Facilitators-to-be gather in Toronto for Sashbear’s Family Connections co-facilitating workshop

Toronto - June 11-12, 2016

Living with the emotional dysregulation, anxieties and sensitivities of Borderline Personality (BPD) is extraordinarily hard and a source of enduring pain for sufferers. Living with people with this mental illness is also tough. For the women (and a few men) who gathered in Toronto in June of this year, it was likely one of the stronger factors motivating them to attend the weekend training session on how to facilitate Sashbear’s Family Connections groups. All had previously taken part in Family Connections groups and were ready to volunteer their time and energy to facilitate new groups in the Southern Ontario region and also one in Montreal.

In the spacious meeting room, generously provided by Sun Life, the group was spread out along rows of lecture hall-style tables. Beside and behind them are walls of windows overlooking Toronto’s financial district. In front of each participant is a notebook and a big, orange Sashbear binder. At the front of the room, there’s a large screen and a lectern. The goal was to review all 6 modules of Sashbear’s NEA-BPD Family Connections program and to share the notes, ideas and experiences that Lynn Courey, Mike Menu and Rosanna Ruppert have picked up over the years they’ve been facilitating such groups. They are Sashbear’s longest standing trio of facilitators since Lynn and Mike first took on BPD after their daughter Sasha’s death five years ago. Sasha was a vibrant, young university student and a competitive swimmer at the elite level who also struggled with BPD.

The Family Connections groups aim to help the people who live with or who are connected to people suffering with diagnosed (or undiagnosed) Borderline Personality Disorder. They start by giving family members and friends information about the disorder, exploring the participants’ experiences with it and introducing some of the strategies people in close contact with sufferers can use to improve their situations. The facilitators are also people with family members or friends with BPD. They start by making it clear they are not experts and that they cannot provide solutions. Instead, as Rosanna, Mike and Lynn reminded the facilitators-to-be in Toronto, the groups are designed to help family and friends understand their own limits in coping with loved ones, learn effective ways to de-escalate situations and to reach out to and better communicate with their “person” by validating his or her feelings and experiences.

The weekend session in Toronto began with a video highlighting the Sashbear Borderline walk in May and the effort to “make waves” to raise awareness about BPD, to prevent suicide and to raise funds for Sashbear initiatives. After the video, everyone got down to work on the Family Connections material. The training slides and binder full of material were the result of intense preparations by Lynn, Mike and Rosanna in the weeks leading up to the Toronto gathering. They covered how BPD manifests in people as well as the challenges of getting a diagnosis and accessing therapy. They reviewed the Family Connections modules covering key concepts such as developing mindfulness techniques and understanding and using validation to connect with people with BPD.

Another essential aspect of training under the Sashbear banner is an open and non-judgmental atmosphere. Whether participating in a workshop or training to facilitate one, everyone has the opportunity to make comments, ask questions and offer ideas or “golden nuggets” gleaned from their experience. That was the case, once again, as each module was reviewed during the Toronto weekend. Along with insights from Lynn, Mike and Rosanna, there was also Emily, offering some telling insights from her perspective as a person with BPD.

With the possible exception of some observers in the room, everyone came to the weekend with lived experiences to share and discuss. In response, there was acknowledgement of their experiences and the shared realization that everyone in the room understood what it means to live with a person with BPD (whether diagnosed or not) and the effect it has on their everyday lives. As graduates of family connections groups facilitated by Lynn, Mike and Rosanna, many also offered examples of what they learned and how it was playing out in their lives.

There are many noteworthy moments, including Emily’s perspective on Rosanna’s “pass the butter” story. Emily explained how, for her, a seemingly innocuous request to “pass the butter” could spiral into an outburst and isolating herself from the family as she experienced a series of demoralizing thoughts, painful emotions and self-doubt.

As participants talked about their own situations, it became clear once again that people with BPD can be female or male and that they can be struggling with emotional dysregulation and other aspects of the disorder no matter how young or old they are. The weekend session also highlighted how people living with sufferers of BPD come from all walks of life and a range of educational and work backgrounds. With two practicing psychologists among the participants at the Toronto sessions, it also underlined the fact that that there are no “free passes” when it comes to coping with a partner, parent, child or friend with BPD.

Another useful facet of the Toronto training was the connections being made among participants. People shared information and a range of experiences. For example, while some talked about loved one's self-medicating with alcohol or drugs, others described efforts to set boundaries or shared their difficulties coping with loved ones who accused them of being without feeling when they remained calm in the face of ramped up emotions or anger.

As they pondered the questions, “Do you want to be right? Or, do you want to be effective?”, participants shared their own sources of comfort, hope or broader understanding of their situations. There were also discussions about how humour can help folks get though rough times and ideas about how to stay positive in the face of negative situations or their “person’s” profound negativity.

To end the two-day training, participants were asked to share their impressions. As participants talked about their impressions, one woman shared her experience with the stones that Lynn, Mike and Rosanna have been handing out as mindfulness tokens at the end of Family Connections groups. They give one stone with an inspirational word on it and one blank stone so people can write their own significant word on it. In the case of the woman who talked about them, she described how it led to creating a set of stones with her son and how, one day, when he was suffering and close to a crisis, he called her. She asked him how he was feeling and he used the stones to help him describe the situation and then to find some calm to cope with his feelings. For that participant, it was a symbol of how a small but tangible token from Sashbear helped her and her son.

Throughout the weekend many participants had the opportunity to share their perspectives. They also tried out exercises, practiced using communication strategies and sharpened their validation skills. It was a session that ended with many participants connecting with each other to share ideas or offer support. It also reinforced the listening and sharing skills each trio of facilitators-to-be will bring to the table as they begin facilitating their own Family Connections workshops.

By Ita
Family Connections co-facilitator trainee from Montreal

  • We are all doing the best we can and we can all do better...
  • Let's remove stigma from mental illness and Borderline Personality Disorder...
  • We are all in this together, you are not alone...
  • Validation before problem solving...
  • Emotion Regulation Disorder is the new name for Borderline Personality Disorder...
  • Let's teach DBT skills in schools...
  • Let's intervene, let's intervene early...
  • Show me compassion and empathy first, don't just tell me how to change
  • Let go of judgments and believe in me so that I can believe in myself
  • Accept me so that I can better accept myself
  • We are all doing the best we can and we can all do better next time
  • Take care of yourself then you can attend to others
  • Be mindful - Observe, describe, participate effectively
  • Observe your own emotions rise and that of others, pause then engage effectively
  • Strive to be wise, not just rational or emotional
  • Change what you can, accept what you cannot
  • Validation is not agreement
  • Validate, Validate Validate
  • Be supportive, let go of judgements
  • We can't control having strong emotions but we can change how we respond to them
  • Hope is everything and is always there even when I cannot see it
  • BPD is more common than Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder combined 6%
  • The suicide rate of BPD victims is 400 times that of general population
  • BPD is the third leading killer of young women between the ages of 15-24
  • 1 of 5 seek help, 4 of 5 benefit from treatment
  • 4,000 young people die by suicide per year in Canada
  • I am not the disorder. I am a person
  • Stop the Stigma - by Speaking Up
  • Living with BPD is like not having an emotional skin
  • Genetic vulnerabilities and invalidating environment could lead to BPD
  • Breathe
  • Mindfulness is not what you think
  • Mindfulness is being present moment to moment
  • Mindfulness is just observing, paying attention to non-judgement
  • Patience, trust, non-striving and acceptance
  • Mindfulness does not come by itself..it takes practice
  • Let your breath be your anchor to observe thoughts as they arise
  • Observe thoughts as they come and go like waves on the ocean
  • Pay attention to what you are actually paying attention to
  • What we frequently think we become
  • Turning my auto-pilot off
  • Only that day dawns to which we are awake - Thoreau Walden
  • It is a radical act of love to just just down and be quiet for a time by YOURSELF
  • You are HERE!
  • Make each moment count!
  • I am a valuable part of all that EXISTS
  • I am Love. ALL is Love
  • The practice of mindfulness is not to follow your heart but to train your heart
  • It's OK, let it be
  • Smile at thoughts, they are empty. The only power thoughts have is the power you give them
  • The benefit will come to your life with consistent mindfulness practice everyday
  • Whatever you do to make it mindful!
  • Kindness is pure wisdom
  • Mindfulness is free or craving, want or hate
  • Be gentle to yourself as well as others
  • When you feel connected to someone that connection gives you purpose
  • Practice kindness whenever possible. It's always possible - Dalai Lama