Around lunchtime on a Wednesday last year I walked out of my local medical centre with a brand new diagnosis: borderline personality disorder. 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. 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.
If you’re unfamiliar with borderline personality disorder (BPD) you can find the NHS definition here. The symptoms include emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking or perception, impulsive 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, bipolar disorder, PTSD and only eventually did they settle on BPD. There’s a concrete wall of stigma around the condition, in particular for women, because parts of the media have branded us “Crazy Bitches” (think Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction).
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.
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.