Do you ever just do something because you’ve been doing it all your life and know that you have to so even though you’ve grown to hate it, you do it anyway?
Having been a member of this Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) support group on Facebook and other mental health support groups online, I’m gobsmacked by the number of people who simply can’t work or work sporadically at best.
Now I’ve had a LOT of jobs in my life and lost a lot of them because of my BPD. I’ve spent seven years in the current job which is far and away a record for me.
Yet, I wonder, how I’ve been able to work since I was 16 with only about seven months unemployment all that time?
I’ve often referred to myself as an ‘escape artist,’ meaning that I always somehow managed to land on my feet and find another job. Working my way back to government service after a 12 year gap I regarded as my greatest escape (cue the music from the movie).
I think the thing that has hit me so hard in this job is the realization (maybe true, maybe not) that there are no more chances for escape. At my age and with my experience, the odds of another job should I lose this one, may be long and far.
Or not. I tend to underestimate my employability and have been pleasantly surprised on numerous occasions. But still, the whole concept of keeping a job with BPD seems very daunting when I think of the trouble I’ve gotten into.
In this respect, getting a late diagnosis of BPD probably was a blessing. In my mind, if I knew that I was dealing with this disorder, it may have influenced my behavior far more negatively than just believing I could be a real asshole at times. The younger you are, the scarier this illness is, at least from what I see in the support group. For me, I had been dealing with some form of misdiagnosed mental illness for so long than when the right diagnosis came along, as disheartening as it was, to me it was just another burden to pick up and slog along with. I’d been slogging for so long; I think I’m just going on momentum now.
My heart really goes out to people with BPD in their late teens, 20s and early 30s. On one hand, they’re looking at this as a possible lifetime issue. On the other, hand, they have a lot more energy to fight it. The problem is health insurance – for younger people, this is the main impediment to getting proper treatment. So problems get worse.
But then there’s work. It’s hard enough being stigmatized as an entitled Millennial, now add the stigma of mental illness and, with BPD, the volatility of emotions that are not welcomed at the workplace.
I think of any advice I might give would be outdated — the world of work as well as relationships and culture is so different than what I knew at that age. The best advice is that if you can’t get therapist-led Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT, the Holy Grail for treating BPD); the workbooks are readily available to teach yourself.
It’s easy to say to not read the worst into any interaction with coworkers, but extremely hard in practice – your brain disagrees and when that happens, brains usually win. And, frankly, all it takes are a few instances where you coworker did throw you under the bus and the paranoia takes on a life of its own; extending to almost every interaction in the office.
Until I knocked it off the garage ceiling, I had an MMA bag I would take out the frustrations of the day on. In reality, people with BPD DO something need some THING to hit before some BODY, perhaps, gets hit. Bags are really useful in this regard. So is knowing when to go to your car in the parking lot and do primal scream therapy for five minutes.
Hey, I may be older, but I still have BPD. These examples come from experience.
The other tip I don’t like to talk about is giving up caring and focusing solely on the paycheck. This is harder for idealistic young people and the kinds of entry level jobs most of them have to work at are real spirit killers in this regard. It only takes one or two bad work experiences to set a pattern where one expects the job to suck. Yes, I know: self-fulfilling prophecy. But sometimes the jobs really do suck.
Forty years in the workforce with a host of mental health issues — I guess I should be proud. But I’m too tired to be proud – I just trudge on. It’s the only option I have. It’s the only option I’ve ever had.