Working, while living with bipolar disorder, can be a real challenge. Some of us are on disability because our illness disrupts our life so much that we cannot work. Even though we might be deemed disabled, we are still encouraged by Social Security to work.
My most recent jobs ended due to my mental illnesses. A few years ago, I was working as a barista at a very busy coffee shop in Nashville. We had a line of customers at all times. I was usually on the register talking to the customer because, let’s be honest, I stunk at making espresso drinks. I was anxious at the job. Soon I was anxious on my way to work. Finally, I was anxious to go before I even left the house. I felt physical symptoms like the urge to throw up. It was like being a barista with stage fright. After a few months, I turned in my resignation. Picked up my last tips and moved on with my life.
My next job, in Durham, North Carolina, was at a brand new clothing boutique. During my interview, the owner told me she had goggled me and, thus, knew I was mentally ill, specifically with bipolar disorder. She was also a psychologist and had knowledge about mental illness. She asked me whether or not I was up to the task of working at her boutique. I told her I wanted the job and she hired me. My job was to be the lead fashion stylist for the shop – I thought that mainly meant dressing the mannequins and staging the front window, it also meant working the register. Right as I started the job, I was directed to change medications. As many of us will say, medication changes are the worst and with this one came the brain fog. This one made it especially hard for me to grasp how to use the register. For some reason, it was too complicated for my brain to figure out. She tested me once at the register when just she and I were working. I could not figure out the right way to navigate a sale. She “let me go.” She told me that as much as it hurt me, it hurt her more. Right.
Do not get me wrong, a lot of people with mental illness work and do so successfully. I guess I wanted to share those two bits of information to say, “It is okay to fail or to not be able to do certain tasks or jobs because of our mental illnesses,” as well. There is a lot to consider when working and living with bipolar disorder. Consider the length of your workday and workweek. Is that something you can handle? Remember that some of your medications make you sleepy which could affect your work performance. Find a job that works with your lifestyle and schedule. For me, that is writing. I do it when I can, at times when I can.
Telling your employer that you live with bipolar disorder may be daunting and is a decision only you can make. It may be something you want to do so during those times when you have episodes of depression or mania and need to take some time off, you can do so without having to go into a big explanation. It is also a good opportunity to inform your employer of what bipolar disorder is and how your specific illness manifests.
Choosing a profession is another decision you must consider before entering it. I have a friend who lives with mental illness and she is considering going back to school to go back to work. One of the jobs she is considering is teaching. She worries about being effective if she goes into psychosis in the classroom. That is something she would not want to put the children through or have them witness. Just something to consider is all. Like the schedule, you should pick something you like, but that also fits the fact that you live with bipolar disorder.
Bottom line: It can be a challenge, but you can work and do so successfully after making some important decisions. Also, if your illness stands in the way of working, do not let it get you down. You will find something that fits.