Daily Archives: April 13, 2012

The Workplace Job-Hopping Phenomenon

It is pretty common for people with bipolar disorder to have a long track-record of jobs over a series of several years.

Myself, I’ve had something like 12(?) jobs in the last 5 years. Granted, there were times when I had more than one at the same time, but the longest I’ve been able to stay at any one job is around 14 months, if I’m not mistaken.

For someone who has bipolar disorder, this may seem fairly normal, but for many people who aren’t as familiar with bipolar disorder, I realize this is something that might sound somewhat bizarre.

Yes, this disorder is generally about mood swings, but there is also an element of increased and decreased energy that goes with that. For me, the workplace has always been a breeding ground for stress, and then it is a race between which component of the disorder becomes a problem in the workplace first: the mood swings or the change in energy. Or, for me, one might include anxiety and panic.

People have described to me stories of having agitated or elevated moods that have led to saying inappropriate things at work, or being aggressive enough that they were fired.

I’ve been lucky enough to somehow be continually granted a second chance in those situations, and I have generally been able to focus my increased energy on my work. Enough to stay employed during an upswing. That, and aggression is practically praised in the fashion industry.

In fact, I’ve only been fired from one of those twelve jobs. Though a lot of people find themselves in the pattern of getting a job, getting fired, getting another job, and getting fired, my issue with the workplace is of a slightly different nature.

The trouble for me is more with stress and depression. A typical situation looks like this:

I am working, everything is fine.

Then, some big, extremely stressful situation arises. Instead of moving past it, that stress flings me into depression.

Normally, instead of trying to wait out that depression, my instincts tell me to flee before I am fired (because my lack of energy and demeanor are bound to become a problem) and by getting out of the stressful situation I might also have some chance at bouncing back from the depression I’m in.

Find another job.

So I do, I find a new job… and start the process all over.

Twice now I’ve found myself in jobs that I told myself I would break the cycle by waiting out the depression. With one of them I waited as long as I possibly could through the torture before quitting, but my team was laid off a month later (so I would have been fired anyway). With the second, I landed in the hospital and was fired when I asked for a leave of absence.

The amount of stress it takes for this to transpire is usually pretty big, I mean I was able to keep it together for a year at one of the companies I worked for in the cut-throat fashion industry. Pressure is something I thrive under, stress -however, is something that can make me crack.

The big, triggering stressors I’ve faced at work I can summarize in three simple categories, really.

1. Ongoing harassment by a co-worker
2. Manipulation via money
3. Unrealistic physical demands

That’s it. Seems simple, right? Avoiding these three things? Maybe you’ve never had a job… and maybe that’s why I do so much better in school!

I’ve had 12 jobs and in all of them, at least one of these three things has come up frequently enough to cause my brain to reel in panic and have the overwhelming urge to flee. And it isn’t as though I haven’t tried to solve whatever problem comes up, I’ve spent a ton of time with various HR departments and payroll and managers and their managers to boot.

“But why not just stay until you are fired?” 

That’s the question most sane people ask, when this comes up. Even some medical professionals have told me it could be beneficial to get more instances of being “fired” under my belt in case I want to apply for SSDI.

There is a point I reach where I have to weigh the benefits of the job against how absolutely nightmarish the job is making me feel. If it is enough to keep me from sleeping, from eating, or cause my stomach to feel like I’ve swallowed a bowl full of gravel, that’s usually when it becomes time to move on.

Have you ever volunteered to be jabbed with hot pokers? And then sat there and said, “oh, well this is quite lovely”?

This isn’t just emotional pain, it is physical. I wont give you all the graphic details, but one year when this was going down I was having so much stress a doctor diagnosed me with having severe food allergies. I haven’t got any food allergies at all! But that stress can physically warp me so much it can appear that I have a very serious, physical ailment. Enough for trained medical professionals to literally see it.

Why don’t I wait it out until I’m fired? Because I’m bipolar, not a masochist.


Now why does all this matter?

The stress bomb was dropped on me at work. My current job. A combination of points 2 and 3.

I am attempting to be calm. To be cool. To be collected. Negotiate. You know, business-type stuff. And as much as I keep telling myself things will be fine, I’ve spent the last week feeling like I swapped my oatmeal with a bowl of gravel.

I genuinely like my job, and I know that I do not want to search out another one. But when getting paid becomes a problem, that problem can bloom into a hundred other problems. Suddenly I can’t afford medication or therapy and my phone is shut off briefly because I can’t afford it without that check. When people live in grand houses and live off a salary, they can’t seem to understand that I literally live from paycheck to paycheck. It evolves into an issue of class, and power, and settles as a reminder that I have nothing.

It is ok. I am quite good at having nothing… it allows me to stretch my problem-solving muscles. Still, it is the principle of the thing, and I let it slide twice already.

I can wait. I can wait… I have to choke down the panic. A new job is not necessary.

But I can always keep one eye on craigslist.