For many people (including myself) who received a mental health diagnosis as a young adult, the idea of reaching adulthood and thriving can feel a little (OK, a lot) overwhelming. For those whose diagnoses came a little later, figuring out how to adjust so you can continue to maintain your lifestyle offers a seemingly impossible ultimatum. At the end of the day, the question remains the same: how do I keep a career when my own mental health is a full-time job?
Here are seven things that make that question even more complicated.
Whether it’s depression, mania or hypomania, concentration can be a crapshoot when it comes to productivity. Try breaking your day into little chunks that allow for breaks. If your work is time-sensitive, try starting with something that can be accomplished quickly or easily. That will help boost your confidence the project can be completed. Needing to take a break isn’t a weakness, but you may find it comes up on your yearly reviews.
2. Risky behaviors.
Mania is known for a lot of things — impulsive behavior included. While the hope is that law enforcement doesn’t need to be involved, sometimes mania results in hospitalization or jail time. It may also look like gambling debts or hypersexuality among co-workers. This all has the possibility of negatively impacting job prospects and steady employment. The fallout from these risky behaviors can often be just as damaging as mania itself.
3. Short-term creative spurts.
Creativity is something that goes hand-in-hand with bipolar disorder. Using those moments of creativity for marketing, art or other business uses can be fantastic when it works, but often those moments of expression and “genius” are lost when moods and energy levels change. When your boss sees the decrease in productivity, you may find yourself being asked questions you don’t have the energy to answer.
4. Sick days.
This might be the obvious one. Sometimes mental health requires a sick day (or two). Jobs frequently have a strict attendance policy that doesn’t account for mental health. So it might be important to go to your hiring meeting or to your HR person with some ways to help fix the problem. Bosses are more willing to work with you if you come in with solutions and not just problems.
Insomnia and oversleeping might lead you to have similar problems as taking too many sick days would. Coming in with solutions such as staying late so you can take a nap at lunch, or working from home may create some spare time so you can catch some extra sleep. Using your “insomnia time” to pick out your clothes, make your lunch or mentally prepare for your day could help as well. Ultimately, this might be something your job doesn’t want to work around and you may have to make some difficult decisions.
If there’s one thing that seems to hover around mental health and jobs, it’s burnout. If you are burned-out of your job, you may find the only way to find relief is to find a new one. Do that too many times and suddenly you have a lot of explaining to do.
7. What starts in hypomania, fails in depression.
This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. I apply to so many “high-need” jobs when I’m hypomanic. Jobs that require me to be at my most creative all of the time. And while I can handle that task when my moods are up and when I’m pulling long days, as soon as my energy drops, I’m struggling to maintain those trends and commitments. Picking your jobs strategically, or being upfront with your boss may save you some heartache later.
The thing about bipolar disorder is no matter what job you choose, you’ll always feel like you’re working two. Taking care of yourself is a priority that, if ignored, will leave you unable to succeed for long. The scariest part of any job is asking for something you might not be given. Ask for an adjusted schedule. For a later shift. For help. Bosses and coworkers generally don’t respond well to being presented with a problem they have to account for. But if you bring a problem with possible solutions, you just might find you’re able to take on more than you thought you were capable of.