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Being a Teacher with BPD: How & Why It Works for Me

Being a teacher can be one of the most stressful career choices, but it can also be one of the most rewarding. It has taken me a while to fully find my feet in this amazing profession as a person with serious mental health problems, but now I've found them it's just magical. This career gives me a chance to make numerous genuine and meaningful connections with children and their families, constantly evolve my practice in an exciting way and use my creativity productively every day.

It's not always been this smooth sailing for me as a teacher with BPD though. I've had many difficult days, especially early on my my career, that have left me in tears on the bus home, feeling burnt out and full of unjustified guilt that I hadn't 'done enough' for the children- even though I was giving my everything. Somehow I managed to be successful in different roles throughout times of really intense depression and anxiety; thinking about how I wanted the best for the children helped me get out of bed some days when I was feeling really down. In the last few years, I really feel like I found my groove in my career and it has been really fulfilling. It's pretty surprising when I reflect on it; became a teacher almost by accident and nearly left the profession so many times early in my career because so often it all felt too much. Now I feel I will be in this career for many years to come and most likely the rest of my working life because I love it so much!

So how have I made this potentially overwhelming career work so well for me in spite of (or perhaps because of?!) my BPD?

1. The right role

My role is SEND (special education and disabilities) teacher in a large mainstream primary. One of the reasons this role works so well for me is because it's a blend of teaching and SENCo (Special Educational Needs Coordinator) type work. This means I have a balance of working directly with children and holding meetings (with staff, families or external professionals such as Speech and Language Therapists, specialist teachers or Occupational Therapists). When I worked in class all day, I found it overwhelming on my senses; to be around hustle and bustle and sounds constantly took its toll on me mentally.

Whilst I still work pretty flat out in my current role, there are usually moments in my day when I'm working at my computer quietly away from sensory overwhelm. Even though at any given moment I know I may need to rush to support a child, these quiet moments help me stay balanced.

2. The right school

Not all schools are alike. Some are gossipy, cliquey, badly run, disorganised and draining places to be. Some are open, supportive, welcoming, well-run and organised. Some are a bit of both. Don't be afraid to leave a job to find a more supportive and happier place to work. It's important to work somewhere that it feels safe enough for you to make a mistake and receive kind feedback and the right support. There's nothing worse than being on edge all day, waiting for criticism to be thrown at you in a callous or unthoughtful manner.

At the moment, I value the opportunity to disclose my mental health problems to people at work who I feel will not stigmatise me. I have been open at work and it has been very positive for me. When I as younger, I wasn't always fully open at work though due to fear of discrimination. I was too scared of negative repercussions on my career and my reputation.

3. Forge your own path & Be Yourself

I never intended to become a teacher, but when I worked as a teaching assistant I realised how much it made sense as a next step in my career. I also enjoyed working in a school so much that it just made sense to keep doing it because I found it fun and interesting. At that time, I was concerned that I was too introvert and needed quiet too much to be a teacher. An older teacher I worked with told me ‘we need all kinds of teachers’ and that single sentence convinced me that I didn’t need to be a cookie cutter version of any other teacher. I knew I didn't want to be someone louder or more theatrical as it just wasn't 'me'. I knew I couldn't try to be someone I'm not....never have done that and never will!

In the first few years of my career, I did struggle with being around noise and bustle for so many hours per day. I found it over-stimulating and found it hard to sleep at night, even when I was tired. A few years later, when I found a role that was a blend of being in class and in my office or doing meetings, this difficulty no longer existed for me. Now I’m older, im more confident in myself as a teacher. I embrace my personality and my skillset more these days because I know this is what makes me strong in my role. I am sensitive and easily overwhelmed by constant sensory stimulation; I am also empathetic to children and families experiencing difficulties and make time to try to understand students who are struggling.

4. Boundaries

There's no way teachers can do everything. The to-do list would be a mile long. There needs to be prioritisation and any leaders in a school worth their salt will recognise this, even if they don't state it openly for feat that some people will use it as an excuse to be lazy (which some people will do!). There's no way a teacher dedicate all their support to one child or one family all of the time. It goes in bursts and waves because there are so many children and families who need a high level of support.

I know I want to stay in this profession, so I cannot spend all my evenings worrying or feeling guilty that I could have done more for a child or a family. I have to rest sometimes. I work as hard and as efficiently as I can in all the hours I am given and that has to be enough. Whilst I am a person with a set of skills and a desire to help, I am not a superhero with infinite time. I am also one cog in a larger machine and there are others playing their part alongside me so nothing is ever solely on my shoulders. A lot of the time, teaching is a deeply rewarding career and I want to keep it that way for me.


Are you a teacher or considering teaching as a career? I would love to know your thoughts or if you have any questions.

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Shawna Peryea
Shawna Peryea
4 days ago

It's been AGES since I actually took the time to comment on a blog post. I finished your book the other day and felt so seen. Thank you for writing an actual portrayal of BPD. I am newly diagnosed and only wish I had even known what BPD was 10 years ago after essentially being forced to quit teaching, a career I had once wanted to do since I was a kid. I am so happy for those who found a way to have BPD and teach!

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