professional

BPD series: professional consequences

I had an”episode” this week. At work.

The term “borderline” was first employed more than sixty years ago to describe patients who were on the border between psychotic and neurotic but could not be adequately classified as either. Unlike psychotic patients who were chronically divorced from reality, and neurotic patients, who responded more consistently to close relationships and psychotherapy, borderline patients functioned somewhere in between. Borderlines sometimes wandered into the wild terrain of psychosis, doctors observed, but usually remained for only a brief time. On the other hand, borderlines exhibited several superficial neurotic characteristics, but these comparatively healthier defense mechanisms collapsed under stress.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

It’s been real stressful time lately. My unexpected promotion came at the worst time: budget season and the year end audit. In my immediate team, 6 out of 8 are new to our responsibilities and/or the company. Add to that a FUBAR situation that happened on my very first day in position and took 8 weeks and 100 hours to resolve semi satisfactorily… it’s been a lot. Too much.

I’ve been working on average 70-75 hours a week since the last week of August. That’s a new record. Around this time last year, when the workload hit a sustained 60hr work-week, I lost my fight against my shadow and snapped into the worst and scariest depression of my life, one so problematic I eventually got put on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist, and that is how I found myself learning that I have borderline personality disorder. I’ve been wary of pushing myself too far and finding myself right back in that same pit of misery. The volatility of my emotions has increased, but I seemed to be keeping it together. Until.

A relatively minor issue during month-end caused me to lose my temper. I said some shit that no manager should say publicly and boom! I now have a well-deserved HR issue. Talking to my boss later that week, we had a heart-to-heart about some of the issues facing the department. I was very emotional, but I’d thought through my arguments, and had a concise list of identified problems + proposed feasible solutions + timeline, ranked in priority. I knew WHAT was wrong. What I didn’t know was whether my proposed solutions would be accepted nor my ability to sustain any longer the crushing workload and pressure. My boss told me we’d resume discussions the following week (last week), and I hung up the conversation feeling somewhat heard and almost hopeful that with his support, things would change and get better.

The borderline tends either either to idealize or denigrate features of the external world and imposes this kind of blank-or-white perception on his relationships. These perceptual extremes roll like marbles along a constantly tilting tabletop, first to one side, then the other, but never coming to rest, never balancing in the middle. This “polar perception” utilized by borderlines in relationships is called splitting, a coping mechanism that is normally expressed among eighteen-to-thirty-six-month-old infants and toddlers. Because babies at this age do not easily tolerate ambivalence or ambiguity, they split the world into all-good and all-bad compartments. When the mothering figure satisfies the child’s basic needs, she is seen as all-good. When she frustrates these needs or is unavailable, the child transforms her into an all-bad persona. Only as the child develops can he integrate these opposing perceptions. Eventually he learns that someone he loves and admires can still disappoint or frustrate without transforming him or her into a hero or villain. Heroes can be accepted with flaws. Villains can be perceived as having some worthwhile qualities.

The borderline, however, remains stuck in this childlike blank-and-white topography because it protects her from the anxiety that accompanies attempts to reconcile contradictory feelings.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

I got into an email scuffle with my boss Saturday morning. I’d gone about something in an unorthodox manner, he didn’t particularly like the surprise, he reacted categorically.

His email hit me like a ton of bricks. I read it at the gym, right after warmup. I found Coach sitting on a bench, fell down beside him sobbing hysterically. My teammates stared in shocked silence as I drew lung shattering breaths, my endless tears making a puddle on the floor, Coach patting my back as he would a wounded dog. For 5 minutes I cried, unable to form words to explain the cause of my breakdown. Eventually I managed to explain that my boss had sent an email that upset me. More silence. One of my teammates chirped, “Well Vanilla, usually when you cry at the gym it’s because of a boy and some disaster dating story, so at least this is something different?” #outofthemouthoffriends

Just like that, my boss morphed into the Wicked He-Witch of the West. I texted CSD angry rants, endless streams of angry commentary about the status of our department, the hopelessness of it, how I hated my job. I felt betrayed by every level of the company. CSD was fairly pragmatic about it on Saturday. By Sunday, I was still angry typing, he was patient but bored.

On Monday, I met with my boss. It didn’t go well. I cried and yelled in his office for over an hour. He even left for part of it to go to a previously scheduled 30 minute meeting, leaving me to calm down. I didn’t. We resumed when he got back. Highlights include him instructing me to go do something, and my response of, “I won’t do it, you can’t make me”. I don’t remember much, other than telling him he thought I was a monkey, and his shocked denial. I do remember the anguish that consumed me, and the despair. My angry rants to CSD continued throughout the day. Monday night, CSD was fed up, and told me that if this is how I really felt, I should just quit, because I was destroying team morale and my health.

By Wednesday, I noticed that my angry typing endless rants to CSD were very similar to my disfunctional behaviour with Hickster. Pause. CSD ain’t Hickster. CSD ain’t even the authority figure representing the company doing me wrong, yet I was attacking him through my texts. Crying uncontrollably? Check. Staying stuck, replaying similar scenes over and over? Check. Paranoid slant to everything I said? Check. Unable to think of anything else because the pain was too consuming? Check.

5 days into my BPD episode, I finally became aware I was experiencing a bad case of splitting and cognitive distortion. With that awareness, I could explore what was really going on.

I am not enough and I have no value/am worthless are the two narratives my brain feeds me constantly. As soon as I wake up, while I shower and get ready for work. While I sip my coffee. As I work on a tax problem or coach my junior. As I’m doing sit ups at the gym. In my dreams. It is the worst possible Christmas music playing endlessly in the background that I really wish I could turn off, but can’t. Year round. It wears me down, and the fight to not succumb to it’s hypnotic rhythm is exhausting. Periodically, that relentless soundtrack pushes me into a depression, and when that happens those thoughts become so loud in my head, so painful, I crave release from the anguish. That’s the danger zone.

So anything or anyone that seems to confirm that I am not enough to love; I am not worthy of time; I am not valuable enough to be taken care of; that makes me go crazy. It feels like an attack on my ability to survive. Every day I remind myself that my brain is lying to me, it isn’t true that I am not enough and worthless. But when faced with what appears to be proof that my brain is right?? Well then. Why bother fighting my brain? I should just give up. No point in survival.

That is why Hickster + ICB’s mundane Instagram oopsies + my boss at work all trigger the same emotional response. That is why my reaction always appears overly dramatic. It IS overly dramatic, if all that is at play is a misunderstanding about social media or a relatively small argument at work. But that isn’t the case. What is at play is my brain that will eventually wear me down to nothingness, like so many before me.

There also be anatomical correlates with splitting: the brain is divided into right and left hemispheres, which are connected by a midline structure called the corpus callosum. Nerves connecting the two sides of the brain intersect at this structure. Further, it has been demonstrated that the two hemispheres serve somewhat different functions. Emotions, particularly negative emotions, are associated more with the right hemisphere. Logical cognitions and positive emotions may predominate on the left side of the brain. Under ideal circumstances, both hemispheres balance each other. However, when a stroke or other neurological injury occurs in one hemisphere, an asymmetry between emotional expression and self-control often develops. Perhaps stress in the borderline disrupts the laying down of the brain cable that connects and balances the two hemispheres. If so, it is possible that negative experiences are shuttled to the right hemisphere, where they are quarantined. Positive perceptions may be billeted on the left. The usual communication channels between hemispheres remain underdeveloped. In this model, it is proposed that stress disrupts normal brain development, especially the connections between the two parts of the brain, resulting literally in a partitioned brain.

(…) In any event, borderline splitting may indeed be the result of literally perceiving the world with two disconnected brains.

Jerold J. Kreisman, M.D. and Hal Straus,

Sometimes I Act Crazy – Living with Borderline Personality Disorder

You know what I am paid for? My brain.

You know what I am not paid for? Two disconnected brains that don’t work together the way they are supposed to.

By Thursday and Friday, I felt myself relatively free from the grips of splitting. My boss is back to being the kind man I’ve long admired. Except he doesn’t know that for 5 days I wasn’t dealing with him, I was dealing with a distorted split version of him. He doesn’t know I am back on the healthy side of that border. All he knows that I am the grown-ass woman who shouted and cried accusations at him. Thank goodness I happen to be really smart. It must be so disorienting for him to be left with a rational acceptance of my analysis but an emotional rejection of it because of the paranoid slant that poisoned our discussions.

I see my team tiptoe around my office, always hesitant to address me, because they don’t know if they will be faced with Regular Quirky Vanilla or Angry Harridan Vanilla.

I am dismayed at the very real mess I’ve caused. BPD or not, that is not ok, as a manager.

This is a problem.

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