by Leeza Lakhter
Throughout my life and journey, I have often felt like I have multiple identities and have never known who I truly am. As the years go on, I feel more and more like myself than I ever have, but for a long time I didn’t believe that this kind of growth and happiness could happen for me. Since I was a child, I struggled with school, friends, and my mental health a lot. However, I didn’t really focus on or learn about it until I was older and struggling to the point of hospitalizations and self-destructive thoughts and behaviors. I was at a point where I felt I could not avoid or ignore these issues anymore, even though that’s what my family and community around me wanted me to do.
After being hospitalized and diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) at age 19, I began searching for more information and others who were having similar experiences and struggles. I wanted to find information and a community but had little interest in going to therapy because I was very sad and hopeless at the time. However, it was mandatory after getting out of the hospital, so I was doing a lot of research on treatment programs and support groups. Many therapists refused to treat me because of my disorder, and I struggled to behave and engage in therapy, causing me to get kicked out of various treatment programs time and time again. There weren’t many treatment centers that took my insurance, nor knew how to treat BPD. I was struggling to find a safe space, to find help.
photo by Lory Lyon
Soon enough, I found a non-profit organization called Emotions Matter; they invited me to their private Facebook group where other people with BPD were posting things about their treatment. Another person posted about their positive experience and recovery with Brooklyn Minds, a treatment center located in Brooklyn. They specialize in Mentalization Based Treatment (MBT) and another treatment called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) for depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I was able to finally start an intensive therapy program that actually helped me. I was attending therapy five days a week and underwent TMS for depression and OCD. It was really hard work and took me a long time, but I began to see a light and feel like I could actually get better. Therapy taught me how to mentalize and how to think about how my actions affect other people and the world, in addition to learning skills and other healthy coping mechanisms. I felt more comfortable attending therapy at Brooklyn Minds because they were open and educated about BPD. I felt like I was getting help and real support for the first time and could finally commit to getting better.
Around the same time, I met Mia, my partner for over two years now. We started dating at a time when we were both vulnerable and had just left toxic relationships. We were both struggling in different and similar ways. It wasn’t easy or perfect at first, but I think we knew that we could help each other, and we wanted to be together. We fell for each other so fast. We could barely handle being apart. Mia brought so much positivity and light into my world. She also allowed me to explore my sexuality and identity, which were distant and suppressed up until then. For the first time, I was able to be open about my queerness and not feel judged or unaccepted. Mia helped create a safe space for us to explore together. She helped me keep track of my mental health and stay positive, and I also helped her learn more about mental illness and encouraged her to go to therapy. I felt so much safer and more present in my life when with her.
We encouraged each other to explore our identities and emotions through our art forms. Mia was in school at the time and began making her senior thesis film about our relationship and how BPD was affecting us. I was drawing, tattooing, and working on building a tattoo business. Mia helped me come up with my business name, LETMEPOKEU, and soon enough we were traveling to different events all over New York City, promoting the business, trying to gain more clientele and get our names out there. I was struggling with lots of anxiety and Mia was always there by my side helping and supporting me. With time, we created a safe and comfortable studio space for people to get tattooed in because we recognized that there weren’t many tattoo spaces that feel safe and welcoming to the LGTBQ+ and mental health community. It became extremely transformational for me to work with a needle in a safe and artistic way, instead of a harmful and scary way.
For the first time in a long time, therapy, my relationship with Mia, and tattooing, brought me a strong community and hope for a better and happier future. Being able to do what I love every day, while also building a community and being open about my mental health, has been life changing. It is not easy and takes dedication and time, but I have become someone that has a lot more control than I used to. I’m sober from alcohol for almost three years and have the potential to be happier and more successful than I ever have been. Every day I work on my mental health and every day I find reasons to keep going.
Finding the right treatment programs, support groups, information, and medications can take not only a lot of time and energy but can also be extremely financially taxing. I’m so grateful for my family’s support, but I recognize that not everyone has that help or access to the same programs as I did. I strive to talk openly about my experiences and the resources that have helped me because I want others struggling to know it is possible to get better. I aim to make these resources more accessible to others struggling and to destigmatize mental illnesses and talking about mental health.
Leeza Lakhter (they/them/@letmepokeu) is a queer licensed, trauma-informed, self-taught tattoo artist from New York City. Leeza's mission and artwork center around spreading awareness for mental health, body and sex-positivity, and LGBTQIA+ empowerment—just to name a few. Leeza is best known for their tattoo artwork, drawings, graphic art, mixed media, and photography, highlighting the importance of self-love, acceptance, and mental health. Leeza has a safe and comfortable private space for their clients to get tattooed in—open to all bodies, races, genders, aliens, in Brooklyn, New York. Visit www.letmepokeutattoos.com for more information on tattoo booking and mental health resources.
Mia Paden (she/they) is a content creator and videographer based in Brooklyn, NY. Mia is passionate about mental health, LGBTQ+ and human rights, body and sex positivity. She aims to spread awareness and break boundaries through her work. You find out more about Mia and her work at thinkmiamedia.com or on Instagram @thinkmiamedia.