Managing Bipolar In the Work World

At the end of every weekend I have a rough time going back to sleep. “What horrors will lie ahead at work tomorrow?” I ask myself. “How will I handle them? How many years of my life will I sacrifice to the anxiety gods?” Here I am a very driven, hard-working Developmental Trainer/Adult Special Ed teacher, ready for the week with brand new lesson plans tailored to my two core group classes…and I’m petrified things won’t go the way I want them. Every Day I go through that unease. Working with the Developmental Disabled population is rough to begin with, but with a group of adults who have the attention span of young children and the emotional stability of graham crackers (you know, kinda crumbly and if you use too much pressure you’ll snap them)…I have your hands full. But also my heart. That’s the balance that keeps me going and reminds me that I’m here to make a difference.

On top of that…I’m Bipolar. And OCD. (And on top of THAT I need a new psychiatrist who can work with my work hours and public aid).

Recently I noticed a couple of articles and forum posts pop up in my facebook feed about how rough it is to keep a job when you’re bipolar. I did a little digging to see if this was a common feeling or just a few people with similar experiences. I can attest that I’ve had a rough bout with attendance during agoraphobia and extreme depression…but these days I force the crap out of myself to surpass all the anxieties I may be having about what lies ahead and just show up for work, or school…the one thing I’m still pretty flakey at is keeping social plans, so I tend to find reasons to not make them in the first place. I’d rather sleep quite frankly. It’s something easy to do that can get out of hand real quick, like drugs, but it’s also a fabulous escape (like drugs, ha).

I ran across an article on WebMD that does a pretty lovely job at capturing why it’s rough to have bipolar and work. I then decided to share a segment of it with the WordPress community instead of my usual, “Woe-is-me I can’t stand this and that and I’m miserable and I hate myself for taking so long between posts because I can never be happy with what I write because it’s going to be boring and no one will read it” post.

“If you have bipolar disorder, no one needs to tell you how challenging this mental illness can be. You are among millions of American adults who may also find that the mood episodes of bipolar disorder can be very disruptive at work…It’s not surprising that work can bring special challenges for those with bipolar disorder. The stress and unpredictable challenges in the workplace can take a big toll. Managing bipolar at work — with the highs of mania and the lows of depression — is no small feat.

In a survey conducted by the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), almost nine out of every 10 people with bipolar disorder said the illness had affected their job performance. More than half surveyed said they thought they had to change jobs or careers more often than others. And many felt they were either given less responsibility or passed up for promotions.

Many people with bipolar disorder find themselves seeking project-oriented careers, where the work is intense for short periods. Even though this seems to fit the ups and downs of the illness, it is often better to seek more structured work with a regular schedule. Long or irregular work hours can wreak havoc with your stability and job performance. Shift work, and unpredictable or frequent disruptions to your sleep schedule, also can have a destabilizing effect on moods.”

The article goes on to say that managing stress, eating right and getting regular exercise is important to manage mental illness. Heck yeah it is, no doubt, but for me, and I’m sure others, I don’t have the time or energy after work to get those things done. My commute is an hour (or longer depending on traffic) both ways for starters. Hell, my erratic sleep schedule is screwing me already. If I fell asleep RIGHT NOW I’d have less than an hour and a half of rest before I’d need to be up for work. I wanted SO BADLY to hit the gym FINALLY and get in some exercise, but chances are as soon as I’m off work I’m going to want to race home, shovel in dinner and knock out early. The same reasons I’ve been skipping out on the gym and opting for the rest for the past month when I was ready and willing to start getting in shape again. My body was so out of whack from lack of sleep last week I had thrown up in the morning one day.

That being said, woe-is-me, I’m super upset I’m going to be underslept which is a punishment for my body and mind today. I don’t respond hardly at all to caffeine so don’t recommend coffee. For the rest of you insomniacs who have to face work today, I’m right there with you man. Goddamnit.

15 thoughts on “Managing Bipolar In the Work World

  1. You are such a trooper! I haven’t been able to keep a job and have been home feeling sorry for myself for almost five months. The party is over next week. I am starting a new job.

    I have been diagnosed with bipolar 2. Not as extreme mania, but all of the depression and anxiety! I think the article is spot on.

    I pray for you Barbie. That you will continue to find the strength to keep going. That you will find a Dr. who will help you, and that you will find

    You are one of the toughest people I know.

    • That made my day when I read it nearly a week ago and I thought about what you said a couple times I was having a rough day. YOU ROCK and I want to know how the new job is going. I pray for you too mister! I’ll update you on the doctor search when there’s actually something to report.

    • I’ve held over 26 jobs in my working life (I’m now 64), which began at 12, and continued until I was 50, when I was in a rollover car accident. After a 6-year lawsuit, then blowing through the settlement, I had to go back to work to help my daughter get through college. (She graduated after 10 years, at 31. We come from a long line of mood disorders.) I’ve discovered a few things: (1) I like variety. (Staying twenty or thirty years at one job would be inconceivable to me.) (2) I thrive under bosses who recognize my extreme dedication and over-achievement. Conversely, I used to wither under the mildest of criticism, until I finally realized that..(3) It’s wasn’t likely (and never happened) that occasional screw-ups on my part would result in termination. (4) Trying to be “perfect” made me HATE what I loved. I learned to relax and have fun with my working goals. I hope this helps. God bless you, darlin.’

      • I am so happy that you survived that accident and that you have a daughter that graduated no matter how long it took. Think how proud I’d be of me if I looked at me the same way I do your daughter! Thank you so much for the words to ease the mind. Knowing you’ve been through some of the thoughts I have makes it more “real” to accept those insane thoughts over perfectionism! God bless you too 🙂

  2. I’ve just recently started to realize that having bipolar 1 might be what’s impacting my resume. Ha. Simple, right? Straightforward. I spent 9 years at one company which was fab, but since then have been doing contract work and it has been touch and go. Not all my best performances. The intervals between work have become ever more elongated as well. Have always thought of myself as just a person. Nope. Am a bipolar person.
    Anyway, I hope you find ways to deal with insomnia. I would suggest meditation or reading but what is working for me right now, far better than ambien, is AlevePM.
    Good luck!

    • I slept less than 10 minutes last night. I might legitimately go to Walgreens and find AlevePM. I’m sorry you’re in a rough resume spot. If it were cancer people would be more than understanding. Too bad stigma is so fashionable these days in the mental illness crowd. Good luck to you too.

      • I just became aware of this site and really, really like it…..Is BP disorder usually found in homes which were quite dysfunctional?? I can tend to get quite angry at my folks and my family because of all of the dysfunction which I grew up in….

        I do appreciate all of the articles and comments.

        Mike Feehan

      • I’m not quite sure about that, I think there’s more too it but nature AND nurture totally affect a person especially when they’re an adult and have a good sense of themselves. Is there a history of mental health issues in your family? That’s a more scientific friendly question to start by asking.

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