When I'm hypomanic, I tend to overcommit myself. Yet, when I tell people that I have bipolar II disorder, I often hear "Oh, I'm sure the depression sucks, but I wish that I had a little taste of mania! You must feel great and be so productive when you're manic." While not intentionally harmful, such comments display an ignorance of the realities of living with bipolar mania (or, in my case, hypomania). Many people have the miconception that mania puts one into a hyper-productive state. But the truth is that mania more often than not hinders performance rather than aids it.
Bipolar Disorder – Work and Bipolar or Depression
Real talk: when it comes to time management, I don't have the best track record. While most people can benefit from improved time management skills, keeping track of time and using it productively seems to be the bane of bipolar existence.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
What time management tips might help someone with bipolar disorder work from home more efficiently? Read on for four great hints on being more productive while working from home with bipolar disorder.
Thinking traps, also known as cognitive distortions, are exaggerated or unbalanced thinking patterns that negatively impact mental and emotional health. While thinking traps are common and can affect anyone from time to time, people living with bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety are especially susceptible. The following are three common thinking traps that I often find myself caught in, especially in relation to my job: all-or-nothing thinking, overgeneralization, and labeling/mislabeling.
For those with bipolar disorder, episodes of mania/hypomania cause racing thoughts that make it difficult—if not, impossible—to work. For me, racing thoughts are a mix of bursting creative ideas and intrusive onslaughts of useless and unrelated mental chatter. As you can imagine, this makes it difficult to work. I'm either too busy trying to keep up with my ideas or too distracted and overwhelmed by the never-ending chatter. I get frustrated by my inability to focus, irritated by disruptions, and the chaos in my brain leaves me completely drained. For me to get any work done with racing thoughts, I need to carve out an environment that eliminates as many triggers as possible.