CEDAR FALLS — Growing up, Ross Trowbridge never felt quite right. Something was different, but he couldn’t pinpoint what or why.
In 2015, he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Now, at 38, he wants to take to the streets to end the mental illness stigma.
BPD is just one of the personality disorders. It is characterized by impulsive and risky behavior; an unstable or fragile self-image; unstable and intense relationships; up and down moods, often as a reaction to interpersonal stress; suicidal behavior or threats of self-injury; and stress-related paranoia that comes and goes, among other characteristics.
Trowbridge describes it as an “emotional intensity disorder. It deals with the intense emotions that come with everything. Good or bad things.”
The same year Trowbridge received his diagnosis, he found himself homeless. He had lost another job after just three months because of contract eliminations. He spent three weeks on the streets. That experience convinced him to speak out about his illness, make it public, put a name and a face to the illness, and advocate for all mental illness sufferers.
He recently launched an initiative called #ProjectIAmNotAshamed. On Aug. 18, followers will go out into the streets of their communities carrying a sign akin to, “I have Borderline Personality Disorder. And today, I’m not ashamed. Silence=Death. Please share!”
“When I was on the streets, I started talking to the homeless,” Trowbridge said. “I realized that a lot of these folks do not have the ability to communicate a message that needs to be communicated. Some of them do not have that ability. Some don’t have the education, the resources. I was no different. I was out there with them.
“Taking to the streets is an opportunity for individuals who have been affected by mental illness, either sufferers themselves or friends or family of a person with an illness, to ‘out’ themselves, come out of hiding while putting a face and name to the disorder they have. This gives folks the opportunity to educate the public and help fight the stigma — one person at a time.”
Trowbridge says he has been “functional.”
He has held jobs, one for as long as seven years.
He has had relationships, even was married once, but he still has trouble managing overall. He graduated high school, attended college, majoring in speech communication and theater. He performed in plays, even holding leads. He played baseball. He eventually “fell” into a career in corporate recruiting.
His initiative has picked up steam despite the fact it has only been in existence for about a month. As of late March, there are confirmed participants from 11 states, 28 cities and four countries. There are five so far from the Cedar Valley. Many more are possibilities.
His marketing is based on a simple concept of using the phone and social media, including Twitter.
He set a realistic goal of 50 people participating worldwide. He already has reached that number.
“If these 50 people talked to 30 people, that’s a reach of 1,500 people in a four-hour period, and etc. I’m happy with that. I want to find people who are as passionate about advocacy as I am.”
Trowbridge has lived in the Cedar Valley since December. He is looking for a job again. He works every day for the emotional balance it takes to manage his illness. Medication is only a small part of his treatment.
“When I am active on social media, I talk about my recovery formula,” he said. “People need to figure out a treatment plan that works for them. The formula can consist of small things, like following through with commitments for the day, daily meditation, weekly therapies, reaching out to help others. Eating healthy, exercise. It involves getting to the bottom of my problems through the top, which is reprogramming my brain. Being accountable is a big thing for me.
“I used to believe in the concept of remission, but I no longer do. What I do believe is the daily manageability of the disorder. Sometimes it can be minute by minute and day-by-day. Long term I may not have to work as hard, but I still have to work at it on a daily basis.”
Trowbridge says he hopes to make his initiative an annual event.
“We are not bad people. We simply have been or are currently sick. The whole point is to stop the stigma publicly.”