You know me, you’ve seen me at parents’ evenings. I’m the teacher at the next desk – the popular one, the one you all want to teach your children because the progress made in my class is phenomenal. I’m a damn good teacher and everyone knows it.
What you don’t know is that I have a mental health problem. I was abused as a child and for years I endured appalling assaults – physical, mental and sexual – at the hands of several adults in my life. In these post-Savile days, you might wonder what happens to abused children. Well, we grow up – damaged and scarred, concealing our tragic backgrounds.
I have a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder, a condition that can be linked to difficult childhood experiences. Thanks to people like Catherine Zeta Jones and Stephen Fry, we all know of bipolar disorder; borderline personality disorder (or emotional dysregulation disorder) is its lesser known cousin. You might not have heard of it, few have. On the rare occasions it’s discussed – in TV dramas, for example – we are presented as unsympathetic, desperate, out of control, suicidal and violent. The message given is that we are a danger to ourselves or others: avoid us – we are volatile and unpredictable.
But that’s not how it is. As with bipolar disorder, I have mood swings, but they are rapid. In the space of 15 minutes I can go from crying on the train because I see no point to my life, to entertaining large groups of trainee teachers with amusing anecdotes about the profession. My behaviour can be impulsive too; I spend thousands on my credit cards. Reckless, I suppose, but not dangerous, surely? And none of these have any impact whatsoever on my ability to teach.
But still, I do not dare tell anyone the truth at work. My psychiatrist warned me that the stigma associated with my condition is huge. It’s true. Even the name – borderline personality disorder – implies that there is something wrong with one’s identity, one’s personality.
It is much easier to hide under the “stress and anxiety” umbrella. Every teacher knows what that feels like. The problem there, of course, is that no one really believes I have different needs from others so I am not getting the right support. “Huh! We’re all stressed!” a colleague recently grumbled….
I’d rather not quit – teaching really is the best job in the world, and the irony is that despite – and in some ways because of – my condition, I am an excellent teacher. I just need a little more support, more help and much more compassion. But that’s not forthcoming at the moment. Don’t write me off – I have a lot to give my students – but without more awareness and understanding of borderline personality disorder, I am not sure I can continue….
Photo By Alamy
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