Today (25.10.17) The Guardian published an article by Dr Mary Lamia entitled 'Personality Disorders at work: how to spot them and what you can do', on the Careers section of their website.
As a professional with a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), as well as someone who works as a blogger, poet and artist to break down stereotypes around this diagnosis I find this article stigmatising, demonising and ultimately dehumanising. I believe that The Guardian has made an irresponsible decision to publish an article that further entrenches stigma, stereotyping and prejudice towards members of our society with a diagnosis of personality disorder. As a society, we need to work towards a more accurate representation of people with a diagnosis of a mental health condition or mental illness. I would argue that people with a diagnosis of personality disorder are amongst the most misrepresented of all mental health conditions, alongside people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and multiple personality disorder. First of all, postulating 'how to spot' someone with this diagnosis established the article as an office jest to hunt out the personality disorder. Dr Lamia aligns herself with the damaging media trend of arm chair diagnosing people in the public eye (often Donald Trump). Arm chair diagnosis is not only unethical, but it condemns, marginalises and renders whole groups silent with its accusatory, sanctimonious waggling finger. As you will know if you read my blog, I have a diagnosis of BPD. I am a Mind Media Award shortlisted blogger and I talk about BPD in the hope that sharing a bit of myself and my life will break down some of the stereotypes and inaccuracies that swirl around society about BPD.
I have worked very successfully as a teacher in a primary school for over three years now. I have a degree in English Literature from Cambridge University, am enrolled in a Masters in Medical Humanities and I worked for two years as a counsellor at a well-known mental health charity. I was so supportive in my volunteering role, I was asked by my supervisors to become a mentor.
Throughout all of these strands of my life, I am almost certain no one would be able to 'spot' my personality disorder. I can say with all certainty that I don't need anyone to 'do' anything about the fact that I'm working and I have a diagnosis of BPD. Dr Lamia misrepresents and maligns when writes that 'a boss or a colleague with borderline or narcissistic traits can leave you feeling manipulated or affect your performance'. Throughout my career as a primary school teacher my communication with children, parents and colleagues has been nothing but open, honest and friendly. References written by a number of my bosses and colleagues reflect that. It is deeply offensive to suggest that my so-called 'borderline traits' would leave my colleagues feeling manipulated.
I used to think that the stereotype that people with BPD are 'manipulative' was finally dying a death. I am shocked to see the manipulative stereotype rear its ugly head because I thought that the overt misogyny (the stereotype that people with BPD are manipulative has a misogynistic history) and maligning of people with diagnosis of a mental health conditions has become slightly less socially acceptable to voice aloud. To see the word 'manipulative' in this article feels like a step back into the dark ages when women with a diagnosis were maligned as 'hysterical', out of control and unable to be trusted. Dr Lamia is crude in her choice of examples of 'behaviours' that 'a person with a borderline personality would show'. According to her, people with BPD would 'admit' to 'ignoring the presence of particular co-workers when they passed them in an empty hallway to intimidate them'. Not only does the use of the word 'behaviour' infantilise people with this diagnosis, but the word 'admit' subtly aligns BPD with deviousness (an incorrect stereotype that activists like me have been long trying to remove) and even malice, as if people with a BPD diagnosis might bully and 'intimidate'.
Ask anyone who has ever worked with me, and they would not 'spot' this behaviour in me. The icing on this rotten cake of an article is Dr Lamia's use of the phrase 'disordered personality'. There is nothing disordered about my personality and it is deeply offensive to suggest this. My personality centres around kindness, generosity, diligence and a desire to help others, hence why I have been continuously recognised in my community for the excellent job I do as a teacher. I was disappointed when Dr Lamia ticked off one of the most cliched and yet most offensive stereotypes about people with a diagnosis of personality disorder, that of violence. She states that you are 'likely to encounter rage', if you 'push' a person with this diagnosis. As a teacher, I work under pressure with children and families at the brink of crisis and I have unfailingly remained calm and respectful. I have remained my professionalism in the face of challenge, including throughout occasions when I have been subject to verbal abuse from parents and challenged by behaviour from children with emotional needs. I am deeply disappointed with the Guardian's decision to publish an article such as this which entrenches the already deeply embedded stereotypes about people with a diagnosis of personality disorder. Dr Lamia strikes three of the most rampant, inaccurate and shame-inducing stereotypes about people BPD: that people with this diagnosis are manipulative, out of intimidate and unable to control their rage.
As a dedicated, caring, compassionate and well-loved teacher in my community I find Dr Lamia's words problematic to say the least. What I find even more troubling is The Guardian's thoughtlessness to publish such a damaging article that compounds the stigma that community-oriented, generous and caring people like me face. It's bitterly ironic and startling lacking in self-awareness that Dr Lamia should state that people with BPD have behaviour that stems from 'deep internalised shame'. What she irresponsibly fails to mention is that an overwhelming percentage of people with a diagnosis of BPD have experienced sexual, physical and emotional, abuse, trauma, neglect and emotional deprivation. Furthermore, is it any wonder, given the proclivity of a respected broadsheet newspaper with such an enormous readership to publish an article that demonises people with a diagnosis of personality disorder, that people with this diagnosis feel shame? Is it any wonder I have struggled with 'deeply embedded shame'? Articles like this one have helped to render me silent about my diagnosis and my struggles over the years, and that silence fed my shame. I am aware that this response is not exhaustive and that I have focussed mostly on the BPD aspects of the article, rather than the other personality disorders mentioned. If you have been triggered by this article, I would encourage you, as hard as it might be, to try to remember that people with a diagnosis of BPD are some of the most sensitive, caring and loving people out there with a huge amount to offer to society. People with a diagnosis of BPD have often been engaged with a struggle throughout history to be heard, believed and fairly represented. I see articles such as this and the responses to them as part of that struggle. I would love to hear your thoughts. I'm on Twitter @TalkingAboutBPD.