The Advantages and Disadvantages of Being a Bartender with Borderline Personality Disorder.

The lights are dim and the music is blaring. There are drink orders being shouted at me while I’m in the middle of mixing, shaking, and pouring cocktails. The bartender working alongside me is on her phone. I roll my eyes. “Ding! Ding! Ding!” goes the bell at the service bar. I shoot the server an icy glare that says “You have to wait, and if you ring this bell again, we’re going to have a problem.” I just ran out of ice and my Barback is nowhere to be found. I’m under pressure and about to do one of three things; handle it, “split” and have an outburst, or drift off into a dissociative state for the remainder of my shift. Turning my back to the crowd, I stare into the glowing POS system. “You got this. You can do this. You love bartending and you were made for this.” I remind myself. Overwhelmed, but it doesn’t matter, I have to do my job. An already difficult job made even more difficult because I have Borderline Personality Disorder.
I fell in love with tending bar the first time I made a drink for a customer and they sipped it with a smile. A smile that affirmed that I was actually really good at something. Something that would bring in a good amount of money, could possibly become a career, AND make people happy. I’ve lived to make people happy ever since I was a little girl, growing up in a Narcissistic household where it seemed like I couldn’t do anything right. But behind the bar, I (usually) feel like I can do no wrong. I have an intense fear of abandonment that, in the past, caused my personal life to crumble, but it helps me shine in the hospitality industry. This fear of abandonment ignites a fire inside of me that I use as motivation to provide excellent customer service. When you sit at my bar, I’m going to go above and beyond to make sure that you enjoy yourself and want to return because I’ve done everything right and to your liking. But what happens when the customer isn’t happy?
You see, people with BPD read deeply into facial expressions and body language. Before you even get the chance to tell us that something is wrong, we already know and want to fix it. Most of the time, we’re right about what we’re sensing. And then there are times when our minds are flat out playing tricks on us as insecurities begin to seep from our pores. One wrong look and I feel like my customer hates me which sends me into a complete panic as I try to desperately, but silently figure out if I did something wrong. A drink sent back because it wasn’t what the customer expected can be soul crushing. I’m a people pleaser and this person is not pleased. I’ve failed, I’m the worst, there’s no coming back from this, the customer is never going to come back, and I need to pick a new career, is what my brain tells me. Someone who’s able to logically process their emotions would just say “Hey, some customers are difficult and you can’t please everyone”, but being Borderline, I feel like a complete failure and waste of space if everyone around me isn’t happy. It’s exhausting.
Another BPD symptom that I struggle with, but use to my advantage at work is my unstable self-image. Growing up, I thought I had to be perfect and likable in order to be accepted by everyone. If I went against the norm, I was shunned. To most people, I seem like a social butterfly; easily getting along with the young and the old, the optimists and pessimists, those who listen to rock and those who prefer rap. The list goes on and on. But when your personality is disordered, it’s deeper than just being a “social butterfly”, at times I feel like a chameleon, adapting to my surroundings as a means of social survival. I’m sometimes unsure of who I am which makes it easy to become whoever my boss, coworkers, and customers need me to be. The “chameleon effect” works in my favor when I need to be a really good conversationalist, knowledgeable on a variety of topics. And any bartender will tell you, it doesn’t matter how good your cocktails are, if you can’t hold a conversation, you’re not making any money. I honestly don’t think my tips or work relationships would be as good if my personality wasn’t malleable, which terrifies me as I recover from BPD. The more I get to know myself, the more comfortable I am being just that. While I love how “finding myself” and accepting that it’s okay to not always be liked has improved my personal relationships, it’s scary to think that I won’t do as well at work unless I’m able to mirror everyone I come in contact with.

I’m a 28 year old Bartender from East New York, currently residing in the Lower East Side. After years of being misdiagnosed, I received a final diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD, and ADHD in January of 2018. I write about my experiences to help people with mental illness feel less alone and motivated to keep fighting.