my boss monitors my work from her home computer, cover letters when you’re not a great writer, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss watches me work from her home computer

I’m a food server in her bar. At my place of work, my boss is constantly watching my every move from her home computer. If I stop working for one second, the phone rings and she is bitching at me. Is this legal? It’s very abusive and annoying. What can I do to stop this?

Yes, it’s legal, as long as she’s not video-monitoring you in areas where you’d have a reasonable expectation of privacy (like the bathroom or a changing area). But using a video feed to monitor your workspace? Legal. Calling and complaining when she sees things she doesn’t like? Also legal.

And also obnoxious and bad management. You can try talking to her about it (“I do an excellent job, and it’s concerning to feel that you don’t trust me simply because I pause to breath for a moment; can we talk about what’s reasonable to expect?”), but she might just be wildly unreasonable, in which case your best option for stopping it is to change jobs.

2. Our board president keeps rewriting my work

I work in a communications/public relations position for a nonprofit. Our board president has a full-time position in the office and, in the past, has been content to let me write with little to no editing. Recently he has taken a much stronger interest in my work, substantially rewriting basic items like website posts and letters, occasionally adding grammatical errors as he does so. He is not my staff supervisor, but can certainly tell me what to do.

It’s not so much an ego thing – my byline appears on nothing, and everything is from “the organization.” But when my job is to write clean copy (which I do!) and it keeps getting revised for non-messaging reasons, I feel like I am not doing my job well and it makes me concerned for my future in this organization. I have asked him if there’s anything I can do to help cut back the time he has to edit my work and he said no. Anything else I can do? Should I be worried about my position here?

I think the problem is that you’ve phrased it as asking how you can help him cut back on editing — but he’s apparently happy to spend this amount of time editing. So while that was a diplomatic way to raise the issue, it was probably too veiled. Be more direct: “I’ve noticed you’ve recently been doing significant editing to my work, which is a change. Is there something that’s changed that has caused that?” … followed by, “I’ll be frank: I’m concerned that I’m not doing my job well when I see these kinds of rewrites. I’d like to be producing copy that doesn’t get edited this much. What do I need to be doing differently on my side to change that?”

You might also need to get your manager more involved in this, since your manager presumably has more oversight over the materials you’re producing and should have a voice in what’s happening to them. And depending on your manager’s role, she may need to loop in your organization’s executive director, because unless the board president also has an actual staff job in the organization, he shouldn’t have this level of involvement in day-to-day work; that’s a just a principle of good board/staff structure. (Of course, there are boards that don’t adhere to those principles, but what you’re describing is way out of sync with how a board member should be acting.)

3. Writing cover letters when you’re not a great writer

I really love your blog and the advice you provide, but I’m wondering if you could give a bit more advice on cover letters. Do you have any tips or resources for people who aren’t already great at writing? I’ve read your examples of great cover letters and they are great — the words flow off of the page and the writers are able to make really compelling cases for why they should be hired. I’m afraid that part of the reason my job search has been so stagnant lately is that I just can’t write on a level like that. I’m not great at writing, I never have been. Is there a way to write a cover letter that is “good” but not “great”?

Great writing helps, but it’s not essential to producing a cover letter (as long as you’re not applying for jobs that themselves require great writing, of course). You just need to write conversationally, show genuine enthusiasm, and talk about why you’d excel at the job (without simply regurgitating the information that’s on your resume). You could do that in conversation, right? Assuming so, you can do it in letter-form too. (And in fact, you might try doing it out loud first, as if you were talking to a friend about why you’d be great at the job, and then writing down what you hear yourself saying.)

It doesn’t have to be Hemingway; it just needs to convey the right information and sound genuinely interested. Truly. It’s such a pleasure to come across a letter that does that, even if it’s not flawlessly written.

4. How to convey to a headhunter that I don’t want to work in particular industries for ethical/religious reasons

I might be working with headhunters in the near future to find a new job. I am a financial analyst, and want to convey that I am open to working for any industry/company except for financial services or defense companies (for personal religious/ethical reasons). The vast majority of companies don’t fall into these two categories, so I’m not worried about job opportunities. My concern is that these recruiters usually have a broad network, and I want to make sure that they put full effort to finding companies that cater to my preferences. I am worried that it may come off as weird/inflexible when I tell them these preferences and they may not be as helpful. What is the best way to convey this request?

Well, first, headhunters don’t work for you; they work for their clients, who are employers who have jobs to fill. So don’t expect them to put “full effort” into helping you find a job; that’s not really what they do.

Beyond that, though, I don’t think you need to bring this up proactively. If they suggest a job that’s at a company you’re not comfortable with, you can explain that then. But there’s no reason to announce a blanket ban at the start of your work together, particularly since you don’t expect the majority of job possibilities to be affected by these preferences.

5. Keeping borderline personality disorder from affecting a career

I am currently a graduate student with a part-time job in food service, and I have borderline personality disorder. I’m in treatment and on medication, but because this is such a serious diagnosis, I still have a long way to go, and I often experience extreme psychological difficulties at work. I can often keep it together, but other times, I can’t. I can sometimes take a mild sedative to calm down, but I can’t be sedated at work all the time, and I don’t want to become dependent on this highly-addictive medication.

My boss recently approached me about emotional moments I’ve had at work, some of which I can’t even remember. I am lucky that my current boss and coworkers are accommodating of my issues, but I’m not going to be at this job forever, and I worry about my professional future, as I don’t know what kinds of accommodations are appropriate for this disorder. I was diagnosed with it six years ago, so it’s not new, but due to the stigma surrounding this, I’m often met with a lack of understanding and am unsure of what to do. I have had this disorder all my life and will have it the rest of my life, and I can’t, in good faith, promise an employer that it’s never going to interfere with my work. I have it as controlled as I possibly can, but moments of weakness do happen. Should I approach future jobs with the intention of making this disorder known or should I only bring it up if it becomes an issue?

I see a lot of your readers write about “crazy co-workers,” but what do you do if you’re the crazy one? I didn’t choose this disorder, and I’m just trying to live my life. I’m at a total loss. Please advise.

Ooooh, that’s tough, because you’re right that there’s a stigma around borderline personality disorder and you might end up doing yourself more harm than good by mentioning it. I suspect that your better bet is to work with your therapist on strategies for keeping it under control at work (not necessarily easy, I realize). But I’m curious what readers with some knowledge about this diagnosis have to say, so I’m throwing it out to them for advice on this one.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 397 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    #5) One benefit of mentioning it is that ADA protections kick in. If you need, for example, to occasionally excuse yourself to go to the restroom and compose yourself, feeling like you can use that option without penalty can be a huge help.

    1. OP#5*

      I live in Europe, but that’s good to know. I’m sure there are similar disability laws here. At my current job, I am sometimes able to excuse myself for a moment, although I rarely use this option because there are, of course, unwritten penalties to doing so. Sometimes I feel like my co-workers are jealous of the “special treatment” I get because they don’t understand what I’m dealing with. Because I’m trying to calm down and not, for example, taking insulin, they don’t understand how necessary it is.

      1. UKAnon*

        If your country is part of the EU, you’ll be covered by whatever laws etc they’ve implemented under the Employment Equality Directive, so it might be worth researching that to see what protection it offers.

        (In the UK it’s the Equality Act 2010, but other countries will vary slightly)

      2. Kathryn*

        Do the research into what protections are available to you, take the necessary accommodations as you need them. There will be some workplaces that are better than others about handling accommodations without other consequences, so you may have to suffer through a few jobs/managers before you find one that works for you.

        Coworkers are a tricky balance. I’d love to live in a world where you can say “Accommodation for a thing” and have everyone nod and go back to their work without it being a big deal, but we live in a world with people so that doesn’t always work. That said, feel free not to tell people anything and look for a manager who will support you in getting what you need.

        This kind of diagnosis can add complication to your work life, but it is manageable and you’re taking the steps to do so and still be a productive employee.

      3. themmases*

        OP, have you asked anyone involved in your treatment what types of accommodations are common for your condition or have helped their other clients? There might be reasonable accommodations that you are missing because you’re feeling overwhelmed at the time you need them.

        While it doesn’t have the same seriousness, I waited for a long time in college before seeking any accommodation for treatment-resistant (so far) major depression. I just couldn’t imagine an accommodation that seemed reasonable to me without imposing a bigger burden down the road when work needed to be made up. Mental health problems can make it hard to imagine what would even be helpful, or how requests for help will be seen by others. You don’t have to come up with an accommodation or decide how to frame it to your boss on your own.

      4. Leah*

        Of course you want to get along with your coworkers, but at the end of the day you don’t seem to be planning on being in food service forever. If they’re annoyed at your accommodations and know it is for a medical reason, that’s their problem. It isn’t fun for you but there’s only so much you can do at this job.

        However, I’d strongly recommend that you work with your therapist as well as any career advisors/mentors you might have in your grad program to figure out what kind of work style can best fit your needs. If your program has the option to do an internship/stage, take that opportunity. Try to do more than one, if that’s possible. Then, find someone (or even a series of reflective exercises) to help you separate out what working elements, rather than subject matter, worked for you. This could include things like: amount of client interaction, meetin styles, supervision styles, office layout style, noise levels, level of formality. You might not get all of them in one go, but it can make the difference between thriving and weeping into the phone to your husband every day at lunch. True story. As much as grad school loves to push subject-matter specialization, the reality is that you’re going to have to adapt to new subject material in your new job, no matter where you go. This is true for 99% of people (even those staying in academia!) and I think it will be especially important for you to evaluate for yourself.

      5. Kate*

        “Because I’m trying to calm down and not, for example, taking insulin, they don’t understand how necessary it is.”

        UGH. But it’s equally important.
        I’ve found that just saying “I have a serious health issue and need to excuse myself occasionally” and leaving it at that works well. I have IBS, which I obviously don’t want to announce. :-P Just say it in a brisk, serious voice and move on. No one’s ever questioned it or how serious it is.

        If you do have an issue with someone, I think telling them what you’re struggling with might help them understand that you’re not just being annoying or a jerk. You have a medical illness and you’re dealing with it the best you can. Some people won’t understand that; those people suck. Try to remember that for everyone who doesn’t get it and doesn’t try, there is someone else out there who feels for you and wants the best for you. But anyone who’s not directly effected, just allude to something that is either gross/personal/serious and people will move on.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I don’t know I would advise disclosing. I think it this were depression or anxiety, there are enough people with experience there that you’d get an understanding reaction. Unfortunately, with Personality Disorders, I think they’re VERY difficult for non-medical professionals to wrap their heads around – I struggle to understand them and I’m a pretty intelligent, compassionate person. And, and you can see in the comments below there are a lot of strong feelings surrounding them based on personal experiences that may or may not apply.

      Obviously you know your situation better than I do, but I’d proceed with caution before disclosing.

      1. UKAnon*

        I’ve been thinking for a while about how to phrase this, and I hope, OP, that it might be useful in helping you to make a decision one way or another and that you know (hopefully!) that I am writing this with the best intentions of trying to help with my tuppence worth, so please forgive me any clumsy wording.

        Having had some experience of a number of different types of mental illness, I, personally, would advocate the opposite of Katie and would encourage disclosure, for two reasons:
        a) I, personally (and as Katie rightly points out, others will be different and even wildly different, and I might even be in the minority), would take this as a good sign that you are managing and looking to manage your condition, that you are prepared to try and deal with it and mitigate the effects, and that outside the behaviour it causes you are a strong, determined individual who is doing their best not to let it affect their professional life but who needs to be met halfway on that sometimes.
        b) If you do not necessarily *need* a job (i.e. finances wise you can afford to look and be a little bit picky) disclosure is one very effective way of basically self-selecting out of workplaces you probably didn’t want to end up in. I know that this comes from a position which implies privilege on a number of different levels, and that it may not always be a practical option, or indeed that it may not always be the option that makes you feel happiest/most accepted/most understood – I do know that there are negatives. But ultimately, I can’t help thinking that anybody or any company who reacts in ways A or B, as opposed to reactions C or D, is probably going to end up doing more damage to your career than otherwise. As I say, I appreciate that there are a number of potential pitfalls with this, but it’s one way of looking at it.

        I wish you the best of luck, whatever you decide (and, of course, the best advice is probably to do whatever you are most comfortable and happy with). You sound like a person who’s going to make it not just regardless but possibly also because of any obstacles thrown at you, and I really hope that you are able to find a workplace which is both rewarding and makes you happy.

        1. puddin*

          I would second this recommendation. If you talk about your situation plainly and without a ‘woe is me’ attitude, it will help others to understand and empathize. Not sharing the information will make you an unknown variable. Most offices like conformity so this would put you at a disadvantage. If you can divulge the clinical explanation, treatment, and symptoms I feel your co-workers would be more accepting than if there were no explanation. Your behavior will then become inexplicable. And they will find ways to explain your behavior (not sure if that is the right word, please forgive me if there is a more appropriate term I am unaware of). Their explanations will be less forgiving, wrong, and very likely detrimental.

          Look for one person to be your advocate – preferably not your boss – someone that shows empathy, a healthy curiosity about your illness, or has had experience with a similar illness. This person can explain when others question your behavior while you are not around (which does happen). Maybe you share with this person a little more than the other co-workers and they in turn can be trusted to let you know when you might be alienating others or job performance seems to be affected. It can be a lot to ask of a co-worker and you must choose your companion carefully. It could very well be worth it though. One thing all us insulin users have is that there are enough of us to form a mini support group at work. We get it, we can explain, we can buffer criticisms for each other. It might be helpful if you can create a similar experience for yourself.

          FWIW my family has a history of mental illness. Once the diagnoses came, it was much easier to be with those affected. Once I realized that they are not being difficult because it gives them satisfaction, I could remind myself their brains are different. Knowing the medical ‘truth’ allowed me to become more accepting and patient.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          THose are very good points. I’ve had good experiences with disclosing depression in my past, and helping an employee who disclosed anxiety (in that case I was really glad she told me, because it put some behaviors in a different light). I just wonder if personality disorders are a bit of a bridge too far for most people to really understand. I mean, even psychiatric professionals disagree on them – there is a school of thought that most of what manifests at BPD can also be explained by bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, etc.

          1. Natalie*

            A possible way to mitigate that might be choosing diagnosis terms carefully, and possibly even looking back for an outdated but possibly less stigmatized term.

            I often refer to my depression as dysthymia, even though that term has been supplanted in the DSM, because dysthymic depression presents a lot differently than major depression, but most people are familiar with major depression.

            1. Tinker*

              Yeah, I was mentioning this whole… lovely thread… to a friend of mine who is wise in these matters, and they recommend disclosing some related or similar label other than BPD if it comes to that. The reason why being, well, pretty danged obvious I should think.

              1. Formica Dinette*

                I agree with your friend. BPD has a lot of stigma around it, even among psychiatric professionals. There are plenty who will not see clients with BPD. If OP does disclose and their employer decides to educate themselves, they’re going to find a whole lot of “borderlines are selfish, manipulative jerks!”

                1. Bea W*

                  At one point is was a way of identifying a patient who was “non-compliant” or otherwise challenging – you know, those pesky folks who question things and push back or the ones for whom their current treatment is either inadequate or inappropriate so they either don’t improve or keep heading down the slope until they do become very difficult to treat.

                  That was in the US and a long time ago. It thankfully sounds the OP is having a different experience in that regard.

                  I have chronic ptsd, but I choose to keep it simple for myself (depression and anxiety/panic attacks) if I disclose anything at all just because it’s less questions to answer and less upsetting questions, and it’s not untrue. Even without a very negative stigma attached sometimes it’s just easier amd more productive to reframe it in a way your audience can better understand.

          2. UKAnon*

            I’ve just re-read and wanted to add to make clear that I don’t disagree with any of your points, I just wanted to express the opposite side of it :-)

          3. Leah*

            Some people might have the opposite approach to more severe diagnoses. I know people who would take BPD seriously but think that people who have depression or anxiety should just “snap out of it”. It is difficult to gauge this but I thought I’d toss it out there.

          4. A Non*

            Even if people can understand major diagnoses, BPD can have a lot more stigma attached to it than some others. Would it be possible to disclose it as “I have a psychological disorder that causes ____ behavior” rather than naming a specific term? At least in the US, you don’t have to specify the disability, just the accommodations you need.

            1. Natalie*

              I think I would be even vaguer than that, and just say “medical condition” – “psychological disorder” seems just as likely to get stigmatized, just in different ways. Or do as someone below suggested and use wording that could apply equally well to an organic brain condition.

          5. Rachel*

            It’s not that I don’t understand personality disorders. My mom has a cluster B personality disorder, either Narcissistic or Borderline, or both. I’m in a support group for people who have been horribly abused by their cluster B families. The problem with working with people who have certain personality disorder diagnoses is that major symptoms of the disorder involve things like having impaired empathy, poor boundaries, and unpredictable anger. You can understand logically that someone has outbursts and throws things because they are mentally ill, but it doesn’t mean that you have to accommodate disruptive or antisocial behavior. OP may not exhibit the worst symptoms because of treatment and self-awareness, but the dissociating, memory gaps etc. are all things I wouldn’t want to hear from a coworker/candidate.

          6. INTP*

            Another issue with Borderline Personality Disorder is that it is highly stigmatized even amongst some mental health professionals, sadly. I had a clinical psych professor who told us that this is what people are diagnosed with when a psychiatrist decides that they are basically beyond help and many psychiatrists and psychologists will not work with people with this diagnosis. There are also many people who have been damaged by relationships with parents or significant others with BPD that wasn’t well-controlled. If a coworker doesn’t know about BPD and googles it, they may find articles written by these types of people. Even fairly neutral-sounding articles about it sometimes mention lying and manipulation as a feature, and the most politically correct articles out there have a list of scary-sounding symptoms that might make the most compassionate boss question your ability to handle more responsibilities and your reliability under pressure.

            My advice would be to, if at all possible, seek a job where you don’t have to request accommodations to succeed. Working from home or in a highly flexible environment may be good solutions as you won’t have to ask permission to go to the bathroom for a few minutes and pull yourself together. I lean towards only disclosing if you have no interest in moving up in the organization and are just trying to hold onto your job, or if symptoms are affecting your reputation with your coworkers already, because I think it can limit your opportunities for advancement. It may create preconceived notions of what you are capable of (i.e., the boss reading about unpredictable outbursts as a symptom and deciding you can’t be in a high-stakes meeting with upper management, or deciding that you are best suited to a very calm environment which may mean not getting to take on career-boosting opportunities).

      2. GigglyPuff*

        I’d also agree to proceeding with caution before disclosing.

        My brother has been fortunate in his situation, he’s schizophrenic, and with most people not knowing how varied it is, when his workplace asked if there was something wrong, because while he is on medication and “controlled”, there are obvious symptoms of something, he told them he had a different illness that was more understood and excepted socially.

        So just make sure to really judge who you might disclose to, and like others have suggested try to find a career that has fewer triggers, if you get angry easily, customer service definitely doesn’t seem like the right job, which like others have said, is not a mark against you, I would not want a customer service centered job, I’d be so horrible at it.

        I’d think most people probably have some limitations that keep them from doing certain careers. For example, when I went to get retested for ADHD to have accommodations for my graduate school entrance exam, the tester was amazed at some of my results, and said, if it had been earlier in my life, they’d do more tests because there was definitely something else going on, but since I had found a career that worked for me, and was not trying to do something like architecture (I believe it had something to do with monitor skills and cognitive functions), I had found a career to work outside the area of my issues.

        So just remember, you’re not alone, and you are trying to handle your illness.

        1. Ludo*

          My sister is also dealing with schizophrenia, along with a myriad of other illnesses. Unfortunately hers is severe and, at the moment, untreated. It makes me sad that this illness (with most mental illness) is so misunderstood and stigmatized. I wish the best for your brother and your family

          1. GigglyPuff*

            Thanks, it took a long time to get him “stabilized”, in and out of rehabs, the periods when he wouldn’t take his meds, etc. But my mom is great, and luckily his workplace is a small family owned retail shop and he works in the warehouse part-time, so it’s probably more flexible than other places would be.

            But good luck to you and yours, I know we could’ve had it a lot worse.

      3. ethel*

        You never have to tell an employer what your disability is, and they can’t ask. You only have to say that you do have a disability, and you need accommodation. It’s best to already know what that accommodation is before asking.

        Don’t disclose anything in the interview. Try to get a feel for the culture and whether you can do the basic functions of the job.

    3. sally*

      Letter #5 made me realize how judgmental we’re being when we talk about “crazy co-workers.” You never know what type of struggle someone else is dealing with. Plus, EVERYONE has quirks, struggles, weird habits, and difficulty holding it together sometimes – some just moreso than others.

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        But then it comes back to, “I don’t really care what the underlying cause is, I expect people to act professionally in the workplace.” Similar to the conversations we’ve had about creeper guys. I don’t care if he’s touchy-feely and saying inappropriate things to me because he’s socially awkward or on the autism spectrum, he doesn’t need to be doing it at work. Ditto emotional scenes and drama. If you can’t conduct yourself properly in the workplace (whatever appropriate is for that particular environment), then you don’t belong there.

        FTR, I have a close friend with BPD and she eventually went on disability because she wasn’t able to stay employed. Too many histrionics, too many emotional meltdowns, too many blind rage fits. And she was on medication and had been seeing a counselor three days a week for a little over three years.

        1. Bea W*

          I really feel for your friend. I was on disability for many years for other psych issues. I would occasionally try going back to work or school but it was a long frustrating road. I am thankful every day (14 years after my last check) that was only a temporary stop over for me.

        2. INTP*

          I have to agree with this. At the bare minimum, you need to be able to avoid making other employees feel uncomfortable or threatened. A coworker with an anger problem can damage the productivity of the workplace and make other employees miserable whether it’s due to borderline personality disorder or just being a huge jerk who doesn’t care to control themselves. People without ADA-accepted conditions have sensitivities and feelings too and deserve a safe environment just as much, and ultimately there’s a greater responsibility to the many than the one.

    4. fposte*

      I know the OP doesn’t live in the US, but I want to clarify that there’s no automatic coverage for ADA for any disorder aside from HIV–it’s a case by case consideration–and even if a particular employee is eligible, the obligations on a workplace aren’t limitless.

      Food service is tough, because so many mental-health accommodations there can end up penalizing colleagues in ways that the ADA doesn’t require. In the US, I think I’d disclose in this situation if there was a specific, reasonable accommodation (a break to call my therapist for 15 minutes during a slow period, for instance) that I wanted to ask for–I don’t know if I would just on general information.

  2. Mike C.*

    Re #1:

    I’d love to ask a boss like this, “why do you hire people you cannot trust without watching their every movement”? Lets be honest here, this is a terrible boss and a bit of a creep to boot. She might be unreasonable? If the OP is telling things straight, this boss thinks it’s the set of (the almost always faked) Mystery Diners.

    1. Daisy*

      Apart from anything else it seems like a colossal waste of time. If she’s watching her employee every minute they work, she might as well save the wages and do the job herself.

      1. Mister Pickle*

        My guess would be that she’s got the camera feeding to a window on her computer, so she can do spreadsheets or read FB while also keeping an eye on the staff.

        Those cheap little cameras are notoriously unreliable *wink* *wink*

    2. LBK*

      There have definitely been multiple episodes of Tabatha Takes Over where the crazy managers did this. I can’t imagine what would possess you to think it’s a good idea.

    3. Windchime*

      Back in the day (like in the 80’s), I used to work in an independently-owned clothing store in a small mall. There was a sandwich shop directly across the mall and the owner of the clothing store would sit in there, sipping a cup of coffee and watching us to make sure we were working. It was creepy.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        I had a retail job with a boss like this, too. She would send in her friends to spy on us as well and once yelled at all of us because one of her friends asked the time and we didn’t take the opportunity to sell him stuff–while the store was packed with people.

    4. Boo*

      This reminds me of my manager back when I was a receptionist. She had security cameras fitted which were allegedly for our safety, but allowed her to see behind the desk and what we were doing. She also got IT to hook her up so she could monitor our emails. She behaved pretty much the same way as OP’s manager. She was an utter nightmare. No advice but I hope OP can get out of there soon, I know how much it sucks.

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        I was the EA to the president of a mid-sized software company once, back in the early 90’s. He was cheating on his wife and she found out. He was certain that someone from work told her. So bought and installed phones that had a master switch where he could use the speaker (as in “speaker phone”) as a one-way listening device, so he could eavesdrop on random, non-phone call conversations (he was already eavesdropping on phone calls). He also had microphones installed in discrete locations in areas where there weren’t any phones so there was nowhere in the office you could go where he couldn’t hear you.

        This was the same guy who did lines of cocaine on his desk, and sexually harassed the hell out of me and my assistant. Oh, and the guy who made all the sales people and consultants sign over their airline miles to him for his personal use (like taking his mistress on a cruise), and who taught me how to fudge his expense reports so the company would reimburse him for strippers and prostitutes. A lovely, lovely man.

        1. ethel*

          Hey there, Richard Gilmore’s old girlfriend. I want to interview you for Anon guaranteed. Eme?

    5. cuppa*

      When I was in high school, I worked in the fitting room of a national-brand store. They would watch me on the cameras and make sure I was doing everything right, and then call me to double-check (“how many items did that lady have? did you count them all individually?” “was that a swimsuit or underwear?”). I was responsible for two other sections while doing the fitting rooms, and it was all really stressful.

    6. steve G*

      First I must say, this is very reminiscint of an episode of Kitchen Nightmare (or was it Tabitha Takeover?) where the owner had no clue why the…I think it was a salon…lost its appeal.

      What I don’t understand is why the boss would have a problem with you standing around every once in a while. After all, if your work is physically intensive, you do need a few minutes every once in a while to catch your breath and rest your arms.

      1. Anonsie*

        Haha yes! I was going to bring this one up– it was Tabitha’s Salon Takeover, she would watch them on cameras from home and call or send texts through a chat client to correct them all day. There had been incidents where she wrote nasty stuff about clients on the chat system and the clients had seen and gotten upset and the place was going out of business.

    7. R2D2*

      When someone gets most of their work experience in exploitative (generally working-class) work environments, they tend to develop the attitude that there are only two options for workplaces: to be taking advantage or to be taken advantage of. The boss tries to squeeze extra work out of employees without paying for it, gives them swing shifts and other uncomfortable schedules, and uses the employees’ relative poverty and the resulting constant danger of eviction as a way to get them to do what they would otherwise never want to do. In return, the employees lie on job applications, sneak off to the storage freezer for a smoke whenever humanly possible, steal inventory, and do whatever they can to get something for nothing. It becomes a “what came first, the chicken or the egg?” problem. This is a self-perpetuating cycle, because employees who manage to claw their way up to being management know that their co-workers (now employees) will try to hustle the management because they themselves spent years doing it with them.

  3. kas*

    2. I don’t have a lot of work experience in communications/pr but I think it’s pretty normal due to different writing styles. In my current role I write quite a bit and I’m often asked to edit/review work and I’d probably be that picky manager because I always want to rewrite everything, but I don’t.

    I’m guessing his rewrites aren’t all that great though and I can definitely see how it could be annoying, I would be annoyed. I obviously haven’t seen your work but maybe there’s nothing really wrong with it, maybe he just likes things written a certain way. I agree with Alison but I would go straight to the manager first and get him/her involved. Good luck!

    1. Snarkus Ariellius*

      I do work in communications/PR and your assessment is fairly accurate.

      I’ve worked with people similar to this person.  It’s rarely about the writing and more about leaving a “unique mark” on the organization — something he can point to and think, “I did that.”  “Unique marks” also tend to come with grammatical errors and incomplete sentences.

      I worked with someone like this.  Thankfully he wasn’t my boss, but he literally rewrote everything that came across his desk for approval.  He supervised about a dozen people who he helped hire so it was definitely his problem.  He was so unproductive because he liked micromanaging, but he *looked* busy so the higher ups were always pleased with him.  The effects were really damaging because his staff would give up putting in the time and effort to do well because it was a fool’s errand.

      I never let him touch my stuff though.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I actually decided against a job because the manager was like this. He insisted on writing the website copy, even though they had people to do that, and it was awful. The person I interviewed with warned me about it. I didn’t get the offer, but I would have turned it down anyway.

      2. MM*

        1) your username is everything

        2) UGH my old boss did this CONSTANTLY. Then it’s so awkward. Do i let it on the website with glaring errors? Or tell my boss is grammar sucks?

        1. OP #2*

          Thanks all. The rewriting is annoying and slows down our process. Snarkus, you hit the nail on the head when you said “unique mark” – in fact, he’s said it’s about speaking in “his voice.”

          Good news is I found out from talking to coworkers that he is interfering in their work as well, so it was nice to find out it was not necessarily about me.

          You were also correct in that he is looking for stuff to do. We are structured with a president and governing board for our policy decisions, and an executive director to manage staff, yet the president is in the office full-time. A lot of what we do is in the political arena, so in theory the president is supposed to be out making connections with other powerful folk, but he’s shy by nature and doesn’t enjoy that part of the work, ergo he doesn’t really do it.

  4. Dan*


    I’m just curious, and this is probably not relevant, but are you paid the minimum wage for tipped employees? If so, that’s like $2.35/hr or something like that. If I got paid like that and received the treatment you did, I’d be livid. Usually, there’s some understanding that in exchange for a chunk of change, you have to put up with some, if not a lot, of crap.

    In this case, forget the law. I’m not sure she really has a moral claim to your time like this. At the same time, I’m not sure there’s anything you can really do, except have a heart-to-heart and pound pavement.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      I don’t know….I think freedom/autonomy is more common in jobs that pay more. Low wage earners have to put up with a lot.

      1. Dan*

        Yeah, but the point here is that it really isn’t the boss who pays the employee’s wages, it’s the tipping customers. The whole point of a minimum wage is to protect employees from abusive employers, and this issue kinda gets to the crux of it. $2.35/hr is less than $5k a year. The agreement here is that the bartender will show up, take care of the customers, and the customers will directly pay the staff for their efforts. That’s how it works as a tipped employee. To essentially be enslaved to someone for $5k/yr is asinine.

        When you’re making minimum wage in a non-tipped position, at least it’s clear who’s paying your wages, and therefore who’s “in charge.”

        1. Megan*

          I’m from Australia and thus don’t tip (but do earn a nice cushy wage) but from my POV isn’t the boss the boss regardless? I mean the boss makes the rosters, hires & fires and so on. On your point, who does the cleaning or cashing out or any other tasks that aren’t directly related to customers (which I assume would be making drinks)? I assume that’s part of the package for the bartender to sweep at the end of the night, clean up broken glasses etc.

          In my POV I don’t think having a tipped job makes it less clear on who is your boss. Your boss is. The customers are your customers. That’s that.

          Or am I missing something?

          1. Dan*

            No, you understand things well. My point is a bit more existential.

            To your question about chores, it depends. Some places have dedicated support staff for the cleaning and what not. Others don’t.

            But the op doesn’t go to work because the boss pays $2.35. The op goes to work because the customers tip. If the customers didn’t tip, the boss would legally be required to pay more.

            The employer-employee social contract in this country sucks.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Amen to that. It seems to me the lower the pay the worse the treatment. It is like the employer receives a message “Okay you are willing to work for peanuts, then that is your problem.”
              However, as OP is saying, most of these minimum wage jobs expect constant movement, no pausing. Even stopping to talk to coworkers is unthinkable. The camera and phone calls is waaaay over the top. I say good luck to that employer with employee retention.

              OP, I am all in favor of giving people a chance. So, as Alison says, try talking to your boss. But, the answer you get is your answer. Don’t delude yourself into believing the boss will change in a while. No. WYSIWYG. Based on her answer, move forward with your next steps.

            2. Megan*

              Ahh okay, sorry!!

              I get what you’re saying, but I still think the boss is the boss regardless. Some places have salaries, others commissions others tips – just different payment methods.

              I agreed the payment sucks. Did you see the NY Times article about wages in Burger King in America ($8/hour give or take) versus in Denmark ($20/hour give or take)? I think it’s appalling that full time staff in usa fast food companies have to claim benefits due to low wages.

              1. Crazy Me!*

                $20/hour to flip burgers?? That’s insane. I worked at BK in high school. It’s not rocket science. People ought to be paid based on the knowledge, skills, education, etc. that they bring to the position, as well as the requirements of the job. Yes, it’s tiring, and hot, and you have to work with the public, but honestly there’s no great skill involved.

                1. Mike C.*

                  If the employees are bringing in a value to justify such a salary, there’s no moral reason not to compensate them accordingly.

                  Furthermore, this idea that “burger flipping” is some unskilled job is simply insane. The few times I go into such a place, I usually see someone taking orders from the front and the window at the same time, manning multiple machines (many with hot cooking surfaces or boiling oil!) and putting together orders. And when there’s a lull, they clean the dining rooms and bathrooms. Oh, and yeah, they deal with the public too.

                  And you’re trying to tell me that sort of extreme multitasking in a dangerous and customer facing environment has “no great skill involved”? You’re got to be kidding me.

                2. Anx*

                  I think people also ought to be paid for their time and labor. I also think employers should pay for their employees’ labor, rather than tax payers.

                  It’s very hard to live on minimum wage, although I do think there are bigger issues for the working poor than the actual wage (predictable hours, finding full-time employment, abusive labor practices).

                3. Crazy Me!*

                  No, I’m not kidding. As I mentioned, I worked at a few fast food restaurants, throughout high school, so I am speaking with some experience. It can be challenging, but not $20/hour challenging. I simply do not feel they are underpaid for what they do.

                4. TychaBrahe*

                  Wages are based in part on what the worker contributes, but also in part on what the market requires. If more people entered technically skilled jobs and the availability of workers for these low wage jobs went down, either pay would rise to match availability, or automation would be implemented.

                5. V*

                  Yes, people should be paid based on what they bring to the position, but the floor of that pay scale should be a wage that people can live on.

                6. whatnow*

                  Denmark is an expensive country with very high taxes and cost of living. So the high wage is in part due to this, although they do have free healthcare, benefits etc as it has a welfare state/socialist structure (although politically no longer very socialist.)

                7. Mike C.*

                  To call those jobs “unskilled” is incredibly disrespectful to the workers and dismissive of the work they perform under the conditions and poor wages they perform it under.

                8. Xay*

                  During 90s economic boom, the McDonald’s near my high school paid $16/hour because there was low unemployment and even high school students weren’t interested in minimum wage jobs. The only reason fast food jobs offered $16/hour (plus benefits and bonuses) then and $8 now is because of supply and demand, not because those jobs suddenly became unskilled.

                9. Artemesia*

                  In the US people have been taught by billionaires that they only get what they deserve which is as little as the market will bear. If there is a lot of unemployment then well, pay so low you have to beg for charity to live and conditions so onerous your life is a misery are just fine and all you ‘deserve’. The idea that a society and an economy should be justified by the kind of life they enable for everyone is not a very American idea.

                  And so in the US the top 1000th of 1% have six trillion dollars and the family of heirs to a great fortune have more money than the bottom half of the workforce. And if you are ordinary or even a little stupid or don’t have ‘skill’ a life of penury is justified. And each year it turns out more and more well educated well trained people find themselves in that same boat because even highly skilled jobs now are outsourced.

                  What kind of a society and economy do we want to have?

                10. Monodon monoceros*

                  First, people younger than 18 make less than an adult at McDonalds in Denmark. But it’s still more per hour than an adult in the US (which I find insane, but on the side of the US worker’s salary being too low).

                  It’s true that Denmark has a high cost of living, but their view on wages is just totally different as well. The Scandinavian view is that wages should be a “living wage.” An adult working a full-time job should be able to afford rent, food, etc. This benefits everyone in society in so many ways (I know, I know, SOCIALIST! It’s not a dirty word in Scandinavia).

                  Anyway, what you get is people who are working these jobs (so called “unskilled labor”) who actually stick with the job, lowering turnover costs, and giving the business stability. You get quality people staying at that business, instead of leaving as soon as they can find something that will pay them a wage that they may actually be able to live on.

                  There was an article the other day on NPR talking about the average salary at the Container Store in the US is 50,000 USD, and the benefits to the business for paying retail workers this high of a salary (in comparison to other retail jobs). They calculated turnover costs, and by not having to pay those, they can afford to pay their workers 50-100% more than average retail jobs.

                  I wish we took the long view more often, like the Container Store.

                11. Natalie*

                  @ Monodon monoceros, I did not know that about the Container Store! That is awesome. And I must say, since everyone justifies low wages with low prices, that I don’t find their prices to be particularly higher than Target or Amazon for identical products.

                  Costco operates on a similar model, and from what I have seen it makes for a much more pleasant customer experience.

                12. Chinook*

                  Part of having a higher paid “minimum wage job” is all about supply and demand. When I moved back to Alberta, I could have worked for tim Hortons, selling coffee and donuts, for approx. $15/hr. In Nova Scotia, that same job paid me $9/hr (including tips) and, in Ontario, I was making $12/hr as an admin assistant. But, in Alberta, very few will stay in a min. wage job that pays min. wage when other places down the road pay much more than that (heck, even my Mom pays me more than minimum wage when I work for her during holidays and all I am doing is covering the cash register and she is throwing in room and board at the same time). I am guessing that the same attitude exists in Europe when BK employees can get $20/hr.

                13. Jamie*

                  To call those jobs “unskilled” is incredibly disrespectful to the workers and dismissive of the work they perform under the conditions and poor wages they perform it under.

                  @MikeC – unskilled is a common term for the candidates not needing any skills to apply, I don’t think she was being insulting. I have 3 kids who work in fast food while going to college and none of them had skills in that area before they learned them on the job.

                  It’s work and it’s a needed service, no doubt, but when they need to fill a spot the pool of candidates capable of coming and learning the job quickly is huge as compared to a position where you need specific skills to be considered.

                  Unskilled isn’t an insult because it applies to the jobs, not the people. Most people have plenty of skills but not needed to get hired at those jobs.

                14. Snork Maiden*

                  I worked as a “burger flipper” in college. It was the most exhausting and lowest-paid job I have had yet. Memorizing hundreds of combinations, operating an inscrutable till, practicing for hours the “perfect” ice cream dispense (and being tested by the manager with a weigh scale!) Dealing with customers who were under the influence of various substances, and cleaning the bathrooms to boot.

                  I would go home drained mentally and physically. My current office job has a much lower toll on my psyche, and pays more.

              2. Crazy Me!*

                My bottom line is that they shouldn’t be making $20/hour — based on what other jobs in our economy pay. It’s all relative. If we pay fast food workers $20/hour, then what should we pay the people who are already making $20/hour? I’m no economist, but something tells me this would have far reaching effects on the prices we pay, etc.

                Google job evaluation — learn a little it about how jobs are “priced” so to speak. It’s actually pretty interesting. Just a quick example — when I worked in fast food, I made minimum wage. I decided I wanted to make more to put myself through college, so I got some additional training and became a nurse’s aid at a nursing home, which paid twice minimum wage. More skill was required, and there was more at stake so the job paid more.

                And “rocket science” is a commonly used figure of speech, sorry to be confusing! I realize actual rocket scientists (aka Aeorospace Engineers) make much more than that because the job requires a certain amount of education, knowledge, skills and abilities.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  One doesn’t have to be an economist to understand supply and demand. You’re arguing for some kind of moral reward for achieving certain skills which “deserve” better pay. That’s silly. Your job as a nurse’s aide paid more because there were fewer people able to do it than work in fast food. Also, jobs that have a legal requirement for certain skills or certifications will pay better, not because they are inherently better than “flipping burgers” but because the supply of employees is limited.

                2. Natalie*

                  “I’m no economist, but something tells me this would have far reaching effects on the prices we pay, etc.”

                  It’s crucial to remember that basic economic theories assume a number of starting conditions that practically never exist in the real world. The actual effect of minimum wages on other wages and on prices isn’t nearly as cut-and-dried, and it can be hard to tease out the effects of one economic policy among many different policies.

                3. Mike C.*

                  Learn a little about how jobs are priced? Could you be any more dismissive?

                  I love all the moral stories about how “I only made minimum wage so I bootstrapped myself and now I make way more why can’t everyone else do the same” because they never consider several facts:

                  1. There will always be a need for service workers. If they all suddenly bootstrapped their way to a conventionally higher paying job, there would be no service workers.

                  2. Our economy is changing frequently – low paying service jobs are replacing previously high paying manufacturing, computer jobs are stagnant, other STEM positions are going away, pharmacy and law are incredibly overloaded (remember when everyone told you to go into those two fields? I certainly do!) and nursing is on it’s way. Which leads to

                  3. If you continue to pay as you call “low skilled” workers a wage wherein they cannot make it above the poverty line (or simply assign them such a crazy schedule that they cannot even take an extra job), then the rest of us tax payers have to subsidize those low wages through benefits such as WIC, Section 8, “food stamps” and so on. All at a time when company cash holdings are at record highs, and our GINI index is among the worst in OPEC. Giving them higher wages may raise prices slightly, but the societial benefit of having their workers be able to afford to take care of their children, have reasonable healthcare and build savings to protect them from the future is valuable to society as a whole.

                  Yes, I got tired of cleaning bathrooms and landscaping and went to a great school and now have an amazing job. But not everyone had my support network, connections, second chances or luck. You shouldn’t have to starve just because you didn’t win the college major lottery. You work hard, I work hard, and so do those folks who make your Big Macs, clean your hotel rooms and drive your cabs. Everyone should be paid accordingly, regardless of the perceived skill involved in the job.

                4. Ezri*

                  I don’t get the ‘shouldn’t be making x’ argument, here. Food service is hard – I did it for three months in college, and it was ten times harder than my salaried position now (not to mention less fun and more stressful). My husband stuck around that restaurant for nearly two years full time and wouldn’t have been able to live on it – no benefits, either. As for it raising costs… I don’t claim to know the economics, but I do know other countries manage higher ‘low’ wages and don’t implode. And it’s not like the current state of our economy is YayAwesome.

                  I’m not a fan of the mindset that people in minimum wage jobs don’t deserve higher (or even living) wages because they could learn skills and advance to a better job. Not everyone has the option for education or advancement, particularly if they have costs such as dependent family members or long-term illness to factor in. People in the US like to proclaim social mobility as if hours worked directly correlates to wealth and success, but it doesn’t work that way in reality.

                5. Heather*

                  What Natalie said. Economists are assuming that all people are “rational actors” making the most logical decision based on the information available. There have been tons of studies demonstrating that humans’ brains just don’t work that way. So a purely economics-based approach to these things just can’t work in reality.

                6. Mike C.*

                  Ezri – you said it in half the space. :p

                  Heather – seriously, the rational actor (with perfect information!) is the frictionless surface of economics.

                7. FloridaNative*

                  Maybe you would also like to take a moment to complain about the unwashed masses of poor people trick or treating in your upscale neighborhood? Check your priviledge.

                  People who work deserve a living wage. If the mimum wage had kept pace with inflation, it would currently be around $22/hr.

                8. Jamie*

                  I don’t think Crazy Me! was being dismissive in pointing out the minimum wage issue isn’t black and white. It’s lovely thinking that raising the minimum wage will raise everyone’s standard of living – but it won’t because some goods below a certain price point will go up considerably putting them out of reach of the new min wage earners shortly there after.

                  Labor is typically about 25% or under the rolled up cost in many manufactured goods. If you more than double minimum wage then prices need to go up so they aren’t operating in the red. If companies don’t turn a profit they close their doors and a lot of people are out of work.

                  Wages aren’t determined by how hard the work is – if that was the case I’d argue that everyone who works with the public or in any job where you’re on your feet all day having to smile at customers should be at the top of that pay scale. That’s hard – reception was harder for me than what I do now. Salaries are determined by the market and scarcity of skills and the value added. How many candidates will you get for an entry level job? Hundreds, most likely. How many for an engineering, IT, or upper management job? A lot less because the pool of qualified candidates is smaller and the cost of a bad hiring decision is a lot greater. You also need fewer of those employees to run a company. If you hire the wrong person as a machine operator the damage is contained to the parts they made (which were caught if you have an effective QMS) but if you hire a bad COO it can kill the company.

                  The scarcer your skill set, the more responsibility the role, the more money you tend to make as a rule.

                  I abhor employers who deliberately undercut people because they want to get away with paying people as little as possible – but that’s very different than the government assigning arbitrary values to positions in the private sector. And lousy employers who low ball whenever possible should lose their good people to the market. But to think that there should be no difference in the market between positions which require specific skills and entry level/unskilled jobs…I don’t understand the logic.

                  And for the other countries who offer so much for “free” and have such high minimum wages – that may well work for them. Most of the advances in medicine are still coming out of the US because those countries aren’t pouring money into medical research and there are countries who don’t have to finance a full fledged/equipped military because their allies have already done so. I’m not saying the US doesn’t have a lot of opportunities for improvement, we totally do and in many ways I’m not happy with the status quo, but that doesn’t mean other countries are some kind of nirvana. Size difference and things like I mentioned mean others have the money to operate in a way we just do not.

          2. Allison*

            No, you’re right. The boss’s job isn’t just to pay the employees for the work they do, they are supposed to make sure the employees are doing a good job. In this case, while the OP is probably motivated by tips, bad service can make the whole establishment look bad. Let’s be honest, would you keep going back to a bar if the servers were slow, lazy, and inattentive? It’s in the boss’s interest to make sure people are doing what they’re supposed to be doing and not slacking off.

            That doesn’t excuse what the OP’s boss is doing, that’s not cool, but I also wonder if maybe they’ve had bad servers in the past and they feel that this is the best way to move forward.

            1. Observer*

              You could be right about why the boss is doing this. But, that would be a classic case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

  5. Graciosa*

    Re #3 –

    I think people who are looking for a job tend to underestimate the value of being genuine. I see candidates who are so focused on interviewing “correctly” according to whatever advice they received most recently that they don’t seem to be capable of having a conversation. It looks a bit like a politician doing a press conference – you can watch them figure out how to insert the sound bites so that they *appear* to be responding, but the performance is a bit of a turn off.

    I do try to make allowances for this because I know that there are people who are just trying to find a way to pay the bills, and as time passes without a job they start to feel that there must be some trick to it that they have yet to master. Yes, preparation matters (although this really isn’t a trick), and so does attention to detail in your written materials. But every human being has a unique voice, and the communication that will have the most impact is the one that is the most authentic.

    I love getting a letter that sounds like it was written by a person who wrote it without filling the blanks into a form. I remember the moments in an interview when a candidate is able to relax enough to just talk to me. So yes, you do need to proofread your written materials, and prepare for interviews, but after you do that just relax, forget the rules, and be yourself. You will have far more impact than you would by trying to fit yourself into a perfectly crafted formula.

    Best wishes –

    1. Dan*

      I keep it real in my cover letters and my interviews. I don’t get every job, and have been rejected and flat out told it was for fit reasons. But I also don’t have trouble keeping the jobs that I do get, and the fit turns out to be great.

      I’ve never been rejected for a job that I really wanted. The jobs I really want seem to make me offers.

      And as far as the cover letter itself goes, I’ve accepted that I’m a stronger applicant for some positions than others. I work in transportation, and can write “I’ve been a transportation nerd ever since…” and tell a good story. I can’t send a cover letter to a manufacturing plan with the same compelling story. Just can’t.

      BTW, some of the best chances at making it through the pile involve jobs that require more than one set of skills. When I interview for jobs that only rely on my education and technical skills, I have to fight with people who are stronger than me technically. But when I interview for jobs within my particular mode of transportation, I have both the technical skills and the industry knowledge to rise to the top.

    2. R2D2*

      Part of the pressure there is from companies with a CYA culture. (This is not all companies, but enough to be mentionable.) In those environments, everyone needs plausible deniability in order for a hire to go through (i.e., “They checked these boxes on the specification, certified by an external source, how was I to know they weren’t the right fit?” rather than I as the HR person sticking my neck out to say they seemed genuinely qualified in a way that’s hard for me to fit into boxes, or to say that I assessed their skills myself and am therefor responsible if my assessment is wrong), so the pressure falls to the candidate to deliver what is expected of them. You sometimes also see a variant of this in government hiring, when they want a cover letter than explicitly addresses each line of a job description in painful detail, rather than following standard good cover letter practices.

  6. Dan*


    The thing with personality disorders is that they affect everybody differently. Would you mind sharing a bit about the symptoms you experience? I think one of the reasons these kinds of things have a stigma around them is that because they affect everybody differently, can’t really be “seen”, and don’t ever go away, people get freaked out.

    Your instinct to keep this to yourself during the interview phase is a wise one. I’d also suggest you seek to legal counsel to understand the full extent that the ADA can cover you, and work with your therapist and an attorney to figure out exactly what to disclose, to whom, and when.

    Others suggest the ADA may cover you. The ADA permits you to seek “reasonable” accommodations from an employer, and I think you need to have a full understanding as to what that really means. I say that because some of the symptoms for BPD describe behaviors that may not be covered. For example, if you stole from an employer, or started a fight with someone else, it’s not clear that it is “reasonable” for an employer to excuse that behavior and continue your employment.

    The other thing to discuss with counsel and your therapist is what happens if you do get fired for issues related to your BPD. If your next job calls your current job for a reference, and your current job lets it slip that you got fired for behaviors related to BPD, you need to know what kind of protections you might have, if any. It’s not a HIPPA violation for your current employer to tell someone that.

    IANAL, and know jack shit about the legal aspects of most of this stuff. I really do think it’s worth a consultation with a lawyer who specializes in employment law.

    But good for you for getting treatment. Many people with personality disorders don’t even think they have a problem, let alone admit they’re the crazy one (OP’s words) and attempt treatment. You deserve credit for that. Good luck.

    1. OP#5*

      Thank you for your comment. I don’t steal or start fights, but, as is related to work, I most frequently experience anger problems, especially when dealing with difficult customers; impulsivity that makes it difficult to concentrate on one task at a time; suicidal behavior that sometimes puts me in the hospital, and results in scars that I have to cover up at work; and intense depression, anxiety, and paranoia that make it extremely difficult to concentrate. I was almost put on a PIP recently due to my failure to reign in my emotions, but I’ve been doing better since then, I think. I’m not sure what accommodations are appropriate for me other than occasionally allowing me to remove myself to regain my composure. If anyone has any ideas that might make things a bit easier for me, please tell me.

      I’ll see if I can talk to a lawyer in my union about the proper course of action.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        I really would suggest that customer facing jobs aren’t for you. These sort of jobs challenge many people, and it takes a very special people-oriented person to do them well. There’s no shame in staying away from them, as most of us don’t do super well in them. You may need more breaks than legally required to deal with this. Perhaps you could take more breaks but work an hour longer?
        I think one thing you should do is work with your boss to find out if your perceptions is matching his. That’s good advice for anyone, but especially needed if you know your perceptions are off (and I think you know that you don’t know, so that is a HUGE thing).
        You are one of the few people that is actually seeking treatment, and that is a big thing.

      2. Us, Too*

        You will learn as you go through your various jobs what “triggers” you. If dealing with difficult customers is going to be something that is hard for you to control yourself, then try to seek out tasks/work that avoids customer interaction. Some customers are just jerks and folks on the front line generally have to just let this roll off their backs, but if you have impulsivity and anger management issues, CS is probably not a good field for you. For example, maybe you would do better working in the backoffice rather than directly with customers. Over time, you’ll find this out and be able to hone in on what works best for you.

        I think asking for a moment now and then to take a breath is likely a reasonable accommodation. The problem is that you say you need it to “regain” your composure. You simply can’t lose your composure at work. If you need 5 minutes to take a breath, meditate, whatever – you must ask for it BEFORE you lose your composure. Once you have lost your composure at work, it is too late from an employer’s POV. At that point, they are going to have to do damage control with whomever was the subject of your loss of composure – whether that is your colleagues, your customer, etc. So, the key here, again, is recognizing your triggers and a practiced self-awareness and mitigation to help you head off any outbursts BEFORE they happen.

      3. Dan*

        Thank you for your candor, and sorry if things got pointed below. We all come at life from our own personal experiences. The reality is, you face an uphill battle in the workplace, and that’s something you have to come to terms with. Believe it or not, I have empathy for your position, and this is one of the few times that I’d say asking strangers on the Internet is of limited value.

        Partly, this is an American-centered board, and the legal suggestions will reflect that. Same with workplace norms. Because your disorder affects your core existence (most of us need a job to survive) you want the absolute best advice you can get, which is from professionals in your country. They’re paid to represent your best interests.

        1. Us, Too*

          I agree with this, too. It seems likely to me that the EU may have better workplace protections for this than the US.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        I am not a doctor. I did spend years working with people who had various disabilities including BPD.
        Please, do not take any old job and then struggle with the complexities of it. Some jobs will be better situations than others. Additionally, some employers flex more than other employers.
        I don’t know if you have time right now, but at some point sit down with someone and develop a strategy for what types of work would be best for you. Your doctor or your therapist should be able to help you find this person to talk with.

        Put yourself in work situations where you will shine. This is good advice for anyone, really. If I took a job repairing cars it would be a nightmare for all involved. Right, that has nothing to do with illness. I do not mean to detract from your concerns in an manner, nor be disrespectful. What I am trying to emphasize is for you decide to put yourself where you are going to be able to use the talents and abilities you have. Be deliberate, pick situations where you have high chances of success. Just because this is going to take a bit of planning and research is not the same as saying it is impossible.
        So two steps:
        Find work that suits you more closely.
        Find employers that have a reputation for being flexible.
        Yes, this will take a bit. Yes, it may involve some tears. But it can be done. And once done, it will be more than worth the effort you put in to do it.

        1. Dwight K Shrute*

          I completely agree with this approach. I have bipolar disorder and having the right work environment is key for me to remain stable. I did disclose my disorder to my direct manager, HR, and 3 very close coworkers so they can be aware of my symptoms and be prepared if I’m struggling. However, in my case, I was diagnosed during my time with the company and had to take short-term disability to cope. So, it was pretty necessary to talk about it openly. But, it has definitely helped me overall because I have a support system at work and I can discuss how I’m feeling without the stigma. Also, it’s much easier to ask for accommodations because they’re ready and willing to help.
          That being said, the right company/coworkers helps. I have had to leave positions because there were triggers that I couldn’t control and there was no way to change the situation. You have to know yourself really well to be able to protect yourself in any situation that could come up.

      5. Katie the Fed*

        My only idea is that you might want to see about finding a job that doesn’t require you to interact with customers. I think that can make even perfectly mentally healthy people pretty ragey, ya know?

        I really am sorry you’re dealing with this – it sounds absolutely horrible and I truly can’t imagine what it’s like. I hope you can work with your therapist to figure out some solutions for the workplace and/or find a job that’s a better fit.

        One thought – have you looked into jobs in academia? This will sound weird, but I’ve seen the widest diversity in personalities and mental health in academia – it seems to be an environment where people with these kinds of struggles either gravitate to or do well.

      6. CH*

        My sister has high-functioning BPD and has had a very successful career in insurance sales. She studied for and took a licensing exam in a matter of months (not sure about the requirements in the UK). This gives her flexible hours and helps her channel some of her emotional energy into getting to know people and advocating for a product. I sincerely wish you all the best.

      7. Elizabeth West*

        *hug* I’m sorry you have to deal with this.

        I kind of agree with Engineer Girl–customer-facing jobs are stressful even for workers without these issues (because people can be really stinking annoying). Perhaps you could explore ideas and options that will let you get away from this kind of work. I can’t suggest anything because I don’t know what you like and/or are good at.

  7. EngineerGirl*

    #5 – My sister has BPD and I’ve had to live with it for over 50 years. It finally got to the point where I started minimal contact because I was unwilling to put up with it any more. One problem is that while BPDs may not remember the terrifying violent outbursts the targets most certainly do. I don’t think BPDs realize how the outburst affects others. It is not merely being slimed. It is becoming the target of something soul eating. It is completely, utterly, terrifying, and it takes days to emotionally recover from the attack. That makes it very hard for the work environment. If the BPD has outbursts it means that the entire team becomes walking wounded. How do you accommodate this disability without causing harm to others? And it does cause harm when it is not controlled. And yes, it does affect the BPDs reputation, and it makes it very, very, very hard to get work. I’m glad the OP realizes this while young. That means that it may be corrected before damage is done.
    I think the OP is correct in that bringing it up would be a problem. Any sibling/child/spouse of a BPD would run (hate to say that, but it is for the most part true). The OP really needs to find jobs that are nurturing and in a low stress environment. Maybe set lower goals until this is under better control? Is it possible to get jobs with less than a 40 hour work week? I realize that this makes it harder to get insurance coverage, but the lessened stress may help. The OP should view this like any other severe medical issue. They need to take a “time out” to heal before engaging full speed in life.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I put this down below but want it up here as well: I think we’re getting way off the OP’s question in the discussion below and am going to ask that we stop debating what symptoms of BPD are or aren’t, and instead focus on what will be useful to the OP.

    2. Dan*

      Usually I’m the blunt one, but just didn’t want to say that the stigmas involved in these cases aren’t something that a little education is going to take care of. I have to deal with some different personality disorders in my personal life, and yeah, they’re ugly. Sadly for those afflicted, a little education is a scary thing.

      At least this op is willing to admit to it and seek treatment. Few ever do.

    3. BTownGirl*

      ” Any sibling/child/spouse of a BPD would run (hate to say that, but it is for the most part true)”

      I have to ask…what does this have to do with her question? I once had a boyfriend whose sister had BPD and I never recall him describing her as “soul eating”. I think it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone with a personality disorder has the same symptoms and stigmatizing people does nothing to help them. We’re talking about People, not “BPDs”.

      OP, my former boyfriend’s sister went on to live a happy, healthy and productive life when she found the right therapy and medication. It’s not impossible and I respect the heck out of you for putting yourself out there. Wishing you all the best!

      1. Dan*

        Once bitten, twice shy? I think the real message in engineer girl’s post is that for some who have experienced this disorder first hand, this can be very scary stuff.

        How often do we read posts from someone who writes, “I once hired one person with x trait and they turned out to be a terrible employee. I’m not hiring a person with x trait again.” And then the responses are almost always “I don’t blame you”?

        That said, the difference between the op and your bf’s sibling is that they got help. Few do, and for those closest to them, it’s real hell. I know where engineer girl is coming from, and I’m sympathetic to the op. Our society makes it difficult for disadvantaged people to get ahead. And some disadvantaged make it hell on the rest of the people in their lives. It’s tough.

        1. BTownGirl*

          I totally get what you’re saying, but the OP wrote in with a specific question about how to handle it in the workplace only. We don’t know that her coworkers are terrified of her. For all we know, they may think, “OP seems upset. Is she okay?” Obviously she didn’t choose to have this disorder, she’s clearly trying and I think piling on about bad experiences with people with the same problem is kind of cruel.

          1. Dan*

            Piling on can be cruel, but the reality is that those around the afflicted have had those experiences, and it shapes how they view others who are afflicted with the disorder.

            Most mental health issues are on a continuum, which by definition means that some have it worse than others. To suggest that lay people deny the experiences they’ve had with the more severe cases isn’t going to happen. We all have experiences that are equally valid and shape how we view the world.

            Yes, the afflicted have it rough. Pds are not pleasant for anybody involved.

            1. BTownGirl*

              Right, but not one person here has had any experiences with the OP herself, so, again, we have no idea what her specific situation is like and no right to assume anything. Not every single person with BPD causes others emotional or physical harm – that is coming straight from my father-in-law, who is a therapist with over 30 years of experience and has treated many people with the disorder.

          2. soitgoes*

            The issue is that BPD is a very, very serious diagnosis. It usually causes sufferers in ways that emotionally and physically harm other people. Those are the symptoms. People have a right to protect their own mental and physical health by not working with someone who has BPD.

            1. Zillah*

              It usually causes sufferers in ways that emotionally and physically harm other people. Those are the symptoms.

              Source, please. Because in the DSM-IV (which is what was used to diagnose the OP, since she said that she was diagnosed six years ago), you need at least five of the following to receive a diagnosis of BPD.

              • Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment.
              • A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterized by alternating between extremes of idealization and devaluation.
              • Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self.
              • Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g., spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating).
              • Recurrent suicidal behavior, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behavior.
              • Affective instability.
              • Chronic feelings of emptiness.
              • Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights).
              • Transient, stress-related paranoid ideation or severe dissociative symptoms.

              There’s nothing that says that for a BPD diagnosis, the person to cause emotional and physical harm to others, and most of the criteria affect others only tangentially. I’m not saying that the disorder doesn’t sometimes lead to that, nor am I saying that it doesn’t have an effect on your interpersonal relationships, but causing emotional/physical harm to other people are absolutely not the primary symptoms of the illness, and until I see a source for your assertion that it “usually” happens, I just don’t buy it.

              1. sunny-dee*

                Actually, you’re wrong about it not impacting others. BPD is one of the few disorders where the diagnosis comes from people surrounding the person, rather than the person’s own perception and description of their experiences. The “intense personal relationships” with periods of idealization / devaluation are the indicator of that. The devaluation tends to come in the form of lying about past bad acts, outbursts of anger, accusations, and insults. This is actively attacking another person emotionally. The nature of BPD means that, frequently, the person doesn’t recognize that they’re doing anything abnormal or, in the OP’s case, even remember it at all.

                Likewise, self-violence is often (though not always) accompanied by violence against others.

                1. Zillah*

                  I’m absolutely not saying that it doesn’t impact others – I’m sorry if I came across as doing so.

                  You mention intense interpersonal relationships. Yes, that symptom absolutely can cause direct harm to others. So can inappropriate or intense anger. My point is that neither of these symptoms is necessary for a BPD diagnosis, and while the others can cause harm to others, they don’t necessarily do so (unless we’re defining harm far more broadly, and in a way that applies to many people with mental illnesses).


                  Likewise, self-violence is often (though not always) accompanied by violence against others.

                  Please give me a source for this, because as someone with a mental illness who has had many friends with mental illnesses (including BPD), this is not my experience at all, nor does it align with what I’ve read on the subject.

                2. BTownGirl*

                  As I mentioned above, my father-in-law is a therapist with over 30 years of experience and has treated many people with the disorder. I actually read your entire comment to him over the phone and he called it “both completely wrong and utterly disturbing.” There is absolutely no correlation between self-harm and violence against others.

                  I really wish people who are not mental health professionals would refrain from chiming in with “facts” that have no actual basis in reality.

                3. MM*

                  What on earth? There is absolutely no link between self harm and violence against others. Stop spewing your own bias stereotypes as though they were fact. Thanks!!

                  -PhD student in psychology, top 10 program

                4. sunny-dee*

                  I am basing this on my criminal investigation class, part of a criminal justice degree. (I wasn’t pursuing the degree — I took the class.) Suicidal people are willing to kill a person (themselves), and the advice in that section of the class is to treat a suicidal person as a threat to others. Meaning, don’t go out on the ledge with them — they could pull you off, too.

                  I have known one guy with schizophrenia, and he did have a violent past. I had to get a restraining order because of threats made against me and my boss. The police (because this had happened before) said I wasn’t in direct danger, but that he could unintentionally harm me in an attempt to “protect” me from my boss (and, um, the FBI and CIA).

                5. MM*

                  The advice you give to someone training to be in law enforcement is to always err on the side of extreme caution. There isn’t an actual link between being suicidal and killing other people. One criminal justice class does not make you an expert in psychology, which, BTW, is a totally different field.

                6. Bea W*

                  To add to the other good comments, people with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators and more likely to be victims of violence than non-mentally ill people. There have been studies documenting this.

                  The information given in that criminal investigation class is wrong and contrary to what psych and medical professionals and researchers have learned on these subjects. The only truth there is in the risk of going out on the ledge, not because that person is sure to willfully take you with him, but in trying to save him, you could easily get inadvertantly injured trying to physically remove someone who is emotionally despirate and unpredictable from a ledge or take a weapon away. If you are literally on a ledge the chance of losing your footing and going over is too risky. It’s not because a suidical person is often willing to hurt or kill others. It is similar to the way life guards are warned about approaching someone who is drowning. The drowning person will be in such a panic and flailing that they will take you down with them. If you have give an object to someone to grab, you need to position yourself and do it in such a way that lessen the risk of being accidently pulled into the water by someone grabbing at anything in a panic.

              2. Divorced a BPD*

                Reread the second bullet (and fifth and sixth and eighth), and imagine being the other party in that relationship or friendship. There is your emotional (and sometimes physical) harm.

          3. neverjaunty*

            +1000. OP asked for help with a specific issue. Let’s not use that as a dumping ground for “why people with BPDs can really suck.”

        2. Natalie*

          If someone commented that they understood why co-workers didn’t want to work with someone with cancer, depression, some condition that required a wheelchair… would we just shrug and say “once bitten, twice shy?” No one’s mental health diagnosis plays out exactly the same way, and it’s ridiculous that this stereotyping is being accepted by so many commenters here. People aren’t snakes. I doubt even snakes act that uniformly.

          More importantly, it’s not remotely helpful to the OP. What are they supposed to do with the information that some stranger in another country has formed all of their opinions about OP’s BPD from one other person? OP obviously already knows that their is a stigma against mental health disorders and BPD in particular. Did they need to have that stigma paraded around somewhere that they are coming for actual help.

          1. soitgoes*

            The cancer/wheelchair analogy doesn’t track. BPD is a disorder that causes the sufferer to harm other people.

            1. Natalie*

              Also, I wasn’t addressing the specific symptoms of BPD. My point is that no medical conditions presents 100% the same in every person with it. What is happening here is several people making claims about how BPD presents in all people, based on their experience with one person with BPD (and in one case, a different non-specified personality disorder). That’s just as incorrect as me making claims about how cancer presents in all people based on my experience with one person.

          2. fposte*

            And I think in general we don’t say “Once bitten, twice shy.” We say “You’re missing a lot of capable candidates by making a leap to judgment that the facts don’t justify.”

            1. soitgoes*

              What about “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results”? People aren’t wrong for shying away from certain types of people after bad experiences. Too often, calls to be more open-minded sound more like, “You are obligated to let other people use your life as a testing ground for their learning experiences.”

              1. fposte*

                Your argument could also support “I hired a Latino/disabled person/woman/college grad once and s/he was a nightmare. I’ll never make that mistake again.” I don’t think that’s logical, and I don’t think that’s the argument you wanted to support. In hiring, people can be very wrong for shying away from certain types of people after bad experiences. You’re not “doing the same thing” if you’re hiring one of millions individuals with the same descriptor, because everybody’s totally different.

                Job-related experience and skills are different because it correlates directly to the ability to perform the actual job. That’s why it’s sensible that in interviews you don’t get to ask whether somebody’s disabled or not, because you’re not likely to be an expert in what disabled people can or can’t do–you get to ask if they can perform the duties the job requires and assess their experience at doing so.

                1. fposte*

                  Which is different than the statement you previously offered, but I think I disagree with your implication here as well. It’s not simply a behavior-based diagnosis as you seem to be meaning it, in that being diagnosed as BPD doesn’t automatically mean you have certain behaviors. As with any disability, there are individuals who are capable of managing in certain situations and others who can’t; unless the person hiring is also a trained expert in that field (and that does not mean expert Googling), it’s highly unlikely that the hiring manager is better informed about an individual’s capabilities than the individual is. (There’s a huge problem of confirmation bias here, too, in that you could actually have hired or worked with people with BPD whose behavior has been controlled, so you don’t actually know that they have BPD.)

                  If the individual demonstrates behaviors that are incompatible with your workplace, by all means, don’t hire her. But having any particular disability or diagnosis doesn’t automatically mean that.

                  I think it’s not likely to practically matter much, as people with invisible disabilities often don’t disclose pre-hiring, and I’d be unlikely to disclose on this front myself. But I still don’t see that one bad experience means that nobody with the same diagnosis or disability could ever succeed in that workplace.

        3. Tinker*

          Personally, I haven’t responded to the sorts of posts you mention not because I agree with the “I don’t blame you” sentiment, but rather because my opinion touches on some politicized and strongly held aspects of worldview, such that I don’t think detailing it would be productive in the context of this community.

          If silence might be taken as assent, though, I don’t agree — and particularly if it comes to the question of making hire/fire decisions based on someone disclosing a diagnostic label. Which is not to say that it’s not, unfortunately, a highly relevant point to draw to the attention to the OP that folks might very well be inclined to do this.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        It means that someone that is in the position to hire will run away from someone with the diagnosis. One common factor with BPD is violent outbursts. So uncontrolled BPD is pretty much a no-go for anyone with experience with it.
        “We’re talking about People, not “BPDs’ fails to acknowledge the utterly severe impact that it has to those around them. It comes off as self righteous and clueless about the impact. You, as a bystander, wouldn’t know what it is like. I prefer to call them BPDs because it separates the disease part away from the human being. The human is great. The disease part is reserved for the deepest pits of hell.

        1. BTownGirl*

          I get it, but not every single person with BPD has violent outbursts. My ex-bf’s sister certainly didn’t. The only person she ever physically hurt was herself – it was heartbreaking and awful. We don’t know the OP or what her symptoms are, so I just think a little empathy and respect for someone who is clearly trying to help him or herself is the right thing to do.

          1. Dan*

            Common means common, not universal. There’s going to be exceptions. Go look at the DSM-IV criteria, the list is long and doesn’t require one meet every single one of them. Just most, and its scary.

            Have you ever had a BPD person flip out on you and then an hour later deny the outburst even happened? It’s crazy shit, and enough to make you think you’re the one with issues.

            1. Anon for this*

              It’s definitely something to keep in mind in deciding to disclose.

              I was married to someone with BPD and the violence and anger were soul eating to use EGs phrase. The outbursts, even without violence, will be very triggering (for lack of a better word) for people where the instability feels very familiar. My heart breaks for the OP and all who suffer with this as its brutal, but the damage caused to others is different than “normal” abuse in that they oftrn don’t remember what they did/said and coupled with the guilt being so angry and even leaving to protect yourself/others when it’s out of their control – people who have been damaged by someone with BPD will tend to have a very strong aversion to being in the situation again.

              I do admire the OP so much for getting help – so few do – and I think this is something I’d work on with my therapist and maybe they can suggest a job coach or something to find a good fit as someone mentioned. Im sorry – the situation sucks all around.

        2. Us, Too*

          I tend to agree, though I sure that somewhere is the ideal job for OP.

          My own experience with someone who has BPD has been pretty traumatic. I’m having a hard time imagining how an employer could legally accommodate the folks I know who have BPD. The types of outbursts I have seen are, without doubt, absolutely not tolerable in a workplace and create literally hostile work environments for their colleagues: violence, obscenity, verbal and physical attacks, etc.

          My advice to OP: Without knowing how your BPD manifests, I’d have to say that generally speaking, this is a very serious handicap and one you should consider carefully before accepting a job. You simply cannot expose others to this manifestations of your BPD and expect there to not be professional and legal consequences. Get help. Take the time it takes to try to improve as best you can. And in the meantime, manage your choice of jobs and workplace stress VERY carefully. I also think the advice to consult an attorney is a really good one. You aren’t going to magically find a BPD cure tomorrow and understanding your legal rights is going to be important in navigating this throughout your life.

          1. Case of the Mondays*

            But in the meantime, this person has to buy food and pay rent. Lots of diseases are incompatible with working but until we get a better support system for people they have no choice but to work. OP isn’t asking “should I work?” But rather, “how can I be the most successful I can be at work.” I have a cousin with mental illness that was found by his boss hiding in a closet at work one day because bad people were coming to get him. Thank God he finally was approved for disability but that is a long process and people need their job for access to health care (this was pre ACA) and food.

            1. Us, Too*

              The answer to “how can I be the most successful I can be at work” is to not have outbursts in the presence of colleagues. That may be difficult, practically-speaking, in the short term though it is the best strategy for long-term success.

              This is why I suggested considering very carefully what triggers the outbursts and what jobs may reduce the likelihood of them from happening. If “triggering” jobs are all that is available, OP may be forced to take one. However, if the OP has any ability to search in areas that are less triggering, it would be prudent to do so.

        3. Melissa*

          “I prefer to call them BPDs because it separates the disease part away from the human being.”

          …but using this terminology does the opposite. It refers to the person solely in terms of their disorder. Since BPD is a shortening of “borderline personality disorder,” you are calling them “borderline personality disorders.” That could be interpreted as offensive to people with the disorder, as it reduces them to a term that is associated only with that disorder. “People with BPD” recognizes their humanity and puts their personhood first, their disorder second.

          Normally I wouldn’t even bring this up; just saying it in response to your comment about it.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            I see your point. I think one issue with Borderline Personality Disorder is that it is really hard to separate it from the person because the disorder can take over in a big way. It isn’t the same as a lot of other disabilities.

            1. Zillah*

              That’s certainly a particular problem with personality disorders, but it’s true to some extent with pretty much any mental illness, particularly highly disruptive ones (e.g., major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia). That’s just their nature.

          2. Bea W*

            I whole heartedly agree. I don’t even have BPD or currently know anyone in that predictament and I found the whole referring to people with BPD as BPDs really offensive and dehumanizing. It’s no different from referring to people with physical disabilities as “cripples” or people with Down Syndrome “retards”. Calling a person by a medical diagnosis instead of acknowledging their humanity (people with schizophrenia vs. schizophrenics) does the opposite of that. It doesn’t matter if it’s hard to separate the person from the disease in one’s head. That person is still a person, not just a disease or collection of symptoms.

            I recall being lectured on this by a psych professor about 20 years ago in a research methods class of all places. I never forgot it. I consider it one of the most important things I learned in school.

        4. pizzagrl*

          Please don’t call me a BPD. I was recently diagnosed with BPD and my experience with it is NOTHING like you’re describing. Do I have some difficulty regulating my emotions? Yes. Do I have violent outbursts that push and scar those around me? No. I certainly have some difficult qualities related to it, but nothing like you describe.

        5. MM*

          There’s a HUGE difference between UNCONTROLLED BPD and what OP wrote about, which is someone actively seeking ways to control the disorder and fit in in the work place.

          You had one very close, bad experience with someone with BPD. That doesn’t make you the spokesperson for all things BPD, or an expert on BPD.

        6. Koko*

          Look, I dated a sociopath for years. I know what it’s like to be abused at the hands of someone with personality disorder. How small and powerless and hopeless it makes you feel, especially over time. But you’re really being too sweeping here. Not everyone with personality disorders is as awful as the people who hurt us.

          Calling the people BFDs does not separate the person from the disease. It reduces them to nothing more than their disease. It erases the human.

          In order to finally separate from my sociopathic ex and stop the endless cycle of fighting and getting back together with him, I had to kill the part of me that was capable of ever feeling any empathy or sympathy for him because he repeatedly manipulated my genuine concern for him in order to keep me under his control. I understand why you have to view the person who hurt you the way you do. And you don’t have to ever be friends with someone remotely like that again. But applying that same approach to every person who shares the diagnosis is too much.

    4. Tara*

      I’m sorry for your experience, but BPD is a diverse condition that affects everyone differently and you’ll find that your story isn’t universal. My aunt has BPD and she’s one of the most loving, caring people I know. My dad suffers from something similar (exact diagnosis differs, I think he’s been diagnosed with some combination of bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, and severe depression) and while it’s certainly caused us some pain, we have a good relationship today. A big part of that is the the rising awareness and sympathy towards people with mental illness that has helped him to accept his own condition, get medication for it, and be honest with me about what he can and can’t handle. I respectfully reject the idea that any child of “a BPD” would run.

      1. EngineerGirl*

        The issue is controlled Vs uncontrolled. OP admits that it is currently not fully under control, though working on it. Yay. As Dan stated, many BPDs aren’t under control and that causes problems.
        I think for the OP the issue has to be that it gets under control. That has to be front and center. If OP doesn’t get it under control it affects work environment then reputation.

        1. Not a walking diagnosis*

          You clearly know nothing about how BPD manifests in people other than your sister. Violence is not an inherent part of BPD – that’s why it’s not part of the diagnostic criteria. I am not non-violent because my BPD is “controlled”. I still have to deal with the internal symptoms of BPD, I do not have it under “control”. I am non-violent because I am not a violent person and because BPD does not make someone violent.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            The NIH has stated that violence is actually an understudied part about BPD. The focus has been on the patient and self-harm verses those around the patient. One characteristic of violence is that the BPD doesn’t even form memories about it. They will swear up and down that they never did it, and believe it.
            Violence is actually a common symptom in BPD, I’m not sure you are stating it isn’t. “Outbursts”, “Emotional Instability”, are words commonly used in BPD.
            Look, I get the BPD is hard. But the OP needs to know that any outbursts are viewed as violence. That part needs to get controlled ASAP because it becomes a show stopper in the work environment.

            1. EngineerGirl*

              This is from DSM IV. I recognize it isn’t the latest version:
              “inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g., frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights”
              Most people would call that violence.

              1. Melissa*

                Frequent displays of temper does not have to mean physical violence. Besides, the DSM lists diagnostic criteria, but not every person with a disorder has to meet every criterion to get diagnosed. The DSM-5 lists 9 criteria for a BPD diagnosis; a person with BPD must meet 5 of the criteria. They have kept the criterion you listed about inappropriate, intense anger – but it’s just *one* criterion, and not everyone with BPD has to have it, just like not everyone with schizophrenia has delusions of grandeur or visual hallucinations.

                Emotional instability and outbursts are not the same thing as violence. You are taking your experiences with your sister (which may have been very tough) and extrapolating that to everyone with a specific disorder that can manifest VERY differently in different people.

                1. Nerd Girl*

                  “Emotional instability and outbursts are not the same thing as violence.”

                  I disagree with this. My grandmother (diagnosed very late in life with BPD) would watch my sister and I while my mother was at work. She never hit us, not once, but she would have these outbursts of rage and hate that she would spew at my sister and I. It happened nearly every day. We would tell my mother what was going on but my grandmother would have no memory of this and we looked like horrible, ungrateful grandchildren. My mother ended up hiding a tape recorder in the house and caught one of these episodes and was shocked at the things my grandmother was screaming at us. When confronted with proof of what she’d been doing my grandmother’s response was a nonchalant “well, I didn’t hit them, did I?”
                  Rage and hate when spewed at a person causes the same fight or flight reactions in a person as physical violence does. I didn’t learn that second part until much later in life and at the hands of someone not diagnosed with BPD but I can assure you that my reactions to both forms of violence were the same.

                2. MM*

                  I’m sorry that happened to you, and emotional abuse can be just as scarring and harmful as physical abuse.

                  BUT, that does not make emotional instability and outbursts the same as violence. It’s a square/rectangle argument. An emotional outburst could just as easily be crying and freaking out over a broken stapler. Just because they were the same in your case, doesn’t mean they are in all cases.

              2. Wolfey*

                Ok, leaving aside that none of us are qualified to analyze unspecified symptoms and diagnose a stranger over the internet, how is this helpful to the question at hand? “What are the best ways to minimize the impact of as yet imperfectly controlled emotional responses in the workplace and on a professional career?”

                There is no reason to keep bringing up the possibility of violence when that is not at issue here. Your sister may have been, but my dad’s BPD doesn’t manifest that way. Now that we’ve established that not every PERSON with BPD is violent in word or deed, no one here should insist that EngineerGirl must be/probably is either.

                1. Melissa*

                  Just a note – I notice that you keep referring to EngineerGirl, but EngineerGirl is not the OP with BPD. EngineerGirl is the one that you’re responding to – the one who has the sister with BPD and who is making the claims about violence in BPD. OP has simply identified themself as OP#5.

                2. Wolfey*

                  I caught myself down below! Not only did I switch names, but I mistook Not a Walking Diagnosis for OP#5. Doesn’t change the substance of anything that’s written though. Everything still holds true. Sorry for the confusion!

                3. soitgoes*

                  It’s relevant because this is what the OP will come up against – perceptions that she will act violently toward to coworkers and customers and then not even remember. The fact is that many people with BPD actually do act that way, and a smart employer wouldn’t be wrong if he or she declined to hire someone with the disorder.

                4. Elsajeni*

                  @soitgoes: OP#5 already knows about people’s perceptions about BPD. She wrote in to ask for advice, in part, on dealing with those perceptions; it’s not helpful to respond to that with “Yeah, those perceptions sure do exist! Here are some examples.” And it’s even less helpful to respond with “Well, have you considered that those perceptions are probably true?”, which is what a lot of this thread amounts to.

                5. soitgoes*


                  Occasionally people write into AAM and their letters need to be deconstructed a bit. I remember a few months ago Allison answered a question from someone with a violent felony on his record. His attitude was, “It’s totally not a big deal, so why is it keeping people from hiring me?” It was valid for commenters to respond and tell him that his attitude toward violence was inappropriately cavalier, especially if that’s how he was addressing it in job interviews. Likewise, it’s valid for us to tell OP5 that in the context of the workplace, it’s not just about the basic action of securing employment. She has to accept that she is asking employers to take a major risk by hiring her, especially since her coworkers probably cannot be given any warning ahead of time. I’m not saying that this is right or fair. I’m saying that “How do I convince someone to hire me?” isn’t quite the correct approach here. Expecting people to deal with a coworker’s BPD on a daily basis is not entirely reasonable, and employers will be taking that into account.

              3. Melissa*

                Actually, I was wrong – misreading my source. The DSM-5 have completely changed the diagnostic criteria for BPD, to two main criteria: significant impairments in personality functioning and pathological personality traits, one of which is “a. Hostility: Persistent or frequent angry feelings; anger or irritability in response to minor slights and insults.” But again, a person with BPD doesn’t need to have persistent anger to get diagnosed (they may have other symptoms), and persistent angry or irritability doesn’t mean violence.

            2. Not a walking diagnosis*

              Anger, not necessarily violence, is a common part of BPD. It is not necessarily directed outward, or at other people. The examples that the DSM IV – and you could have easily looked up the latest one if you had actually cared – are violent, but they are not the only manifestations of anger possible. You need to understand the impact that saying things like this has on people like me. People say that they would not hire someone if they knew they had BPD, and that is because of ignorant fearmongers like you who think that just because some people with BPD are violent and some violent people have BPD that all people with BPD are unstable violent dangers to innocent people.

              You even acknowledged that outbursts are viewed as violent, not necessarily violent.

              1. Us, Too*

                I probably wouldn’t hire someone with BPD unless they could tell one heck of a great story about how they had it under control. And it it has nothing to do with Engineer Girl or fear-mongering. It has to do with the fact that my own experience with BPD was so traumatic. I simply wouldn’t risk going through that in a workplace environment. More importantly, I wouldn’t risk my staff or customers being exposed to it, either.

                Unfortunately, as Dan indicates, there is a spectrum of BPD experience. And anyone who has been on the receiving end of a more severe case is unlikely to want to risk it again. This is a reality that someone with BPD needs to recognize and cope with.

                1. Dan*

                  Yeah… People can reference the ADA all they want. The reality is that if the BPD isn’t managed well, it’s likely to come out in a reference check. If its managed well, then nobody will be the wiser. Engineer girl indicates that BPD may not even be covered under the ADA, and if it is, proving a claim is pretty much impossible.

                2. Zillah*

                  In some ways, I agree with you. Mental illness can be tough to cope with, for both people with the illness and people around them, and that becomes increasingly true with more severe illnesses.

                  However, I do think that this is a situation where the undercurrent of ableism in our society absolutely does have an impact on your approach. I understand that the basis for your feeling is that your experience with BPD was so traumatic, but if there was less shame and more openness and empathy about what these illnesses truly look like – and, yes, less fear-mongering, which is a huge problem in the United States – I think that it would be much easier for you and others to look past your personal experiences or impressions and see a more complete picture.

                  That’s particularly true because mental illness is so stigmatized that people who have their illness under control are very reticent to disclose it, so all you see are the out-of-control extreme cases, even though there are plenty of functioning people around you that have the same illnesses, but much more under control.

                3. Us, Too*

                  Zillah – Perhaps so. But, ultimately, I just want them to get their work done without having to become an expert in everyone’s personal issues. While it is, perhaps, interesting to understand the background on someone’s performance issues and in some cases may help you figure out an accommodation, the onus should be on the employee to lead that effort. i.e. The reason that someone can’t do the job becomes subordinate to them figuring out how to get the job done.

                  Everyone has baggage of some type and the key is to find a workplace that works well with your particular demons while you do your best to subdue/placate them.

                4. Joey*

                  why wouldn’t “i can perform the job with an accommodation” suffice? the law doesn’t allow you to hold the baggage of your past experiences against a candidate.

                5. Us, Too*

                  Well, it would. But they’d need to actually articulate that they COULD perform the job with accommodation, defining what that accommodation is, not just tell me they had BPD and trust that I’d figure it out for them.

              2. Dan*

                My shrink tells me that the DSM V doesn’t have the same professional clout that the IV did, and many people are sticking with the IV.

            3. Bea W*

              “Under studied” means the issue has not been studied much or enough to draw any conclusions one way or the other. It does not mean violence is or even likely more prevelent or more a key or required component of BPD. What NIH is implying there is that it needs to be studied more, literally.

        2. Zillah*

          I think for the OP the issue has to be that it gets under control. That has to be front and center.

          But it’s not that simple. I mean, it’s not that simple for any disability or illness, but IME it’s particularly true of mental illness.

          First, “under control” can mean a wide variety of things, depending on your illness and how you respond to treatment. For a lot of people, “under control” means that there aren’t that many bad days and you can fake it when you have to. It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have an impact on your life – just that the waves aren’t so intense and you can navigate the waters better.

          Second, I think that the OP seems to be doing what she can to get her BPD as under control as possible. Saying “Get it under control” isn’t very helpful in light of that – she knows that that’s a goal, but it’s going to be a process, and what she needs is strategies to deal with it now. She can’t just not exist in the world until it’s “under control.”

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Y’all, I think we’re getting way off the OP’s question in this discussion. I think it’s going to be more useful to stop debating symptoms and focus on what will be useful to the OP.

    5. Not a walking diagnosis*

      Your attitude is appalling. I am not “a BPD”. I am a human being. It is not respectful to call me “a BPD”. It is not separating me from my diagnosis, it’s reducing me entirely to that, and it’s an asshole move. You don’t get to use your experiences with your sister as a tool to bludgeon the rest of us. You don’t get to act as though I am a walking illness.

        1. Wolfey*

          No, it’s really not. I’m upset on EngineerGirl’s behalf and I don’t even know her.

          Almost everything you’ve said has been extremely hurtful, and not in a “tough love” way. You are so set on what you think is the only way to have BPD that you aren’t listening to other people’s valid experiences, the most valid of which is EngineerGirl’s. She’s not a raging psycho here (on the contrary, she presents as very conscientious and self-aware), and despite your considerable experiences with your sister–or my experiences with my dad’s BPD–neither of us has ANY way of knowing what the truth of the matter is for her or anyone else.

          The most we can do, as I think we do for just about anyone who writes in, is to take people at their word and offer the best CONSTRUCTIVE advice possible. That’s what this community is about.

          1. Wolfey*

            *facepalm –> “I’m upset on Not A Walking Diagnosis’s behalf and I don’t even know him/her.”

          2. OP#5*

            Do you really think that the people with BPD don’t have some equally valid insight? EngineerGirl is ignoring others’ insight and barreling forward with her criticism, which I am not finding constructive. Everything about her commentary is making me feel like a leper for a disorder I didn’t decide to have. I don’t feel like she’s trying to help me or any of the other commenters; I feel like she’s venting about her sister, which is healthy and necessary, but maybe this isn’t the appropriate forum for that.

            1. Wolfey*

              My apologies, I got confused with names and accidentally switched them. I was respectfully disagreeing with EngineerGirl.

            2. Wolfey*

              I’d like to emphasize that people with BPD have extremely valid–arguably the most valid–insight about living with BPD, should never be made to feel like they are reduced to their diagnoses, and should never be equated with one another as if each experience isn’t unique. I’d also like to second that having a diagnosis like BPD in no way means that someone can’t have a hugely fulfilling life, complete with close, loving relationships.

              1. Us, Too*

                Per OP’s comment above, OP’s colleagues are afraid she is going to flip out and break things at work. That’s a pretty scary-sounding situation for them and I don’t think it’s any less valid than OP’s feelings or experience. OP may not remember these outbursts, but it is clear her colleagues do.

                I absolutely understand that this is something OP is working on, but while OP is doing that, OP is impacting others negatively. That is going to be what OP has to figure out: how to minimize (preferably eliminate) that impact through various coping strategies, figuring out jobs that work best for OP, etc.

              2. sunny-dee*

                Actually, BPD people don’t have the same insight into their behavior that the people around them do. They are unaware of their own behavior or grossly misinterpret it. OP says that she has had violent/emotional outbursts that she doesn’t remember. So, what kind of insight can she offer there? The idealization/devaluation nature of relationships means that BPD people make up good or bad memories and characteristics about the object of their attention — completely apart from reality. Again, the observers have more valid insights into the person’s behavior than the person himself. BPD is one of the few mental diagnoses where the diagnosis rests more on the input from observers than from the person himself, because the person is an unreliable witness and may not be aware of it.

                While EG may be harsh, her points aren’t invalid. They may not apply to the OP or to every person with BPD, but they are still valid.

            3. neverjaunty*

              Yes, she is. I’m sorry your request for help has turned into EngineerGirl making multiple comments that boil down to “oh you have BPD? Well so did my sister and she’s a nightmare.”

        2. Melissa*

          No, it does not. It is completely normal for a person to be upset about being reduced to their disorder, and there’s nothing particularly “intense” about Not a walking diagnosis’s comment.

        3. Not a walking diagnosis*

          I fail to see how my post was intense and yours was not. Or is it that to you any display of negative emotion by a “BPD” is evidence of us being unstable?

        4. Katie the Fed*

          “The intensity of your post is kind of proving my point…”

          That is a REALLY rude thing to say. It’s like when someone calls you defensive – there’s no way you can respond without proving their point. It’s not helpful to the discussion at hand.

        5. Wow*

          Reducing someone to a diagnosis is absolutely dehumanizing. You are making sure that person knows they are different, inferior, labeled. And OP is absolutely right to be appalled, and she is in no way proving your point. What you are doing, though, is proving most peoples’ advice to not disclose, because of how many people turn their own isolated anecdotes into epidemiology.

        6. Cat*

          That’s really unfair. You can’t attack people and then attack them again for defending themselves.

        7. Tinker*


          I will also agree — I think that Not a walking diagnosis’s reaction was not disproportionate to, well, the intensity of the stigmatizing material that has been applied to them. And while I have a lot of sympathy for the case where it’s difficult to address other people in a measured way because of the shadows of past events, that still doesn’t make it any less inappropriate to leverage another person’s mental health diagnosis against them in a discussion like has occurred here.

      1. OP#5*

        I want to thank everyone for their comments.

        EngineerGirl – maybe I’m being too sensitive, but your comments really hurt. I’m sorry you went through a difficult time with your sister, but I’m not your sister. I don’t physically hurt anybody but myself, and I don’t break things or flip out, although people are afraid I will, and that hurts, too. I’ve apparently had outbursts, but I honestly do not remember them and that is terrifying and upsetting.

        To your comment about people “running away” as soon as I tell them my diagnoses: my close friends, partner, and family members all know I have it, and they’ve been very supportive. When I told my partner about my disorder, he didn’t run – he started reading about it because he wanted to understand. But whether I have a support network or not wasn’t really part of my question. I asked about how to deal with it affecting me at work, because it is affecting me at work, and I need to be able to manage that somehow.

        You see, as someone without the disorder (a “non-BPD”, if that’s the kind of language you want to use), you get the option to run away. I don’t get that option. I’m stuck with this disorder and I have to find a way to live with it.

        Also, to answer your other question about toning things back, I’ve done that recently, actually. I quit one of my jobs, moved to a less stressful environment, and reduced my courseload. This hasn’t magically cured me, but it is making things a bit easier.

        1. Melissa*

          FWIW I don’t think you are being too sensitive, OP. It would hurt *anyone* to have assumptions made about them on the basis of a characteristic that they can’t help and can’t change, especially when those assumptions are untrue. That has less to do with your disorder and more to do with just being a human being.

          I wish I had an answer to your question. I had a much-less stigmatized mental disorder (depression with comorbid anxiety) and chose not to share it until it became a problem; when it did become an issue, I shared it only with my direct supervisor. I was in an unusual situation – of the two supervisors I shared the disorder with, one studied mental health for a living (we both do) and the other one was a mental health counselor, so both were much more understanding than perhaps the average individual would be. Still, I found it helpful if awkward in those situations, because it helped to explain some behavior AND it also helped my supervisors take specific action in specific situations (i.e., helping me improve self-evaluations that were self-denigrating or not positive enough, or recognizing the signs of a panic attack).

          Would it be possible to be semi-vague in a situation when it becomes a problem, AFTER you’ve been hired? Like let’s say that you have an outburst – to maybe confront the person afterward and say that you’re sorry for what happened, but you have a health issue that makes it difficult to regulate intense emotions? Most people are going to assume that it’s something physical/hormonal, which is not an assumption I mind people making. When I told people I had a bad semester due to some health issues in college, most people assumed I meant physical health issues and I let them have that assumption.

          1. OP#5*

            That’s a really good idea. I’ll try that – it might lend an air of validation to my mental illness, too, if I talk about it as a health issue (I mean, it is, but unfortunately, most people don’t see it that way). Thank you!

            1. MM*

              I would agree. I do the same with my ADD and dyslexia which sometimes effects my work in weird ways (i.e. I need TOTAL SILENCE to do anything meaningful). If I told my boss before hand that I had those diagnoses, I doubt she would have hired me, because my job has so much reading, editing, and detail orientation.

              At old job, I waited until issues arose, when my boss already knew I was doing 80% of my job very well, but I might struggle with things like strings of numbers. My boss already knew I was ME at that point, not just a stereotype of someone we might not want to hire. If you feel like you’re having a hard time, let your boss know what’s going on, but wait until your job feel secure-ish.

              The thing about crazy coworkers, is a big part of why people hate them is the “wtf why are you doing that??” feeling. When I found out a coworker was having out bursts because of a hormone treatment, I went from not being able to stand her (why is she always yelling at me!?) to feeling bad for all she was going through. I know how humiliated she was to admit private medical details to me, but knowing why she was doing what she was doing, and that she was doing it for a medical reason, made me judge her a whole lot less.

          2. HeyNonnyNonny*

            I don’t think it should be brought up as a factor for hiring, but I think this is something you’d need to warn coworkers of BEFORE an outburst. I agree that it is a health issue, but I can also tell you that if someone had any sort of outburst with me at work, I am much more likely to be understanding if I had a heads-up before, not an awkward/scary conversation after.

        2. Wolfey*

          Another suggestion that would obviously depend hugely on your specific situation:

          I read somewhere (maybe the NY Times series on living with mental disorders) about a very successful professional woman who also had a serious mental disorder. I want to say it was bi-polar disorder, but I can’t remember exactly. She had 2 coping mechanisms: one was that she had a designated quiet place she could go to in the office or outside when she felt emotionally unsteady. The other was that she had someone she trusted, either her therapist or her business colleague/friend, on speed dial for when she felt she needed a tether.

          Maybe you could adapt one or both of these to your circumstances?

          1. Wolfey*

            *serious mental disorder in the sense that it affected her severely; control and feeling tethered to reality were sometimes a big issue.

        3. EngineerGirl*

          I’m sorry my comments hurt you, but I think you need a plain-vanilla view of the working world – of how it really is and not how we want it to be. You’ve been protected in graduate school and you won’t get those protections in the work world. You won’t get the support that those around you have been giving you. You need to know that so you can mitigate the impacts. And it is all about mitigation.
          Realistically, you need to know that some people will freak out if they see your diagnosis. This is something you must deal with. That is part of the normal work world. People just want to get their job done, not work with you in your illness. You need to know that they are not there to help you with it. Many places are incredibly intolerant of it so you need to be really careful with your employers. It is a harsh, intolerant world out there.
          You state that people are scared you will break things or flip out. That is a huge deal. A really huge deal. It may be tolerated for a younger person (under 25) but it becomes a larger and larger liability as you get older. People expect older individuals to be more in control of their emotions. If people are scared of you then you will be one of the first persons for lay-off. It doesn’t matter what your work quality is. You really need to talk to people and find out why they are scared. And then you have to accept what they are saying even if you disagree with it. Because that is what they are experiencing.
          I’m glad to see that you’ve been dialing back on the stress and that is working for you. Since it is a successful strategy it is worth employing going forward.

          1. Beyonce Pad Thai*

            “I’m sorry but [here’s all the reasons I think you are wrong]” isn’t an apology. I think your personal experience is clouding your judgement here.

            1. Us, Too*

              Regardless of EngineerGirl’s biases, OP and her colleagues are facing a serious workplace issue at this point. Take OP on her own word: her uncontrolled behavior is such that she was nearly put on a PIP and people are afraid she is going to flip out or break stuff.

              I’m not sure that there is any viable solution to this problem other than OP learning how to make these outbursts stop (through whatever mechanisms OP finds that words for her). And, obviously, also learning how to best position herself in the workplace subject to these limitations.

              1. Natalie*

                None of that makes Engineer Girl’s comments remotely helpful. OP knows there’s a stigma – I don’t think they need someone to act it out for them just in case they forgot.

          2. Phyllis*

            you won’t get those protections in the work world. You won’t get the support that those around you have been giving you.


            1. Calliope*

              Well … she won’t. An employer will not deal with an employee who is having emotional outbursts that make people afraid she will break things or “flip out.” Accommodating that kind of behavior isn’t fair to other employees, to the employer, or to customers. I’m sorry the OP has BPD, and I know what she’s going through is hard. But I think rather than asking herself “how can I get employers to accommodate emotional outbursts,” she needs to accept that employers aren’t going to do that, and that she is either going to have to find work that doesn’t bring out this kind of behavior in her or accept that, for the moment, she is too disabled by this disorder to work. No reasonable boss is going to accept angry outbursts that scare her coworkers.

              1. LBK*

                No reasonable boss is going to accept angry outbursts that scare her coworkers.

                Okay, but what’s the point of telling the OP that? She has to work somewhere. She has to make income. This is how mentally ill people end up on the street, because they’re taught to accept that they have no value to society and no one will want to be around them as they attempt to lead a normal life.

                1. Calliope*

                  If she can’t work with others without emotional outbursts, she will need to look for a job that involves working alone/from home, or apply for disability benefits. I know that’s hard. I’m sorry that’s true. I wish there were a better social safety net in our country, and that disability benefits were easier to get and less difficult to live on.

                  But the answer isn’t for employers to tolerate angry outbursts. It simply isn’t. That isn’t going to happen, and it shouldn’t happen, because it’s harmful to the people who are yelled at or frightened by out-of-control behavior. The OP needs to make realistic plans about her future employment that aren’t based on the idea that any employer will accept this behavior. Hopefully she’ll get better at controlling her behavior in the near future, and be able to handle a job without problems. But right now, she hasn’t shown that she can do that, and that’s part of the reality of her situation.

                2. De (Germany)*

                  “But the answer isn’t for employers to tolerate angry outbursts. It simply isn’t. ”

                  I’m not seeing anyone saying that this is what should or will happen.

                3. LBK*

                  The OP needs to make realistic plans about her future employment that aren’t based on the idea that any employer will accept this behavior.

                  No duh, that’s the entire reason she wrote in. Again, I don’t understand the point of making this comment. If she weren’t aware that it was a serious issue that would make her work life difficult she wouldn’t have written in to an advice site to figure out what she can do about it.

            2. Judy*

              I do think it’s a bit harsh, but I do think some of this is necessary to think about, at least in the corporate world in the US.

              I’ve witnessed an “outburst” from a most likely not mentally ill person. That person stood up in a small meeting and said “I question whether this is really supporting the goals for the organization” in a louder than normal voice, picked up their things and left the room, allowing the door to shut naturally, not closing it carefully. I was called in to the HR investigation of the “angry outburst of yelling and slamming the door” that led to a PIP. The person was able to recover when a different manager was placed in the group.

              The tolerance of anyone to even raised voices from subordinate to manager in the corporate world in the US is pretty low. (Doesn’t mean managers can’t yell and threaten the livelihood at subordinates.) I’ve been counselled for yelling, and when I asked another person in the meeting about it, the other person hadn’t noticed my “yelling”.

          3. LBK*

            I think you’ve crossed the line between giving a frank perspective about the working world and being directly hurtful, though. Referring to someone as “a BPD” is unacceptable, on par with calling someone a retard, a gay, a black, etc. Using a generalized term in a noun form to refer to a person is a blatantly offensive construction.

            I also don’t think anything you’ve said is remotely helpful – the entire reason the OP wrote in is for help with mitigating BPD’s impact on her life, not to get grilled about how it will affect her. She’s fully aware of that, otherwise she wouldn’t be asking for help. Basically all you’ve done is say “You’re right, people will be scared of you your whole life, and you just suck it up and take responsibility.” It’s really lacking in empathy and understanding of mental illness. I would hope if someone in a wheelchair wrote in you wouldn’t just tell them “Being in a wheelchair will significantly impact your working life and you need to respect how other people feel about it.”

            1. Calliope*

              Being in a wheelchair does not harm other people. Having someone having angry outbursts at work does harm other people. It’s not at all the same thing. I don’t think that people will necessarily be scared of the OP her whole life — I very much hope that’s not true! — or that they should be scared just because she has a diagnosis of BPD. But they will be scared as long as she keeps behaving like this, and there’s no way around that.

              1. Cat*

                You can condemn angry outbursts at work; that doesn’t make referring to the person who has them as a “BPD” okay. Two different things.

              2. LBK*

                I’m still unclear on how pointing that out to the OP is productive when she is clearly already aware. That’s my point – all you’re doing is calling attention to the medical issue that’s making her work life difficult.

                1. LBK*

                  And – specifically – you’re doing it in a way for a mental disorder that you wouldn’t do for a physical disorder. That’s what ticks me off so much about this, that people are naturally more sympathetic about physical disorders but not for mental disorders, as if they aren’t just medical problems to be dealt with.

                2. Us, Too*

                  I think telling OP that her reality may be that her workplace may not be able or willing to accommodate her condition and she needs to adjust her expectations accordingly is pragmatic advice.

          4. Julie*

            Having a family member with any kind of illness can be upsetting to other family members. It’s clear that is the case with you. There can be unresolved issues with feeling like you have to monitor a loved one’s behavior and if you’ve felt victimized. Have you ever sought out some kind of therapy for this yourself? It feels like you’re still very emotional to the point of dismissing facts being presented in favor of anecdotes and there’s a lot of projection here. If you are so bothered that you are using words that people here have clearly stated are insulting, it may be worth it to be introspective about this and proactive too.

          5. Rose*

            She might need a plain vanilla view of the world, but that doesn’t mean that your language wasn’t rude, offensive, and completely unacceptable. You don’t say “an aids” “a gay,” “a black,” or “a skitzo.” It is so rude and dehumanizing. Your family issues do not even BEGIN to give you a pass for this kind of behavior.

            OP didn’t write in to ask if some people would freak out over her BPD. She already knows that. She didn’t ask if YOU would hire her. She wrote in offering advice on how to deal with her disorder. Your comments haven’t been helpful of constructive in the least.

            Your sister having the same diagnosis doesn’t make you an expert on all things BPD. You were extremely rude, and then labeled another reader’s completely appropriate comment a sign of inability to control temper. Now your idea of an “apology” is telling OP something that someone with a serious mental illness obviously already knows.

            If you’re too traumatized or upset or whatever to comment on this thread appropriately, just stop. Don’t issue half a–ed appologies, don’t try to justify what you said, just stop.

        4. ProductiveDyslexic*

          Possible ideas for becoming resilient in the long term:

          1) Have you considered working for a mental health non-profit or similar? Such an organisation may well be more accomodating. Maybe working for better understanding of mental health would be too draining for you, or just not suit your skills though.

          2) Have you any skills you could freelance with via the Internet? Such that you very rarely need interact with anyone other than via email and Skype? Again, maybe this wouldn’t suit you, but if you could do something like this it could give you the room to manage your condition successfully.

        5. nyxalinth*

          *offers hugs* My long-distance partner (she’s in Australia) has BPD. But is not A BPD. Has dealing with her often been hard? Have I often thought of leaving? yes to both. But I stuck with her, because she genuinely wanted to do and be better–like you do. that’s the huge difference for me. Over seven years, I’ve seen her make strides that we both had thought impossible. She hasn’t worked in twenty years because for her it’s simply the best way to go. The point is while I don’t have any work related advice, I just wanted you to know that despite having dealt with such harsh things (even online it’s rough sometimes) that you have a supporter.

          I can also empathize because it’s possible I’ve gone through most of my adult life as possibly having undiagnosed Bipolar II (the depressive sort) and I’ll be seeing someone this week to determine if that is so. (It’s very likely–my mom has Bipolar I and refuses to take meds for it since my father’s passing in 1995). I do know it messed with my life on a number of levels, especially with regards to work.

        6. Calla*

          I don’t have any workplace advice (besides seconding that finding something that avoids any known triggers is a good idea). but I just want to add my voice of support. I grew up with an abusive mother with both bipolar and borderline personality disorders, so I am not someone who has had NO experience with it–my one known direct experience has in fact been pretty awful– but I do not let that color my attitude towards everyone ELSE with one of those disorders. You’re not my mom. The coworker I don’t know has BPD is not my mom. And more importantly, you appear to be committed to managing this and not letting it hurt other people. I am sorry that you have and will encounter people who do not take the same approach towards you, but I am glad that your friends and your partner are understanding and supportive. I wish you the best of luck!

      2. Apollo Warbucks*

        Calling someone an asshole for saying something you disagree with isn’t helpful, I’m sure EngineerGirl hasn’t meant any offence and is making a good faith effort to share her experience with boarder line personality disorders. Maybe
        EngineerGirl comments were a little insensitive but there’s nothing to be gained by ascribing malice to the comments.

        1. Zillah*

          I don’t think that Not a walking diagnosis was calling EngineerGirl out on an “asshole move” (which is not the same thing as calling her an asshole, if we’re going to get super technical) for saying something she disagrees with. I think she was reacting to being dehumanized, which is what breaking a person down into their diagnosis is. It’s not just “a little insensitive.”

          Replace BPD with another demographic. Does it still seem “a little insensitive”?

          As someone who suffers from a (different) mental illness, it didn’t come across as a good faith effort at all. She may not have been trying to be malicious, but that doesn’t mean that she wasn’t hurtful or that what she said is okay. People say racist and sexist things all the time without trying to be malicious. We generally don’t shrug it off with “well, it was a good faith effort!” We call them on it. I’m not sure why ableist things should be any different.

          1. Zillah*

            Also? I’m not clear on why being “helpful” should take precedence over “calling people on cruel, ableist, dehumanizing language.”

            1. Apollo Warbucks*

              I was more meaning that I thought the way that Not a walking diagnosis expressed their opinion was unhelpful not the underlying point that was being made. It is absolutely the right thing to do to correct peoples attitude and opinion if they are ignorant or ill-informed.

          2. Apollo Warbucks*

            I never said what EngineerGirl said was OK or that I agreed with her or that Not a walking diagnosis was wrong to be upset with what was being said, my point was more to do with the manner that the disagreement was expressed EngineerGirl had spoken to her personal experience of dealing with borderline personality disorders and offered her perspective, in return she gets told her point of view is making her look like an asshole.

            Not a walking diagnosis was obviously annoyed by what was being said, and instead of taking the opportunity to offer an alternative point of view responded in a harsh and abrasive manner that stopped any form of dialog, EngineerGirl was able to dismiss the message that Not a walking diagnosis was trying to get across, to me that’s a wasted opportunity to enhance someone else’s understanding of an issue that isn’t often discussed.

            1. Zillah*

              I do understand what you’re saying. However, I think that there’s a real problem in expecting people to offer calm and rational counterpoints when they’re being dehumanized or attacked. I admire people who can do so, but I don’t understand why it’s the minority’s responsibility to keep a level head, rather than the majority’s responsibility to think about how they’re framing things.

            2. Natalie*

              ” she gets told her point of view is making her look like an asshole.”

              She was actually told that referring to people as “a BPD” makes her sound like an asshole. I guess “dehumanization” could be a point of view, but it’d be a pretty terrible one.

              1. fposte*

                Though I think “sound like an asshole” is pretty counterproductive as well, if you’re hoping to be listened to.

                1. Natalie*

                  Probably not in this particular conversation, no, although I understand the desire.

                  That said, I’m not sure “hey, your phrasing makes you sound like an asshole so it distracts from whatever you’re trying to say” is automatically counterproductive just because of “asshole”. That veers towards the whole “tone” issue, which seems to only serve to derail in my experience.

                2. fposte*

                  Agreed on the derailiness of “tone.” And I have no problem with asshole as a term or with some assholes, for that matter, and I don’t know if the people using the word here had any interest in changing anybody’s mind anyway.

        2. Xay*

          Reducing a person to a diagnosis and a stereotype, which Engineer Girl has done repeatedly and unapologetically during this thread is an asshole move and OP has every right to be upset about it. Considering the OPs letter, it is more than insensitive, it is actually ignoring the reason the OP wrote in and making Engineer Girl’s experiences with her sister more important than the OP’s question. If Engineer Girl had written about her sister or if someone had written about a coworker or employee with BPD, her comments might be relevant. In light of the OP’s letter, Engineer Girl’s posts that are basically making the OP’s letter about herself are offensive and derailing.

    6. CH*

      My sister has BPD too and I have had the same issues with “soul eating” and have had to set very clear limits on my interactions with her. As I mentioned to the OP, she has a very successful career in insurance sales. Just want to let you know you’re not alone out there.

    7. A. Nonny Nonny*

      I am very sorry about your sister, but I learned in high school bioethics class never to refer to a person as their disease or disability. By referring to persons suffering from BPD as their disorder, you are prioritizing the disorder over their humanity, and that’s a really crappy thing to do to someone who came here looking for advice.

    8. Nerdling*

      You know, this post emphasizes everything I want to see changed about my organization when it comes to the way we deal with mental illness, particularly the insistence on referring to someone as their disease. It’s a completely non-productive and alienating approach that does nothing to encourage people to get their mental health to a healthy state and does everything to encourage them to hide from the world and/or deny that there’s anything wrong for fear that they’ll be labeled “a BPD/depression/schizo.”

    9. Ruthan*

      I don’t know much about BPD, but I’d guess that having a coworker or subordinate with that diagnosis is substantially different from having a relative with that diagnosis for a couple of reasons:

      1. Families don’t have people (managers) whose job is explicitly to, well, manage — to take steps to make sure everyone is able to do their job and stay productive.
      2. A workplace has a goal that is, at the end of the day, not contingent on any one person. A family does not.
      3. Any given employee is likely to have several different jobs over the course of a career; leaving one because you’re unhappy with a coworker seems in general like much less of a big deal than cutting off ties with a family member.

      So, LW 5, re “what do you do if you’re the crazy one?”, I think the answer is: you do your best to deal with it and speak up when you’re having problems, and trust your coworkers to do likewise.

  8. West Coast Reader*

    #3 – I recommend getting a friend to chat to you about why you would be a good fit and recording it. You’ll get some great phrases that sound conversational!

    Also, start writing. Getting your thoughts on paper and worry about perfecting it later.

    1. Jamie*

      This is great advice! So simple and brilliant. And the collateral benefit is often others see great things about us that we might not think of or think to mention.

    2. Elsajeni*

      Another method might be to start writing the letter as if you’re writing an email to a friend about this great job posting you found and how excited you are to apply. (I’ve done this by accident — I wrote an email to my mom gushing about a job posting and complaining about how hard it was to write a cover letter, and she wrote back something like “Uh, duh, tell them what you told me?”)

  9. Amy*

    I can see a lot of hurt coming through in EngineerGirl’s comment, and I think that while she has some valuable insight from her experiences, as Dan points out, personality disorders affect different people differently. We don’t know if OP’s episodes are violent, etc., and talking about having their BPD ‘corrected before damage is done’ and taking ‘time out to heal before engaging full speed in life’ is on the somewhat ableist side of the fence. Recognizing your limitations is important, and being aware of the communal impacts of your illness is, too, but let’s be careful about transference and assuming that all people with BPD cause those around them to be “walking wounded”, ironically a common colloquialism for another mental illness that can have communal impacts, PTSD.

    OP was asking about when, or if, to mention BPD in a job search/interview process. I think to a certain extent it would make sense to wait until the offer stage, where you could mention that you have an illness at least partially covered by the ADA, and that you would require certain accommodations (maybe like Dan said it would be being able to take more frequent ‘breaks’ to get through an episode/compose yourself, or maybe it would be the ability to work from home for part of the week to minimize the occurrence of stressful triggers. I’d think of this like any other illness or physical condition (including pregnancy) where part of it is you making sure that it’s a job where you can reasonably be expected to carry out your duties (so maybe not being a chocolate teapot maker if you have a phobia and severe allergy to chocolate) , and the other part is the employer making reasonable accommodations to enable you to do so (so rearranging your duties to only deal with the dark and milk chocolate teapots if your allergy/phobia is just to white chocolate).

    1. Dan*

      I didn’t have the advice above on asking for breaks and what not. What I didn’t say in my advice is that I know where engineer girl is coming from, and if someone told me they had a personality disorder, I’d be finding every way I could to wash my hands of the situation and yank an offer. Or wait for the op to start, and be extremely thorough with my documentation. Some behaviors won’t even be protected. Therefore, disclosing this is pretty much a no-no without real professional guidance.

      1. PersonalityDisorder*

        Sadly as someone who suffers from a different and lesser known personality disorder, I had it used against me when I disclosed my diagnosis.

        Given that my PD involves distrusting people and fear, the aftermath is still a nightmare for me. So yeah OP #5, Borderline gets a lot of scorn from people, so I suggest not disclosing unless absolutely necessary. Keep focusing on treatment and I remember hearing that Borderline Personality Disorder is treatable and you can recover from it. So don’t think your life is gonna be full of people shutting doors in your face.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        This. I just found some legal documentation on ADA and Personality Disorders. Very few of these go before the EEOC because many consider it unprotected.

      3. OP#5*

        Dan, you’re doing yourself a disservice. A person is not their diagnosis. As someone with BPD, I have other qualities that make me a valuable employee. My current employer certainly thinks it’s worth the effort to make accommodations, rather than “wash her hands” of me.

        You’re also shooting yourself in the foot operating in this way, because your employees are going to be afraid to tell you if they do have a mental illness, which only makes it more difficult for everyone. With a little reasonable accommodation, an employee with a mental illness can be stellar, really productive, innovative, etc. (just like anyone else).

        1. Dan*

          I’ve kept my personal life out of this one so far, but I split from my spouse when she wouldn’t manage her pd, nor let me be a part of her therapy. Oh and getting fired from her job because showing up on time was for the birds.

          It’s my right to choose how close I want to be in my personal and professional lives to someone with a pd. do I paint all of the afflicted with the same brush? No, but I can decide that I don’t have the willpower to navigate those relationships.

          1. Zillah*

            But to me, that’s apples and oranges. People who aren’t getting any treatment shouldn’t really be compared to people who are actively seeking treatment and acknowledge the problem, because you’re dealing with a completely different set of guidelines.

            1. Calliope*

              Actively seeking treatment doesn’t make the disorder any less damaging to the people around her if she’s still engaging in the same behavior. It’s great that she’s trying to change her behavior. But it’s not okay to expect her coworkers to put up with behavior that is inappropriate for the workplace and actively frightening to them. If the OP had her behavior under control, I’d recommend that she not disclose her diagnosis. It wouldn’t be anyone’s business. But in this situation, the uncontrolled behavior is the emergency; trying to figure out what to say to people about it needs to take a back seat to either finding a way to stop right now, or removing herself from the work situation so that her coworkers aren’t being exposed to angry outbursts that scare them.

              1. Zillah*

                Sure, absolutely. But Dan (and EngineerGirl, for that matter) seem to be letting their experiences with people who had untreated BPD to reflect on all people with BPD. The OP is on medication and has been in treatment for years, and she says that she can “often keep it together.” It seems very unlikely to me that she is handling things in the same way that the people who Dan and EngineerGirl are basing their opinions on did.

                1. Jamie*

                  It really comes down to the behavior at work for me. I have a lot of compassion for people who suffer from disabilities and they shouldn’t be penalized for these if they don’t negatively impact the workplace in unprotected ways.

                  I would advise strongly against disclosing unless absolutely necessary because many people will have a knee jerk fear response. That may not be fair, but it’s important for people to know so they can take that into account when sharing the information. As noted upthread many people who have BPD under control tend not to tell people so usually if you have personal experience with it…it’s likely in someone who didn’t have it controlled and the scars left can run deep if they were particularly severe or abusive.

                  Of course most people want a world in which people aren’t screened out for things beyond their control. It absolutely sucks that people who already have to deal with such a serious thing have obstacles with the very basics like holding a job. It’s the epitome of unfair.

                  But everyone needs to meet the requirements of the jobs they have or apply for. And working without outbursts is a job requirement almost everywhere. Not every symptom of a disability can be reasonably accommodated and you have to take into account the rights of co-workers to not be subject to certain behaviors. If I became ill and needed a wheelchair, but could otherwise do my job screw my co-workers if they resented a ramp being put in. If I was so ill I couldn’t do my job properly – say I was a driver who is now on medication that precludes me driving – even though it’s not my fault I can’t expect them to accommodate that.

                  And most workplaces cannot and will not accommodate outbursts where co-workers have reasonable fear there will be destruction or throwing things, etc. Even the verbal outbursts won’t be tolerated.

                  I think the OP is so ahead of the curve on this for recognizing it, getting help, and being proactive about managing it at work. That’s so impressive and not all that common for people suffering from BPD. Someone I know who has severe symptoms of BPD at times has found success working a largely autonomous job on the night shift. They found that working with fewer people on a slower shift without the chaos and minute by minute changes of first shift helped them contain their issues while at work. And it’s also easier to take a breather without so many people around wondering what’s wrong. It’s my experience that it’s easier for them to regain emotional control when there isn’t the anxiety produced by having an audience. Not that this will be a cookie cutter approach for all people with BPD – but finding what will minimize the likelihood of outbursts at work is crucial.

                  It’s important to keep in mind that lack of accommodation doesn’t always mean lack of compassion…some people can be extremely compassionate and sympathetic to the situation but employers still have a responsibility to maintain a workplace free from outbursts by which a reasonable person would be afraid or nervous. And yes, people should always try to check their own biases and consciously evaluate each situation on it’s own circumstances and not assume that all BPD sufferers exhibit the same way. But people will never eliminate biases so the best we can hope for is to consciously address them and filter them out to be objective. But I do take issue to the bias being compared to those in wheelchairs, or with cancer, etc. Because it’s pretty common for those who have dealt closely with a loved one who suffers from BPD to be screened for PTSD themselves – it absolutely can be that traumatic. The more traumatic an experience is the deeper the bias cuts in many cases. That doesn’t remove the responsibility to face the bias to be as objective as possible or recuse yourself from the decision making process if you can’t be objective – but a not insignificant number of people with experience of a loved one with BPD are victims of abuse and the nature of disorder making it so hard to deal with the abuser on a logical and rational level about the abuse creates a very specific kind of fear response. So understanding needs to go both ways.

                2. Dan*

                  Everybody’s personal experiences shape how the view and interact with the world.

                  If you read my comments above, you’ll note that in multiple places, I give the OP full credit for trying to take control of her disorder.

                  But “often keep it together” doesn’t mean “always keep it together” and she’s symptomatic at work. That’s an issue. And even one outburst still sucks, and I can decide I don’t want to be in that environment.

                  I can choose to not place myself in that environment.

          2. cv*

            Actually, in some circumstances it is not your right to decide these things in a professional context. If you had struggled with supporting your spouse through a battle with cancer, would you think it was acceptable to refuse to be on a project team with a coworker with that same form of cancer? Our professional lives are different than our personal lives, and sometimes we have to set aside biases and personal experience to just do our jobs. If the personality disorder affects how the person performs his or her job duties, then that issue needs to be handled on its own. But to refuse to hire or work with all people with a specific mental illness or health issue just without reference to the specific effects on job suitability or performance is illegal, and I would say immoral.

            1. Case of the Mondays*

              This. You can choose to not work with employees that abuse you but you cannot assume that they will abuse you based on a diagnosis.

              1. Us, Too*

                I agree with this, but if someone told me they had BPD during hiring, I’d want them to very clearly articulate what their symptoms were that may impact their work or others’ work and how they would need to mitigate them in the workplace to ensure a productive environment.

                The only reason to bring something up is because it will impact your work. If it doesn’t, I don’t see the point in mentioning it.

            1. Dan*

              I paint it with the brush of “these relationships are more challenging for me to navigate. It takes an emotional toll on me, and I’d prefer not to.”

              The number of people afflicted with a personality disorder isn’t all that high, and few of the afflicted actually seek treatment. Deciding I don’t want to navigate those relationships isn’t going to affect me professionally or personally.

              1. neverjaunty*

                The reality of the workplace is that you have less control over what professional relationships you have than over what personal relationships you have. “I don’t ever want to date a Gentile again because my ex was Christian and that disconnect is too difficult to navigate” – well, that’s my business. “Therefore I really don’t want to deal with Gentiles in the workplace and I sure as hell wouldn’t hire one without making sure I had paperwork up the wazoo if I need to fire them” – HELLO EXTREMELY JUSTIFIABLE LAWSUIT.

                1. Dan*

                  Except for the fact that we’re talking specifically about mental health issues, where the “extremely justifiable lawsuits” are fewer and further between.

                  I can legally not hire and/or fire someone who exhibits one or more of the behaviors on the BPD diagnostic criteria.

                2. fposte*

                  @Dan–Absolutely. Same as you can fire somebody for coming to work drunk, but not for having alcoholism. I think that’s a really good distinction.

          3. Rose*

            You, you actually don’t. There are legally protected classes that you cannot discriminate against.

            Your personal life is just as irrelevant now as it was five comments ago.

        2. Us, Too*

          One of the most brilliant people I have ever known has BPD. It still, however, took him a good 10 years of effort and experiment (and quite a few failures) to figure out what worked for him professionally and to find a place that “fit”. He went through (literally) dozens of jobs in a few years’ time to try to figure all this out. But, he did, eventually, do so. :)

          One thing that stinks but is your reality: you may be reasonably in control of yourself, but some people with BPD aren’t. And the ones who aren’t can leave quite a negative and lasting impression of people with BPD on those around them. Unfair as it may be for someone like yourself who isn’t an extreme case, you have the same “label” and you may want to base your decision on whether to disclose it or not, at least in part, on the possibility that potential employers and colleagues may lump you in with the extremes.

        3. Us, Too*

          You say “With a little reasonable accommodation, an employee with a mental illness can be stellar, really productive, innovative, etc.”

          The correct statement that any hiring manager is actually going to read is: “Sometimes with a little reasonable accommodation, an employee with a mental illness can be stellar…”

          This is exactly the issue you will have to deal with. Not every employee with mental illness can be successful and some can be quite detrimental to a workplace if their condition is uncontrolled. Your challenge is going to be positioning yourself such that the skills you bring to the table are so high and the probability of an outburst so low, that it’s worth taking the chance on the “sometimes”.

          The more I think of this, the less I think I’d recommend you disclose your BPD specifically. I’d go with a more vague comment about having a physical condition that requires you to take unplanned breaks sometimes (being as specific about this as you reasonably can be).

        4. Tenley*

          I will tell you that I wish I had never disclosed my major depression to my very thoughtful, accommodating, longtime employer. I didn’t have much choice, I needed to explain what was happening and request accommodation in the depths. But even just one person knowing who really had no business knowing has made things a fresh hell by always acting alarmed and as if I’m about to break down. (Which I have never, ever done in the office. This person does this loudly — “Are you okay!?!” — at odd times when there is nothing in the world remotely wrong, like when I’m filling my water bottle or merely walking to drop off mail, that I more than half think it’s for no other reason than to draw attention to me and undermine me. If you can go to grad school, you obviously are high functioning. And I’m all for educating more people about mental illness. But if we are talking about day to day life in an office, in an instant you can indeed become the diagnosis for some people and never be able to get out from under that, so I strongly encourage disclosing only on a Need to Know basis.

          1. Case of the Mondays*

            I suggest you speak with your employer about this and tell him/her if he/she has concerns you would like them addressed privately.

      4. Melissa*

        In addition to OP#5’s comment above – you’re also potentially running afoul of ADA. The ADA mentions specific mental health disorders (that don’t include BPD), but also mentions that others might be covered depending on the symptoms presented without treatment.

        Basically, I think it’s a bad idea to make a priori assumptions about a person’s disorder or physical condition, especially if this person has a work history and other qualifications that made you want to hire them in the first place. Clearly they have found a way to deal with their disorder and turn out good work before, and presumably if you are hiring them you’ve already called their references and heard word that they are an excellent worker. If all signs point to this employee being a good choice, why would the fact that they have a controlled disease change your mind about them – other than harmful stereotypes about that disease?

        Would we do the same thing with a person with diabetes just because they have the potential to pass out on the job if their insulin goes uncontrolled? Or a person with severe allergies because they *may* go into anaphylactic shock one day? No, we wouldn’t – we’d assume that people with these physical disorders have medication and treatment that make it possible for them to function on a daily basis, and that they know how to apply that treatment to control their diseases. So we should do the same thing about mental disorders unless there’s some *demonstrated, specific* reason to believe otherwise.

        1. Dan*

          The thing is, if the disorder is controlled, there’s no need to disclose. If somebody does disclose, what I hear is “make sure you dot the I and cross the t on the paperwork.” And its legal. You can fire somebody in a protected class, you just can’t fire them for their membership in it.

          I used to work with a male software developer who drove every female off the team that he worked with because of his personality issues. I have no idea if he is disordered. How much of that do you put up with before you kick him out?

          1. llamathatducks*

            Please don’t conflate sexism and creepy behavior with mental illness. They are not the same thing.

              1. Us, Too*

                It does make it a challenge. Because, here’s the thing: I can fire someone for inappropriate behavior. But (maybe?) I can’t fire them for having a disability. But what happens when the two overlap in the case of some mental illnesses with behavioral manifestations? And what must be done, ethically, to protect colleagues from workers who have such issues?

                I truly do feel for people who have these kinds of mental illnesses. I simply can’t imagine what it would be like and have the utmost compassion for their situation. That said, I also don’t see how it can be tolerated in a workplace.

                1. EngineerGirl*

                  It comes down to your rights end where mine begin. There are lots of papers written on the subject.

                2. Case of the Mondays*

                  EngineerGirl – I can’t reply directly to you but see the research on dual accommodation situations. Employee rights sometimes overlap and infringe on each other and that doesn’t mean that one is more valid than the other.

                  Perfect example at my husband’s job. Coworker has a service dog. Other coworker has a severe allergic reaction to dogs. Both must be accommodated. They are put in separate working areas. Allergic coworker gets an air purifier and can work from home as needed. She has no business need to go in the area with service dog. They use separate hallways too. Worker with service dog avoids area with allergic coworker. There is extra cleaning, etc.

                  In the end, neither employee was happy but they couldn’t trump the others right to accommodation.

                3. Jamie*

                  @Case of the Mondays – your example was about logistics and what the law calls a reasonable accommodation. As long as they both abide by the accommodation the person who would be harmed by the allergen is safe from the effects.

                  You can’t really apply that to something that causes inappropriate and otherwise prohibited behavior. I am not referring to the OP as we don’t know the extent of the outbursts she spoke of, but the general point. How would you accommodate someone’s right to work if they have behaviors inappropriate for the workplace due to mental illness and also accommodate other employee’s rights not to be subjected to inappropriate behavior.

                  You can’t contain people’s uncontrollable behavior the way you can animal dander. If someone had BPD which manifests in vicious verbal abuse and disproportionate responses (again, not referring to the OP, but this is common with the disorder) which can create a hostile workplace (in the legal sense) they cannot be obligated to keep them because it’s the result of a disability. Accommodations must be reasonable and it’s not reasonable to subject other employees to inappropriate conduct. It’s also not reasonable to expect an employer to incur the liability if an outburst has legal ramifications or the loss of employees who want a more stable environment. It’s not incumbent upon a company to accommodate everything that’s beyond one’s control – only if the accommodations are reasonable and don’t cause undo financial hardship.

                4. Case of the Mondays*

                  Jamie – I agree to an extent but want to clarify a few things. A hostile work environment, in the legal and actionable sense is not what you described. There is no law (at least in my state) that prohibits a boss from bullying employees or even employees from bullying other coworkers. I wish there was. I get so many calls from potential clients about their “hostile boss.” Generally, there is no cause of action there with the rare exception for “mental/mental” worker’s comp cases (meaning a mental injury was inflicted that caused mental harm).

                  A hostile work environment means that while a boss may not discriminate against a particular member of a protected class, the boss or work environment is unwelcoming to members of that class and therefore hostile. The usual example is everyone is nice to the female employee but they have calendars of bikini clad women in their offices and rate women walking down the street based on their looks. This could be a hostile work environment.

                  Many “angry outbursts” are tolerated in the workplace but it depends on how high up the food chain you are. I truly do wish there was a “right” to not be subject to such treatment but as of yet, there isn’t.

                  I do agree that accommodations have to be reasonable and you have to be able to, with or without accommodation, perform the essential job functions. Allowing someone to have angry outbursts is likely not a reasonable accommodation. Taking out the mental health aspect of it though, many employers do tolerate such outbursts, inexplicably.

                5. Case of the Mondays*

                  Oh and the above example re: dog and allergy was not a happy solution. Allergic coworker claimed she was still allergic and that it wasn’t good enough and the lady with the service dog wanted access to the whole office and felt restricted because she couldn’t go where allergic coworker worked. It was a HUGE fiasco w/ both threatening to sue at one point. Hard to believe they are both grown ups.

                6. Jamie*

                  @COTM – yes, sloppy wording on my part. You are correct in that in order for it to be hostile with a capital H invoking the law the harassment needs to be based on the victim’s membership in a protected class.

                  I will say the odds of someone having wildly inappropriate and scary outburst and not verbally hitting a protected area when raging are non-existent in my experience – but my experience is just one data point and not universal.

                  And I am in total agreement with you that any kind of angry outbursts shouldn’t be tolerated and often are. I can just say that there is a difference in tone and the fear response of many bystanders to a total jerk going off and swearing, yelling, being a total assh*le and someone with BPD having a rage episode. There is a disconnect that may be short lived, but is very real and absolutely terrifying. And the aftermath can vary from not recalling the incident, recalling it but dismissing it as just being upset and blaming whomever they feel caused their anger, or abject shame and remorse which can manifest in very over the top ways none of which are okay at work.

                  I hear what you’re saying and I agree that no outbursts should be tolerated – but it’s really comparing apples and oranges when you’re talking about accommodations. I have a powerful aversion for when people yell or are visibly angry (slamming things, frantic movements, etc.) and I will instinctively move to put furniture or a doorway, something between myself and the person who is angry even when I know intellectually there is zero reason to fear. It’s an automatic response. Someone who is in a rage or having an angry outburst and they seem somewhat disassociated or beyond where you can reach them with reason (at that moment) I’m leaving the building. When I say reach them with reason I’m not talking about someone furious not listening to logic – that’s everyone – I’m talking about where what they are angry about doesn’t make sense, or you’re not sure they know who you are at that moment, or they have completely lost control over their emotions and if the emotion they can’t control is rage directed at you – I’m just saying there is a very real difference in the level of fear and with some (not all) the level of risk.

                  Accommodations for things like flexing time to make it easy for them to go to doctors appointments, when possible giving them the work environment which minimizes triggers, etc. I’m all for that. But an employer should never tolerate harmful behavior towards others from someone with a mental illness that they wouldn’t tolerate in someone without a diagnosis. I guess I’m saying once a line is crossed and a reasonable person would be nervous or afraid to work with someone the duty to accommodate is null – imo.

              1. Dan*

                I should also have said he creepy.

                He was a yeller who told people their code sucked and was pretty insulting.

          2. De (Germany)*

            “The thing is, if the disorder is controlled, there’s no need to disclose. ”

            No. Controlled is not the same as “cured”. Taking a non-mental illness, even if a kidney disease is controlled it might require disclosure – for example for taking time off for dialysis.

            1. Zillah*

              Yep. Or even something as simple as asthma – even if it’s controlled, you may require accommodations (e.g., no perfume, or not sitting next to a smoker – I think we’ve had questions about both in the past). “Controlled” means that it doesn’t rule your life, not that it doesn’t ever impact it at all.

            2. Calla*

              Yep. I have major depressive disorder. I’m on meds for it, and most days are fine. It is controlled. But I am not CURED of it. Right now I feel no need to disclose, but there was a point I was seeing my doctor fairly regularly to find the right medication, and I was close to telling my boss in order to explain the frequent appointments, since we had a great relationship. Or if I have been in a rough patch, I might have explained and asked for flexibility working from home (which I knew my boss would have been open to). I didn’t, but that was have been reasonable.

              1. Tagg*

                I am actually struggling with this right now, whether or not to disclose to my supervisor. I have had to take a lot of time off for appointments, but so far all I’ve told her is that I have health issues that I’m trying to get under control.

          3. neverjaunty*

            If you are not dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s on your paperwork for everyone, but only for the people you think are “protected”, congratulations on giving Legal another reason to drink. An employer keeping strict supervision of one employee but not others can be evidence of discrimination.

            Also, it’s not always about “protected classes”. Being Jewish or Cuban doesn’t entitle you to special protections; the issue is whether your perceived religion, or national origin, or whatever is reason you’re a target. This is why all that whining about gay people having special rights not to be fired is BS.

        2. Calliope*

          The OP doesn’t have a controlled disease, though. She’s currently having emotional outbursts at work that she then can’t remember. I think discussion of how to handle disclosing/not disclosing when this is a controlled disorder that has a small chance of recurring is premature at this point; right now, there is a demonstrated, specific reason for an employer to believe that she can’t function in the workplace without creating a frightening and stressful work environment for her coworkers. I hope that changes for the OP soon, but my sympathies right now are with the people who are working with her. They need for this situation to change.

          1. Calla*

            This may not be the situation, but to add some possible perspective: In a job a few years ago, I was called into my boss’ office to discuss the fact that someone saw me crying about my work. I was utterly baffled. Turns out, someone most likely saw me a LITTLE stressed, determined I looked like I had been crying, and reported that to my boss (I think with concern, not malicious intent, but still). Sometimes–especially for women–an “emotional moment” is not actually an outburst but more like letting the mask fall for a few seconds. Again, this may not be the case! But I think reading “my boss approached me about some emotional moments I had” and jumping to “she is having outbursts and this is a frightening situation for her coworkers” isn’t necessarily called for.

          2. Zillah*

            right now, there is a demonstrated, specific reason for an employer to believe that she can’t function in the workplace without creating a frightening and stressful work environment for her coworkers. I hope that changes for the OP soon, but my sympathies right now are with the people who are working with her. They need for this situation to change.


            Maybe I’ve missed something, but I didn’t see the OP say anything that indicates that her boss thinks that she can’t function in a workplace without creating a frightening and stressful work environment for her coworkers. She just says that her boss approached her about her inability to control her emotions. The only symptoms she specifically mentions being a problem at work are anger at customers and difficulty concentrating due to depression, anxiety, and paranoia. The former can manifest in a lot of ways, many of which are not “stressful and frightening,” and the latter sound more sad than anything.

            I get that the OP isn’t necessarily seeing things from the same POV as others, but come on. She has not described frightening behavior.

            1. Us, Too*

              OP stated that she has nearly been put on a PIP and that although she hasn’t harmed anyone or committed an act of violence, admits that others fear that she may “break things or flip out”. OP doesn’t remember these things happening, per OP’s own admission.

              That doesn’t sound like someone who has their condition well under control. And I don’t think Calliope has necessarily overstated the situation when OP acknowledges others fear her outbursts.

              1. Zillah*

                I didn’t say the OP has her condition well under control. She says that it’s still very much a work in progress.

                OP said:

                I don’t physically hurt anybody but myself, and I don’t break things or flip out, although people are afraid I will, and that hurts, too. I’ve apparently had outbursts, but I honestly do not remember them and that is terrifying and upsetting.

                I did miss that, so I see where you’re coming from. However, it’s worth pointing out that OP has specifically said that she does not break things or flip out, not that she doesn’t remember them happening. She’s had outbursts that she doesn’t remember, but I see “outburst” and “flip out” as two very different things. YMMV.

                1. Us, Too*

                  Having a violent outburst vs. having a literally non-violent, but frightening-to-your-colleagues outburst are, indeed, very different things. But neither is acceptable in a workplace, and OP and her boss have to accept and confront that reality.

                2. Elsajeni*

                  Also, as has been pointed out in the thread above, many people have pre-existing ideas about what people with BPD are like and what they’re likely to do — if OP#5’s coworkers know about her diagnosis (it isn’t totally clear to me whether they do or not), their fears may be based as much on their preconceptions about BPD as on the OP’s actual past behavior.

        3. fposte*

          “The ADA mentions specific mental health disorders (that don’t include BPD), but also mentions that others might be covered depending on the symptoms presented without treatment.”

          The ADA itself doesn’t actually mention specific mental health disorders–you’re likely looking at enforcement guidance. And even in enforcement guidance, it doesn’t mean everybody with those disorders is covered–it’s just an indication that people with those disorders *may* be covered.

          However, I agree with your underlying point, that the law includes mental disorders as well as physical, as well it ought.

        4. Chinook*

          “Would we do the same thing with a person with diabetes just because they have the potential to pass out on the job if their insulin goes uncontrolled?”

          Depending on the job, yes. I believe that, in Canada, diabetes is one of those illnesses that requires you to undergo annual medical exams in order to keep your driver’s licence and would probably disqualify you as a professional driver even if you have it under control. In this case, the greater good demands that public safety be protected. Certain heart conditions are the same way (as I found out when I went to renew my driver’s licence after being diagnosed with high blood pressure (due to genetics, not lifestyle). I was told by the registrar that, if it is under control and monitored by a doctor, not to mention it my application as it would cause by licence to be pulled unless a doctor explicitly cleared me annually for the rest of my life).

          This is where BPD as a diagnosis enters the grey area – when uncontrolled, those around the sufferer can be adversely harmed. Even if someone has the disease “mostly controlled,” that still implies that there are incidents where the illness shows its ugly head. If I were the OP, I would only disclose after I was hired and to someone I could trust and be ready with proof that I have it under control. Until she has it fully under control, she may also want to look at applying for disability support so that she can spend time finding the job she will thrive in and not have to settle for something that may trigger the illness.

        5. Julia*

          I’m not sure whether this has been mentioned, but ADA cites reasonable. In a customer facing, fast paced environment, getting a 5 minute break (as someone suggested upthread) may not be reasonable. I worked as a waitress in undergrad and grad school. At the places I worked, it was tough to get a bathroom break at times.

  10. Not a walking diagnosis*

    OP #5, I hope everything goes well for you. It sounds like your current boss is understanding. I wouldn’t disclose at a new job until you find yourself needing accommodations, and I would phrase it along the lines of “I was hoping this wouldn’t be an issue, but I have a medical condition that can sometimes make me very emotional/[whatever else]. At my last job, we dealt with this by x, y and z. Would we be able to do the same thing here?” I wouldn’t specify the diagnosis unless you absolutely have to – as this post’s comments show, people have a lot of negative ideas about people with BPD, and it might hamper you unnecessarily.

    You don’t have any obligation to disclose your diagnosis to people. If your problems are impacting them, they deserve an explanation, but it doesn’t have to be that specific.

    1. OP#5*

      Thank you – I really appreciate your insight. I also think this is probably the best way to handle it.

      1. Joey*

        Just be prepared to disclose and bring documentation of the diagnosis. Lots of companies require medical documentation to see if your condition qualifies under ADA before they accommodate and so you don’t come back later and try say they weren’t accommodating you effectively.

    2. Melly*

      I also think you should work with your therapist to identify a few clear strategies that are helpful to you when you are experiencing symptoms or a strong reaction to something. That way you will be disclosing a problem but also known strategies to mitigate the problem. People like to hear that there are ways to address the issue and it will be helpful to you to have a few things in your back pocket.

      1. Rose*

        Agree. And if you don’t feel like your therapist is helpful, find a new one! Sometimes someone seems fine at their job, so you don’t feel like you have a need or reason to switch in particular. Don’t be afraid to seek out someone who really makes a difference for you. Fine isn’t good enough with mental health!

    3. Zillah*

      I agree with this. If the OP thinks it’s possible – I don’t know how BPD manifests for her, or if it’s feasible to not specifically mention emotions – I might even say something like, “I have a medical condition that’s generally under control, but I’ve had a couple episodes recently, and I wanted to touch base with you about it. Is it okay for me to step out/sit in a quiet space/go to the bathroom for five or ten minutes when I need to? It shouldn’t be more than once a day, and I’m making an appointment to see my doctor to see what we can do about it.”

      (Of course, change the details so they fit your situation.)

      Maybe that’s a terrible script. The sentiment, though, is that if it’s at all possible, I think you should phrase this in a way that’s pretty vague and doesn’t really imply a mental illness, because there is a lot of stigma surrounding them. If your workplace has a one person bathroom and that’s an okay place to collect yourself, that’s the ideal thing to ask for, I think, because people are less likely to ask for details and more understanding of reticence to expand on the issue if they think it might be bathroom-related. Don’t imply that, of course, but I would leave it open to interpretation so they can fill in whatever dots they’d like.

  11. FD*

    #5- This is a really tough situation. I think people are generally correct to say that disclosing it early on may not be the best bet, because of the stigma.

    I wonder too if the kind of work may be aggravating the situation. I know that for students, something customer-service related is usually what’s the most available. But I also know that I had to spend years getting a thick skin to obnoxious customers–and that’s not with any additional complicating factors.

    I know you mentioned sometimes you have trouble dealing with difficult customers. From a little bit of cursory research, it sounds like for some people with this disorder, it’s very hard not to feel what might be fairly small negative interactions (such as, say, a customer having a condescending tone) very intensely and keenly. If that’s the case for you, then I wonder if you might find you need fewer accommodations when you’re able to find work that doesn’t constantly put you in situations that are challenging for you. That isn’t to minimize the challenges, or to imply that they’d go away with the right job–but I’m wondering if the kind of job you have right now is making it harder to control them in a work environment.

    Are there other options you may be able to look into that may be a little less triggering in the short term? If you are connected with any networks or support groups for other people who have BPD, do any of them have good suggestions? If you’re not, could your therapist put you in touch with any?

    I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, OP, and I know there aren’t any easy answers. I wish you the best and I hope that you’re able to find strategies that work for you.

  12. Basiorana*

    When my depression was acting up badly enough to interfere with my work, I explained it to my boss as “I have a brain disorder I’m attempting to manage, and need xyz to accommodate it” which is technically true but doesn’t have the stigma because it implies it’s neurological instead of psychological. If they press for details, answer “It’s hard to explain and talk about, so I’d rather not get into details.” Getting choked up here helps.

    This works even better for you since one of your more concerning symptoms– not remembering events– is also a well-known symptom of neurological disorders.

    I also recommend doing absolutely anything you can to not work in customer service positions. They will aggravate almost any mental illness, even if you are very, very good at them. I know that’s not as easy as “get a new job!” but I do recommend actively trying to find a position that does not require customer interaction. If you’re stuck at the minimum-wage end, stocking shelves, rounding up carts in the lot, prep work in a kitchen, and dishwashing are good options. Once you graduate you’ll have more options. Working with coworkers isn’t the same because they don’t have the same sense of entitlement and you can warn them that sometimes you become irrationally agitated due to your “brain disorder” and may black out.

    Good luck. The most important thing is that you are working on managing it with your doctor. I know three women who suffer from borderline personality disorder and all went on to live successful, independent lives, so don’t think that you’re doomed.

  13. Sophia*

    I swear Gordan Ramsey dealt with the same issue in #1 either in kitchen nightmares, hotel hell or possibly both (I think Tabitha from Tabitha Takes Over, about failing hair salons also dealt with a boss like this). Neither iirc were very successful so I’m not optimistic about your boss changing, sorry :( I’d keep an eye out for other jobs

    1. BRR*

      I immediately thought of Tabatha. It’s a salon in Miami. The owner put the cameras back up right after Tabatha left.

        1. Lillie Lane*

          +1. That was my husband’s favorite show. He’s always asking, “When is Tabatha back?”

    2. Ezri*

      There was a Kitchen Nightmares that had this too… I don’t remember the name of the place, but it was a mother / stepfather owners whose kids were doing all the work in the restaurant. The stepfather watched the cameras and called in to criticize during the day. I’m pretty sure they went out of business after the show.

  14. Kelly O*

    #4 – When I look for new positions, I purposefully avoid medical related support positions. It’s not something I’m comfortable with and the times I’ve worked with medical “stuff” it never makes sense, and I don’t do well. (I was the alleged smart kid in school whose one black mark in school was attempting to take Anatomy and Physiology – that sort of thing just does not click in my head.)

    So, when I meet with recruiters, at some point they inevitably ask me if there is anything I’m specifically looking to move into, or something I’m specifically looking to avoid. That’s usually when I say that I’d just prefer to not work in the medical field. End of sentence. I don’t have to tell them why, I just express that I don’t want to work in that field, and move on to what I am interested in.

    My personal opinion is that if you start off qualifying things based on religion or “personal” things, you may wind up appearing to be high-maintenance or potentially easily offended. (Again, just my opinion and thought on the subject.) I’ve found with many recruiters and hiring managers, the more concise you keep communication, the better off you wind up being.

    And it’s not even that having a personal or religious reasons for not accepting certain kinds of jobs is bad or not understandable. But you want to keep your communication positive and focused on the goal you want to achieve.

    1. Mabel*

      This makes sense to me. When I was last job searching, I told recruiters “no law firms,” and they didn’t bat an eye. I work in technical training, and often law firms are looking for trainers, but I have just never had a good experience in those environments. They didn’t ask me why or probably even care. This made sense for me to specify because law firm positions tend to come up fairly often in my field, and I didn’t want to waste anyone’s time. If it was some other industry that wasn’t going to be much of an issue, I probably wouldn’t have mentioned it at all.

    2. Rose*

      I agree; you’ll look high maintenance. If there’s a very slim chance of an issue happening, and you bring it up before any hint of it happens saying “I don’t want this” it looks weird.

  15. GreatLakesGal*


    I would not disclose in this here. In your current situation, I’m not sure how your job could be flexed for reasonable accommodation when it is forward-facing and one of the basic requirements, dealing with difficult customers as the face of the establishments, appears essential to the job.

    Until your illness is better managed, you may be more successful in positions where the soft skills that require emotional regulation are minimized.

    I would also add that this is one of the diagnoses that demand the very best treatment in order to be successfully addressed.

    I suggest that in terms of your professional growth, you are best served by investing the time and energy needed to treat your BPD, and building and integrating those essential self-regulation skills.

    I will add that a very close relative had a life-threatening form of BPD and now works successfully in the food service industry Ina forward-facing position, and is also a full-time student.

    However, it is only the commitment she made in acquiring skills that allows her to do so . In the initial stages, the time commitment for the most effective evidence -based treatment models is quite high.

    In my relative’s case, that meant 2 months in an intensive, skills-based inpatient program followed by a year and a half of treatment 2-3 times a week.

    She had a few short relapses along the way, even with this, but is now on maintenance treatment once weekly without relapse.

    I can’t imagine how she, or anyone, could realistically combine this level of treatment with full-time study and demanding part-time employment.

    Only you and your treatment team know for sure, but you may be having more difficulty simply because you have too much work on your plate– you are describing a full time job as a graduate student, plus part time employment, plus an illness which in its acute stages requires at least a part-time equivalent of work.

    That adds up to two full-time jobs, which frankly, sounds like too much.

  16. Random thoughts*

    This thread kinda illustrates the arguments against disclosing a mental issue at work. There are very likely going to be people among your colleagues who have a bad reaction…in this case it’s engineer and dan who’ve had bad past experiences with people who have this problem, but it could just as easily be Wakeen and his depressed ex, etc.

    As far as advice, I’d recommend having really strict work/personal life boundaries. I understand that people make arguments for and against socializing with colleagues…but if you have a mental illness I really think it’s never a good idea. Too much potential for colleagues to see a side of you that’s not appropriate, or learn things they really don’t need to know. I say that from experience and hindsight unfortunately…I seriously think half my workplace knows I’m on something for depression, and if I’d not had friendships with colleagues I don’t think that would be the case.

    1. Out of the Bubble*

      Coming from a college with a lot of recent focus on student mental health and mental health awareness, it’s been a real shock exactly how closed-off I have to be about my depression. It was diagnosed in college, and I manage it very well with only “lifestyle management” techniques and supplement regimens I developed under the guidance of a counselor and psychiatrist. Talking about this publicly was entirely fine while at school – sometimes it even helped out other people, either convincing them to see a therapist themselves or giving them another option to bring up with their therapist.

      Going to a completely closed-off interaction pattern at work has been very difficult. This thread is certainly reminding me why that’s necessary – and it’s all making me quite sad.

  17. manager of that employee*

    I fall on the harsh side because I have been on the other side of the PIP.

    Does the behavior of the employee affect their work?
    Outbursts, forgetting behavior (for a long time I assumed the employee was lying to me when she said that she could not recall documented negative incidences) not taking time off when unable to complete tasks due to anxiety or stress. negative interactions with clients. Copious weeping when negative issues brought to her attention. (why didn’t this shipment go out on schedule) Blaming others for her non-completion of work. Blaming me for discrimination. (no accommodations were requested, grieving that I was causing a hostile work environment due to my expectations that she complete work in an accurate and timely manner)

    I had extreme empathy but that did not stop me from doing my job as her behavior was affecting everyone’s work.
    As someone who has suffered from anxiety and depression, the best advice that I had received was to get a “recovery job” One where the work did not interact with “the public” One where the work did not “follow me home” that I put in the time then left. Temping in offices was a good choice for me as I did not have any “social expectations” In retail… back room operations…shipping and receiving.

  18. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-It appears you work for a nutjob. Sadly, it is legal to be a boss and a nutjob.

    #2-It sounds like a conversation with your supervisor is overdue. The first couple of times it would have seemed like a one off experience but this is a continuing practice. While the board president absolutely has the right to do it, it really does undermine your position. I would feel worried too.

    #3-What has helped me, aside from AAM’s great posts, has been to stop thinking of it as a letter but as telling a story. I think we get locked into the idea of a “letter” and instantly our brain goes formal and dry. The advice of someone above to record yourself talking is a great idea. Most importantly, I think, is that you want your letter to sound like you not like a computer spit out the right combination of words.

    #4-Yeah, I don’t really have much more to add to what AAM said. It’s seems a little premature to be stating your non-negotiables.

    #5-Clearly this thread exploded earlier this morning. I do think it’s sad that most people can’t disclose mental or physical illness without the fear of consequences. That’s part of the reason why so many people still don’t seek treatment. I wish we all would talk more openly about things like that. You need to use your best judgment on disclosure and have a firm understanding of the disability laws in your country. I would say that perhaps a customer facing role is not the best one for you right now. There is no shame in that. It’s the same as telling the stereotypical introverted IT person that they probably would work better behind the scenes. You should always play to your strengths, regardless of what your weaknesses are. The most important thing is that you have sought diagnosis and treatment and seem to be aware of your triggers. You are already leaps and bounds ahead of many people who struggle with all types of mental illness. My best wishes as you continue to manage your illness.

    1. OP #2*

      Thanks Totes. I mentioned in a comment above that, after talking with coworkers, the president is getting involved in their work to an unreasonable degree as well. In other words, I don’t think this is necessarily aimed at me in particular.

      I’ve decided to keep my mouth shut for now, but if it happens again to speak with my supervisor.

  19. some1*

    #5, can your therapist recommending a support group for you? It could be helpful to find out from others how they manage their illness while working.

  20. soitgoes*

    #5 is really rough, and the OP has my full sympathy. I agree with Allison that the best move would be to address with with her therapist, even asking her therapist about jobs or a placement program. From what I know about borderline personality disorder, the illness causes sufferers to act in ways (dishonest when they’re on the defensive, sexually aggressive, moments of extreme anger and even violence) that are inherently inappropriate in a professional workplace. Disclosing the illness isn’t the right move. But even so, as someone who has worked alongside people with similar illnesses in the past, I can tell you that people are going to figure it out anyway. I knew it wasn’t their fault and that they were smart and trying their best on their good days, but their illnesses still got in the way of the work and overall team morale in ways that are not covered by ADA accommodations. I’m not trying to paint a negative picture here, just stating that it’s not a simple matter of disclosure. I sincerely hope she finds a job that’s a good fit for her needs and talents.

    1. Zillah*

      . But even so, as someone who has worked alongside people with similar illnesses in the past, I can tell you that people are going to figure it out anyway. I knew it wasn’t their fault and that they were smart and trying their best on their good days, but their illnesses still got in the way of the work and overall team morale in ways that are not covered by ADA accommodations.

      I don’t necessarily agree with this. People aren’t necessarily going to figure it out – you only noticed it because it affected their work, but I’d bet that you’ve had other coworkers who managed similar mental illnesses such that you never would have guessed it.

      1. soitgoes*

        When someone had a similar illness, of course I guessed it – that was the point. You can’t hide the way BPD makes you act. Now if someone has and properly manages depression and anxiety, I might not know. But those illnesses are not similar to BPD at all.

        1. Zillah*

          I think you’re missing my point. I’m saying that you may just have confirmation bias – you saw erratic behavior and guessed that the person had BPD or something similar, but because people who have the illness under control don’t generally advertise it, you may have erroneously assumed that no one had it at all. Why do you think that everyone with BPD is doomed to behave erratically forever, no matter what?

          (And actually, bipolar disorder can be quite similar to BPD – there’s a lot of misdiagnosis between the two, and there have been arguments about moving BPD to the bipolar spectrum.)

          1. neverjaunty*

            Interesting. I’ve seen arguments that BPD in women may also be a misdiagnosed autism spectrum disorder, as we know that until very recently those were heavily underdiagnosed in women, because the “classic” symptoms focused on a particular presentation of symptoms most common in men.

            1. fposte*

              Oh, that’s really interesting–I hadn’t heard that. Kind of like the misdiagnosed heart attack thing.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Very much like it. Women with ASDs tend to have more social skills, for example (probably in large part because there is intense pressure and socialization on women to have those skills where men get more of a pass), so they are less likely to fit the Awkward Nerd stereotype. So it gets missed or misdiagnosed. This came up when a researcher noticed that the male/female ratios were very different for autism than ASDs, which makes absolutely no sense, and on digging deeper found oops, it’s a diagnosis issue.

                To be clear, I’m *not* trying to judge OP’s diagnosis or saying that OP was misdiagnosed or is “really” on the autism spectrum. It’s just an observation about the diagnosis generally.

            2. soitgoes*

              I was even thinking that the OP might not actually have BPD, since denial of the disease/that anything is wrong is one of the more universal symptoms of it. I’m a bit surprised that the OP is able to admit her diagnosis with such aplomb. I’ve heard stories of people walking into therapists’ offices, announce that they have BPD, and have the shocked therapists respond with, “That means you probably don’t actually have it. Let’s figure out what’s really going on.”

              Now this is reaching deep and I’m not suggesting anything about the OP or her medical team, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

              1. Jamie*

                My experience with it was utter denial, despite multiple diagnoses over years, so I was surprised as well. Not only denial of the issue, but whatever problems they had wouldn’t exist if everyone would just knock off whatever it is they are doing to “make me like this.”

                I was also surprised to hear mention of medication. The person I knew was medicated for other things, but they all said the BPD wasn’t something that was treated with medication. Now, I’ve not been exposed to the treatment end for many years so maybe there have been advances.

                But she’s been working with a therapist for a long time and I assume this is the kind of growth that shows how effective good treatment can be. Awareness is a huge part of the battle and commitment to change is as well so she’s harnessing a lot of both which encourages me that she’ll have a much better outcome regarding employment than many – especially those who can’t acknowledge it to themselves.

                1. Natalie*

                  There have indeed been advances in treatment, not just medication but therapy as well. Actually, that’s a perfect example of why people should avoid generalizing about this disorder – the therapeutic understanding of it has shifted dramatically in the past few years. In particular, the idea that it’s utterly untreatable seems to be incorrect, based on some long term studies.

                  While there aren’t medications specifically for BPD, there are a few medication options that can help with some of the symptoms and make the disorder easier to manage overall.

        2. Xay*

          Even in the DSM era, mental illness diagnosis is not so precise that a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist can walk up to any person that they think is showing symptoms of BPD or schizophrenia or conduct disorder and immediately diagnose them. People can and do manage to hide their symptoms all the time.

          1. soitgoes*

            You really think that when someone has a mental illness that causes erratic, violent, and sexual behavior (and then denying it after the fact), his or her coworkers might not eventually realize that something is up? Doesn’t mean they’ll come up with the correct diagnosis, or even realize it’s a mental illness. It’s much more likely they’ll think, “This person is acting in a way that forces me to constantly be on guard and it’s uncomfortable and affecting my work.”

            1. Kelly L.*

              IANAPsychologist. But not everybody with BPD has their BPD manifest in the same way. Some patterns of behavior are more easily hidden in the office than others.

            2. Xay*

              I really think that every single case of mental illness does not manifest the same way and under the same conditions. For every case you “see”, there are probably a few that you didn’t because their symptoms are managed through therapy/medication/etc or they simply may not occur around you.

              Also, just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t believe they don’t have experience, or are just using Tumblr rhetoric and buzzwords. It’s simply a difference of opinion and experiences.

            3. Zillah*

              I think that when someone acts in erratic, violent, and sexual ways, people around them will very likely notice. However, it doesn’t follow that everyone who has BPD will display erratic, violent, and sexual behavior at work, particularly if they’ve been in treatment for awhile.

              1. Kelly L.*

                Exactly. I looked up a webpage on BPD and found, just as an example, one symptom can be impulsive behavior in a variety of fields. Sex was one of them–but it could also manifest as impulsive spending, which probably no one would ever see much of at work, or binge eating, or several other things as well–and not everyone with BPD has every symptom either.

        3. Natalie*

          How on earth would you know if you guessed incorrectly, and someone had BPD but you had guessed that they didn’t?

          1. soitgoes*

            I (and my coworkers) guessed that something serious was going on that wasn’t being dealt with because the sufferers didn’t realize how obvious the behaviors were. My employer was trying to be open and inclusive and it just didn’t work out.

            I’m a little concerned by how the people with experience are being shouted down by people who are trotting out tumblr rhetoric. Buzzwords are not more valuable than actual human experience.

            1. Natalie*

              That’s not what I asked. You are describing a textbook case of confirmation bias.

              By it’s very nature, if someone was successful at concealing their symptoms, you would not see them. Ergo, you wouldn’t know whether or not they had a disorder. Based on the sample of people you interact with, and the information you can reasonably have about them, it does not follow that one “can’t hide the way BPD makes you act”.

            2. Zillah*

              I suspect that most of the people defending people with BPD in the comments are doing so because they have actual human experience with the illness or illnesses similar to it, including several commenters who have been diagnosed with it. I’m actually deeply offended by the insinuation that everyone who is more sympathetic to people with BPD than you are lacks “actual human experience.” My actual human experience is part of what’s making me react so strongly to what I see as unfair and inaccurate stereotypes of people.

              It’s also worth pointing out that I don’t think anyone opposing you has said, “You have not experienced what you say you have” or “People with BPD never act in this way.” People are only saying that your experiences can’t be extrapolated to the entire population, and that there are plenty of people with BPD who do not act in the way that’s being ascribed to them.

              1. Kelly L.*

                This. I was close to one person who I’m pretty sure had it (long story), and she had successfully managed to work all her life. Her symptoms came out more in close interpersonal relationships and in thought patterns inside her own head, but she was very good at hiding symptoms around casual acquaintances and co-workers.

            3. fposte*

              I don’t think their actual experiences are being shouted down as invalid–when they claim their experiences are broadly indicative, their extrapolation is being strongly disagreed with.

              “Here was my problem with somebody with BPD” is an experience. “People with BPD are x based on my single data point” isn’t, and deserves some challenge.

              1. Us, Too*

                I actually agree with this and think the best option here is to take OP’s word on the situation as she describes it. No need to add any additional factors to it, OP has enough to deal with as it is.

                1. soitgoes*

                  I think what’s really going on is that people who’ve had negative experiences with BPD sufferers are saying, “It would cause me undue stress and anxiety to have to consider hiring or work alongside someone who may or may not ever exhibit similar behaviors.” Triggering is a real thing, and personal stories can’t be written off as anecdotes for not fitting into the message of trying to be nice to each other. It’s really hard to hedge your bets against something NOT going wrong. If things stay cool, you’re in the clear. But if something bad does happen, you can’t claim to have not known that it was risky.

                2. Us, Too*

                  As someone with a negative personal experience, I “get” that, but the best hope for OP to overcome such biases – in people like myself – is to control her own behavior as much as possible and present herself based on what she offers, rather than presenting herself as a person with BPD who also happens to have great (whatever) skills. Of course, all the marketing in the world won’t help if OP can’t control her behavior and/or come up with mitigation strategies that would be tolerable to an employer. At the first outburst, she’ll be either written up or out the door, depending on severity. :(

                  OP – The more self-aware you are and forthcoming, the better off you may be. I don’t mean you should go into gory details about your diagnosis or even share it specifically. Rather, try to communicate this from a manager’s perspective – focus on the accommodation and impact to your work or the team’s work and how you’ll minimize the impact of your situation.

                  e.g. Not a deal-breaker in most jobs: “I have a physical condition that typically is under control, but will occasionally require me to take an unplanned, brief break to recover. When this happens, I need to spend 5-10 minutes alone in a quiet place, uninterrupted. I am always able to return to my work as usual afterwards and can typically pick up right where I left off. Do you have any concerns about being able to accommodate this?” They key to this working, though, is that you have to be able to recognize the “outburst” before it happens and take steps to ensure you get away before it does.

                  e.g. A big problem, I won’t hire you: “I lost my last job because I had uncontrollable emotional outbursts that scared my colleagues. I can’t really predict when they will occur, but when they do, I need to go away for a few minutes to regain my composure.”

                3. soitgoes*

                  I understand what you’re saying and I agree with it objectively and logically, but even so, I don’t think an employer is likely to accommodate requests for 10-minute breaks whenever things get stressful. That’s when he or she needs the employee the most. It seems like one of those gray areas where the accommodations are more like exemptions from having to fulfill essential job duties, which are not in line with ADA protections.

                  Unless the OP finds an exempt position, she probably won’t be able to take these “decompression” breaks without clocking out, and even then, I’d wonder about the fairness of allowing one employee an unlimited number of 10-minute breaks. Yes, an employer is free to grant those breaks if he or she chooses to do so, but it would have to be phrased in a pretty genius way for a boss to go along with it. Even if it won’t happen often, saying, “I sometimes need more break time than you typically allow” probably won’t work.

                4. GenericInternetName*

                  OP – In my opinion it would be a good idea to ask for accommodations after the employer makes an offer. I think it would help to have someone higher up in the organization in your corner, and might lower your stress levels at work if you know you’ve already addressed the issue with your employer. This way if anyone has issues with your arrangement(s) you can say “I’ve addressed this already with Amy. It’s related to (a medical issue I’m dealing with). If you have any concerns you can speak with her”. I also think some of the comments above about speaking in generic terms about your disorder sound like a good idea, but you would know best if this makes sense. Also, a friend of mine is currently dealing with a new medical issue and has arranged with work to take off every Wednesday, in addition to some flexibility during her work days. If this might help, and if you could find an employer with a flexible work schedule perhaps this would be an option (I know lots of professional parents that work 80% so they can have a day off to be with kids).

                  soitgoes – The OP is in the process of obtaining a masters degree. This will likely mean that when she applies for jobs in her chosen field a requirement of her job will NOT be that she is physically present at her desk every minute of an 8.0 hour day except an hour long lunch break and two fifteen coffee breaks. I know it is not a requirement of mine (before nor after I was exempt). …Although my physical presence was required while I was a waitress while in University, and my employer at that time made accommodations for smokers – go figure ;) Also, your comments about extra breaks being unfair to other employees seem to go against the spirit of the human rights laws in place to help people with disabilities. I’m not in the USA, so maybe this is a difference in the legislation.

                5. soitgoes*

                  Well I have my master’s degree too, and it matters when I take my breaks. I’m not exempt. The job market in the US isn’t as great as you think it is.

                  Unlimited breaks are not an acceptable accommodation if it means that the OP is not present to do as much work as her coworkers. The spirit of ADA requirements is, “Let’s do what we can to make sure that this person can do the work,” not, “Let’s allow her to stop working whenever she feels herself slipping out of control.”

                  And this isn’t an ADA issue, but unless the OP decides to tell her coworkers about her illness, they WILL be annoyed that she gets more breaks than they do. It’s not a realistic solution unless she finds a job that 1) allows her to leave her work station for large chunks of time in addition to her breaks, and 2) she informs all of her coworkers about her illness. It’s not a “mind your own business” situation when your coworker steps out for a “decompression break” and you’re stuck dealing with twice as many customers.

                6. Natalie*

                  @soitgoes, easy to miss given all the comments, but OP specifies that they are in Europe, not the US.

        4. Anonsie*

          How would you even know if someone you worked with had perfectly controlled BPD? There’d be no way for you to know.

            1. Kat M*

              Just because someone is young doesn’t mean they can’t have things under control. You should never assume.

  21. Franny*

    OP #5:

    My sister also has BPD and works in food service– if you hadn’t mentioned that you’re in the UK, I would have thought you were her!

    One thing that has really helped my sister is dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). I don’t know how widely practiced it is in the UK, but a lot of BPD specialists in the States recommend it. The thing my sister likes about it is that it’s meant to help you learn coping mechanisms that deal with emotional regulation and external triggers. The idea is basically to give you more tools to make living with BPD more manageable. Working in food-service (or any customer-service job) makes disclosure a difficult question, since even if all of your co-workers and managers know about what you’re dealing with and are supportive, you can’t operate with the same level of disclosure to your guests. If you have to (or want to) keep a high-stress job with lots of customer turn-over, DBT might be able to help you with skills to get you through dealing with difficult guests and customers, who you can’t really disclose to.

    I would also second what some other commenters have said, and suggest that you look outside of food-service for your next job. I don’t know how things differ in the UK, but here in the US restaurant culture is notoriously non-nuturing. Part of that might be the machismo of kitchen-culture, part of it might be the pace of the work– people want to eat when they want to eat, and there’s no easy way to stem that tide and stay profitable as a business. If possible, I might check out the non-profit sector. When I switched to working in the administrative offices of private schools, I was shocked by how calm things were in comparison to restaurants. We still had to get things done– arguably far more stressful tasks than making and delivering food– but the intense pressure was mostly gone and people were far more reasonable and accommodating with each other.

    I know these aren’t perfect solutions, but they’re strategies that have helped my sister (and people I’ve met through her who share the diagnosis) minimize the impact that BPD has on her working life. It sounds like you are doing the best you can in a difficult situation. Best of luck to you.

  22. Adiposehysteria*

    To OP #5:

    After years of struggling with issues related to bipolar disorder and medication issues, I got a second opinion from a world-renowned specialist. He ended up adding a secondary diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, which ended up explaining a lot. My advice will be what he gave to me when he gave me the diagnosis, which was to get to a therapy center that dealt specifically with dialectical behavioral therapy and do very intense treatment for it for as long as it takes to handle the illness in a normal way. Medications are not always effective on issues related to borderline, especially when related to the emotional outbursts. It does not work the same way as biologically based illnesses such as bipolar. You need to be taught how to handle the emotions, regardless of the situation.

    This is not the type of thing that you should do on your own and you should find a specialist for it. While many therapists say that they do dialectical behavioral therapy, not many do that and only that. I would suggest doing your research on a center that handles it in your area. My program specifically involves two hours of group therapy and one hour of individual therapy per week, which is the norm in my area.

    The best thing that you can do for your career in the future is to get proper treatment now. It is hard work and a real commitment, but the idea is that after a couple of years you should be able to regulate yourself much better, more like a person without an illness.

    I know that this is more psych advice, but it does relate since it is really offering a long term solution.

    As for what to do now – I ended up finding a way to freelance and work from home in a way that was lower stress by doing writing related to my field. It makes it much easier to handle my schedule and eliminating the stress made a world of difference. I had to take a pay cut to do it, but I think it is worth it in the long run.

    1. Episkey*

      I think this is a very reasonable comment with good advice. Sometimes I feel like people don’t fully understand the difference between a personality disorder diagnosis and something like bipolar. But what you have articulated is true — mental illnesses like bipolar that are biologically based (ie a chemical imbalance) can be helped & controlled with medication. Personality disorders often cannot be, which is partially why they are so difficult to deal with and get under control.

      I’ve heard of dialectical behavioral therapy and I think it’s one of the few things that has been shown empirically to help people with borderline. Good luck to the OP.

  23. jhhj*

    #1 I had a boss/owner who did that. (Yes, he had nothing else to do, when he was bored he’d come in and watch the video monitors.) It was creepy. It was an office, too, so there was really nothing to see.

  24. Zillah*

    OP #5, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this. I have so much sympathy.

    My best advice for going forward is to really think about (and talk over with your therapist) what kind of jobs will play to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. If you struggle with anger or irritability, you might do best in jobs where you have to interact with a limited number of people on a limited basis, or are often left to work on your own. Then, if you’re having a bad day, it’s okay if you have to excuse yourself for ten minutes here or there, or if you’re more withdrawn and introverted. Obviously you’ll sometimes have to deal with people when you don’t want to, but being able to pick your battles might make it easier for you to get through the bad days.

  25. ChuckToris*

    I worked 6 years at a psychiatric hospital and part of that time I took care of people who had BPD (women and the occasional man). So though I can’t understand it, I can appreciate the challenges you go through. I can’t image having to deal with even half of what those clients went through.
    I saw the extreme cases, I worked in both a maximum and intermdiate security facility, which meant they more then likely seriously hurt someone to end up in the hospital. But you know what? Even there I saw clients who got on the right medicines, who tried their hardest to overcome that disease. It was never easy, but it almost made it worth the time I spent workng there when I saw this happen (for what it’s worth, the clients didn’t make the job bad, it was the management).

  26. Joey*

    #5. Some accommodation ideas:

    1. A quieter or more private workspace
    2. flexibility with breaks. Ie being able to take a break when needed.
    3. Permission to call a support person when needed.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, I was looking at AskJAN, which had some similar suggestions. The problem is that I think those can be challenging to implement in restaurant work–1 is impossible, 2 is probably only doable if the need comes up during slow times (which is when the need is least likely to be felt); 3 is probably the best bet, but again it would probably have to happen during slow times.

      1. Joey*

        Oh absolutely. Restaurants aren’t really the ideal place to work when youre dealing with these issues.

      2. Us, Too*

        I’m thinking that there might be some back-office type restaurant work that could be a better fit. For example, accounting, janitorial work, dishwashing, stocking shelves, chopping food early in the morning, making dough, or the like. I agree that being front-line and dealing with customers would be very difficult. Even people who aren’t struggling with mental health issues can “go crazy” with customer service jobs!

        1. Natalie*

          Oddly enough, even cooking would probably be fine. For whatever reason, there seems to be a greater acceptance of difficult personalities in the kitchen. Gordon Ramsay is a perfect example – the way he typically behaves towards his subordinates wouldn’t be considered normal in most industries but it’s pretty standard in the back of the house.

  27. Lisa*

    #5 – I am bipolar, but also have extreme anxiety as part of it. Since most of my visible issues are anxiety, I use it as my ‘official’ work reason for getting upset or not dealing well at work. People know that when I am slammed with work, that I may get short in my responses to them until I can find an order in the chaos that landed in my lap. We even had a saying. ‘Breathe in, Bitch out … Breathe in, Bitch out’.

    My direct manager knows I am bipolar, but no one above him as I know from a past experience with a boss that it can be used against me. He would purposely restrict me from accounts based on my anxiety, would limit my raises based on my perceived readiness to take on more work since he knew about the anxiety. He also had a great habit of telling people private things that employees told him to everyone else at the company as well as when someone was dealing with a medical issue. I really didn’t need to know my previous manager’s wife was cheating on him or that so and so is having surgery on x. And of course everyone knew about my anxiety as he was actively telling new employees who I didn’t even have a remote chance of interacting with. He often called people and clients bipolar as a joke so I was content to just be labeled with anxiety due to stress vs. my mood disorder. I had a co-worker say that if I never told people about my anxiety, people would assume that I was just upset about being over-worked and given unreasonable expectations on client-load. But telling was better, because I would get upset and couldn’t fake / keep it in that the workload was fine like others did.

    I have a feeling that you could get away with telling people your symptoms vs. diagnosis like I did. I think anxiety is covered by ADA, but even if it isn’t for US or equivalent in Europe, anxiety is a more accepted diagnosis that your boss will understand. Is anxiety a symptom of BPD? Would you be good to tell HR that you have BPD for workplace protections, but restrict telling managers about symptoms like anxiety?

  28. Larisa*

    #1: As someone who can’t stand micromanagement, this would drive me nuts. I’d be looking for a new job if my boss insisted on that and get annoyed if I so much as took 10 seconds to stretch my fingers or crack my neck.

  29. Llywelyn*


    One strategy you can use is to not disclose the issue itself but to disclose something related. For example, depending on your workplace the stigma against anxiety, depression, or PTSD may be less and thus–if you actually can carry such a diagnosis wrapped up underneath the BPD–you may be able to get most of what you need from the disclosure without actually disclosing the key issue.

    The next part is to know your local laws. Even if the protections offered don’t work in practice it helps to know what they are since that gives you some leverage. So know what you are asking for and whether it is reasonable and try to work out compromise solutions that give everyone what they want and some context in which to understand it.

    The last part is to talk to a psychiatrist about drug options and your therapist about both this and your treatment options. While the older classes of drugs in this regard were somewhat heinous the newer mood regulators used for BPD are not nearly as bad and might be worth looking into.

  30. AnonyMiss*

    OP #3:

    “I’ve never been a good writer” is not an explanation, but an excuse. There is only one thing that fixes it, and it’s practice. Write. Read. Read books. Read newspapers. Read them in depth – don’t just skim for the information, but get a feel for their sentences, their phrasings, their words. Then write. Write a journal, write a short story about yourself, your cat, your crazy aunt, start writing a novel. It doesn’t matter *what* you write – just write it, leave it alone, and read it back in a few weeks. Edit it. Make it better. The next one will need less editing, and the one after, even less.

    There is no such a thing as a “bad writer,” just someone who hasn’t practiced enough.

    (I’d also add, nobody is “bad at math” or “bad at science” – you just need to learn to think that way, and the only way to achieve that is practice. Side note, I’m married to an educator.)

    1. soitgoes*

      I’m not sure I agree with this. It’s like saying that if I practiced my gymnastics enough as a kid, I’d be as good as an Olympian. Everyone has points at which their natural talents reach maximum capacity.

      I’ve worked in tutoring centers, and some people really just can’t write. They can say a sentence correctly out loud, but if you say, “Okay, write that sentence down word-for-word,” they simply can’t do it. It’s a processing/translation disconnect. Maybe most people can WRITE, but it’s a disservice to truly talented people to claim that everyone can write well with practice.

      I think #3 should post on facebook (or in this comments sections) asking for help editing his cover letter. He’ll have no shortage of people popping out of the woodwork to offer their “expertise.” :)

    2. LBK*

      I completely disagree with this. You can certainly improve your writing through practice, but some people will always be better writers than others, just like with any other skill. If you’re not naturally apt, there’s a limit to how far you can push your ability.

      1. Jamie*

        ITA. Yes, with practice people can (and should) master the basics like punctuation, grammar, spelling, etc. So you can improve for sure, but not everyone will be able to write well.

        There is a difference between writing something that’s correct and not embarrassing which is totally attainable for the vast majority of people and writing well in that you have the ability to reach the reader with your writing style way beyond the actual words. I think you need some degree of natural talent for that.

        It’s analogous to public speaking. Most people can learn to give an adequate and professional presentation to a group of people. Great orators can reach people on a different level with charisma. It’s so much more than what they say, it’s how they communicate that.

        1. Helka*

          Absolutely this.

          The saying I heard when I was in high school, and I still think is really applicable, is this: “Either hard work or innate talent will take you to good. You need both to get to great.”

      2. AnonyMiss*

        I agree with the fact that some people have more natural aptitude than others, and they will have an easier time developing the skills and are more likely to become “great” writers. But as Alison said, you don’t need to be Shakespeare to write a cover letter, and the writing skills you need for this purpose are well within the confines of the “practice makes perfect” craft of writing, not in the fine-arts realm of writing a literary opus.

        OTOH, I completely disagree with soitgoes above. One, I’d never solicit help over Facebook for my cover letter. I’d wonder how many people would suggest you revert to the “My name is AnonyMiss, and I am writing in response to your ad for Chocolate Teapot Technician published on 13/13/13 in the Wakheen County Post. Attached please find my current resume.” kind of cover letters. Two, a mechanical/musculoskeletal skill such as gymnastics does not compare to a purely mental skill. I’d also add that comparing writing a good cover letter to being an Olympian is somewhat of a false analogy.

    3. Simonthegrey*

      I would disagree. I am bad at math. A combination of learning disability and brain injury means that the part of my brain that does complex math, or deals with strings of numbers, doesn’t make the right connections. I compensate by recognizing the shortcomings, using tools (including calculators and, yes, my fingers), and not having jobs where I am responsible for long form division or calculus. As it happens, I am an educator (not just married to one). One of my dear friends teaches math to people with learning disabilities, and even she has said that for me, math will always be difficult. It isn’t just learning to think a certain way; something is missing. I think this attitude is very dismissive of the real struggle that is more than just “learning to think that way.” It comes across sounding like, “have you tried being less stupid?”

  31. drsunnyjulie*

    #5 – I’m a clinical psychologist and I feel really strongly (***negatively***) about the stigma against “Borderline Personality Disorder” (I don’t even use that term in practice unless I have to – and it’s usually along the lines of “someone who would meet dsm criteria for BPD) because I think it’s pathologizing, minimizing, invalidating, etc. I’m not sure if you mentioned this and I missed it, but are you also seeing a therapist? Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), developed by Marsha Linehan, is amazingly helpful. Not all psychologists/therapists have had some sort of formal training in DBT so I would choose carefully if you can. Also her workbooks are excellent. They’re a little dense and tough to sort through, so my recommendation is almost always “Don’t Let Emotions Run Your Life” by Scott Spradlin. It’s awesome and very user-friendly. I use it in therapy for lots and lots of different clients all the time. Also, I don’t use this in therapy per se, but I also encourage folks to read “Buddha and the Borderline,” which is a really interesting and engaging autobiography.

    My point being — don’t beat yourself up. You’re doing the best you can and you, like all human beings, will have good days and bad days. You can do it though. And if you can – and you’re not already – definitely consider looking into a DBT trained therapist.

    Best wishes to you. Don’t let this get you too down. :)

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Thank you for weighing in. To be honest, from everything I’ve ever read about BPD I can’t shake the feeling that it’s kind of a cop-out diagnosis, that’s often better explained by anxiety, bipolar, depression, etc or some combination – in fact I think there’s some serious disagreement in the community about whether it should be used at all. I also hate the hopelessness attached to it – that it’s not really “treatable” so you’re just stuck – too bad so sad. WHen there are clearly people like the OP who really want to get better and work through it.

      1. Adiposehysteria*

        I thought it was a cop out diagnosis also, until I was diagnosed with it and it was explained to me. I think that is because most people have this idea about what borderline means which is not what the actual scientific diagnosis is. The stereotype of the manipulative and hysterical woman remains when it is far more complicated than that. There are differences, way more than can be explained here.

        Also lingering is the belief that it remains untreatable. Dialectical behavioral therapy has been shown to treat borderline patients with a high level of success.

  32. My name is Poe, and I have BPD*

    I saw this thread and braced myself to be hurt, because I have BPD. I was diagnosed with several other things and had lots of medication and therapy that didn’t work. Being diagnosed with BPD changed the types of therapy I had access to, and oddly enough was a diagnosis that was “successful” for me in that I had an answer to what was “wrong” with me. I have put my family and others close to me through horrible experiences, which I am heart-breakingly sorry for, but which I know I can never make up for in any way. I have managed to hang onto jobs by the skin of my teeth. I probably should not be working, but unfortunately I need to eat and pay rent, and I would like to have some experiences of travel and fun activities, and disability benefits don’t allow a person to have much of a life beyond mere subsistence. I pull myself together as best I can and work at jobs until I screw up, or until I am let go for “not meshing”. I quit jobs more frequently than I should, I struggle to “fit in” with typical office culture, and I know that long-term I will be lucky to continue to be employed, but I am trying.

    I have BPD, but I am still a person. I don’t know what those of you with bad experiences of people with BPD would like us to do–never work? Be banished to an island where we can only hurt one another?–but the reality is that we need to have jobs in order to survive. If you disagree that people with BPD (sorry, I can’t bring myself to call us “BPDs”) be part of the working world, then you need to vote for people who will bring in more generous disability benefits. As it currently stands, because I have been able in the past to hold a job for more than 6 months and do not have a major obstacle to working related to my disorder (a felony conviction, seizures, etc), I have been unable to qualify for disability benefits. You can’t tell people to get off your lawn if they have nowhere to go.

    I really appreciate all of the people who gave OP5 actual advice on how to find a work environment that was more ideal, thoughts about what to approach counsellors and psychiatrists with in terms of therapy options, whether or not to disclose, etc. Keep on keeping on, OP5. It’s a hard thing to do, to stand up and be counted as someone with a mental illness, but not nearly as hard as living with one. I am impressed that you put this out there, and I wish you all the best in the future.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Thank you for this. I can say it’s truly, truly hard for many of us to understand BPD and your perspective is really insightful. I hope you continue to find opportunities that work for you.

  33. Melissa*

    Love an earlier comment that suggests finding out from mental health professionals what sort of accommodations you might ask for at your workplace- no need to reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to.

    My sister has BPD, so I have an idea of how tough it can be to deal with in the workplace. OP, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this, but it sounds like your self-awareness is a huge step in the right direction. I’m sure you’ve discussed this stuff a lot with your therapist, but I wanted to toss out a couple ideas that might help you at work (although definitely talk them over with your therapist first!):

    If you want to learn how to handle overwhelming feelings at work, and have a smartphone, you might want to consider downloading an app that is designed to help with regulating emotions. My sister uses one called MoodKit – it takes you step by step through a cognitive behavioral therapy-based process of dealing with a painful emotion in the moment. It’s quick so you can use it if you are just stepping away for a bathroom break or something. If you search for apps with the words “cognitive behavioral therapy”, “emotion regulation”, or “anxiety”, you’ll see a ton of choices.

    My sister also uses a lot of mindfulness and breathing techniques. Some of them can be done in just a minute or two. I’m not sure exactly what techniques she uses, but I found some here that sounded cool:

  34. Middle Name Jane*

    I just wanted to sympathize. For the past three years, I’ve been dealing with an anxiety disorder and PTSD stemming from a sexual assault. I also happen to work in a highly toxic/stressful environment–makes “The Devil Wears Prada” look like rainbows and kittens. I’m looking for another job but haven’t found one yet.

    I also take medication to reduce my anxiety attacks, but the nasty environment at work is a huge trigger for them. It’s hard to have to “act normal” at work when I’m trying not to crawl out of my skin. I resisted going on medication for a long time because I hate taking meds and I didn’t want to become dependent on anything.

    That said, I agree with others that asking your therapist/psychiatrist for coping strategies is a good idea. It’s commendable that you want to improve and find ways to better cope with your disorder. Best of luck…

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