I am a teacher and a person with a diagnosis of BPD. Those two things are not mutually exclusive and, in spite of what the stigma might say about people with borderline personality disorder, I am very good at what I do.
When I was first diagnosed with BPD back in 2014, I was scared that I would not be able to get a job working with children because of my BPD. I was worried that employers would find out about my BPD and judge me as incapable, unreliable or even unpredictable. I am none of those things and never have been.
Of course, sometimes having a job has been incredibly hard on top of managing my BPD. This was especially the case in 2014-2017 when I didn't have nearly enough specialist support.
Video about my career so far... You *can* have a career in a helping profession when you have a BPD diagnosis >
Your career plans are not ruined
Many people who are newly diagnosed with BPD worry that their career plans are ruined. This is understandable given the stigma surrounding this mental health condition. When I was younger, my fear was always to do with being stigmatised or discriminated against at work, rather than a worry about not being able to do the job. I have always known I could do my job well.
Due to reading some incredibly hurtful things about BPD online and in books, I was so scared that a boss would turn around to me at any moment and say: 'so I found out you have BPD... I'm sorry, but we cannot have you working here any longer.' I know that employers cannot generally access medical records, so maybe this was partly an irrational fear. I know though that discrimination on the basis of a mental health diagnosis is very real. It's so scary thinking that discrimination may bite at any moment.
As a young person at the beginning of a career, I was so worried that my aspirations to build a career in a helping role would be ripped from me. That never happened and I am happy to say things have always worked out well for me. I have had a lot of praise for what I do and I derive a lot of satisfaction from being able to help others.
being Emotionally Sensitive Helps Me in my career
I work with children who experience emotional dysregulation and sensory processing difficulties on a daily basis. As someone who has felt some pretty intense and extreme emotional states over the course of my life, this gives me empathy. I have felt very helpless and fragile throughout my adolescence, I take a lot of care when others may be feeling vulnerable. I try hard not to judge because I have been judged and remember how much that hurt.
I also know that a strong rapport/relationship is the fundamental basis for learning and growth. This makes me invest a lot of time and effort in getting to know someone and finding out their likes, dislikes and preferences.
Due to my BPD and not always having the help I have needed, I have had to be creative in order to help myself.
I apply this resourcefulness to my work, especially as I work with children who often express themselves through non-verbal modes of communication.
The 2010 Equality Act
In the UK, people who have a disability (either mental or physical) as outlined under the 2010 Equality Act are protected by law from discrimination and are entitled to certain 'adjustments' in the workplace. It is well-worth reading up about these laws to make sure you are being treated fairly at job interviews, as well as in the workplace generally. However, I know that these laws are not always completely watertight and there is some way to go before all workplaces are fair and respectful.
End the shaming of people who are not working
I really dislike the pressure, mainly from the government and its related institutions, that is put on people to work when it is impossible or is detrimental for their mental health (or health in general). Nobody with a mental health problem should ever be forced into work or be told that they are only worthy of respect, care or understanding when they are working.
Many people criticise 'recovery-focused' mental health care as forcing people back into work before it is safe or beneficial for them. It seems that some 'recovery-focused models push people to feel 'better' for the sole reason that they will be able to go back to work. Getting someone back to work' should never be the 'goal' of someone's 'recovery', unless that is what they explicitly choose for themselves.
Reform Universal Credit
As the benefits system in the UK is completely unfit for purpose, I can understand why people need to go to work even when it is damaging for their mental health. With a benefits system as punishing as it currently is sometimes people have no choice but to go to work, even when it harms their mental health. When the choice is food or endangering your mental health, food will take priority.
People ought to be supported with their mental health not to get them in work, but because everyone deserves to be supported. Surely supporting mentally ill people is fundamental to a decent society.
Self-worth is not synonymous with productivity
The capitalist society that we live in teaches children from a young age that their self-worth is synonymous with their productivity. However, a person's inherent value and worth has nothing to do with how 'productive' they are. More often than not anyway, productivity is a euphemism for 'increasing profits for your employer'. I feel that people with mental health problems and disabilities who cannot work or who need to not work in order to stay healthy, safe or alive often bear the brunt of this damaging myth.
As this conflation of productivity with self-worth myth has infiltrated the popular imagination, is it any wonder that so many people feel guilty or ashamed when they cannot work?
It honestly breaks my heart when I hear people with a disability or a mental health problem feeling embarrassed or believing that they are useless because they cannot work. A person is so much more than their ability to go to work and do a job.
More needs to be done to support people with disabilities, both working and non-working people
Of course work is a vital source of self-esteem for many people (as it is for me), but nobody should ever be shamed for not being able to work. The social support system need to be dramatically overhauled and made safe for people with disabilities; universal credit is absolutely not fit for purpose.
Much more needs to be done to support people with disabilities in the workplace, just as much more needs to be done to stop the shaming of people who cannot work. I believe that pushing against ableist attitudes and policies is the way forward.
Employers need to actively work towards recruiting disabled people for the benefit for their workforce and then make sure they are flexible, creative and open-minded enough to work with an individual's disability and not against it. Adapting and embracing someone's disability will benefit every person in the workplace and the workplace as a whole, not just the person with the disability. One size doesn't, and shouldn't, fit all in the workplace. Hours, locations, modes of working, technology, working relationships, management systems all need to become much more pliable.
Have you ever noticed that the 'higher up' someone is in a company, the more flexibility they have over their working hours, days and conditions? If this doesn't filter down when an employer presents itself as fair, then this is hypocrisy.
Furthermore, there needs to be a drastic rethink of what productivity means, why it is held up as a pinnacle of goodness in society and why someone why a person's worth does not equal their productivity. A person ought to be judged on their character, not by their so-called productivity.
I wonder how you feel about this topic? No matter what, please know that your worth as a person is not defined by how many hours of work you do, emails you send, boxes you pack, your salary or your job title.