In “Identifying Your Bipolar Stressors and Triggers,” we encouraged you to identify the sources of stress in your life and avoid them as much as possible. But what do you do when one of your biggest sources of stress – your job – pays the bills, covers your health insurance premiums, structures your life, and contributes to your sense of self worth? Can you afford to quit? Can you afford not to quit? This is the dilemma that many people with bipolar disorder face.

In Bipolar Disorder For Dummies, we urge people not to make hasty life-changing decisions, especially when they’re in the midst of a manic or depressive episode. We took some heat for our recommendations. One reader pointed out the apparent contradiction – we tell people to eliminate sources of stress and then advise them not to get divorced or quit their jobs. In a way, she’s right, but we have three good reasons for the advice we offer:

  • When you’re in the middle of a mood episode, you’re not always in the best frame of mind to make major decisions.
  • Removing one stressor may expose you to different sources of stress. Resigning from a well-paying job, for example, could leave you without a source of income, health insurance, and work that you find rewarding.
  • You may not have considered other, better options.

Of course, we can’t tell you what’s best for you in your particular situation, but we can offer some options you may want to consider before you make the final decision to submit your resignation:

  • Take as much time off of work as you need to fully recover. If you have bipolar disorder, you have a real illness. Don’t feel bad about having to take time off.
  • Consider all the ramifications of resigning. Create two lists – pros and cons – and jot down everything you stand to gain by resigning and everything you’re likely to miss.
  • Consider possible ways your job could be modified to make the level of stress more manageable. (According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, your employer is responsible for providing “reasonable workplace accommodations,” but you must request them.) A good therapist can help you dig through work-related problems and develop possible solutions. He or she can recommend everything from changes in the way you perform your job duties to workplace accommodations to career changes or alternative forms of work.
  • If you don’t have a therapist, consider looking into vocational supports in your state. Most states have some form of vocational training and rehabilitation services. You may need to be receiving services from your state Department of Mental Health or through Social Security Disability to qualify. If you haven’t looked into those resources yet, you might consider doing so. Disability income, health care, and other supports should be available to people with mental illness in all states, but it is managed differently in different places.
  • If you prefer private resources, consider working with a private vocational counselor. There may be people accessible through a local or community college.
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is an advocacy organization and they may have a local chapter in your area; you can search for local chapters at Find Your State and Local NAMI. Connecting with people there may help you to access services in your local area.
  • Before you make the final decision to leave your current employer, you might want to consult an attorney who specializes in ADA cases and in disability. Look for someone who has experience in cases involving mental illness. An attorney can help ensure that your employer fulfills any obligations owed to you by law.

Remember to try to tackle this in small pieces – one task at a time – it won’t all get fixed at once, but as long as you’re talking to people and reaching out you’re still in the game. And if you ultimately do decide to resign from your current position, you will do so knowing that you made a well-informed and carefully deliberated decision.