Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker: Career Issues with BPD Identity Disturbance

Someone made an interesting observation about me the other day, and I have to admit, it's true.  Over the years, I've had a very difficult time sticking with any one job or professional career path.  I have gotten easily bored and, in the past (before learning DBT), would take this as a cue that I needed to change things up again. I would often find myself ending up in a state of emotional crisis and using this as an excuse to break free from my current job. I can now see that I often fed into my own fears and didn't feel confident in my own right to simply make a choice to move on. Instead, I sabotaged my circumstances and destroyed relationships, all to feel safe and start over again. Again and again.

According to the DSM (Diagnostical Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Criteria for diagnosing Borderline Personality Disorder, one of the main symptoms is:

"Identity disturbance: Markedly or persistently unstable self-image or sense of self,"
and here is an excerpt from About.com's section on BPD:

"BPs may not have a clearly defined sense of who they are; as a result, it can be difficult to know where their job or career interests really lie. The BP may be looking for an identity in their job: a job gives an identity to the person, instead of the person's identity leading to a job. For instance, Susan cannot figure out what she wants to do, she has started several “careers” including teaching, script writing, retail, and medical technology, but nothing seems to be able to keep her interest. Susan keeps finding herself adding training classes and entry-level jobs to her resume. However, due to her identity issues, it is 10 years later and she is no closer to knowing what she wants to do for a living, nor has she finished any degree or certificate program."

Over the years, to only name some of the jobs/careers I have done, I have been a: preschool teacher, telephone operator, makeup artist, advertising assistant, office manager, social worker, and a cashier. I am only in my mid 30's, mind you.

Ah, the chameleon-like nature of one with BPD. And, what I am about to say about my past behavior, please know that at the time, I meant it with no malice. I didn't do these things in order to be deceptive, sneaky, or manipulative (though I can see how non-BPDs could interpret my/other people with BPD's behavior as such in this particular scenario), but I would study up for my interviews and have all of the right answers.  Most people do this anyway, but when I got to the interview, I studied the person interviewing me and others who worked there and tried to BE like them.  I didn't know how to just be me and never thought that trying to allow myself to do so would ever land me a job. I didn't think I was good enough and, in fact, didn't even know who I was.


Image Credit



While I never lied about my educational background or credentials and wasn't doing anything illegal, in retrospect, my experience was a lot like Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the film "Catch Me if You Can," in that he was able to assimilate into a variety of professional roles and mimic others around him in order to feel competent.

Now, I look toward long term goals of stability, but I still do not have a real clear path laid out. I currently work part-time in an administrative professional role and am taking two post baccalaureate classes, but I am easily distracted.  

An example of this is that I love the show "Dancing With The Stars." I am so moved and amazed by the transformation and progress that these complete and total non-dancers make by the end of the show. Some end up looking as if they've been dancing their entire lives professionally.

Each season, around the times when the show is starting and ending, I start to tell my boyfriend that I want to invest in professional ballroom dance lessons and want to become a dancer. Mind you, I have two left feet, no sense of kinesthetics, and no sense of rhythm. My boyfriend reminds me of how, when I see other people doing something that seems exciting, such as starting a cupcake business or moving to L.A. to do makeup on celebrities, I suddenly think that I, too, must do that same thing in order to be happy.

He's right. For years, I would see someone living out their dreams with passion, and I would follow THEIR dreams, thinking it would make me happy.  Now I know that it isn't the object of THEIR desires that I was really seeking but to have that desire of my very own. It's taken many years to sort that out, but I've discovered that my passions are writing and helping others, hence this blog.

How about you? Do you have a sense of who you are in terms of your career choice or path? Has it always been this way, or have you traveled a similar road as mine?



Thank you for reading.
More Soon.




Update to this post on August 16, 2012:

For those of us with #BPD who struggle with finding/sticking with a career, this article may bring hope: Law Professor Gregory Duhl has #Borderline Personality Disorder and says it's helped him in his success: http://t.co/TfmubGTz

24 comments:

  1. I completely relate. I have always changed my carrier goals to match my boyfriends interests... including wanting to be a mechanic!! Lol. Mental health advocacy, volunteering and helping people is the first thing I have ever become passionate about that is mine. I am happy to have found it!

    Thanks for all your posts. It's cool to be able to relate. :)

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    1. Hi Dani (I love your videos on YouTube, by the way!),

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment, and yes, I agree, it's so great to meet others who can relate and who are trying to make sense of life through the eyes of BPD.

      Ah, yes - changing career choices to match the interests of a boyfriend. I've done that as well.

      Thanks Dani!

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  2. Did you talk to my mom? This is COMPLETELY me!! I have also gone from one job to the other and started and stopped law school, grad school, a personal trainer certification program, plans to start my own business, etc.

    I just completed my first year of a social work Master's program, despite the urge I've had so many times to quit. I absolutely love the field of social work and I'm going to finally see something through to the end. What a long road it's been though, and I'm also in my mid 30's.

    Keep up all the great work you're doing!!

    P.S. I also watch Dancing With the Stars and want to do the same thing as you!!

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    1. Isn't it strange and amazing how much we all can relate on certain things? It sounds like we completely do on this one.

      Congratulations on sticking with your Master's program for a FULL YEAR. That is such an accomplishment given all of the challenges we face when navigating the world with BPD. Thank you for your kind comment.

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  3. This is me. I haven't heard anyone talk about this before- especially the emotional crisis and subsequent "escape" from current jobs/courses. Thanks for helping me see Im not alone.

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    1. Hi Laura. Doesn't it feel great to come to realize that we are NOT alone in these experiences - and, even better - that lots of them are common to a disorder that has successful treatment options? Thank you for commenting.

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  4. I completely relate. Sometimes I'll see someone on the bus and think that their life must be perfect and amazing and that I should do what they're doing. I'm totally convinced I should take on this crazy new life!

    In my mind I always liken it to that Simpsons episode where Homer goes "I know! Maybe I should be a milkman!" because he's so easily distracted by new careers. Anyway, once again you have read my mind. Thanks for writing :) xx

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    1. I've done that, too! Isn't it funny how we can look at someone and create a story of how wonderful their life must be? I've been realizing over the years that EVERYONE is fighting a battle, and no one has a "perfect" life.

      I'd love a link to the clip of the Simpson's episode. Sounds perfect! ☺

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  5. i started classes to become a high-school counselor in jr. college. I soon found out that i was triggered constantly, even when classroom roleplaying. I didn't know that i was being triggered, i thought it was stressed. so i took some business classes and then went into human resources. which, is the best job a BPD can have. Your employees adore and respect you because you are mary sunshine and you write their reviews. Management sucks up to you because you know how much they really f up. so you get to canoodle and take in attention from everyone. to be a successful HR you can't form personal relationships with anyone in the business other than your peer HR's. So over the years i have collected hundreds of acquaintances that i am fond of and that are fond of me, but i never had the panicky feeling that someone was getting too close or too far from me. i did it for years, not knowing until the last year or so (after being downsized) that when i stand still i can see the "ick" inside me. i'd been running and faking being everything to everyone for so long.

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    1. Hello Meri,

      What an insightful and at times, humorous post. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  6. I can totally relate. I can say I've been on a similar path all my life (arts and music) but inside that parcel... "Start again and again..."
    I always think "but I like to many things..." I've learned piano and keyboards, then I learned guitar, then bass and know I'm drummer on a band. Of course, I'm not a master on either those instruments, I'm just "good", maybe because I have to admit I have good musical ear... but I'm NOT a master on something I can call MY INSTRUMENT. I'm having a hard time to find out which one I like the most and why.
    It's been the same with other "arts"... I've painted, I've taken photographs, I've done performance, installation, video, drawing, etc (and I'm not GREAT at any). My "career" selection was not the most helpfull for me as "Visual Arts". They never focused on teaching us certain techniques but encourage us to mix techniques and try it all (not the best scenario for me lol). I also have to admit that sicne I watched two reality shows... "Fashion House" and "Project Runway"... I suddenly wanted to learn to sew, I started a course (which I did not finished) and I have loads of materials waiting for em to someday use them.I bough some fashion designing books and so on. And NOW (since a year now) I've been interested on blogs, I sarted one, then deleted all the entries as I felt fake... now I'm starting my personal blog again... because I like to write, I realy love to put together websites and stuff. But who knows if it's truly ME... *sighs* Still struggling with this, is a daily fight.

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    1. Hi Daniela,

      As an artist/musician, which you clearly seem to be, I would encourage you to not bee too hard on yourself. What talent you have that you can cover the basics on so many instruments and various art mediums. I am proud of you as you continue to pursue the road that feels most fulfilling to you. Thanks for commenting! ♥

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  7. it feels so much better to know im not the only one who feels like this or does these things. my parents think im a useless person who cant finish a single thing i start. my friends make fun of me that high school is the last thing i ever completed. i spent thousands of dollars studying law for a year. got bored and joined design school and wasted another year and thousands of dollars. got bored and uninterested and wanted to cook. then i wanted to write. now i want to be a tattoo artist. i dont think i'll ever find what im actually interested in. and my parents will continue to hate on me and continue to tell me what a loser i am that i cant focus on one thing and stick to it. my friends are all earning money and have good jobs and i cant even get a degree.
    Life with BPD has been a sad, lonely journey. parents think im lying and making up excuses for my failures. friends dont even try to understand. all people can say to me is GET OVER IT OR STOP ESCAPING LIFE AND GROW UP. wish it was so simple that i could get over it!

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    1. Hi Triptee,

      You are definitely not alone in this! Although it may seem like you will "never" find what you're interested in, with time, and as you get to know who YOU are in a better and more intimate way, finding your path may become more possible than you ever believed it could. I am so sorry that you have been invalidated. It can really hurt to be judged by people who haven't walked in your shoes and who don't understand what it's like to have problems with a sense of identity. I'm glad you found your way to this post and know that you are not alone and that there IS hope! ♥

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  8. Ugh. I have changed my mind about my career more than I change my underware!

    I've been a CNA for 11 yrs. I know the job like the back of my hand...but I always feel like I'm doing it wrong. I recently quit a cna job because I was told the chicken I cooked was dry...just couldn't get over it and I was so worried they thought about it everytime they saw me.

    Since then I've decided to go back to school to for...phlebotomy...then emt...then pastry chef...and now graphic design...its only been a few weeks since I quit.

    I hate bpd

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    1. Hello Susado, I hope this gives you hope... For a lot of us overcoming BPD, with the right treatment and time, it becomes clearer as to what we want to do for a career path. I hope you find this to be the case, too. Don't give up!

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  9. Hi,
    I am brand new to your blog but I have been making it part of my nightly ritual to "wrap up the day". I can not believe how well your blog and each user's comments describes me EXACTLY!!!!! I thought it was just ME like this! Now I rationalize it and tell people a story about how I just love to learn (which I do) and I am passionate about many things (eh) hence my scattered career path. They have bought it but I was lying through my teeth without being able to really identify why I struggled with choosing and sticking to a career. I'm 35 and I've literally had over 20 jobs if you include the ones I went to one day and quit. I've been an animator, a vet assistant, office manager, bookkeeper, retail clerk, and now I'm in medical training school. But this is going to be a career that I stick with, I'm committed to learning how to be stable, responsible and accountable. And I've done a similar thing in my head where I work with someone and think "I should be an accountant just like her" or "I should be a doctor just like that person" or "I want to be a store manager like my boss". At times I've want to be a housewife, teacher, EMT, veterinarian, photographer, psychologist, activist, computer programmer... the list goes on. I'm on a path of discovering who I am and it turns out, I'm not as a bad as a person as I've always believed.

    Thank you for contributing to all the people who read your blog and keep quiet ;) You're making a HUGE contribution to me as I learn the DBT skills. I'll be signing up for your DBT class soon. Thanks again.

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    1. So glad that you've discovered my blog and that you're finding it useful in your daily routine. :) I can obviously very much relate to your story. I also want to thank you for your kind and encouraging comments, and I'm very excited that I'll be seeing you in class at DBT Path soon. Yaaay!

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    2. Wow! I came across this blog while googling "best jobs for someone with BPD". I am 40 and have been: an activity aide, certified nurse assistant, EKG tech, phlebotomist, cashier at the University bookstore, opthalmic assistant, pre-need funeral sales, bill collector, factory worker, licensed insurance agent - and I haven't worked in 4 years so this is all by the time I was 36. I have probably had 30-40 jobs in my life. I never was happy with my job and once I was there for a period of time (if I hated it quick the symptoms would show up fast, if I loved my job it would sometimes take a year or so for me to feel this) but always, always, ALWAYS I would get a sinking, sick feeling in my stomach when I knew I had to go to work and by the time I got to work I would be shaking, like having a full out anxiety attack. I would fake my way through it for a short period of time, especially if I liked the job but eventually I quit going in. I did this because I knew if I pushed myself I would have a full out breakdown. Sadly, I know this because it happened once at work. I pushed myself to go in and I was shaking so bad ... starting my shift didn't help to push through. By lunch I was so bad off I went in the back room behind the nurses station, laid down on the floor, curled up in fetal position and started sobbing, loudly. I don't remember much about it but I do remember telling my coworkers that I felt like I was "jumping out of my skin", it felt like snakes were crawling through my veins and I remember rocking back and forth saying "I want to die, I want to die ..." A complete breakdown. I went from the unit I worked on, down to the ER then up to the psych floor. That was when I received the Borderline Personality Disorder diagnosis. So after that every time I stared feeling that "feeling" I just stopped going to work. I left some really good jobs. Once I left a job it would take time for me to feel better and get rid of the shaking and anxiety that led me to leave my job in the first place. So I have many, many gaps in employment. Sometimes a month, sometimes several months or years. I also felt restless like why can't I find a job that will stick? I blamed these breakdown episodes on the fact that I just haven't found the right job and if the perfect job came along, I wouldn't do that anymore. But my last job was phenomenal - great benefits, great pay, great staff, and a feeling of accomplishment. I felt GOOD doing my job. Yet after 8 months, same thing happened. And I just quit, over the phone. No two week notice. Nothing. That is when I hit rock bottom. If I can't keep a job like that, can I ever keep a job??? I am now in DBT, but I'm just starting it. I really hope it helps. I do the same thing you do: if a job that I see someone else do looks fun, I want that to be my new career path. I have seriously wanted to be on DWTS (even though I cannot dance at all), be a makeup artist, travel channel host that goes to and reports on different countries & cultures and be on the pit crew of a NASCAR team. Earlier tonight I listed my new career goals and wrote down the different ones I want to explore to see what would be most realistic and, of course, I am all over the board. My career goal list includes: Pilates instructor, seamstress, photographer, midwife, belly dancer and interior decorator. I am a mess!!! One of your other commentors said her parents make her feel useless and I understand that. I am also a single mother of a 17 year old son (my parents have supported us financially since I haven't worked, paying my rent and my utilities so I don't lose my apartment) but I hear all the time about what a burden I am to my parents and what a bad example I set for my son. And truthfully, I agree with them. I feel very useless and empty. Without purpose. I really, really hope DBT helps me. I am grasping for something to help me. I want so bad to be a productive member of society - and to be happy. Thank you fort your blog

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    3. Thank you so much for sharing how much you relate, Jennifer! Please stay hopeful. DBT changed my life!

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  10. Hi all,
    I, too, can relate. Although here's a twist, I recently had a mood swing at work and had to disclose my diagnosis. From telling my boss, to having the required HR meeting where I felt on the defensive, it was all really difficult. And all of this after a HIPAA infraction where the Dr who gave me an employment physical sent all of my paperwork to HR. I've lost a lot of jobs from being overwhelmed emotionally and I'm still scared I'll lose this one from my diagnosis. I became a social worker, but I've always struggled with what I wanted to be when I grew up. One year I actually said I wanted to be Oprah, because she got to try a new job each day with her guests. I liked having a job where it wasn't mundane, which is probably the exact opposite of what would be best for someone with BPD. Even now, I'm struggling with keeping my interest in one area for anything over a year.

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  11. I just came across this blog and I must say I am creeped out by how perfectly this fits my life and current situation.I have had so many jobs and have been struggling with school for over 10 years because I keep switching majors and putting it on hold. One semester I'll major in criminal justice and the next I may decide I want to be a landscape architect and this baffles me to the point of tears! I have always been a driven, focused young woman who most would consider a leader but what people don't realize is the demons inside my head and the constant conflicts that I don't know how to deal with. No matter how satisfied I may be with a job, I'm still not satisfied its just a feeling that I can't describe and no one understands, I have no interests of my own, no hobbies, nothing I enjoy, nothing that's me, a piece of me at all. That feels like the worst part of this disease is it makes me "exist" and that's it unless its not under control which I doubt it fully is. Do you ever move past these feelings? Does life become more meaningful through this without being self destructive?

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  12. The lack of a coherent, consistent identity has been one of the worst challenges for me. When I learned it was a characteristic of BPD I was stunned. Now I'm researching the issue and I don't find any information on what I can do to OBTAIN a coherent, consistent identity. Please do you have any suggestions on what a BPD person can do to build a coherent identity? It doesn't seem like there are any solutions out there just a lot of people acknowledging that it's a problem.

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  13. This is a major problem for me. It's been debilitating and I'm currently in my mid-thirties and not able to work because my sense of identity is so mixed up. Is there anything BPD people can do to develop a strong sense of identity? Seems like a lot of people are acknowledging the problem but there aren't any solutions being offered. The fear of being alone and the problems with intimacy and the thin skin...it all seems to be related to the lack of a coherent and consistent identity. So what can I do????

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