating environment in which young children are raised can contribute to them seeking out other ways to feel valued, or wanted later in life.

“My parents had their own issues to deal with,” Hedden said. “They both had to deal with substances and they were kind of in their own little world and I don’t think they ever really realized that there was something going on and it was better just to not say anything.”

Hedden felt her parents wouldn’t have taken her mental health concerns seriously, so she felt it was best to not say anything.

And, with her parents absent, she took it upon herself to help raise her two younger siblings, Aaron and Emily, which caused her to grow up faster than most kids her age.

Hedden is 10 years older than her youngest sister, so it fell to Sam to get her and Aaron ready for school, taking them to and from places and other appointments.

“That was kind of the role I ended up in,” she said. “But I didn’t get to spend much time focusing on me, and getting to grow as a person that I should’ve been versus trying to take care of them.”

Hedden also worked at a hardware store for six years during her young adult years, which is something many people with borderline personality disorder can struggle with.

“Most often we do see individuals really struggling to maintain work,” said Kennedy. “So then, with that work history, then it’s hard to get hired going forward because the resume and the applications can look complicated.”

Hedden said it wasn’t easy, but she used her time at work as an escape from her home life and from school.

She said she didn’t seek help, even though she struggled daily, and just lived with her emotional distress because she didn’t know where to start, or who she would even talk to.

Hedden also said she cut herself.

“Not to severe extent, but enough where it has left scars,” she said. “A lot of self-harm behaviors, whether that was getting too much alcohol, and getting drunk and driving, or cutting, or taking too many pills, knowing that you are taking too many, so it was a lot of self-harm behaviors.”

Hedden said she believed she should’ve gotten multiple DUIs during her life, but she was never pulled over.

In 2016, Hedden tried to kill herself by taking too many pills.

“It was kind of one of those things where I didn’t know who to talk to, or what to do, I felt alone and I was like, this is my only option,” she said.

She was admitted to the ICU and, when she woke up in the hospital, she was presented with an ultimatum.

“When I woke up in the hospital…it was you either get help, or we’re giving you help, it was kind of one of those options,” Hedden said. “It was my husband.”

Kennedy said some people with emotional regulation problems and those who experience instability within relationships, or their environment will often often not seek help, or stay in treatment.

“When they have that external pressure to engage, that’s often times when the work starts to happen,” Kennedy said.

Hedden started dating her husband in 2014. Within six months, they decided to get married, but she kept much of her disorder hidden from him.

She said she was hesitant to seek help after being presented with the ultimatum, but she didn’t want to waste this relationship like so many of her previous relationships because of her emotional distress.

“I had another couple suicide scares that he helped me with,” Hedden said. “Eventually, I ended up in inpatient (treatment).”

Regions Hospital in the Twin Cities was the first inpatient facility she tried.

“They ran a great program, the only problem was that I had an undiagnosed eating disorder, so I would pass out or I would get light headed” said Hedden.

The program was unable to continue her treatment because they needed to address the eating disorder first. She ended up in a different inpatient program in Illinois because they were able to address Hedden’s atypical anorexia.

Atypical anorexia is similar to the standard eating disorder, but without the significant weight loss, according to Psychology Today.

Hedden stayed at Timberland Knolls, in Illinois, for one month dealing with both her eating disorder, and her, still undiagnosed, borderline personality disorder.

“It was actually pretty amazing,” she said. “If it wasn’t for (Timberland Knolls), I probably wouldn’t have changed as much as I changed.”

Hedden said leaving the inpatient facility was “scary” because she was worried about her “old influences” coming back into her life when she returned to Minnesota, but she felt better knowing she was going from an inpatient to an outpatient program.

She began working with a psychiatrist, which would eventually lead to her being diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

“It took a long time because you have to have so many behaviors for a certain amount of time,” said Hedden.

Kennedy said sometimes a provider will note that the patient has traits of the disorder, but they don’t always have patients go through the formal testing to get a full diagnosis.

“Often times providers will treat the problems that are presented without giving the label,” Kennedy said. “The problems sometimes present themselves in children and personality disorders aren’t typically diagnosed until into adulthood because that learning and development…many people can present with similar traits, so sometimes providers will hold off unless there are very severe problems presented.”

Hedden’s psychiatrist started going through the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, she said, and once they started looking at the list of traits associated with borderline personality disorder, it clicked, but took a year and a half to confirm that she was, in fact, struggling with this particular disorder.

“It was kind of eye opening, and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, that’s everything that I’ve done, or am doing,'” Hedden said. “All of a sudden, it all made sense. Everything from when I was a kid to now, it just all kind of made more sense.”

She said it felt like a puzzle being completed. They proceeded with a combination of medication and therapy to begin addressing her mental health disorder. Hedden said she began dialectical behavior therapy, which is a treatment for borderline personality disorder. The therapy stresses techniques to regulate emotional responses.

“It’s not an easy course to wrap your head around, but it helps with your emotions,” she said. “It helps regulate emotions. It helps you learn that it’s ok to have more than one emotion at a time.”

The next few years were difficult, she said, but it was easier because her support network was improved, she knew more about what she was facing, she still had her partner and she had some great friends.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Hedden said she adapted to the new normal the best she could, but like many, she felt like she was trapped in a cage. It did give her more time to work on herself, she said.

“It was just a lot of change, and I don’t do well with change,” Hedden said.

However, it also gave Hedden a lot of time to work on her thesis: mental health and teachers.

“The funny thing is, when I started this paper it wasn’t a big topic, and now it’s a huge topic and everybody is talking about it,” she said. “It’s just the perfect time for my paper to be finished.”

Hedden will defend her thesis in March or April, and then, she doesn’t know what she’ll end up doing afterward.

“I used to be one of those people who wanted stuff planned out all the time, like months and months ahead of time,” she said. “I think I’m just going to try to go with the flow and keep the job that I have, and if something comes up, then I’ll do it because that’s something I have to work on.”

Looking back on her mental health journey, one thing Hedden would say to anyone struggling with their own mental health is to know they are not alone.

“You might feel alone, you might have days where you feel like you are just the scum of the Earth, but you are not,” she said. “If you feel that there is something wrong, trust your gut and go talk to somebody.”

Kennedy said Lakeland Mental Health understands that many people with these types of mental health disorders may have trouble holding employment and can be experiencing financial hardship, their organization is willing to work with any patient regardless of income status to get them help that they need, when they need it.

The 9-part series kicked off Nov. 30 and continues through January. Watch the videos on local station TV3, online on the lakestv3 YouTube channel, or at beckercountyenergize.com. Videos launch every Monday. Read the feature stories in the Tribune, in the Wednesday print editions every week of the series as well as online every Wednesday at dl-online.com.

The series schedule is as follows:

Generalized Anxiety During the Pandemic/Current World Stressors

TV3 video: Monday, Nov. 30 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Dec. 2


TV3 video: Monday, Dec. 7 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Dec. 9

Farmer Depression and Suicide

TV3 video: Monday, Dec. 14 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Dec. 16

Bipolar Disorder

TV3 video: Monday, Dec. 21 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Dec. 23

Addiction/Recovery and Mental Illness

TV3 video: Monday, Dec. 28 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Dec. 30

Borderline Personality Disorder

TV3 video: Monday, Jan. 4 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Jan. 6

Mental Illness and the Judicial System

TV3 video: Monday, Jan. 11 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Jan. 13

Mental Illness as it Relates to Domestic Violence

TV3 video: Monday, Jan. 18 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Jan. 20

Mental Illness in the Elderly and Final Panel Wrap-up

TV3 videos: Monday, Jan. 25 / Tribune story: Wednesday, Jan. 27

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