The continuing saga of being employed while having bipolar disorder.
I have been working for two days per week for the last 4 months or so now as something of a glorified secretary slash hostess slash personal assistant aiding in selling real estate. In that time I have been told constantly that the position is really below my abilities (particularly by my boss) but I have avoided glomming on to any additional responsibility because the low stress level I have at my current job has been key in keeping me at least half-sane.
I’ve been living as openly as possible in regard to having bipolar disorder since October now and I meant to talk with my boss about it right away, but things keep popping up. Little things that would divert my intentional conversation, like customers or having a particularly bad day. Somehow I’ve been working 4 months without talking about it, and it was filed in the back of my mind’s “do this eventually” folder. I knew it would come up eventually, but I had actively stopped trying to have that conversation.
In the meantime, I’ve talked with a lot of other people about this.
At what point do you make something, like having bipolar disorder, known to your employer?
Do you ever? Is it safe?
Do you wait until you have a problem or need accommodations? Or do you start by laying it out the first day?
Should you wait for your co-workers or boss to get to know you a little first?
The general consensus of bipolarites in my life have expressed that they are in firm belief that:
Loose lips sink ships.
But how much of that is just fear, really?
I admit I am young, and I have seen my fair share of discrimination in the workplace, but maybe it is because I am young that it has been like water rolling off my back.
You see, I really believe that if I am meant to be somewhere, hiding my needs makes me feel more weak than strong.
I have stopped feeling like there is only one job or one setting that is more than willing to take what I have to offer them, so if I don’t fit in a job because my peers don’t get along with me or they don’t like me, I’m not meant to be there. Just the same, if they are going to persecute me for having bipolar disorder, then I’m not meant to be there either.
When I look back on jobs that I lost, I genuinely feel that if I had asked for more help, or been more open with people about what was going on, things might have turned out better. If co-workers don’t know that discrimination is happening, they can’t always see it, which means they can’t say anything about it either.
Anyway, I refuse to work somewhere where I am treated like shit.
And if that means self employment, fine. I am willing to go that far.
Heck, I’m self employed now.
Anyway, my boss now is a really remarkable woman who I find to be a rockin’ female role model. I’ve haven’t met too many strong, female career types, so I think this made me think twice, in a way, before opening up about having bipolar disorder.
What finally pushed me over the edge was being offered a 3rd day per week to work.
I’m an ambitious person by nature (though I’m working hard on getting my ambitions and realistic abilities lined up with each other) so my immediate thought was that I could take on a third day no problem.
But, enter the anxiety. Enter the fear. Enter the looming word that my therapist said to me over the phone last Wednesday, that word nobody with mental illness ever wants to hear;
I don’t think things have been overwhelmingly bad lately, just severe enough to cause some concern with my medical team I guess. Mania, or rather being conscious of mania is new territory for me to some degree, and the current hypothesis is that I am not fully aware with just how bad things were getting in that realm the week before last. I am the first to admit that, sure, I could be a little blind to the severity of potential mania, but when I had that “h” bomb dropped on me (hospital, not hydrogen) I had to take a step back from everything.
Are things as ok as I thought? Is more stress really what I need right now -adding a third day of work to my week?
Actually, I said to my boss on Saturday, can I have 24 hours to think about it?
Like a Guy Ritchie movie, those 24 hours passed in a flurried montage of mere seconds, and I was standing in front of her desk again, yesterday.
I might as well just tell the whole story then, I thought. It is probably time.
I asked her to consider all of the things she thinks about me, my intelligence, my common sense, and my accomplishments (because this woman seriously thinks I am really cool… through no fault of my own), and then I told her I have bipolar disorder. That one thing doesn’t make any of those other things untrue, does it?
In my experience, the manner in which the subject of bipolar disorder is broached with someone for the first time will have a significant effect on how the aftermath of the conversation pans out.
A guilty, shameful admittance of mental illness is likely to be met with the recipient feeling as ashamed of the idea of mental illness as you’re acting.
Likewise, confidence is usually met with confidence.
When most people hear something serious, they gauge the level of seriousness based on how the storyteller is acting. Mirroring those actions and emotions are an easy way to know how to respond to something these folks may not otherwise know how to respond to.
She knew I was dealing with a serious medical problem, as I’ve talked in limited amounts about things like doctor’s appointments and medications very generally, and the fact that I have been working only two days per week was a pretty good tip off too. She’s not stupid, that’s for sure.
Overall the conversation went well, despite the fact that I got a little turned around in the end.
My intention was to tell her these were the reasons I couldn’t work a third day a week, but instead I felt so confident and comfortable by the end of our talk I told her I would take on that third day. I did, however, tell her that I am being very conscious about stress, so if things get too overwhelming I wont hesitate to let her know.
I did, after all, meet the stipulations I initially set for myself in regard to taking on more responsibility in the workplace. I made it past February before taking anything more on, and I am hoping the sort of low-stress environment I work in will be conducive to keeping a level head.
I am meeting with my therapist again today, and hopefully I can help put some of that fire out from last week. She isn’t quite desensitized to a lot of my ranting and raving yet, I may just need to be a touch more gentle with her.
And work? We’ll see. I’ve set a ping pong ball in motion in a room full of mouse traps, so I’ll be curious to see how things play out this time around. My part in the menagerie, however, is pretty much over. What my boss decides to do with the information I’ve given her will ultimately decide my fate.
At this point, I feel I’ve really got nothing left to fear.
Whatever happens is out of my hands, so I will continue to show up, do my job, fix the printer when it breaks, and make people laugh.
Really, there isn’t much more they’re asking of me.