When bipolar disorder hits at work, it all hits the fan. A public display of excess emotion or over-the-top behavior is usually seen as unacceptable. There goes your reputation as a good worker, several fair-weather friends, perhaps pay for the time you’re off work. And then when you’re ready to return, the boss sacks you. You have lost a job, and you might lose an entire career if word gets around your industry quickly.
If this has happened to you, you are certainly not alone! People with bipolar disorder learn to be resourceful and there are many strategies you can use to choose another job or career and keep it safe from another unexpected episode.
How to find a bipolar-proof job What am I good at? What do I like doing? Some people make a career out of an interest. Jot down some ideas. What ideas do others have? You could ask a mentor, a senior relative, a former supervisor who treated your illness fairly. Take their ideas and put them in the mix—your decision will be based on lots of ideas, not just one piece of advice. Will my new plans allow me to make enough money? How much is enough? How many hours a week can I manage? This is important if you are just coming out of a crisis. Decide how much challenge you want or boredom you can tolerate. Too much of either could trigger an episode. What industries are likely to be tolerant? Surprisingly, the health and human services sector can be among the most discriminatory towards their staff. Try to find out what the organization culture is like before you go for an interview. Do I need to retrain? Can I survive on a low income while I study? Am I studying in an area where there is a skills shortage and therefore more jobs with better pay?
Making your job bipolar-resistant
A bipolar-resistant job is one that is protected from discrimination and unfair dismissal. Some jobs are more bipolar-resistant than others, for example seasonal rural jobs, and permanent jobs where there is cumulative sick leave.
You can do a lot to improve your job’s security against discrimination. Don’t tell your secret. If you have not disclosed to anyone at work that you have bipolar, keep it that way. Do as much as you can to stay well. Find out about the large number of steps you can take. Protect your reputation. If you doubt that you can get through a day without symptoms messing things up, stay at home, even if it means a day without pay. To go to work could mean you lose your job. If you have told your boss, ask for workplace changes that will make a difference to your health, for example starting a bit later so any sedative side effects have worn off. Use your allies. Confide in a trustworthy friend. Tell your friend some of the signs of oncoming illness and ask him or her to let you know if they see them. That way, you have not only yourself watching for symptoms, but also an objective friend. Then you can take action to prevent the illness getting worse.
If you end up losing another job because of bipolar, look at it as an opportunity to do something better, more prosperous, or more interesting. Each time you dust yourself off you add to your knowledge, stamina and wisdom.
Madeleine Kelly is the author of the prizewinning book Bipolar and the Art of Roller-coaster Riding (Two Trees Media ISBN 0-646-44939-7). More information about managing bipolar disorder can be found at http://beatbipolar.com