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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.

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109 Responses to Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder

  1. valerie says:

    I NEED to believe God wants me to have this disorder to learn what it is like so I’m going head first unto it because the more I run the harder it’s going to be and the more lying I will do. If I don’t believe this…then I validate that God messed up and perhaps that I am less than another. By comparison and mixed judgement and confusion is one actual more or less than another.
    Love you all. I hope you don’t ignore what you are. Reach for yourself.

  2. jeffv says:

    I’ve dealt with BPD my entire life. Only recently diagnosed. The only way I have made it through was to find a career that actually caters in a way to my moods. Not saying it’s not trying at times. I got into the HVAC trade. I work out of a service van and see multiple customers for short periods of time. Works well for me. It’s hard to to find a niche for everyone but I tell you it’s possible.
    I write this now going through a major depressive episode but it gives me something to hold onto. My family and supporting them. Yes it’s extremely hard right now. But I can power through. I will be here tomorrow, if only for my kids is my mantra. Brothers and sisters out there hang in there. You have to for your loved ones.

  3. Bibiana says:

    I feel very blessed to have part-time work that is meaningful to me. I also go to a day program. Although I wish I could work fulltime, I am proud of the fact that I do my best and am appreciated. There was a time I was not even able to do this much.

  4. Ramone says:

    I think this post about working with bipolar over steps a key ingredient is surviving this disorder & maintaining any hope of a productive life style; and is MEDS & plenty of therapy!!!!!!!! I hope no one gets the impression that you are fine and well to act like you aren’t sick and try these steps instead of seeking help and advice from a professional. Most jobs give you a limited number of sick days (3-4). Jobs hire people because they need them to work.
    My suggestion is follow the regimain set by your doctor & keep all visits with you therapist and understand the ups and downs of thus disease. It can be very dangerous for you and others if you take on imployment in denial of your illness.

  5. Kbs says:

    If you don’t let your employee know, can’t sue for discrimination if and when that occurs. If you let them know you can. I agree with youll be discriminated against maybe but is it really worth it to not tell an employee and then have to tell them when your at a really bad place- for example extreme mania- and they don’t let You have needed time off? Better to let them know that’s just my opinion

  6. Shawn Rintoul says:

    I am really scared. I have been diagnosed bipolar for approximately 10 years now, but finally got on ‘proper’ medication about 1.2 years ago. Since 2004 I have been through 4 separate jobs, all lasting about 3.r5 years. Am reaching 2.5 years at the current job and am starting to see my credibility go down again. My memory sucks. My work product is constantly being called sub-par and I feel constantly like just abandoning my responsibilities and going homeless. The only thing that keeps me going is my two boys (8 and 9). I am divorced and get them 50% of the time. It scares me that not only may my ex try to get full custody due to my mood issues, but that I am not as good of a father as I want to be. I don’t do much physical due to loss of interest in things I used to love, plus a bad back that has been diagnosed inoperable (which is why I can’t work out any longer, which while I was doing the bipolar was not effecting my work capabilities). My job requires consistency and high-quality. I have great credentials in a field that requires a high level of skill, but the inconsistencies caused by bipolar is making me think I need to completely change careers. I am so scared, which of course causes my work product to go down again. Have been out on disability multiple times over the last 8 years for this. I have never told my employers I am bipolar, but am now wondering if that would be a good idea or not. At least they would know why I am having issues, but with what I do I am afraid they may decide I cannot perform current job. I am in a no-fault state, so they don’t even have to have a ‘good’ reason to terminate. Has anyone told their work and had a positive experience? Have contacted my Psychiatrist to get in ASAP, but of course I am traveling for work this week and will not be home until next week.

  7. Carol Bennett says:

    Been suffering with Bipolar daily struggle.

  8. Leanne says:

    I just read through the comments and was so sad to hear the different struggles. A close family member of mine has Bipolar and I’ve seen firsthand what a hideous thing it can be. But I’ve also seen God bring us through it and I don’t believe it is God’s will for anyone to suffer it. In the Bible Jesus healed people and wanted them whole and well. He wants the same today (Hebrews 13 v 8). The Bible says the devil comes to kill, steal and destroy, but Jesus came that we might have life. If we take God at His word, He will transform us – with God all things are possible (Luke 1v37). I pray for you all. x

  9. Stacy says:

    I have been trying to handle my diagnosis of bipolar disorder for a few years now. Out of four years, I am on my second big breakdown. My boss is about to fire me for the time off I have to take for this. I am supposed to be trying new medicines, but I can’t do my job or even drive when I’m taking new medications due to the side effects. I don’t understand how we are expected to manage our disorder and hold down a full time job at the same time. If I am fired, me and my children will lose everything. Prayers please.

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