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Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder

Many people with bipolar disorder hold down jobs, just like everyone else. We get up, swear in traffic, survive on coffee and rant about our bosses behind their backs.

But people with bipolar disorder or another mental illness have special challenges when it comes to work. We’re sick more often, we need time off for medical appointments and stress affects us more than your average person. Here are a few tips on handling work and bipolar disorder.

1. Don’t tell.

This first piece of advice is contentious, I know, but I recommend not telling anyone at work that you have bipolar disorder – not even your boss – without a very good reason. That piece of information is terribly “juicy” and telling one person means the information will eventually crawl its way around the office until everyone knows. And whether one person knows or everyone does, you will likely find out what stigma, discrimination and prejudice are all about. People will start to look at you differently and interpret your actions differently. People will stop recommending you for projects and you might even get passed over for a promotion. And that’s all assuming that more overt, illegal acts of discrimination and hate don’t happen. Is this a worst case scenario? Maybe. But it’s a real one that many people have faced and I recommend not risking it unless you really have to.

(If you do need to tell your boss, look into filing for a protection as a person with a disability. This can protect your from overt acts of discrimination.)

2. Work hard.

Perhaps it goes without saying but you should work hard at work. You should strive to work harder than others. Be on time. Turn in projects by the deadline. Create stellar work. Why? Because you are going to need more time off than others for appointments and for sick leave and you need your boss to remember you for your hard work and not your absenteeism.

3. Don’t stress.

Try not to let work stress you out. When you’re stressed you raise levels of hormones in your body and when you do this for prolonged spans of times you feel sicker and your immune system becomes comprised. Then you have two problems – you have the flu and you have bipolar disorder. Learn to meditate, practice yoga, do relaxation exercises or just go for a run.

4. Take the time you need.

Yup, you want your boss to think of you as a good employee but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the sick time you need and that you’ve earned. When you’re sick just admit it and stay home. It’s okay. It’ll be much better for you in the long run than trying to “power through” and making yourself worse for weeks or even months to come.

5. Be discrete.

When you need to take time off, understand that you don’t need to say why you’re sick, only that you are. It’s perfectly okay to need to take time for a psychiatrist’s appointment in many workplaces but you don’t need to tell people that’s what you’re doing. When you need to take time off because you’re too depressed, you don’t need to tell anyone that’s why you’re staying home – you just need to say that you’re sick. The details are your business.

Working with Bipolar

Holding down a job with bipolar disorder is entirely possible. You can achieve and succeed at work and bipolar doesn’t have to stop you but it may be more difficult than for others and it may take more of a toll on you. But following these tips can make it just a little bit easier.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

126 thoughts on “Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder”

  1. I am also bi polar. Would never wish this on anybody. I hate it. I hate myself. I crave my manics even though I know they are bad for me. But at least I get out of bed and don’t need my son to hide my meds. I think about suicide every day. Not how or if. WHEN. When can I do it with the least amount of trauma to my grandkids. Work, ha! Missing 4 – 7 days every 3 months because I am too depressed to get out of bed. Can’t even leave my room. Hide from family and friends. Cry uncontrollably. Wish for death. Don’t tell my employer? How else do i explain the mood swings, the depression, the manics, the 2 days a week I have to schedule around therapy, the sick days, and the hospital stays? My therapist suggests I go on disability. Have no clue how to go about doing that. My family doesn’t care to understand. If I upset their lives in any way, I am being dramatic and get cut off for a month or so. Work, ha! Been almost 2 months since I was in the hospital (1 week stay), just now got the approval from headquarters to go back to work. They could care less.

  2. its so hard living with BPD, sometimes its even harder accepting that you have this and have to live with it for your entire life. I have BPD and it haunts me, all I ever am is depressed and exhausted, yes my meds help and I have a loving husband but sometimes I feel like I am not content enough …I have bigger dreams and not being able to even hold down a job is so stressful because we need to survive, I just don’t wish this thing upon anyone especially my little baby. 🙁

  3. Hi all..I have bipolar disorder and being diagnosed when I am 17 years old. I had to repeat my schooling due to been warded during exam year. I passed that exam after repeat the school years and went to University. All is good and been employed and happy working as social worker. However, I had major breakdown again and experience another episode. I am blur at work and could not function as a worker that make me resigned and warded too due to manic episode. After a year, I am happy at my work but now I had another episode. I could not focus much and end up make a big mistake and totally cannot help myself from feeling guilt, lost self confident and feeling like a crap. I could not stay longer in that job and felt less capable to perform at work and feel not on my good condition. I afraid of doing more mistake due to my depressive episode. I decided to resign due to unbearable stress to continue work. I tried but cannot function at my best. Feeling gloomy and for 2 days I cannot get myself out of bed. I sleep until 3pm. I did took my medicine but still hard to manage when the episode happens again. Now Im in the process of seeking professional help

  4. I’ll share my story. I’m 26, suffered from BPD my whole life, not diagnosed yet. When I was young I thought it was just angst but it never went away. As I grew into my twenties it intensified and I learned the nature of my illness. I spent around 2-3 years studying electrical and working as an apprentice, but ultimately I found it wasn’t for me. One day I went from cripplingly depressed, to manically laughing once I got in the truck for a work errand. I don’t have swings as much as my ups and downs are greatly exaggerated. I dropped out of trade school, and since then I’ve just been quitting jobs left and right, staying for about 4 months each until I turn into an apathetic zombie. Any job-related stress just triggers me into a downward spiral because my personal life doesn’t provide any happiness (loner, pathetic love life, etc.) So I rely on that job to really provide a sense of belonging and when I’m already feeling down and my coworkers or boss gets on to me, I lose it. Quitting is like this great escape into freedom. It’s an impulse. And because of that, it’s becoming harder to get hired each time. And employers don’t want to hear it. You can’t explain yourself anyway. In an interview?? Yeah, better keep all that to yourself and seem as normal as possible. It’s just an endless cycle. But in a way I still have hope that I will find some sort of job that suits me. What sucks is if you don’t tell anyone, they just think you either don’t care or are lazy. I’d like to think that bi-polar people, when feeling right, can work harder than others because we do care. our feelings matter. Therapy helps. Make your feelings known to someone, anyone. Take care of yourself.

    1. Joey, you can’t depend on others for happiness. If you think that is where it is found, you will never find it. Happiness and joy is inside of you. Some days you will look and can’t find it, but keep looking for your happiness from within.

  5. I’ve been reading the comments and am glad to see that you all can talk about your issues with bpd.
    I’ve been bipolar my whole life and not diagnosed properly until 5 years ago. I was treated for depression and anxiety for a long time which only helped me make more bad decisions and keep me “manic” and out of touch with reality.
    I’m now coming up on my 59th birthday and can truly say that the reality of getting old, bipolar, financially unstable for the future and unable to find a job that I fit well in is pretty depressing. I’ve isolated myself from most everything and everyone because of my diagnosis. God blessed me with a wonderful loving wife that stands by me and I hope that she will continue to. God bless you all.

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