Normalising big emotions and BPD in the workplace – Asha Zappa
Every time I start a new job, part of my mind will pipe up – “I wonder how long it will be until you cry at this job”. I cry at work. I don’t think I’ve ever had a job where I haven’t felt overwhelmed by some interaction and had to run to the bathroom to cry.
And look, I’m prone to crying, I’m one of those people who will cry during an insurance commercial, but the tears at work usually aren’t due to some heart-warming display of human connection. They’re tears of frustration, hurt, anger, insecurity. Shame.
The funny thing is, I’m a good communicator, diffusing conflict is one of my strengths. I’m, objectively, highly competent and accomplished. I also have Borderline Personality Disorder.
As workplaces, and society more generally, become more aware of mental health, it’s been heartening to see changes in attitude and policy. Employee mental health is shifting away from being a taboo topic, or, at worst, a weapon used against employees who are experiencing difficulties. Workplaces are raising awareness, supporting people, and becoming champions, and these initiatives often focus on the kinds of mental health issues that are temporary – difficulties experienced by employees which are exacerbated by external situations. Which makes sense, these are the difficulties that are most common, and these initiatives, in visibly supporting employee mental health, break down the stigma associated with help seeking.
They normalise mental health, normalise difficult conversations, and create workplaces that not only dismantle the taboo, but show that mental health discrimination is not part of a healthy work environment.
But Borderline Personality Disorder is a bit different. BPD is one of the most highly stigmatised mental illnesses, even within the medical professions. As both a consumer advocate, and as a professional in the mental health field I have witnessed doctors, psychologists, and others talk openly and publicly about BPD in harmful ways, furthering both the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with BPD.
BPD is big – big emotions, big reactions, too big to be neatly contained. Too raw. But these big emotions have a context, too often unknown and unseen. BPD is related to complex trauma, ongoing experiences of emotional neglect. An event might not only cause situational emotions, but also trigger an infinite loop of memories and pain. And when it’s too big, it comes out.
So I cry at work.
But the other thing unseen, especially in the harmful stereotypes of BPD, is the capacity we have for compassion and understanding. Through trauma we have learnt to carefully understand the motivations and needs of others, to calculate endless permutations of actions and reactions. It’s not difficult to see how this can be of benefit in a workplace, and workplaces which strive to support and understand the mental health of employees with BPD will find these benefits ripple through teams as that compassion and understanding is shared.
So in creating workplaces that support mental health, it’s important to consider BPD, to help break down the stigma, and celebrate us for who we are.