You are here: Home » Case studies

How I Learned to Manage Depression and BPD Through Art and Self-Development

“Do not listen to people who have achieved nothing in life, especially if you are an overachiever and ambitious person, if you have a dream, run after your dream, God has plans for you and he gifted each one of us with something. My gift was in the arts and since I was 14 years old I’ve been after that dream, even if my own family has tried to “cut off” my legs. Fight for your dream, when things are being the hardest and you’re ready to quit, that is when you shouldn’t quit because big things are coming.”

Hello! Who are you?

I am Rita Vilhena due to my photography, also known as Rita Isabel due to my art. I was born and raised in Portugal and currently reside in Portugal.

I am an independent worker (that is what we call here for jobs like Photographer), since I am a professional Photographer, Digital Artist, and Painter. 

I haven’t been in a relationship officially since 6 years ago, due to the last relationship being very toxic and traumatic. I have 9 cats, I love animals! My passion is art and photography and thankfully I do what I love, so, most days it doesn’t feel like “work” even though it is. 

I consider happiness to be a moment that comes and goes, just like sadness, life has taught me that, however, I do consider myself happier than I ever was.

💡 By the way: Do you find it hard to be happy and in control of your life? It may not be your fault. To help you feel better, we’ve condensed the information of 100’s of articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet to help you be more in control. 👇

Cheat Sheet Download Thumbnail

Don’t Miss Out On Happiness

Find happiness with this 10-step mental health cheat sheet.

What is your struggle and when did it start?

The official name of what I struggle against is Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). 

The symptoms I experienced majorly and still do at times are:

  • Fear of abandonment.
  • Impulsive behavior (doing drugs, mainly weed to nullify my emotional pain which I know is wrong, unsafe sex, binge eating).
  • Self-sabotage (mainly love relationships).
  • Problems with my self-image (such as weight and beauty standards).
  • Chronic mood swings (going from feeling good to feeling extremely sad).
  • Chronic feelings of emptiness.
  • Paranoid thoughts (like people harming me).
  • Feeling detached, extreme anxiety (to the point I’d vomit food and even with empty stomach, shaking due to anxiety, mainly hands).
  • Self-harm (I’d do small cuts on my wrists to relieve the emotional pain because it was too strong, however, I was able to never do it again and manage it).

And I’ve made two suicide attempts with pills, however, I have been able to manage this due to having psychotherapy with a psychologist who understands more about BPD and being on the right medicine (for my body)

The medicine that works out for me may not work out for someone else as medicine might change from person to person, not every “cocktail” of pills might work for the same person, because we are all different, all unique in our own way, from our brain to our feet. 

Please also understand, that psychotherapy is essential, taking pills is just like a crutch they aren’t the cure or the solution, they help you a little, and they give you a push simply, what will really and truly help you is psychotherapy, and you will want to quit it once it is working, now you will ask me, how will I know when it works? When you want to not go to the therapy sessions, that means it is working!

Because when you want to give up the therapy and quit it, IT IS, when it is working, it is when you feel the most pain, the most profound sadness and you make all sorts of excuses to not go, please, when that happens, force yourself to go, even if you have anxiety at that moment and so forth, face your fear and do go and tell your therapist exactly why you didn’t want to go and so on, your therapist will be there for you and will know how to handle it

He is the healthcare professional that truly wants to help you to overcome your past and current traumas and wants you to be able to manage your full day, as in, get out of bed, do daily tasks (like washing dishes, showering, making yourself pretty FOR YOURSELF!), he will help you see, even if it’s not totally “direct” because you have to do the work yourself but you need to be willing to do the work. 

And always remember this: If a doctor tells you, you do not have a cure, I know this is like, if someone is giving a death sentence because that happened to me, quit that doctor, there is a cure, even if not “total” but you will be able to manage your everyday life and have less and less of these symptoms

And you have to get to know yourself very well, no matter what others tell you about you, you are the one who knows yourself better than anyone! Also learn to know what triggers you, to know what is a toxic environment, and toxic people, and to know what is truly healthy for you. 

For someone who identifies with BPD and is struggling with such, this was the website that made me certain of having BPD, although I was diagnosed by a psychiatrist of having it. 

I think it started during my young adult years with BPD (however with MDD it started when I was 13 years old) but it aggravated severely because I was in a 6-year toxic and verbally abusive relationship. I often say I was a victim of psychological domestic violence because to me and from experts I’ve heard, that is what actually happened.

Although my family life was toxic, I never felt loved at home, especially by my parents. Even though I knew my parents loved me, they would be cold (as in, not giving hugs, kisses or saying that loved us) and so I wasn’t able to feel it. Sadly, there was a lot of psychological abuse in front of us.

Being a lonely child, isolated, and talented since a very small age, when I entered first grade, I was bullied by my schoolmates due to drawing well, I’d always be alone. For most of my pre-teen years and growing to teen years I suffered bullying at school and sexual harassment.

I also believe that made me feel like an object, objectified especially by men, rejected by women because I’d stand out among the rest of the women and they hated that and I’d search for love in the wrong places because the root of the trauma was in my childhood. 

This still impacts me to this day, as I am still a work in progress and I believe I will always be, we as humans have to refine ourselves, acquiring knowledge makes us evolve as human beings, if we don’t acquire knowledge we get stuck.

Knowledge is never enough, we are always students even if we can become masters but even masters keep learning. I do a lot of self-development and avoid at all costs reading negative quotes, posts, news outlets, etc. because I am hyper-empathetic.

I naturally feel for others and I also have to protect myself from that, because all my love relationships and even most friendships were extremely toxic and some were even abusive, being an empath we easily fall prey to people like narcissists and other types of personality disorders such as the dark triad.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

For many years, I was never able to be happy at all, even for small moments, it was a constant struggle and I’d never understand why I was not “normal” and wouldn’t “fit in” like everyone else. 

It wasn’t clear to the people around me that I was having a severe struggle inside me because I’d hidden it well, coming from a Christian family, sadly I lived inside a bubble made by my parents.

I would also hide it because when I’d try to reach out to people they would invalidate my feelings with such phrases as “there are people that have it worse”, “you are over-sensitive”, “you are too emotional”, there’s more phrases of this type that totally invalidate someone who is struggling in serious mental health issue.

👉 Share your story: Help thousands of people around the world by sharing your own story. We would love to publish your interview and have a positive impact on the world together. Learn more here.

Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

This isn’t a happy story. However I started to feel a little bit of change when I finally moved out of my parents to Germany into that abusive 6-year relationship (I lived in Germany for 4 years), I was finally able to be myself, around my parents and everyone I knew from church circle, I’d have to pretend to be someone else and never myself, my authentic self. 

Quantifying it, it was a result of my actions, because if I didn’t apply to Erasmus it would have never happened so I’d say 100%. But it was an escape from my parents and the toxic environment.

It still took me years of struggle to find a way around it, because since I was raised inside a bubble, my parents didn’t teach me or provide me the basic life tools I needed to be “out there”. I had to learn everything on my own and became a strong warrior. I’d still rely at that time too much on what others would say and would think of me. 

When I returned to Portugal, I went through 3 different psychiatrists until I found the proper one for the proper “cocktail” of pills. I knew I wasn’t still 100% but at this time, I was already doing psychotherapy, my mother had passed away (she was my best friend and confidant) and I started doing a lot of self-development.

Slowly I started to realize, I was following for example too many negative instagram accounts, with depressive mindsets and I told myself, life can’t be only about negativity, it’s impossible, so I cut off everything negative/toxic and started following everything positive that would make me acquire knowledge and make me grow as a human being, I found Jordan B. Peterson and that helped me a lot, like, a lot. (this is an example) 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

What really helped me was psychotherapy, self-development and I had to cut off a lot of people that were toxic to me, including relationships, friendships, and even family. I know it isn’t easy, it is very difficult, but I had to learn to love myself first and put others after. 

People might say I am selfish but no, that isn’t being selfish, that is having compassion, comprehension, and empathy for yourself. 

If someone is abusing you, gaslighting you, manipulating you, or taking advantage of you, you should instantly cut them off everywhere, including social networks, real life, everything. Even if you have to change your phone number (I had to do this because of a female ex-friend and even after I receive anonymous text messages trying to taunt me). 

Do not *ever* allow other human beings to abuse you in any way. 

I recommend a lot Dr. Jordan B. Peterson, because last year I had a music trigger, I was able to solve it by myself due to Dr. Jordan B. Peterson’s posts and videos on YouTube.

Every time I’d go to a supermarket or convenience store (the song was super popular) it would play randomly and I’d have panic attacks and I’d have to pretend to be okay and I’d start sweating and all I wanted to do was run and shout, sadly even my psychologist wasn’t able to help me with that but thankfully because I always do a lot of research, the posts and videos of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson helped me on solving my trigger. 

Related to triggers, if you know you going to trigger for example listening to a song, a movie, etc., fight your demons, slay the dragon in the cave! (like Jordan B. Peterson says) This will make you stronger in many ways.

Do not avoid your triggers, avoiding will increase them each time, find a way to get past them, this includes fears, always think you are strong, a warrior, and after all, you are! You are battling a heavy fight, even though we get down on the ground, we were taught to get up and keep going, do not EVER give up on yourself. You are precious. 

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

I felt mainly comfortable talking about my struggles to my psychologists and very very few friends… Most people like I stated before, invalidate you right away because they lack emotional intelligence and empathy. They aren’t able to put themselves in other people’s shoes. 

I never felt comfortable talking to my parents about my struggles or my siblings because they never seemed like people who would understand at all what I was struggling with. However, they’d notice something was wrong, especially my mother. I always felt like there was a wall between us, due to my parents being conservative and at the same time open-minded. I’d keep it all to myself mainly.

Nowadays I don’t find it so hard to talk openly about my mental health struggle with someone but a lot of times I try not to do it, because I don’t want to give negative vibes, but also because in my country it’s considered still a taboo.

However in my opinion, if you want to know if someone is your real friend or not, tell them, wait for their action, if they disappear from your life, then you know these people never were real and never were true and authentic and you are better off without them! It’s a pretty good test. 

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

I have a few pieces of advice I want to give:

Know yourself better, I did way later in life a personality type test which is known as the Mayer-Briggs personality test, which was based on Carl Jung’s studies of personality types.

I am actually an INFJ, one of the world’s rarer personality type, I sought answers nonstop for not ‘fitting in’ in the crowd and society and I always blamed myself for it, thinking it was my fault, once I did that, I finally understood A LOT, that happened in my life and why I was very rejected too because I was never afraid of speaking out. 

16 Personalities – Based on the Mayer-Briggs personality test, I find this the most accurate website, but you have to be very truthful, honest and do it with proper time.

Do not listen to people who have achieved nothing in life, especially if you are an overachiever and ambitious person, if you have a dream, run after your dream, God has plans for you and he gifted each one of us with something.

My gift was in the arts and since I was 14 years old (even though I started drawing when I was 2 years old) I’ve been after that dream, even if my own family has tried to “cut off” my legs (due to worrying because art life isn’t very profitable). Fight for your dream, when things are being the hardest and you’re ready to quit, that is when you shouldn’t quit because big things are coming.

Get away from people who trash-talk other people, these people are toxic, there is a saying in my country that is like this: “If someone is at a table trash-talking someone who isn’t there, once you get up and leave, the next topic of conversation will be you.”

There are always old sayings that have a truth in them and do make sense. 

Do not believe when society claims that because you love yourself and put yourself first that means you are selfish, this isn’t true! Being selfish means someone who never helps anyone, only looks to their own belly button, and has no empathy for anyone. 

Thank God or whatever you believe, each day you wake up just for being alive and having a roof over your head, food, and so forth, simply be thankful, it will increase your mood and you will learn the meaning of the simple things in life. 

Take walks in nature, even if alone or with your pet or with a friend or boyfriend/husband/companion, for a minimum of 30 minutes. 

Last advice, read this article to know that having BPD isn’t the end of the world, so you feel relieved.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

My recommendations for readings, podcasts, and YouTube learning videos are:

  • Jordan B. Peterson, Rodrigo Silva, Augusto Cury, Dr. Ramani, Joseph Campbell.
  • I listen to and have one book from Jordan B. Peterson (12 Rules for Life: Antidote to Chaos) and I love watching and rewatching his speeches where he deciphers the bible with psychology. 
  • Pastor Rodrigo Silva sermons and when he goes to podcasts like PrimoCast, he explains in detail the bible verses and stories, he’s also an archeologist and he speaks of psychology too.  
  • Augusto Cury’s books are excellent to help with self-love, he’s a renowned psychiatrist and if I’m correct, he also works in the field of neuroscience. 
  • Doctor Ramani on YouTube related to Narcissism, this helped me a lot because I come from a family that has one or more narcissists, my current, and other kin. It’s a generational problem and it keeps passing on from one generation to another and I’ve been the main one trying to break the pattern. If there isn’t one that breaks the pattern, the pattern keeps on going for generations, this is why, nowadays there is so much crime. 
  • Rhonda Byrnes, her book named HERO, which is inspired by Joseph Campbell’s The Path of the Hero. 

Where can we go to learn more about you?

You can learn more about me on the following websites:

You can also find me on LinkedIn, Instagram @ritaisabelart, @ritavilhenaphotography, and TikTok @ritavilhenaphotography.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

Cheat Sheet Download Thumbnail Clean

This Cheat Sheet Will Help You Be Happier and More Productive

Thrive under stress and crush your goals with these 10 unique tips for your mental health.

Want more interviews?

Continue reading our inspiring case studies and learn how to overcome mental health struggles in a positive way!

Want to help others with your story? We would love to publish your interview and have a positive impact on the world together. Learn more here.

Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

Leave a Comment