Work and Bipolar Disorder – How Tough Is It? I wrote the article below last summer and gave it the title: “Unstable Work History Does Not Mean You Are Unstable“. I still think that statement is true, though of course there are many very successful professionals who have suffered with Manic Depression.
But I highly doubt the majority who actually have this illness – now called BP-1 – have not had some pretty serious ups and downs with their careers, more so than might be experienced by a ‘normal person’.
The reality is many who have this illness end up dead. Quoted from Suicide.org:
“Studies have shown that 25 to 50 percent of people with bipolar disorder (manic depression) attempt suicide.”
Source: Bipolar Disorder and Suicide.
So my original title makes sense. Serious illness episodes that affect a sufferers work history and career does not mean they are an unstable person – it means they are living with a very difficult, long-term illness.
A Short Essay on Work and Bipolar 1 Disorder
Those with a major mood disorder such as bipolar illness may have difficulties finding suitable work and maintaining full time employment. At times you may be very successful and enjoy months or years in a job you love, at other times you may have progressed into an illness state that makes working very difficult if not outright impossible.Many With Bipolar Disorder Have Very Successful Careers. Click To Tweet
Both scenarios above are ok, though of course one – the working and enjoying your job situation – is more desirable than the other (not working and being ill).
Through many years of living with Bipolar 1 Disorder – sometimes very successfully at other times barely surviving – I can share with you one very important lesson I have learned: don’t beat yourself up if you are struggling with work issues.
Please try not to. And just because you are having difficulties in your current work situation or have a spotty work history it does not necessarily mean that you are unstable or that it is your fault.
Most adults work a gamut of jobs during their lifetimes, especially when younger. I was a babysitter from the ages of 12 to 15, Taco Time cashier when 16 years old, live-in nanny at age 18, photocopy girl Friday for an architecture firm at 19, environmental canvasser (door to door sales) at age 20 and by 21 I’d progressed into a position as a waitress at a little lunch cafe and cytology lab tech assistant.
Quite the spread, no?
I am now 50 years old and there is of course much more to that history including well paid professional work in the tech field, creating my own niche website business and many years spent freelance writing. Because my work history is varied does that mean I am an unstable or an irresponsible person?
No, it does not. And because I have lived with Bipolar 1 Disorder since the age of 19 does it mean that all my work issues are due to being bipolar? The answer is no, again.
I am actually a very responsible person and have been my whole life; pre-illness and post diagnosis. Yet it is true that at times my bipolar illness affected my ability to work. The primary issue for me has been that my illness states were extreme at times requiring inpatient hospital care and of course recovery time afterwards.
That thing we like to call “life” has affected my work history too.
Unemployment due to lack of available jobs, recovery periods after trauma (mugging and a sexual assault), caring for an infant as a single Mom, etc. Periods of my life that I have not worked or have been underemployed were due to a variety of reasons, not just because I am bipolar.
And through these varied times I learned to roll with the punches a bit, being appreciative when gainfully employed and trying not to beat myself up emotionally when work was not working out or I could not find a job. It is an experience that most will experience during their lifetimes, bipolar or not.
Believe in Yourself
The most important thought I would offer anyone struggling with this issue is: believe in yourself. Detach from the illness when you can. Don’t process every life experience you have with the illness as all-encompassing mental filter.
Very few adults – if any – have perfect lives without periods of difficulty. Or perfect careers. That is nothing unique to living with Manic Depression – the illness just makes things more difficult at times.
I haven’t touched upon the issue of stigma – which in many ways affected my professional life more so than the illness itself. I share some of that story in my book: Bipolar 1 Disorder – How to Survive and Thrive.
Image is from Social Work License Map.