My work helps my mental illness - and my mental illness helps my work.
Managing Sex Work and Borderline Personality Disorder (CW: mental illness, self harm, suicide)
Blog Post Written By: GoAskAlex
Living with mental illness can make us feel as though we can never succeed. What if instead of holding us back, our mental illness is something that could possibly help us to achieve greatness? I’ve heard a lot of sex workers explain how our flexible schedules help us to maintain our physical and mental health, but it occurred to me that I’ve never heard someone explain how a mental illnesses isn’t only accommodated by sex work - it can actually make us better at our jobs!
It can seem downright impossible to see a silver lining when living with pervasive mental illness, which is why I feel the need to share my story - and to explain how my diagnosed personality disorder helps me to excel at my work. I was 18 years old the first time that I heard a doctor say the words ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’.
At the time of my diagnosis, I spent over three months in a psychiatric hospital, though by that point I had already been in and out of treatment for years.
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is one of four “Cluster B” Personality Disorders in the DSM-5, and can only be determined when 5 of the 9 diagnostic symptoms are sustained over a long period of time.¹ Many doctors are hesitant to label anyone as having BPD because of the pervasive stigma surrounding the diagnosis; a great deal of therapists will actually refuse to work with those who have BPD as they are seen as difficult and sometimes even “untreatable” patients. This stigma is perpetuated by the media, since those with any mental illness are often portrayed as unstable and violent.² Despite setbacks from my mental illness, I find myself generally happy and healthy. Though I’ve worked hard to reach where I am today, I credit my career in sex work for being instrumental in my progress. Running my own business allows me to prioritize my mental and physical health. Being my own ‘Sex Work CEO’ allows me to work at a pace that is manageable for me. I am even able to choose work related projects based on what makes me feel good. Over the course of the past eight years, this has become paramount to my comfort, happiness, and success.
Many people living with BPD tend to think in ‘all-or-nothing’ ways, so it’s common for us to initially love our jobs, but impulsively quit shortly after. This leads to frequent career changes and instability, making it difficult to reach long term goals. The ability to switch back and forth between different facets of sex work (such as live streaming and content creation) has helped me to stay passionate and engaged with my work.
Boredom is a common trigger for those living with BPD, and other mental illnesses or neurodivergence. Constantly working on new projects allows us to exercise our creativity and prevent ourselves from getting bored, which in turn helps to prevent depression and mood swings.
Because any mental illness may affect concentration and focus, it can be difficult to keep up with deadlines. As my own ‘Sex Work CEO’ I am the one determining those deadlines.
Since I dictate my own schedule, I can plan my work day around my necessary self-care. I have the ability to attend doctor’s appointments, yoga, therapy, and even take naps during my work day. Without this freedom, I know that I would be unable to maintain a job for very long.
It’s clear that in all these ways and more, my work accommodates my mental illness.
How then does my mental illness accommodate my work?
People with BPD are described as ‘emotional chameleons’, and are known to excel at mirroring those around them. As a result, people often say that they ‘feel like they’ve known me forever’. This is because I am subconsciously mirroring them.
Intuitively, I alter my personality to reflect what a person wants to see. It is this instinct and the gift of charisma that makes many living with BPD a good salesperson.³
Because of this I subconsciously mould myself to fit the personality of my clients, and they tend to find me easy to talk to/feel comfortable sharing with me. This type of familiarity builds lasting connection with customers, which in turn nurtures customer retention.
Captivating energy and enthusiasm is also common among those of us with BPD (as well as ADHD and other mental illnesses/neurodivergence). Living with rapidly fluctuating moods and energy means that we are exceptionally captivating to our customers, especially when we are performing! Our creativity and passion is magnetic, which helps us to attract and retain clientele. When harnessed with intention, the hyper-fixation associated with BPD (and many other conditions) can present as attention to detail, and that perfectionism coupled with passion and creativity never ceases to amaze our fans.
I think it’s important to note that a staggering one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.⁵ Therefore it goes without saying that many of our consumers are also struggling with their mental illness. By sharing our stories we help to destigmatize mental illness, which is why I talk openly about my BPD diagnosis. Despite societal expectations, speaking about my personality disorder hasn’t had a negative impact on my income at all; if anything it has strengthened my connection to my fanbase!
I know from experience that living with mental illness can feel hopeless, especially in a world where our worth is often measured by our conventionality. It’s important to remember that we can lead full, happy, and successful lives not just despite our mental illness, but because of it!
¹The diagnostic symptoms are as follows:
Efforts to avoid abandonment
Feelings of emptiness
Inappropriate, intense anger
Unstable interpersonal relationships
Suicidal or self-harming behaviors
Transient paranoid or dissociative symptoms
²This could not be further from the truth. Most with BPD are far more likely to harm themselves than others.
³Those of us with BPD are sometimes referred to as ‘manipulative’ because of our ability to get what we want from mirroring and other tactics. This is not always the case, and most of us with BPD do not even realize we are mirroring as it is a subconscious survival instinct.
These ‘skills’ develop in those of us with BPD because of significant trauma, and often as a result of our basic needs not being met in childhood. These actions are not performed with malice; they are a tactic used to protect ourselves from perceived danger. There is a flip-side to the ability to ‘create a new personality’ for each person we meet. When alone, those of us with BPD may feel that we have no identity. These identity disturbances can contribute to a constant feeling of frightening loneliness.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the blog post above are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SexWorkCEO or MelRose Michaels. Any content provided by our bloggers or authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.