Hometown: Quispamsis, New Brunswick
Major: Sociology and Social Anthropology with a minor in Applied Ethics
Caitlin Grogan is easily recognizable from the #MyDefinition campaign posters hung up around campus, on which she proclaims her passion for activism and lattes, as well as her experience living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and as a suicide attempt survivor.
“The easiest way to explain it is that people with BPD are born without an emotional skin,” says Grogan. “So, the way a burn victim has no skin and everything is really, really sensitive. That is an analogy for borderline personality disorder.”
Grogan talks openly about her diagnosis and experience with the mental health system, viewing it as an opportunity to help others struggling silently.
“When I was struggling with my mental health I didn’t see an end point,” she explains. “When you don’t have anybody to look up to or look to for support, it’s sort of like you’re all by yourself. It was important to me that I share what I went through so that people don’t feel like they’re alone.”
As Grogan transitioned to high school, she felt her mental health declining and began self-harming. In 2013, she attempted suicide.
“I didn’t feel good—ever,” she says. “I never realized that it wasn’t normal to be feeling the way that I was feeling. I just thought that I was being a teenager, that it was normal and that I would grow out of it. Then I realized that it wasn’t something that I was just going to grow out of, and I needed help.”
“I lived in a very small town and I stayed in the hospital for a while. You can’t hide that in a small town. People found out that I was going away and I decided to just say, I’m struggling with my mental health and I’m going to the hospital as I would for a physical health problem.”
Overall, reactions were positive.
“Having people say to me that I’ve inspired them to seek treatment, or talk to their parents about their mental health—that makes my heart happy and my soul warm. Every single comment like that is heartwarming.”
Grogan emphasizes the need to get rid of stigma surrounding mental illnesses, particularly surrounding BPD.
“There are therapists who won’t even treat patients with borderline personality disorder,” she says. “That is something that has really stuck with me—knowing that I have this set of symptoms, and to some people it makes me a bad person.”
While BPD is negatively portrayed in the media, Grogan believes that this is the very reason she needs to be open about it.
“If you look up borderline personality disorder, the first thing that pops up is ‘how to live with someone who has BPD’ as opposed to ‘how to live with BPD,’” she says. “They make it out like it’s harder on the people around us than it is on us. But it is super hard to live with—that’s why one in 10 people living with BPD will die by suicide, and seven in 10 will attempt it. It’s very scary.”
Grogan is proud of the #MyDefinition campaign.
“This is who I am,” she says. “It’s nice to know that we go to a school where don’t hide away from these things—that we are open and accepting here. Last year’s DSU President was on one of the posters, too, and to have people that you know or know of talking about their mental health and having it up there plastered all around campus—you know you’re not the only one going through these problems. It makes me proud of our school.”
While Grogan still has her share of bad days, she is quick to point out that the good days outweigh them.
“There was no endpoint in sight when I was struggling. I never thought that I would wake up and be happy to be alive,” she says. “But ‘this too, shall pass’—I know it’s not going to last forever, and its easier for me to work through the bad days and wait for the good ones to come back.”
“I’m proud that I made it to this point. I never imagined graduating high school—let alone going to a good university, getting good grades, having friends. That never crossed my mind as an option. Just that fact that I’m here—and killing it—makes me proud.”