What It Means to Be a Teacher With Borderline Personality Disorder
I am a person. While an obvious statement, it’s my first affirmation, my daily reminder. Because when you’re a teacher, you often forget your “personhood” in exchange for the role you play in the lives of your students. And when you have a mental illness, forgetting yourself becomes a lot easier, yet the effects are more severe.
I am a person with borderline personality disorder (BPD). My formal diagnosis occurred in March 2017. I sat with my husband in my therapist’s office and heard: “Look, I’m about to tell you something that may give you some relief or really piss you off, but you have borderline personality disorder.” To her credit and like a true borderline, I felt about 200 percent of both. Then, I felt some relief because I had a reason for feeling like my skin was covered in open sores that wept emotion, for wanting to punch my reflection every time I looked in the mirror, and for crying so violently I made myself puke.
I am a teacher, and a damn good one. I attend every student meeting I can, communicate with my students’ guardians daily and teach with a fervor to approximately 120 high school students, most of whom hate English class. I encourage them to be tolerant, socially aware, vulnerable and risk-takers. I welcome creativity and free-thinkers. I treat my students like the people they are but also like the people they are going to be. While I don’t mince words, I offer words of empathy and encouragement. I am devoted not to my job, but to the people I have sitting in front of me every day when I discuss things like Romeo Montague’s “douchebaggery” and why Atticus Finch is the real “OG.” (On a side note, I never will understand the plural form of the word “thot.”)
I am a teacher with borderline personality disorder, but my students don’t know because I am able to reign in what I affectionately call my “crazy.” I make teaching through depressive episodes and panic attacks look “normal.” I don’t give myself a choice. But my students don’t see the feelings I crush as I’m in the restroom. They don’t see me sitting on my classroom floor, head resting against the wall, breathing through the anxiety I allowed to leak out around the food I’m supposed to be eating for lunch. They don’t see the fog I have to sift through on the “tough days” as I drive to work, head swimming in panic of all the things I need to get done and not knowing where to start. They just see their teacher and I’m OK with that.
I am a person. I am a teacher with borderline personality disorder who sometimes forgets to eat over my lunch break because I’m too busy grading. I am a person who sometimes has a meltdown the minute I park my car in the driveway because all of my feelings are boiling over. I am a teacher with BPD whose feelings are hurt by disrespectful students and missing assignments. But I am also a person who feels overwhelming gratitude for my incredibly patient husband and our three bitchy cats, a father who loves me unconditionally, and my best friend with whom I can discuss things like thinking about mortality while having a panic attack on the toilet and the odd connections between astral projection and “Mario Kart.”
I am a person who teaches with borderline personality disorder. Sometimes that means I need to take a mental health day in order to catch up on my life. Sometimes that means I need to take a little longer to grade assignments because I’ve spent the weekend in a depressive catatonia and showering was exhausting. But sometimes that means I’m going to laugh myself into tears making the stupidest (seriously) jokes to see my husband roll his eyes. Sometimes that means I’m going to cry because a student has earned an A on a paper and I’m proud of his work. Sometimes that means when I read a novel to my class, I’m going to choke up at the words I find wonderful.
I am a person and I remind myself of this every day, no matter if the day is smooth, painful or somewhere in between. Because I am a teacher who loves her job and students. Because sometimes, having borderline personality disorder makes my life tough, but it never makes it any less beautiful.
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