Borderline personality disorder and work
Posted Tuesday 17 May 2011
Long before I even knew the name of the condition I was living with, I was acutely aware of how I just didn’t seem to ‘fit’ in the workplace.
During my working life I have tried everything from office desk jobs to working as a full time musician (and everything inbetween), which might seem quite random, but fits perfectly with my diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.
If you’ve never heard of BPD before, you might like to check out a short blog I wrote at the beginning of the month explaining it in everyday terms. Essentially, it is a disorder which affects your emotions, meaning that you can experience incredibly dramatic shifts of intense highs and lows, impulsive behaviour, feelings of chronic emptiness and self~loathing. All of which doesn’t exactly fit into the typical workplace which expects stability, rational thinking, the ability to change and deal with constant pressure.
During my time working a 9 to 5 desk job following university, I found that I was completely unable to deal with the stresses associated with sudden changes in workloads and constant upskilling. Having no formal diagnosis in my early twenties meant that I was incredibly self-depracating, as I couldn’t understand why I was the only one in the office who couldn’t cope with the most simple of tasks. I had been educated to degree level, had the whole world to discover and watched my friends climbing the career ladder whilst I remained unfulfilled, depressed and hopeless. The impulsive nature of the condition meant that I would flit from job to job, never truly settling on any one particular career, and finding it increasingly difficult to ‘explain myself’ to colleagues.
In my mid-twenties I made the decision to return to my musical roots and study a Masters Degree in Digital Performance — a one year course which allowed me to immerse myself in the exciting world of Music Technology combined with playing nine instruments and songwriting. It was at this point that I realised that my future lay in harnessing the creativity which is so often increased in people with Personality Disorders.
Obviously, there aren’t that many jobs available for full-time musicians, and it is in itself a highly pressured industry to work in. However, I firmly believe that when you begin working in an industry which you feel strongly about, much of the stress and anxiety can begin to abate as it becomes a fulfilment of your passion rather than ‘just a job’.
Working as a full time musician was incredibly difficult, and I could not possibly have managed without the constant support of my partner Nigel, who also works in the same industry as a Producer/Engineer. I also began to get treatment after a very long wait on the NHS, and was formally diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. By understanding my illness and having Nigel’s emotional support, I was able to tour the UK and record an album at a pace that fitted with my mental health needs — something which I could never have dreamed of doing ten years ago.
I now work part-time as a musician, and part-time as a trainer for people who work with those with Personality Disorders through a fantastic organisation called Emergence. When I’m asked what I do for a living, I take great pride in saying “I’m a part-time musician and mental health trainer.” Working flexibly to allow me to take the breaks that I need.
My advice to those living with mental health conditions is to remember that there is no shame in being open about what you need — if you can manage part-time work or volunteering, doing *something* that sets you alight is so important. You are the only person who can dictate what is right for you, and as organisations like Mind are increasing awareness of positive mental health in the workplace, you’ll find that more and more employers are really supportive.
Having family or friends to help keep you on track is a great way of sharing the burden, so don’t be afraid to talk. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to listen.
Read Mind's information and advice on work, whether it's how to stay well at work, dealing with stress or workplace bullying.
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