Bipolar Disorder in the Workplace

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

– Winston Churchill

I would say I can’t be the only one with bipolar disorder who knows how well this disorder operates under the pressures of a job and in the workplace, but I already know that I’m not; it’s a topic that is often used when writing about bipolar disorder. It may seem like a tired beat, and I certainly do not have anything new to add to the conversation. My experiences are not uncommon or unique. They are just mine. But I’m assuming you already know that if you’re here reading this.

It’s easier said than done, but the words in the above quote are definitely words to live by if you suffer from the madness that is bipolar disorder. I feel this ideology is especially important to keep in mind when bipolar and on the job.

It’s not like you have a choice and it can’t be described as laziness, but on a baseline level that’s how it’s interpreted. What’s not misinterpreted, however, is when the “typical” or “normal” person needs a mental health day and it’s okay, but when a person with a mental illness needs one…well, you know.

If I sound bitter, maybe I am. All in all, though, I can’t totally blame the illness for some of my past excursions in the work force. I have to take some responsibility. That makes it hard, too: to not be able to control the decision-making process yet feel bad for how that lack of control comes across and affects those around you.

It’s especially difficult in the workplace. When it’s fine, it’s fine. But when it’s not, it can feel like the whole world is closing in on you.

Let me give you an example.

I have a degree in journalism and worked in the field for several years. I was a digital content producer for a television news station at one point. Not my dream job, but you have to start somewhere, right?

I signed a two-year contract with the station and worked diligently and on task for nearly that whole two-year period. Until two weeks before my contract was up when I told my boss I didn’t want to renew. Impulsive? Yeah, sure. But it gets better.

One week before my contract was up, I just stopped showing up. I just quit going in. I turned off the cellphone the station had provided and just cut all ties with all of my co-workers. And that was that. Five years later, I still haven’t sent that phone back.

But that’s the way it goes with me. I’m good for about two years and then I seem to sabotage myself, either because of a level of intense, paranoid anxiety, or just because of an unexpected loss of interest.

According to one survey, more than 88% of people with bipolar disorder say their condition has affected their work performance. About 58% of those people quit working outside the home altogether. This is due in part to the extreme shifts in mood, sleep, energy, and overall ability to function.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN LOOKING FOR A JOB:

  • interests
  • strengths and abilities
  • skills
  • personality traits
  • values
  • physical health
  • limits, triggers, and barriers

According to statistics, the absentee rate for employees with bipolar disorder is 18.9 workdays per year, while those without the disorder miss on average 7.4 workdays.

Stats are always daunting when it comes to mental illness, but they speak for themselves. I never wanted to be a statistic, even though I know, in many ways, I very much am. I don’t think I would be sitting here writing this right now if I wasn’t.

Like I said, however, my experiences in the workplace are not uncommon or unique. The fluctuation between sheer productivity and total incompetence (for lack of a better word) can be devastating in their extremes. So, one day you could be on top of your game and the next you may be on the chopping block.

It’s not all bad, though. I have been working since I was 16 and I’ve had more positive experiences on the job than not. Out of my 16 years of work history, I’d say 95% of it has been positive and productive. It’s that other 5% that’s the killer, though.

On a more positive note, there are some studies that suggest working can be very beneficial to people with bipolar disorder, offering a sense of structure and increased confidence.

It’s not easy to find and keep work with a mental illness that aggravates your day-to-day ability to function. However, with a little extra work it is possible to find a satisfying, yet manageable job.

2 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder in the Workplace

  1. When I was working I was being hospitalized for mania and when the bosses discovered the reason for my absences’ (I did have doctor’s letters) They asked me how often it would happen. As if I had a schedule for my manic episodes.

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