Can I work if I have bipolar? The answer is, yes.
This question rattled around in my head for weeks after my diagnosis. I would’ve loved to have seen someone succeeding in their career, who was also battling bipolar. I knew that people with mental health problems were able to have fulfilling jobs. However, when you’re in the early stages of diagnosis it is sometimes hard to imagine it happening to you.
If you have read any of my previous blogs you will know that I compare my bipolar to a polar bear. So it is important to remember that polar bears come in all shapes and sizes. Some polars bears are filled with rage as they haven’t eaten for days, whereas others are satisfied with their last meal. Some may have young so therefore they will be even more dangerous to cross. By this I mean that the spectrum of bipolar is huge. I believe that with the right management of the illness, anyone is able to work. However, management of the illness is different for everyone. Going back to work was the best decision for me, although it may have a negative effect on another individual.
You need to make sure you are 100% ready to go back to work. Managing bipolar alongside a job can be difficult. If you aren’t in a stable place when you begin it could send you backwards.
My polar bear was out of control for the best part of a year, with severe highs and lows. During this time I actually lost three different jobs for three different reasons.
The first was due to extreme anxiety. I remember walking down the stairs on a morning. I’d sometimes wonder if I’d make it to the bottom. My legs would be uncontrollably shaking. I had to walk out of this job after two weeks. The panic attacks on the way to work were terrifying. I’d often have to ring friends or family to talk me out of the car and along the road into work. I couldn’t understand what was happening.
After leaving the first job, I somehow managed to get another job as an apprentice. With some help from family contacts I was once again employed. This time a severe, dark depression caused the loss of this job. I was working for a PR company. I had such simple jobs to do (as I was only an apprentice). Tasks such as sending the parcels out or organising the spreadsheets. Jobs that I knew I was capable of. Instead, I’d sit there. In silence. Staring blankly at my screen. Three months this lasted, before they had to let me go. They were good people, but they had to do this. They’d given me enough chances. I wasn’t doing anything. I just want to stress it wasn’t because I didn’t want to work. I was just engulfed by my polar bear. I remember sending texts saying, “MY BRAIN ISN’T WORKING.” I couldn’t understand what was happening.
The third job was at a bakery. This was a while after the severe low. At this point I was still unaware that I had a polar bear lurking around inside my head. I’d been off work for quite a few months. The bakery was supposed to be a good re-introduction into work without too much stress. I think this job lasted about three weeks. I’m not sure as this was when the mania started. Mania can be described as being ‘high’ or ‘elated’. I felt amazing. Every second of the day. I was so excited to have a job. I wanted to talk to all of the customers. I wanted to find out everything about them. I needed to know. I just couldn’t control myself. My stepmum stepped in. Everyone knew this wasn’t me. They could see I wasn’t “just being really happy” after a depressive period. I couldn’t relate, I felt better than ever (most of the time). It was a euphoric feeling. My temper also grew short. I didn’t want to leave this job. I thought everything was going so well… I couldn’t understand what was happening.
As soon as I was introduced to my polar bear (my diagnosis of bipolar) everything that had happened in the last year had a reason. It didn’t make sense. But it had a reason.
I couldn’t understand what was happening, because I really wasn’t aware of it.
I’ve been at my latest job for about four months. I love it. I work at a Secondary school as a Teaching Assistant for children with special needs. My polar bear directed me down this route. Although, if I am not in control of her I will lose this job. Before my diagnosis I wasn’t able to hold a job down because I had no idea that my polar bear was causing havoc inside of my head.
Now I understand what is happening.
- In my next blog post I will cover management of my polar bear and what seems to work for me. I’m still learning myself but if my small amount of knowledge can help anyone it’s worth writing about.