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How I Handle Bipolar Disorder and Working in an Office

Bipolar disorder often impacts every aspect of a person's life including office work. Here are tips on working with bipolar disorder at the office. Take a look.

I was asked about how I have continued to work even through major bipolar storms. I found when I wrote about this topic, pages and pages were filled, so we’re splitting it in half. Today is part one: how to work an office job with bipolar disorder.

Some of you know I’ve had office jobs in the tech industry for most of my working career and only recently made a shift. And in those years I’ve had various severities of bipolar disorder. And what I’ve learned is this: working with bipolar disorder comes down to one thing – being stubborn.

Be Stubborn to Make Office Work Easier When You’re Bipolar

So no matter how painful, stressful or horrible work might be, I’m prepared to do it because, well, that’s what you do. You make a living to support yourself. Period. It’s amazing what you can do when you have to. Going on disability is not something I ever considered. I’m not saying it isn’t the right choice for many people, but for me, working was a foregone conclusion.

But working in an office situation with bipolar requires a high pain tolerance. I have developed a very high pain tolerance.

Tips on Working in an Office With Bipolar Disorder

(As an aside, I suggest being very careful about telling employers about your mental illness.)

1. When you can work, work like the Dickens.

When I can work, I work. I’ll work extra days and overtime to get massive amounts of work done. I need to overachieve when I can to make up for the times when I inevitably underachieve. I need to impress my boss, my coworkers and anyone else who will listen during these times. I absolutely make the most of those times.

Yes, this generally means sacrificing a social life and everything else. Hypomanic periods are perfect because I can work at the speed of light. I focus that energy on making a living. It’s priorities.

2. Use your energy for work.

I have a finite amount of energy and if I’m going to work I need to spend that energy on work. I have less energy than other people which means that when I walk through my door at home at the end of the day, I’m likely to be a wreck. That’s the price I pay.

3. Make reasonable accommodations for your illness.

I make accommodations for my depression and side effects. In my office, I would close the door, turn off the lights so no one thought I was there, and lay on the floor. On occasion, I could nap but generally, I just laid there for a few minutes. Sometimes I spent time crying alone in my office in the dark. But if that’s what it took to get through the afternoon, then that’s what I did.

4. Use sick days if you need them.

And yes, I took sick days when I was just too mentally ill to go to work. I would also leave work early if I was nonfunctional.

No one has to know why you’re sick, only that you are.

5. Suck it up.

I know, people don’t like this idea, but for me, it’s just about accepting the pain and doing it anyway. Yes, it’s going to suck. Yes, it’s going to hurt. Yes, I’m going to hate it. But I’m going to do it anyway.

Did I mention the key was being stubborn?

All of This Might Be Wrong for You

These are the things that I have done. These are the things I think about. I’m not saying that people should, or even can, follow in these footsteps. But you asked, and I answered. If you’re as stubborn as I am, or you have a lower-stress job, you might have a shot.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

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.

16 thoughts on “How I Handle Bipolar Disorder and Working in an Office”

  1. HI Everyone, I am 52 and divorced about 14 years and on disability for the last five years or so.
    I was going through a real “Rough Patch” at that time, I was trying to re-train in Multimedia Studies to use my Computer and Photography Skills because I was not able to keep working as a Full Time Computer Technician (with 4 certifications – one each year).
    My first diagnosis was Bipolar Type 2 back in 1981 – 33 years ago! I was usually active, energetic and enthusiastic, sometimes a bit hypo manic, but then I would suddenly spiral into Severe Anxiety and Suicidal Depression which would hold me down for several months at a time. I had heard about “Chronic Fatigue” from a book I bought called “Tired All The Time” – I have always thought that should have been my First Diagnosis, but we didn’t understand the illness back then and are only starting to understand it better in the last couple of years – for a lot of different reasons that I won’t go it right now. Suffice it to say I could not get a proper diagnosis, so I could not seem to get proper treatment for it either.
    I went through months of Anxiety and Severe Depression and eventually was getting treatment for that instead of Bipolar Disorder (which usually only lasted a few days to a week each January?), but I had to really twist my therapists arm to say look I have Anxiety because I can’t do the work or activities I used to do and that makes me frustrated and I get overwhelmed – that’s when the Anxiety and Depression really kicks in. So for years I have been bounce back and forth from Dr. to Dr. and from Bipolar Disorder to Anxiety and Depression, Depending on how they saw me or how I was feeling at that particular time.
    I had severe reactions to Lithium Carbonate (ended up in a straight jacket and lock down for a couple of days) and Carbolith – Grand-Mall Seizure – when I was about to ask my former employer if I might come back to work, even just on weekends or on call.
    I was also going through a Divorce, Bankruptcy and Maintenance Enforcement was garnisheeing my part time wages making it next to impossible to survive on my part time wages. I guess that was the “straw that broke the camels back”, so to speak.
    I was afraid to go back to work in case I might have an Anxiety Attack or worse another Seizure! I had to apply for Disability Benefits and called it my Early Retirement.
    It has only been recently that I have given my Psychiatrist a handout for Physicians on Chronic Fatigue. I have explained to her that I can have an Anxiety Attack when I am Hyper or when I am depressed, so to me it is a separate issue that complicates things. Usually the Anxiety wears me down to a state of Depression and some times Suicidal Depression. I was hospitalized several times from two weeks to two days. I usually tend to “bounce back” quickly and they would let go when I was no longer depressed (actually showing signs of hyper-mania, but I was just glad to be going home, where I could finally catch up on all the things I could not do for months before, like laundry, and cleaning my kitchen and bathroom etc.
    Ironically my last three hospital stays were centered around my hypo-manic states (with Anxiety – crying spells), rather than my Depressive side of Bipolar Disorder. These stays were all 2-3 weeks in length.
    I tried to explain my mood shifts to my employer, who seemed to be sympathtic because he had some serious illness in his family. But when I went back to apologize for my seizure, I could tell that he was uncomfortable and did not want to take a chance on me and that made me depressed for a very long time.
    I eventually came to realize that I have been trying to fight invisible ghosts, so now I try to ride the waves and “Make hay while the sun shines” and take “Rest Days” when ever I need them. I am not cured by any means! I have to take heavy narcotics to put me to sleep or I end up staying up all night if I forget to take them before midnight (like I have one day each week for the last 3 or 4 weeks?). Today is going to be an extra long day, but I am going to try to make the best of it, because as the Borg might say “Existence Is Futile!” (Living an overly restricted life only keeps me down and depressed).
    I prefer to take each day as it comes and hope that if today is not a good day, maybe after some sleep I will get another chance tomorrow or later this week.
    I like the theory of having “Bipolar In Order”, Rather Than “Bipolar Disorder”, but there is a whole book on that topic! LoL
    Take Care and Try To Have A Little Fun Each Day! HAR 😉

  2. I had a traumatic childhood, alcoholic father, abusive mother and i was a recluse introvert. I was thrown out of several jobs and around age 30 i decided i no longer wanted to work. Then i was going to psychosis sitting at home. But around age 33 i got a part time job where i worked for 3 years teaching kids in NGO underprivilaged kids. I can work and work very hard. But i lack social skills and interpersonal skills. I was bullied and isolated by colleagues. I developed moodswings and anxiety attacks during those bullying and had to take psychiatric help. The medications helped me initially and then they started having side effects horrible side effects i was diagnosed bipolarII. I quit medications and was doing well at work the anxiety decreased as the bullying colleague was asked to leave. But recently i was insulted and told that alongwith poor communication and interpersonal skills my teaching abilities are poor also. They humiliated me a lot and kept crying for around a half an hour. I resigned had no choice.
    I know sitting at home, thinking about all the painful past things doesnt help but going out and getting humiliated again wont help either.
    I was feeling extremely suicidal after that humiliation. I am trying to keep myself strong and holding onto myself. Even i cant sustain a job that too a part time job in NGO then i cant hold job anywhere else. I have tried most of the sectors and was asked to leave.

  3. Thank you for sharing your experiences and wisdom. My husband is BiPolar and for years we didn’t know it which made life really interesting. He is ADHD as well. Luckily he has a job in which he works by himself much of the time, he is a drilling engineer on drilling rigs. He works 14 days on and 14 days off, sometimes his job requires him to function on very little sleep, but he has learned that sleep is really important and has stopped being so type A and takes care of himself as well as making sure he takes his medications on time and doesn’t forget We are basically self employed, so when “that time of the year” rolls around we are able to adjust his schedule so that he can be home. Which is pretty good for me and that honey do list, because I know the crash will follow. We have learned how to work with it and even manage the depression. We do one thing together everyday. It might be walking around the block, going out to lunch or grocery shopping, but it gets him out, fresh air, and seems to help him not give into it all the way and he feels like he has accomplished something as well and is not just focusing on the disorder and gives him a little control. I have learned to be alot more understanding through the years and roll with it too.

  4. I reallly appreciate how your mind works, your “stubbornness” or tenacity, and the example you are making for so many of the rest of us who choose to cave into SSI and assuming the role required to deserve it. Stay well and I’m so glad I see your smiling face here and there, and even ore glad when I get past that and read what you have to say.

    Scoby (Rod)

  5. Hi BPRob,

    “I find that not working causes me to feel bad about myself and my lack of contribution to society. And work itself distracts me from what seems to be an everpresent mild depression.”

    I think this is true for a lot of people. It’s unfortunate when people have to go on disability because it can decrease their self-esteem. Getting up everyday and having somewhere to be, or some work to do, does help a lot of people. Even if it’s just part time or volunteering, I think it can help.

    – Natasha

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