Borderline Personality Disorder- Stigma in the Industry
Content Warning- this blog will discuss mental illness, and has some mentions of suicidality.
A recent interaction with some others in the industry has been sticking with me for a few weeks. In a forum for professionals someone recounted some issues they had with a previous employee- infractions, mistakes, and poor conduct. Very valid issues. But at some point it became mentioned that this employee had BPD or borderline personality disorder. This is a personality disorder characterized by unstable moods, unstable relationships, self destructive behavior, suicidal ideation, and is caused by severe trauma and abuse, often in childhood.
Very quickly this thread evolved into a number of people in the industry talking about how they would never hire someone with BPD, how unstable and untrustworthy those people are. There were a number of disparaging comments made about this person, and assumptions about all people with BPD. And it was really disappointing and upsetting for me to see and read these things, some from people I admired and respected in the community.
BPD is a widely misunderstood disorder that often is demonized online and from mental health professionals. There is a prevalent stereotype of people with BPD as uncontrollable, impulsive, destructive people and partners. There is a view in the mental health field that patients with BPD are untreatable, and some providers even view them as unable to lead normal or healthy lives. In relationships people with BPD are viewed as both erratic and unstable partners yet also passionate, and intense, with a love that is addictive. These stereotypes are not only inaccurate but harmful. And they have bled into all facets, to the point that even respectable studio owners in the tattoo and piercing industry feel comfortable saying “I’ll never hire someone with BPD.”
I felt compelled to speak out about this and write this blog because I have BPD.
For many years I was too ashamed of my diagnoses to speak out about it, thanks largely in part to those stereotypes. In my high school years I struggled deeply with my BPD before getting a diagnosis and treatment, and well into my 20s I still had a hard time dealing with erratic and intense mood swings. I did cause harm in my interpersonal relationships and in my communities. I spent a very long time believing I would never have relief from my symptoms and I would always struggle with this disorder. It was a very dark time for me, and I know anyone with BPD likely experiences the same. Hopelessness is a very easy feeling to fall into with this disorder.
But now, later in life, after a lot of therapy and healing and processing, my BPD is very well managed. I maintain healthy, stable interpersonal relationships with friends and partners. Many of my coworkers and employers describe me as hard working, motivated, and personable. Clients from all over enjoy working with and being pierced by me. I have found methods to control my self destructive behavior and while intense mood swings are still a part of my daily life, I’m able to manage and moderate my emotions and responses to them. And while I’m not perfect, I’m equipped with tools that allow me to take accountability and apologize when I do make a mistake. Tools anyone needs to have, BPD or not.
It’s easy to talk about the negativity of BPD but sometimes it feels like a gift too. BPD is characterized by intense emotions and mood swings. And while it’s easy to focus on the negative, that intensity applies to the positive too. The simple joy of a sunset or a good meal become magical, enchanted moments. Love feels like a fairy tale, every love pome ever written echos through me when I am in love. BPD and the intensity of our emotions are also proven to make us more empathetic and able to relate. Studies even show people with BPD are better at reading facial expressions and emotions of others. And folks with BPD often have high sensitivities to our surroundings (often causes by childhood trauma dn having to be highly aware of others emotional states.) Uncontrolled this can be overwhelming but managed this makes us highly intuitive and able to read others emotional states and respond with care, compassion, and aid.
For me as a body piercer that means getting to regularly share in raw elation and excitement with clients over their piercings and jewelry. I get to feel as excited and happy as my clients do most of the time when things turn out well. Their excitement fuels me and even if it's the 12th nostril I've pierced that day I am literally just as excited and thrilled as that client is. It also means deep empathy and emotional connection. When clients come to me for trauma work, healing, and empowering themselves I can connect and share in those experiences even more deeply through my BPD. It’s not uncommon for coworkers to find me crying with clients in my room after a particularly emotional piercing experience. I get to be a part of those experiences in a deeper and more intimate way through my BPD and I think that’s magical. The intuition and awareness BPD offers me allows me to pick up on emotions clients try to hide- nerves, fear, anxiety and struggle. I can gently reassure them, offer comfort, and guide them through the process. This has led to clients opening up about trauma, pain, or hurt they are experiencing that has led them to get pierced. It allows them to open up and heal in the piercing chair. I've spent so much time speaking with others piercers who share this diagnosis and feel the same way. There is a lot of difficulty and pain that comes with a BPD diagnosis, but there is also hope right along side that. Having this disorder greatly colors who I am as a person and as a piercer, but it's also a major part of what makes me such a strong, empathetic, and compassionate person in the piercing room. I would go so far as to say my BPD is part of what makes me successful at piercing.
If you love someone with BPD, there are many ways you can be supportive to them. Giving them space to feel and process emotions. Allowing them to talk and work through big feelings with you. Being patient with them when they have these big emotions. Helping encourage them to find healthy coping methods. And encouraging them to seek professionals for assistance. For people in this industry considering employing folks with BPD or any mental illness- it’s beyond time this industry offer insurance and benefits to it’s workers and employees. There are more resources than ever for studios to offer insurance and if you need help finding those out my inbox is always open. As an employer keeping your employees healthy should be a priority and that includes mental health as well. Just simply offering insurance can change the life of anyone in this industry who deals with mental health struggles.
And if you have BPD and are reading this- you are loved. You are worthy. You are valuable. There is hope for you. You are not the sum of your disorder. I know how hard this struggle can be and how hopeless it can feel. But you are not alone. And I promise you will get through this. This disorder is difficult but not impossible, and with management it can become very well controlled. You can learn to focus and thrive in the emotional highs and positivity. You can learn to identify your negative emotions and lows and work with them and along side them to reach a place of balance. You can learn to communicate your fears and worries, and you will find loving people who want to communicate with you. People who will be patient, kind, and gentle on you. It takes work, a commitment to healing and improvement, and often some professional guidance. But it is more than possible to lead a healthy, happy, fulfilled life with BPD. I am living proof of that. And I know you will be too.
Given how stigmatized BPD is I think it’s very important for people who are in a public spotlight or do have a platform to speak up about it. As much as we may be afraid of the stigma or shame, we have to remind folks that people with BPD are multifaceted. That we can lead successful, healthy, fulfilling lives. That this disorder can be managed and coped with. That there is hope. There is a future. There are successful, kind, loving people with BPD that we can look up too. We are all more than our diagnosis.
A special thanks to Luna, who is constantly a light for me in dark times, and reminds me there is strength, power, and hope in all of us. I would not have the confidence to write these words without you.