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Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder

Keeping a job when you have a mental illness like bipolar disorder can be tough but these tips can make it easier. More at Breaking Bipolar blog.

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.

How to Keep Your Job With 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 and Keeping the Job 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.

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

    1. Hi Shirley,

      I know many people are looking for jobs that they can do from home. Unfortunately, I am not an expert in this. I write from home, so I know that is an option, but I’m not aware of the broader options, I’m sorry.

      – Natasha Tracy

  1. Im maria and i was diadnosed with bipolar 9 yrs ago and just this passed 4 months my therapist told me that im no bi polar what is that ive just started learning about it for them to change it

  2. Sandra! I would never ever give an employer a letter of your diagnosis or any medication. I would mark the disability box and that’s it. It is illegal for an employer to let you go or keep writing you up or whatever. AND if HR knows this stuff believe me other folks know it too. This may become a trigger for you to be paranoid or as they call it develop a self filling prophecy in a way. You must maintain your confidence. I hope you are seeing a therapist and you are on the right medications. I’m older and I know that your body chemistry changes and therefore you need to change up your meds. Can you be more specific about what is going on at work and how YOU are feeling and thinking through this? AND for future reference I can’t reiterate enough the importance of maintaining a “don’t tell” policy in the future.

  3. It’s refreshing to read these comments. I was diagnosed with “manic depression ” in the 1970’s and later in life due to a traumatic event I was diagnosed with PTSD. I have a learning disability as well. My grades were atrocious and I had to re-do 1sr grade. My brothers bullied me Peet’s at school bullied me and I was constantly being ridiculed by my parents. Why are you do dramatic, why can’t you understand math, why can’t you find better friends. So I spent most of my time alone. From the 1st grade on I never felt normal. Anyway fast forward. I started using drugs running away from home at age 12. I was kicked out of 3 Middle schools for drinking or smoking pot and cigarettes. I was arrested at age 13 in Las Vegas! Ok the story’s go on and on. My mother said she was taking me somewhere and I was admitted into a locked mental health facility at age 15. I ran away from there and placed into a locked unit.

    I stayed for 8 months.. The only reason they let me out is because my mother ‘s insurance ran out. I came home only to learn my family had moved and I had no bedroom so I slept in the basement. Ok fast forward again. I was on lithium, an anti depressant and diazaphsm anyway my mother told me to stop taking my meds because “she didnt like me when I took them.” This goes on and on. Iv had 5 hospitalizations up to now I can’t even count how many jobs Iv had. My mother has not spoken to me for 15 years my brothers want nothing to do with me.

    I was able to earn my BA I found out I had a learning disability and that I was dyslectic Jesus! No wonder I had such a hard time in school so I was an honor student in graduate school when I earned my MA. I had to work very hard to be accepted into the university which is on the top 10 list. Upon my graduations my parents said they only wanted your money.

    So much more to tell. Ok so I was the first in my family to graduate from college AND move on to get my MA. I got my dream job and bought my first house again the first in my family. So I was quite the achiever this is a pattern I get a great job build my savings buy a house and then I lose it al!!! This has happened 3times in my life. This happened to me every time I got into a relationship. My bipolar meds were changing all the time. When I had no insurance I’d end up trying to kill myself over and over again. Now I am homeless can’t hold down even a cashiers job.

    This illness and my PTSD has gotten worse over time. I have 2counselors and both have recommended disability so I’m going through that process. My medications don’t work I want to kill myself every day. As someone stated above it’s not if I do it it’s when. I don’t know why my life goes from making $80 K a yeah to $17K a year but I’m 57 now so I just can’t pull this off again.

    My future is bleak. I see therapists but finding a psychiatrist that takes Medicaid is impossible! Anyway this illness is a life sentence and the stigma and discrimination is rampant amongst the workforce because I did have to take sick time. When I ran out of meds it was noticeable. So this is part of my story. Iv managed to keep one true friend for 17 years I’m grateful for that. My question is, is it a normal symptom to build your life up and lose it all and have this repeatedly happene with my illness? I mean I build great success then lose 100% and have to start ove. Iv always had what I call panic jobs until I can get some work in my field but I feel like due to my age and having an increase in my symptoms with more symptoms of hyperventilate mood swings deep depression and suicidal ideation and more. Do people with B PD and PTSD go through this? I am unable to find these patterns with this population so far? Sorry such a long one!

    1. Your not alone. I built a good career… lost everything. Then I built my own business and got a house…. and guess what… a relationship cost me that. I’m in deep depression…unemployed… and it was relationships that did this so your not alone.

    2. Yes it is normal every time I had my meds working I would get a great job and the future looked great I’d move my family to a nice house and things would be great then the meds would stop working and I would go manic I would max out our credit cards and go to another state without my family then my mind would start racing all I wanted was it to stop I tried killing myself i shot myself slit my wrist and Oded then the Great Depression would come then I would be so bad I would want to kill Myself again. And the cycle would begin again I would go back home rebuild get a good job and things would begin again I would work for 6 months then here comes the mania so here I go again so I know how you feel I’m. 52 and I’m still trying break the cycle

  4. Hi thank you for this information. I struggle with Bipolar as well. Here recently I gave a letter indicating my diagnosis along with names of medications earlier this year. About 2 weeks ago I got written up at my job for absenteeism, and tardiness at my work when they already knew of my diagnosis. And I don’t know what to do now.

    1. Sandra, you may need your meds adjusted. Not saying that this works for everyone, but I wasn’t on enough meds and my work was suffering for it. I’m actually open about being bipolar at work because it made my co-workers more understanding of my situation, and why I react the way I do. Of course its probably not common that you can really be open, but this is the first job where I’ve worked with everyone for a few years now, and when you work closely with a small group of people, it pays to be open and honest. All my life I’ve been bad about being late. I was late for school, then late for work, and I lost what would’ve been a great job because of it. They were really lenient with me for a long time at this job, but eventually they told me enough is enough. I called in sick the day after I realized I was going to get a write-up (had a breakdown that night) and looked for a psychiatrist that could see me right away because I couldn’t handle this anymore. My regular doctor has been treating me, and I improved some but I needed more specific help. It was either God or fate that brought me to the psychology clinic I now go to. They had an appointment that day and my life has improved tremendously since then. I feel like a “normal” person now. I’m not riddled with anxiety, I can get up when I want to and get ready and be to work on time. I’ve never felt like this in my entire life. It’s still early in this self-improvement journey, but now that I can function I hope I can get over my fears and move forward in life. If you think things aren’t working for you, as far as your mood and lifestyle goes, it doesn’t hurt to seek out help.

      Trust me, unless you get extremely lucky, no one gives a crap about your bipolar disorder. They aren’t going to let you use it as an excuse to get out of doing your job. They don’t care about you personally, only what you can do for them. I had to get a freakin doctor’s note for my IBS to keep from getting in trouble for going to the bathroom so much. That’s embarrassing.

      You have to take care of yourself. YOU have to seek out help, YOU have to make the appointments and take the meds. YOU have to put in the effort to control the disorder. Work is not going to be accommodating. Ever. There are some things they might be a little lenient on (like having to go to appointments or shifting moods) but tardiness and being absent is something they won’t cut you slack for, or not for very long. I had gotten lucky at past jobs for years the only reason I didn’t get fired for being late all the time was they couldn’t afford to lose a person. I did a contract job once and thought it was in the bag, but they wouldn’t tolerate my tardiness despite the fact I did excellent work. When our big boss came and told me that I “choose” to be lazy, thats when something inside of me snapped. I didn’t make this choice, I didn’t choose the anxiety and I didn’t choose the depression. Thats the way my life has always been, but now I have the power to change it. For the first time in my life, I’m functional. Now if I just wasn’t so socially awkward…

      Situations vary, I think that most of the time discretion is good, but sometimes being open about things makes people more likely to be empathetic instead of resentful. But in your case, they just didn’t care. If you feel your current treatment isn’t working for you, seek out help elsewhere. But only you can make that choice. You have to realize that you are strong and worth fighting for. I hope everything goes well for you Sandra.

      1. Hi Ash, I am 21 years old and I have gone through many diagnoses. I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when I was 18 in college and a few months ago I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder when I was admitted to a mental ward. I’ve been on countless different medications and I’ve only seemed to get worse. Your story makes me feel hopeful. The way you describe your life now is what I have only dreamed of. Could you email me? sennetttaylor@gmail.com
        I just want to know what kind of medication you’re on and the amount you’re taking
        Thank you

  5. 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.

    1. I have felt exactly like you. Several times. Also taking 4-7 days off every 3 months. Or an extended vacation…I’ve had to go on temporary disability through the state unemployment dept. taking two-five months off. Every other year. I’m sure they know I’m bipolar. But I’m not going to say anything. I work in a hospital (nurse) and nurses are terrible w stigma. “Oh “god this patient’s crazy. Says he’s bipolar.” Smdh.

  6. 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. 🙁

  7. 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

  8. 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.

  9. 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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