Working with Borderline Personality Disorder: An Inside Look (In Their Words)

Struggles with BPD and Work

I am confident that my struggles in working with borderline personality disorder are not personal to me, at least in regards to keeping a job. I’ve never struggled with getting a job. In fact, ironically enough, I’m a talented interviewer (most likely because I’ve had so much practice at it), and getting a job is usually not a problem for me – evidenced by the many jobs I’ve held for a short-term basis.

I’ve been questioning why I struggle so much to hold a position. Questions with the overarching theme of self-doubt and self-shame inevitably fill my mind, threatening to overwhelm me with all the superfluous sentiments of shame, bitterness, and even hatred. A balloon with too much helium will eventually pop. The once thick layer of latex becomes thinner and thinner as more helium is added. Eventually, the wall of latex will be stretched too far, and the balloon will undoubtedly pop. Likewise with my mind. After so many unnecessary paranoid thoughts, I eventually will pop too.

I know myself well enough to understand (painfully so) these two undeniable facts about myself and how they play a role in my problems with job instability:

  1. Most – if not all – of my BPD tendencies (symptoms is a less accusatory word) can be placed into an algorithm. These things that I do, these faulty defense/coping mechanisms I employ, can all be placed into a well established pattern. Like a machine with cogs, gears, levers, pulleys, all operating in a specific place with a specific purpose, so do my self-destructive coping mechanisms.
  2. The first fact is a harbinger of the second: The aforementioned knowledge does nothing to prevent or cease (or lessen the difficulty of) the symptoms brought on by BPD.

Though I have many examples of job loss / trouble holding a job perpetuated by BPD as well as general struggles of working with borderline personality disorder to choose from, I’ll start with the most recent.

Problems Working with Borderline Personality Disorder

My ex-wife knows what buttons to press when it comes to upsetting me. I believe she does not want to see me succeed in life, but that is a story for another time. Suffice it to say that she seems to enjoy the power and control that comes from knowing she is in a position to “kick me while I’m down.” She seems to gain confidence by hurting me. She knows what to say and how to say it in order to cause me to overreact or react in a self-damning way. Though I am becoming increasingly better at not giving in to these blatantly childish schemes, there was an instance the other day which has most recently helped to nudge me down a road of extreme anxiety.

The blame cannot be wholly placed on my ex-wife, to be fair. These symptoms are from an illness that occurs within me. Sure, shame on her for attempting to propagate inappropriate responses from me, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t place guilt where guilt belongs. If I am ever to get better or find respite from my own symptomatic tendencies and behaviors, I must admit that I am in charge of myself and cannot blame anyone else or make excuses for the actions I take – albeit taken due to the illness.

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I woke up last Wednesday and, as I laid in bed, realized I’d fallen into another phase of depression. My anxiety was also unusually high. Up until more recently, my medication had been working well, but after these last few days and the mental and emotional strain I’d been experiencing, I think an adjustment may need to be made. Referring back to the pattern I’d previously mentioned, part of the established pattern in regards to BPD and work involves starting the job out strong, but eventually wallowing in the anxiety caused from everyday life and the duties and requirements of said job.

These strains take an overwhelming toll on me, and I am learning that a way I cope with this strain is by simply choosing random days not to go into work because I feel I legitimately need a mental rest. Beyond this, when I wake up and decide not to go to work (and it is a choice – I make no mistake in this respect, though it is admittedly a choice made under the influence of deceitful BPD thought patterns – including the overthinking that comes with them) I know that I’m going to regret not going.

The double edged sword is this: I am too anxious, too nervous, too fearful, too scared to get my ass out of bed, get in the shower, get some coffee in me (in other words, behave like a normal functioning adult – as prescribed by our society’s norms and expectations), and walk to work. This is exactly what I am supposed to do. When I think about myself and my rent, I know I need to work in order to have the funds to pay my rent.
(Read ’71 Jobs for People with BPD’)

When I think about my children, and the child support payments I need to be making to their mother, I know that in order to accomplish these things, I must work. In fact, I want to work. I want to contribute to society and be a productive and constructive human. I don’t willfully wake up with my mind racing while also simultaneously not being able to remember yesterday’s events due to my cognitive processes being so impaired from the depression I’m experiencing.

I know going to work and working is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, and I often enjoy moments during work when I’ve been able to help someone or other times of satisfaction and feelings of productivity stemming from a job well done. However, the issue arises mainly when the anxiety of the anticipation from the necessity of work becomes so powerful that it outweighs the knowledge that I’m doing the right thing. In other words, my instinct for self-preservation and protection overpowers my ability to go to work.

Like a fly caught in the spider’s sticky trap, I find myself fighting to get out of it – and of course, the more I fight, the more captured in the stickiness I become…(the more I try to “think” my way out, the more embedded in anxiety I become). The irony though, is that I’ve created a false perception of my co-workers as being the spider. However, the reality is that I am the spider, because this web is the web I’ve created and trapped myself in.

I think too much and too hard about certain comments people make, which are usually not intended to be mean or rude, but even when they are intended to be mean or rude, I do not possess the ability to not be bothered by it. A more accurate statement would be, when I’m in the throes of anxiety’s grasp, I cannot use my logical knowledge to debunk the pseudoscience of these false perceptions. Therefore, when I’m in a depressed or anxious (usually both simultaneously) phase, I feel every eye boring into me.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

I project my own thoughts of inadequacy and inferiority onto other people and feel the fear of my childhood arise up into my adulthood, trying to ruin me all the while. This causes me to be clumsy at work, to not think clearly. Then I try to deal with customers and work with them in order to accomplish a task with them, and at the slightest hint of dissatisfaction I become red in the face from nervousness, or I start sweating; my brain becomes fuzzy and I can’t concentrate on even the most basic of tasks. These fears arose because I don’t particularly have much in common with the people I work with, and I’ve had difficulties with some of them as well.
(Read ‘What Happens During a BPD Episode’)

These difficulties come from simple and normal personality differences, but for someone such as myself, who overthinks, and while in reality I know them to not be a big deal, in my mind – my overwhelmed and panicky mind – these difficulties from differences in personality are amplified.

Whereas someone without BPD would likely be able to shrug off a rude comment or rude tone of voice, someone like myself now spends the rest of the workday (and often longer) consumed with questions like “Why did this person speak rudely to me?”,  “Do they not like me?”,  “What did I do for them not to like me?” These thoughts rattle around in my mind ceaselessly and without hope of an answer. Furthermore, these comments tend to build up. I find myself unable to leave comments made yesterday in the past, and I carry them involuntarily each new day I go to work. The more I work with these people, the more fearful of them I become…the more judged I feel. 

BPD and Job Instability / Work Problems

Backing up a bit, I woke up last Wednesday and found myself in the aforementioned frame of mind. In short, I lied and chose not to go to work, citing gout in my heel (which I have had a problem with intermittently, so it was a half-lie, but I’m smart enough to know that half-lies are really just full-lies with false justifications and reasonings). Further, when people tell lies, they are often forced to invent other lies in order to back that initial lie up. I have literally had to lie about my lies. I’ve experienced this abundantly.

Since I feel that I have a strong character, these lies create a guilty conscience within me, serving only to further bolster my feelings of inadequacy, guilt, and depression. This led to feelings of embarrassment. I pictured going into work the next day (Thursday), with the coworkers I should have worked with the previous day being angry and upset with me for not coming in. This fear and embarrassment led me to call in on Thursday once again.

During Thursday, I was able to go to a diner and relax a little, telling myself that these two days were simply mental health days and that everything would be ok. I resolved over my coffee to go to work the next day and apologize for missing the previous two days. However, this is when the cunning and crafty work of my ex-wife changed the situation once again. For the sake of brevity, she essentially texted me and told me (throughout multiple texts and without explanation) that someone I work with told someone she knows that my boss isn’t impressed with me, and that I might be getting fired. This stirred my mind into immediate apprehension and angst. As Thursday ticked on, I found myself needing a few beers merely to make it through the night.

I needed something to calm me down and allow me to retain some amount of hope. When I awoke on Friday, there was no way I could possibly go to work. The disquiet and dread from Wednesday and Thursday were not only still with me, but were now magnified and intensified by the unwarranted and intentional harassment from my ex-wife. I could not possibly go to work with this paranoia of gossiping and secrecy occurring under my very nose while at my job.

How could I possibly carry out my duties and responsibilities, all while these people are seemingly judging me and talking about me behind my back. They’re probably discussing how fat I am, and how I’m awkwardly built and how my pants don’t fit well. They’re probably discussing and laughing about the small hole that’s in the left buttock of my pants. They’re probably (no, certainly) discussing the fact that I wear the same shirt to work every day I’m scheduled. “Why doesn’t he get a new shirt? It doesn’t have to be a company shirt, it just needs to be a red-collared shirt.” “Why doesn’t he get new pants; they sell them at Walmart, why can’t he just buy a new pair?”
(Read ‘What a Devaluing Split Looks Like for Borderline Personality Disorder‘)

These ruminations occurring within my mind are merely the tip of the iceberg. Like a tree, each worry has its own branch that sticks out from the trunk, and each branch branches into a new branch, as each of my worries turns into other worries or creates new worries based on the original worry. This is no way to live. This is not sustainable. This will not allow me to be who I need to be for myself and my children, who I love more than anything.

So far, there is no conclusion to this pattern. As with other aspects of BPD, the work problems that come with it may be one which I’ll have to contend with for a long time. I can only hope I get better at coping with and seeing through the fog of anxiety and depression. I know life’s stressors are not going away, and I know that these symptoms most likely won’t miraculously disappear, though I hold onto the possibility that this could happen. 

I have not lost my current job, but without a doctor’s note to explain my absences, I almost surely will lose it, which will place me in the unfortunately familiar place of unemployment and poverty. I have other job applications open and I have one job that looks pretty promising, but the pattern that comes with working with borderline personality disorder is what I’m truly worried about. I need to get and keep a job with BPD and thus far have been unable to do so.

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Leon Hartwell

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