Thursday, July 22, 2010

Borderline Personality at Work

This blog post is a follow-up to comments made on my previous post, "Waiting to Exhale: A Question of Borderline Personality Stigma."  I tried to post it as a comment, but it was too long, so here it is as a blog post of its very own :-)

I am touched and reinvigorated by these stories of coming out or staying in the BPD closet.  I really appreciate everyone sharing your own evolving experience of being borderline and your decisions on how to navigate this condition in specific contexts (e.g., education, the work place). 

I especially connected with Cheri's post above:

"Before I came out at work, people didn't understand why I sometimes reacted strangely - in one meeting they thought that I was angry and glaring at everyone, when in reality I was trapped in my own head flogging myself, riddled with anxiety and unable to speak.

I much prefer putting myself out there a bit and explaining why I sometimes have difficulties than people thinking that I'm being a bitch."

Being out as a borderline personality at work is something I am just now experiencing -- barely -- because of course my book came out and my colleagues are congratulating me on the publication.  No one has addressed the subject matter of BPD specifically, which is kind of nice for now, since it remains such a controversial and stigmatizing diagnosis.

I am fascinated by the idea of having colleagues who know enough about BPD to recognize silence as a sign of anxiety instead of disengagement, anger, contempt, or a disgruntled attitude.  I've been thinking a lot in the past few months about how I come across in meetings with other faculty, and about how I come across in the university classroom.  Students have remarked in the past that I looked angry, or that I seemed angry when they didn't understand something, when of course my memory of such days are of feeling overwhelming anxiety at the prospect of being unclear or unsuccessful in my attempt to teach them something.  When I'm upset with myself, when I feel my veneer of apparent competence is cracking - the look of anger visible to other people is really a look of anger directed toward myself.

I hate the idea of being misunderstood, of having my good intentions and collaborative energy lost in the whirl of my uneasiness when my ideas are questioned.  I want to be seen as industrious and insightful, but my Rosie the Riveter impersonation tends at times towards the abrupt.  

Or I suddenly feel like the little girl out of place, dressed up in a business suit that swallows her whole, and I want to run from the room and cry.  I have cried over work with the same tormented hurricane tears usually associated with the borderline personality in love.  I have sat in my car and screamed into my hands while my face streaked red and wet.  

I don't know that I would expect students or colleagues to translate my facial expressions differently based on knowledge of my diagnosis, but the process of thinking through how I am perceived could maybe help me adjust my demeanor so I don't broadcast anxiety/frustration/disappointment/self-loathing to my audience in the skewed images of rigidity/standoffishness/arrogance/my-way-or-the-highway-ness.

Not that I have full control over my emotional demeanor.  Sadly, I still experience a kind of "frozen" affect that feels like insecurity but looks like impatience.

Amanda Smith also made a great comment on the question of stigma and being out as borderline at work: "And don't forget self-stigma. Even with lots of current information about the disorder, I sometimes think, 'Gosh, I should have a handle on this behavior or that behavior by now. Why can't I be more like him or her?'"

Why can't I be more secure.  Why can't I be more patient.  Why can't I be more confident.  Why can't I respond in a lighthearted way, without my voice quavering or my mouth going dry. 

The questions irritate like saddle sores beneath the yoke of the workplace.

Ben writes, "Too often, sensitive people take their disenfranchisement and run with it, advancing into the margins instead of facing their society squarely, bravely."

This is definitely the challenge facing all of us.  Some days I get it right.  Some days I still want to close the blinds and hide :-)

I am looking forward to starting a new academic year -- new classes, new meetings, new colleagues -- and knowing that my at times strangely intense feelings of rejection at work are just as disproportionate and internally generated as the feelings of rejection I experience in romantic love.  I may not be able to change the feelings just yet, but I am eager to find out the difference it will make to say to myself, "These feelings are too big to be about this meeting, or this colleague, or this student," and to take a step back while the intensity storms through my body and leaves and, in the big picture, means much less than I once thought.

The feelings, in fact, may not mean anything.

They may simply be there.  And then not be there.

I picture myself returning to my office after a difficult meeting or class period and smiling upon my discovery that the world has not gone up in a ball of fire, that the sky is not falling, that my job is secure, and that I am just fine.

1 comment:

  1. Ok, let's see if my comment will post this time.

    I originally read this and posted while at work. I want to commend you Lisa on being brave and showing others you are not ashamed to be yourself. I think the more people who do this, the less stigma there would be in the world. I have always been one to voice my opinion about this particular subject in regards to sexuality, mental illness, etc. I think that it's important to be honest with people but not "in your face about" it. The only issue I have with my "coming out" at work is that I'm scared I'll lose the first job I've been able to get in 8+ months. Since I was diagnosed several years ago, I've had big problems with keeping jobs. As open as I am about my sexuality, I am still leery of being open about my mental illness. I don't exactly hide it but I'm not wearing it like a tattoo on my forehead. I wish you luck with your book as well as your co-workers and students!