Work and BPD.
Around 2005 I walked out of my local psych hospital with a brand new diagnosis: borderline personality disorder. Great. Fucking great. I assumed from that moment on my entire life would change. Every moment would have new context. I’d get new meds, a new therapist.
I knew it would be difficult, but deep down there was a hope that everything would make sense now. I had a diagnosis, and a manual for how to live the rest of my life. Nope. To my disappointment the awareness of my condition didn’t do much to make my life any easier. Yes, I could sort of understand why my long-term relationship had gone to shit and why I was self-harming so much I was in A&E on a weekly basis but on a day-to-day level I felt like I was still in the very same place.
The myths if you’re unfamiliar with borderline personality disorder (BPD) you can find the NHS definition here. The symptoms include emotional instability, disturbed fucked up patterns of thinking or perception, impulsive destructive behaviour and intense but unstable relationships with others. If it seems slightly confusing to you, it’s because it is. It’s often misunderstood and more importantly, misdiagnosed. I’ve been told I have unipolar depression, severe regressive depression, schitziod effective disorder, bipolar disorder, PTSD and only eventually did they settle on BPD.
There’s a concrete wall of stigma around the condition, women, get branded “Crazy Bitches” and men get branded "Violent Bastards", often wrongly. Today The Guardian, who get so many things right about mental health, published a piece by a clinical psychologist that perpetuated that stigma. The piece offered employers advice on “how to spot” an employee with a personality disorder at work and subsequently what to do with them. This is hurtful and just plain irresponsible because it reinforces an “us vs. them” narrative and paints people with personality disorders as evil, manipulative and out to get our bosses. In reality, I’m too busy misinterpreting every single thing you do as rejection to be gunning after your job. Employers can chill.
Hiding who we are doesn’t help Of course I have struggled in several of my jobs. I’ve had tough conversations with bosses, I’ve had meetings with HR, I’ve broken down and stormed off but the reason this article got me is this: The utmost important thing for me has been transparency at work, and transparency is impossible when you feel stigmatised. ‘I go to the loo and do a couple stretches before I respond to an email that seems dodgy’. Talking to my managers about my mental health has been the only thing that’s improved my work/life/mental illness balance but it hasn’t been a walk in the park. When you wake up steeped in shame: ashamed of your brain, your scars, your past, it’s not easy to walk into an office of someone who may decide your career fate and say: “I have this condition, I might need more flexibility at work.”
It’s only when I’ve had a growth spurt of bravery I’ve been able to do that. I had to become my own advocate. I told the voice of shame to be quiet for just one second so I can be clear about my needs and what will improve my situation. The strategies I use also, it’s helped for me to lean on the co-workers I can trust. There are people I know I can text if I need an angry stomp around the building. There’s people I know I can meet after work if I’m pretty sure I’m going to get fired imminently because my boss gave me a strange look. I know that my immediate response to things isn’t always the right one. ‘I don’t need to be feared by anyone. I don’t need to be pointed out and shamed’
I also know I can call helplines and the charity MIND for any advice. I go to therapy and support groups after work. I have a chatroom with fellow BPD folk I met online if I need immediate advice on something. I take my meds, I exercise and I consult my mental toolbox for when intrusive thoughts are wrapping their hands around my throat. In short: managing my condition so I’m able to go to work is a full time job in itself but it’s worth it. I like working, I can boss my way through a to-do list, I can articulate my ideas in meetings, sometimes I even feel like I might be good at what I do. I don’t need to be feared by anyone, I don’t need to be pointed out and shamed. I never chose to have a personality disorder. If I could’ve chosen anything about myself I’d have gone for better physique and a bigger knob. Instead I’m lumped with a brain that fires off triggers like it’s Guy Fawkes every day, but I’m doing everything in my power to keep my life together, to wake up in the morning and show up to work.
Don’t take those efforts away from me. I try harder than you will ever know.