By Teresa Smeigh April 2019
It is estimated that only 50 to 60 percent of people with Bipolar Disorder can hold down full-time employment. I worked during most of my adult life and I had to juggle my Bipolar Disorder. At first, I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was in my 30’s before I got an official diagnosis.
My major problem was focusing on my work. My mind was constantly roaming here and there. Sometimes it was racing thoughts and sometimes I was simply day-dreaming. My supervisors were constantly giving me partially bad reviews on my work. I was a good worker when I could stay focused on what I was doing, but when unfocused or day-dreaming, I lost out on valuable work time and employers just don’t understand that. You are there to work, not waste time thinking about other things.
When you have Bipolar Disorder, you can walk through the days as carefree as anyone who is considered normal one day, and a few weeks later be unable to drag yourself out of bed. Missing days is something else bosses don’t like.
Through the ups and downs of your illness you must show up on time and perform your job. If you feel mania coming on it is best to contact your doctor who can advise you. Multi-tasking is hard when you can’t keep your focus on your work. Have a friend who can alert you when you become super talkative or are talking inappropriately. That is one of the major problems with mania. Also take care with your emails. During mania your life can become out of your control and you don’t want your emails sent to everyone when you aren’t thinking straight.
When depressed, one of the biggest problems you deal with is getting to work. You struggle out of bed and sometimes that is as far as you get. More lost time at work.
You are under no obligation to disclose your disability to your employer. It is up to you as to when you disclose and to whom you choose to confide in. Some people go years or even decades without letting their employer know about their illness and some never make the disclosure. If your work is going well there is no reason to tell the employer.
If, however, things are not going well it can be important to carefully disclose your illness. I have been told you should talk to someone in human resources. Although you may want to talk to your supervisor, it is best to seek out someone in HR so all official policies are followed. In addition, your HR representative is bound by confidentiality requirements. Telling your supervisor or co-workers can seem like a good idea, but in the end can make your illness part of the gossip mill.
I told my supervisor and coworkers at one of my last jobs. They took it well and didn’t discuss it with everyone. However, when things were going bad, my supervisor would send me home and tell me not to come back until I was under control. My work started suffering more than normal and my last review there was bad, and I was denied a raise, even a cost of living raise. I hadn’t realized until that time and I began to think about past jobs, that my Bipolar Disorder had indeed disrupted my work experience over the years.
I worked for several more years after that last job laid me off, but eventually I went out on disability for both physical and mental illnesses.
When I was stable, I was a good employee and worked hard. When the Bipolar Disorder was running rampant, I was constantly having troubles with any job I had.
Advocate for mental health and invisible illnesses, also a devout Christian