Wellbeing at work

Stefi Hahn: My Borderline Personality Disorder

July 10, 2023

In honour of Mental Health Awareness Week, one of Desana’s MVPs, Stefi Hahn, has demonstrated incredible bravery and vulnerability by sharing her experience of living with Borderline personality disorder. The overarching theme of this year’s MHAW campaign is loneliness.

Stefi’s motivation for sharing such a personal story is the hope that it might help someone out there feel a little less alone. As a team, we hope that this piece contributes in some way to removing the stigma around mental health challenges so that we can do a better job of holding space and showing up for our friends, colleagues and loved ones who are fighting battles we might not see or understand.

I was 8 years old when my family began trying to figure out what was going on with me.  In the ensuing years I was prescribed various different medications only to stop them again when they didn’t work. I also tried several forms of therapy, some more helpful than others. It wasn’t until 2016 that I finally received an official diagnosis: Borderline personality disorder (BPD). Finally, an answer. Still, a pretty heavy one. It took me a long time to process. I chose to view the diagnosis as empowering. I began immersing myself in research about BPD. I was determined to learn how to help myself. Eventually I got access to Dialectical Behaviour Therapy and it completely changed my life.

For those who might not know, BPD manifests for people in many different ways. For me, BPD means that I feel and experience life in such a heightened way that it completely overwhelms my mind and senses. As a result, I often react in ways that might seem disproportionate, strange or even completely inappropriate. When my circuitry is overwhelmed, I need time to recalibrate. I also need people to give me the grace and compassion to do so.

One of the biggest misconceptions about people with BPD is that they are ‘extreme’, ‘difficult’ or ‘unpleasant’, and worse still, that all of this is on purpose. It’s not. I guarantee you that the person you’re interacting with is hurting like hell on the inside. I struggle with a confused sense of self and I often find my relationships with those around me difficult to manage. I’m also plagued by constant feelings of intense self-loathing, self-doubt, and I’m haunted by bouts of extremely low mood.

The concept of physically going to work has frequently filled me with immense fear and apprehension. I’ve lived with BPD for long enough to know that very bad days are inevitable. The source of my fear stems from me questioning my ability to manage those days in the context of a work environment. In particular, I'm afraid of the negative repercussions should I fail to do so. I worry about coming across as weird, too loud, or too intense. I feel a sense of shame.

When I first started working at Desana, it was important for me to be honest and disclose my BPD to HR. I remember telling Carla, our Head of People and immediately feeling safe and supported. This was backed up in subsequent weeks and months when I experienced difficulties managing my moods. I’ve also been open about my condition with my colleagues and they have shown curiosity and compassion which I’m truly grateful for. There’s always someone on my team who is willing to talk, if I need them. My coworkers have also supported and encouraged me by attending the weekly virtual mindfulness practices I run in addition to the yoga sessions I lead at our company off-sites.

Working at Desana gives me the autonomy and flexibility that makes it easier for me to manage my BPD. I can structure my work day in a way that suits me and which enables me to function optimally. On days where I feel particularly filled with fear and don’t want to leave the house, I know that I can work from home, no questions asked. Equally, on the days where I feel desperate to be out in the world, I know that I can bounce around from workspace to workspace, city to city or even country to country if I want to. As long as I get my work done, there’s no issue. It’s this level of autonomy that makes me feel safe and secure which in turn helps me to manage my thoughts, feelings and emotions a lot better. The remote, flexible nature of my work at Desana also means that I can go back to Hungary to visit my family and friends whenever I want. For me, this is priceless.

Because of my personal experience and because I care so much about mental health advocacy, the Desana leadership invited me to advise on support tools for our staff. I was part of the decision to onboard an excellent resource called Spill. Through this platform, Desana staff members can book one-on-one therapy sessions with fully qualified, accredited mental health professionals. Staff can also submit their mental health questions and receive prompt responses from therapists. Prior to Desana, I hadn't worked at a company that provided a similar tool for mental health support. I’ve benefited from it massively.

In addition to medication and therapy I’ve developed a few other practices to manage my BPD. I’d like to share them here, just in case they might help someone else out there. Firstly, getting enough sleep is so important. If you need some help winding down in the evening, I'd recommend a meditation and some journaling before bed. Secondly, I try to move my body every single day. More often than not I practise yoga which I discovered during one of the lowest points in my life. Yoga helped me so much that I decided to qualify as a teacher. The next thing I’d recommend is going for a nice long walk in nature and really taking some quality deep breaths. I enjoy spending time alone to reflect, journal and meditate. It helps me sift through everything in my mind and compartmentalise things so that I can think more clearly. Lastly, I would like to stress how important it is to stay connected to people. Remember that you do have people in your life who truly care about you and who want to understand you and support you. If you feel alone, please know that you’re not. I’ve felt that way, too. With the right mindset, education and tools, things can and will improve. You will get there, I promise. Don’t give up on you.

* If you’re in a crisis and need someone to talk to, please contact Samaritans.

** For more information on BPD, this is a great place to start.