Work / Employment History and Borderline Personality Disorder (Sue Sibbald)

Please welcome back again, all the way from the UK, our guest blogger, Sue Sibbald as she writes about the challenge of work and a fragmented work/employment history while coping with Borderline Personality Disorder.

My Multiple Careers

I have worked for most of my life, various jobs from shop and bar work, selling space in newspapers for advertising, working for social services as it was called in my day, managing a nightclub, training
door supervisors, licensing training, and more recently my new job as a Peer Support Specialist for people with Personality Disorders, I will talk about that later on.

Early Family Upbringing

I was brought up by my dad to believe you had to work hard, people who didn't work were lazy, and you had to keep going no matter what. You couldn't fail. There was no giving up or giving in.  That wasn’t  allowed. I also have a mother with schizophrenia, and I learnt to hide my feelings in order to survive. My childhood was quite traumatic.

Work As a Refuge (and Escape)

Two sides to a coin,  as work kept me safe as I was occupied away from thoughts of my childhood. I kept busy. I was always doing; in perpetual motion and with no time to think. This became my pervasive pattern a coping strategy. It's how I existed. I essentially repressed my feelings by keeping busy. Sound familiar?

I was also driven to be the best. I had to be perfect. I couldn't fail.

In many ways, I consider myself to be successful. For example, I’ve managed to purchase my own house. I'm still proud of my achievements. The other side to the coin is that I wasn't happy, I was out of touch with my feelings, never really felt joy, and I found life so hard.

My Work Behaviors in Retrospect

I had a couple of spells in my late teens early twenties where I gave up work. Once such time was when I walked out of a bar job as my best friend left. I couldn't lose him as a friend so I walked with him. I look back and realise my fears of abandonment were with me back then. During these spells I drank, took drugs, got up at three everyday just doing nothing. I couldn't possibly think, so I hid from my feelings behind alcohol and drugs. I felt huge guilt as I should have been working. As a coping mechanism, I learned to laugh about some of my past my childhood when it just wasn't funny.

When I actually was working it was hard. I got sick to my stomach most mornings before going due to extreme anxiety, and I found it difficult to eat whilst at work. Looking back on things, I was also making shallow friendships and pushing people away if they got too close. I part owned and managed a night club. I worked there for twenty years and I found being a manger suited me, as no one wanted to be the manager’s friend. I didn't have to deal with any rejection or abandonment.

Also, the nature of the job suited me, I had insomnia but working at a club meant you had no time for sleep. The hours were long, and it was exciting:, loads of live music, and you never knew what was going to happen… a fight, drug dealers, but mainly lots of amazing music. I love music.

In time I began to get tired. I couldn't work the hours, and I was slowly feeling worse.

My incidents of self-harming and bouts of anger increased, and due to these circumstances I left the club, sold my shares and went to work for my local college as a trainer in all things to do with licensing. It was there that things began to unravel. I was so tired, the stress of working everyday began to take its toll, and I was literally becoming undone. Life as I had got older became too hard and I became triggered by a visit to my mum which brought back childhood memories. I ultimately had to stop working. I wanted to carry on, I couldn't give up. "You don’t give up. Now you’re a failure" were my thoughts at the time.

It was then, as I was quite ill, that I got a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. I had been hiding my illness, panic attacks, inability to eat in restaurants, and self-harm because of my fear of psychiatrists. They had taken my mum away from me and made her a zombie. In my family, we couldn't talk about mental health -- it was too shameful, and I couldn't give in.

I carried on work for a while but I couldn't go on. I had been told I was mentally ill, and for me that meant I couldn't work ...that was the message I sent myself, so I stopped.

How I Created My Career Path in Mental Health Advocacy

I spent my time researching about BPD, learning DBT skills, helping myself, and I began to volunteer for my local NHS Trust and became a Governor. I began to recover.

A little back ground on the NHS Trust: Mine has a Board of Directors and non-executive directors. Governors are voted in by members of the Trust to call the Board to account and to represent their constituents.  I am a Service User/Consumer Governor and have been elected to this position for three years.)

I then wrote letters asking why there was no help for people with BPD in my area, initially to the complaints department (and the reply was not very helpful), however upon writing again and making a phone call explaining myself further, I was invited to join the Personality Disorder Strategy Team as a Service User/Consumer representative. In the meantime, I came up with some ideas to help others.   I began educating professionals as well as people with BPD. I realized my internal message about being mentally ill and being unable to work was false for me. I can work and I'm going to.

I am now working full time and will be running DBT skills courses in the near future with my NHS trust alongside psychologist colleagues, which makes me really happy. What helps me work is the support from my colleagues, and I have a mentor I can talk to about work issues. I also have support from my care coordinator and psychiatrist. It's really hard some days. I still find being with people difficult, and the conflict and power struggles that happen in large organisations affect me. Some days I am so exhausted, but I would rather be working as it helps give me self-esteem, keeps me busy, gives me hope, and I know I am helping others.

I would love to know your thoughts about work. Are you able to work?
Do you suffer stigma around work?  How do you mange working while having BPD?

Til next time,

Check out Sue’s first guest blog post here at Healing From BPD: Do It Yourself DBT – her story of learning Dialectical Therapy when no such services were offered in her area of the United Kingdom.

You can also follow Sue at:


  1. My fears of rejection, as an adoptee, are so deep seated and gone untreated or even unrecognised for so long, I am now terrified of even applying for a job because of being rejected. I tried so hard to be the best Administrator I could be, I loved my job, working hard at making sure all the events I arranged went off without a hitch, developing processes that anyone could follow. But my boss had plans for the business which the business wasn't ready for, as a result profits dropped and I was made redundant... Rejected AGAIN! I've been unable to work now, even in a voluntary role for nearly 2 years

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experience, Fran. I'll ask Sue if she is able to respond as well. ♥

    2. Thank you for sharing your experience,it must have been really difficult for you being made redundant and you were so good at your job. The feeling of rejection must have been awful.I hope one day you get the support you need and if that is what you want manage to get back into work. I wish you well : ) Sue

    I was working in a job I loved for 5 years as a Personal Care Attendant in Aged Care. I loved my job and have worked on and off whilst have my 3 children in similar roles. My husband was abusive and I allowed it. I separated and divorced over 10 years ago and everything was going ok until we got a new manager at work. I found self harm to help me cope with stress's after giving up smoking and drinking. Now since losing my job I have zero self esteem, self harm is dominating my guilt ridden days and I am now lost as to how to turn my life around. I wonder if it is possible..... I have dabbled in a bit of DBT and CBT and seem to just not get on board with it. I feel suicidal most days and don't see a future anymore. The only thing I keep saying is I will study next year... I'm not sure if I'm just saying that to get people off my back as I am doing nothing. I loved working but the boss used my mental health knowledge against me to force me to resign. I now feel unable to work due to not being good enough.

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story. Thank you for taking the time to include a trigger warning. Please be sure to reach out to a professional when you are feeling like hurting yourself. Hoping you continue to stay strong and get the support and help you need and want. ♥

    2. Horrid when someone uses your MH against you, these people should realise one in four suffer with MH problems and we make the best of workers in my opinion. I see you are thinking about studying again, seems a wonderful idea. Good luck : ) Sue

  3. I graduated from college 20 years after I graduated from high school. I couldn't go then because of my extreme fear of social situations. The thought of being in an unknown situation and place was paralyzing. My kids helped me get over that and I started working in an office. When I went to college I decided to be an accountant. My mother was disappointed because I always talked about being a Dr. When I look at the college graduation pics, nobody is smiling. I felt like I dragged them to something they didn't want to go to.
    So then I got a job, worked a year, got a virus in my heart and nearly died. Again I'm a disappointment. I went through a divorce with five kids and unable to work. After a couple years my heart got a little better and I went to work for a CPA firm. Then I made some dumb decisions, moving because of a guy, and then I started going downhill from there. In the next 2 years I had about 7 jobs. I got fired from everyone of them because I couldn't control myself or was accused of something I didn't do. Then I met my current husband. The first date, I told him he didn't know what he was getting in to with me. He said he didn't care because he was in love with me. I knew that was impossible because nobody could love me. If they did, it wouldn't last and they'd leave. I think after 14 years I am starting to believe him. I've felt so worthless not being able to work. He keeps telling me I can't and it's ok. I still feel "less than" because of this. It's so hard to accept not being able to work. So I do a little bookkeeping from home. I'm starting to accept it at the age of 60. They keep adding diagnosis and the latest is possibly Parkinsons. So, I think I am going to write journals to my grandkids (16 of them) and ride my horses as long as I can and travel with him. I'm finally giving up on fixing the relationship with my mom and sisters. The only one hurting is me and I have to come first - self care.

    1. Ruth, thank you for sharing your story. It sure hasn't been easy for you, and your strength in handling the situations you've been facing shines through. Please do keep putting your self-care as a high priority. ♥

    2. Wow you have done so well, you know I am 50 and have kids that is one big achievement in itself, I am proud of my family. Book keeping seems a good job and writing journals for your grandkids even better. Sounds like you have found things in life to keep you happy and you know that is what life is all about. Take care : ) Sue

  4. Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I've worked (hard) my whole life, but I'm now going to have to take a break for several months. I am taking the time to regain my health. Luckily I don't feel bad about this - I'm making the best choice for me. I know once I'm ready, I'll be back working again - but hopefully doing something I love and that suits my sensitive nature a bit more.

    1. This is what I did I took a few months out to look after me so good for you go for it and find the thing you want to do. Best wishes Sue x

  5. I find that not just as an emotionally sensitive person, but as an empath (I feel other people emotions physically), being around people at all is an extremely difficult thing. I don't like people. I don't like rude, inconsiderate, mean, etc etc etc people. I just don't like being around them. Working is such a struggle for me. Two months ago I found a job that suited me quite well. I sat at a desk, put on my headphones and assembled my parts. People left me alone and everything was good. Well, that's all changed and I've started having panic attacks. Why can't they just leave me alone? Leave me to what I'm good at? Sadly, I've learned that because I am good at everything they teach me to do at this workplace, they will forever move me around and around and around. I'll never be able to stay in one location again. Being exceptional kind of backfired. I just want to be left in my little corner. My back and my hips are in pain all the time because they keep moving me and putting me in uncomfortable places and working positions. Complain? Ask to move? May as well ask to be fired for all this company cares about it's people. Doesn't even give raises to it's own employees, let alone be "nice" to it's "temps".

    I can't work out in the real world. I can't stand being around people. People are too caustic and hard for me to be around. It's ok to venture out sometimes, you know, go shopping and all that, but by and large I'd much rather be a hermit. I need a job that I can work at home. That is the only true solution that I can see.

    I've given up on my life being worth much of anything at this point. I just can't stand being IN the world of people, so how can I accomplish or be anything? I see no point. The stress, the depression....and I'm tired of being medicated because all it does is give me side effects and no real help. :(

    Opinions and input are gladly welcomed.

  6. Thank you to Sue for sharing her experiences. I'm based in the UK too. Her background and perfectionism are so familiar to me I have always up until 2009 when I 'stopped functioning'. I had always worked in high pressure jobs - Teaching, Probation Service and had completed three post graduate degrees. Ultimately, although my line manager in Probation fought to keep me in the team higher management took the step to make me redundant on the basis that I was a 'risk to offenders' when in one to one work with them....? This around the time when a colleague was having an affair with a local drug dealer, but it seemed that being honest about my BPD diagnosis opened the door for constructive dismissal despite achieving all work targets and working consistently to a high standard. My colleague did lose her job, but my condition seemed to be met with a fear about my 'unpredicatability' despite the fact I had worked from that office for seven years at the time of my redundancy.

    I have lost all my confidence about getting back to work despite coming to the end of a successful DBT course which has really helped me and equipped me with skills to manage the worst of my BPD. Now I face a cross roads - I would love to be able to train in DBT because it has been so powerful in my life, but don't know where to start - still it is exciting to think about slowly getting back to a point where I can offer help from my own experiences - my care co-ordinator and DBT therapist are encouraging me not to try to rush decisions but I feel the pressure to get back to work just simply because I have always worked in the past... I guess this is a case of Wait and See... live in the moment! Thanks again to Sue for showing that in the UK there are opportunities beyond BPD. x Alma



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...