My name is Ross. I am a 38-year-old mental health advocate, I have Borderline Personality Disorder, and I am not ashamed. That wasn’t always the case; I used to have a strong sense of shame for what I had, what I’d done, and who I was. As a boy, I never really felt “right.” I was shy and felt intense emotions along with a sensitive side that my peers did not seem to have. Because of this, at around the age of 10, my sense of guilt quickly turned into a strong sense of shame. From that point forward, I was always searching for something to fill that internal void that laid within. I never felt adequate. I never felt like I knew who I was, so I was constantly searching for validation of any kind.

As I grew up into my teen years, sports, women, drinking and drugs became my identity and forms of validation that would temporarily fill that void and ease my pain. But when I wasn’t indulging in these things, I felt alone in this world. I felt like a failure.

20 years later, my indulging continued as I would do everything in my power to just feel normal. I was misdiagnosed over a 17-year period with Major Depressive Disorder, General Anxiety Disorder, Bipolar, ADHD, OCD, Impulse Control Disorder and Substance Abuse Disorder. It wasn’t until shortly after my 35th birthday that I was correctly diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. I could finally connect the dots to why I did the things I did and why I felt the way I felt. I wish I could say that my life became better after the diagnosis, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. Over the next couple years, I spent many nights in psychiatric wards, had numerous suicide attempts, became homeless, was financially ruined, lost a car, lost multiple jobs due to position eliminations, and even lost family.

And then it happened. I had a moment of clarity while leaving an adult crisis center. I knew exactly what I needed to do. I spent my entire life in hiding, being engulfed in shame and feeling like my voice didn’t matter. I remained silent even though it nearly killed me. I began to speak up and speak out. I started to believe in my abilities. I challenged all negative thoughts, and I started to hold myself accountable in life. Recovery and managing Borderline Personality Disorder has not been an easy task, but it is critical to not only my happiness, but also my survival.

Today I can say, "My name is Ross, I have Borderline Personality Disorder, and I am not ashamed." Part of my purpose and mission is to inspire others to come out of hiding and help stop the stigma of mental illness that so many of us are affected by. I believe we can effectively do this by changing the minds of those who hold that stigma and by doing it one person at a time.