Working with Bipolar Disorder
In a survey by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, 9 out of 10 people with bipolar disorder said the illness affected their job performance.
Stress, unpredictability, mood changes, and workplace relationships are just some of the issues that make having a job and having bipolar disorder challenging.
Like many of you, my professional life has been full of lessons about myself and my illness.
Extreme anxiety, low self-esteem, deep depressions, suicide attempts, and lack of motivation have all affected me in the first nine years of my work-life.
I am proud to say, though, that I have been doing very well professionally lately. I have done a lot of soul searching to figure out what issues are the most challenging at work and what will be beneficial to me in making my next career move.
I’m no expert, as is typical with any 25 year old. However, I am much more aware of what I need to do to have and keep a professional life than when I was first working at a grocery store at 16.
Here are some of the tips that I have either put into practice or on my list:
- Learn what your biggest issues or triggers are at work. Once you are aware, you can choose strategies that make work more enjoyable.
- Consider a modified work schedule—working part-time, working regular, structured hours, or refraining from working on intense or project-oriented assignments. A regular schedule promotes stability, and stress promotes instability. Don’t work at night. That really wrecked my moods and landed me in the hospital.
- Regular sleep, exercise, and meals can help you stay healthy and stable at work.
- Take part in a job you enjoy and makes you feel good. Take a values inventory. Don’t settle for something that you are unhappy with, even if that means making less money.
- Don’t ignore your symptoms—if you aren’t feeling well, it’s better to be proactive than reactive. See a doctor or therapist before you have a breakdown.
- Manage your stress. Carve out enough downtime, and allow yourself time to check out of the professional environment.
The Age Old Question: Should I Be Open at Work about Bipolar Disorder?
I thought I’d address this briefly and expand in a later post.
I, personally, have not found any benefit in revealing my illness to any employer or colleague.
Some find it necessary in order to receive accommodation, and I understand that.
Bipolar disorder has never come up in my professional life.
When I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital three times, I was 19 and 20 years old, and luckily, at the time, I left the job and received a new one when I got better, without any question.
But now, as I become a real professional, and as I realize how word travels, I rather keep quiet.
Working has become a lifeline for me, so it is survival to maintain my moods.
Everyone has to make that decision for themselves. I feel that it would cause more discrimination and general issues for me if I were to declare my illness to anyone that didn’t really need to know.
I do realize, though, that in not being up front about my disorder, I risk issues if my illness does come up later in the workplace.
I’m riding on the hope that I will stay well. I will take care of myself and operate under the impression that I will not break down again.
What Do You Think?
The working lives of people with bipolar disorder vary greatly; I know some people that are on disability and others that make six figures annually.
It really depends on the person.
I, for one, could not be a salesman or someone with a high-stakes job. I couldn’t be a police officer or a firefighter. I really can’t take the stress.
No matter what your situation, know that it is OK.
Bipolar disorder is a chronic illness and it is responsible to address one’s life circumstances and come up with a plan that works for them on a long-term scale.
If you have bipolar disorder, do you work? If you do not work, what do you enjoy doing with your time? What are your tips in making work more bearable? What have you learned from being bipolar and having a career (or not having a career)?
Resources: Good.co, DBSalliance.org, and WebMD.com
Dawkins, K. (2013). Working with Bipolar Disorder. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 4, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/bipolar-life/2013/08/working-with-bipolar-disorder/