advertisement

Work and Bipolar or Depression

Most of us are well aware of the importance of a strong work ethic to succeed in one's professional life, but the idea of a healthy rest ethic isn't well known. In fact, thanks to today's hustle culture which demands that we work as much as possible, we are acutely overworked across generations. Irrespective of what certain people in positions of power want us to believe, overworking, also known as hustling, is bad for the mind and body.
I'm currently working from home with bipolar disorder. Although lockdown measures are beginning to ease, social distancing is still critically important -- especially now, as a second wave of COVID-19 infections spike. This pandemic is changing the landscape of the modern workplace, with many companies allowing their employees to continue to work from home, sparking predictions that remote work may very well become a permanent part of the "new normal."
What you think is a work personality may actually be a sign of depression. After all, depression makes life hard and work is no exception to the rule. I have noticed that there is a general assumption that a depressed person at work can be identified by a "Debbie/Donnie Downer" attitude, also known as someone who is always putting out negativity. But depression is a lot more nuanced than that. In fact, it manifests differently for every person.
It is not an easy time for anyone right now, and dealing with bipolar during this crisis is very difficult. The ongoing social and economic upheaval of the COVID-19 crisis, and the civil unrest in the wake of the tragic and senseless murder of George Floyd on May 25, have triggered feelings of fear, anxiety, anger, and depression in many people. Such feelings are natural and appropriate responses to racism, violence, isolation, and financial uncertainty. And they can make focusing on work extremely difficult, if not impossible -- especially for those of us already dealing with mental health challenges such as bipolar disorder.
In my experience, a significant number of people go through at least one depressive episode in their life. An episode typically lasts for at least two weeks and can put a damper on productivity, especially at work. I have been through many such episodes so far, and have had to work during a significant number of them.
Did you know that the average American adult spends one-quarter of their life at work?1 With all the time we spend working, it's critical that we each take the time to set our career goals and make thoughtful decisions about what we want out of our working lives. No one wants to be stuck at a dead-end job, and life really is too short to spend years plodding along on an unfulfilling career path.
Capitalism and "hustle culture" (the culture where one feels the need to be working constantly) have turned us into a strange species. Even in the middle of a pandemic, we are putting immense pressure on ourselves, in spite of depression, to hustle and be productive. While I don't think hustling was ever a good idea, I believe it is far worse in today's stressful times. 
There is a common perception that the hypomanic phase of bipolar disorder type II does not impede one's ability to work, unlike the full-blown manic episodes that come with bipolar disorder type I. I believe that this is misleading. While it is true that hypomania is less severe than mania, the symptoms -- elevated mood, inflated optimism, distractibility, increased goal-oriented activity, racing thoughts, and impulsivity -- are the same. Hypomania may not have sent me to the hospital, but before I began treatment, hypomania made it almost impossible for me to work.
Do you know what learned helplessness is? Well, have you ever felt that no matter how hard you try to achieve a goal, the outcome is totally out of your hands because, in the past, your efforts to do the same proved to be futile? Does this feeling make you feel stuck and powerless, and does it cause you to stop trying in the first place? If your answer is yes, you probably have a case of learned helplessness.
When I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, one of my biggest work confidence fears was that I would never achieve my career goals. I had graduated from college exactly two years before, and although I had excelled academically, I had a very difficult time finding and keeping work in the post-graduate world: I struggled to stay on task and complete projects by the deadline, and I could not make it through a single team meeting without fidgeting.