I’ve been very lucky, to some degree, with this new job because even though it is full time, there is an element of flexibility to it. The hours are not exactly set, which means on a day like one I had last week when I woke up feeling horrendous, I can go back to sleep for a couple hours and see how things pan out the next time I open my eyes.
With bipolar disorder, I feel a lot of the time like opening my eyes after sleeping is something of a lottery.
I don’t know how it is for most, but I would say that at least 75% of the time, I feel better after sleeping than I did the night before. That other 25% of the time, though, if I don’t get enough sleep, or if my sleep is full of bad dreams or waking up every 30 minutes, I wake up with the wrath of bipolar hostility sitting on my chest and within moments I can tell something isn’t quite right. That unruly jerk sitting on my chest bangs a spoon on a kitchen kettle until I am ready to strangle it.
In the past it has been common for me to respond in this way when awoken in the middle of the night from a deep sleep, it is like some kind of murderous being appears and takes my place (we call her Sleep Sarah and she is a bitch).
Every once in a while on the verge of or on the tail end of an episode she follows me out of sleep in the morning, and I instantly know that going out or being around people is the worst possible idea I could have. The only real solution is going back to sleep, rolling the dice, and hoping some other mood is present the next time I open my eyes.
One of the days last week (and honestly I can’t remember which because they’ve all become a blur at this point) I woke up with the stomach ache from hell, and Sleep Sarah was right along side it. Normally at 5:30 in the morning it is hard for me to discern how level-headed I am feeling, but right away I knew something was seriously off. I went back to sleep for two hours and then felt infinitely better, so I went to work late.
I am extremely grateful that I have the ability to make these sorts of decisions with my new job, but it opens a door into something I am not particularly familiar with dealing with. In the past I have often opted for placing a heavy amount of weight on working, and just a pinch on taking care of myself. Looking at it now, that could be why I have had trouble with such intense burnout.
It is difficult, though, and I am sure many of you have experienced this, when your boss or manager is the sort of person who considers illness a weakness of character, or has (possibly from dealing with untrustworthy employees constantly calling in “sick” in the past) a serious skepticism for anyone who claims they might be ill, to feel justified in taking care of yourself. Being in an environment where taking care of yourself is constantly considered the wrong thing to do, knowing how to go about taking care of oneself in a reasonable way seems backwards and can be difficult to learn.
I know I’ve talked about this before, but I think this sort of thing makes a huge contribution to how people feel about themselves and things like mental illness, after all if someone has told you for years that being sick means you are weak or that people who take time away from work because they are sick are awful employees who are not to be trusted, you can be damn sure the people on the receiving end are going to do everything they can to hide the fact they have a mental illness and will probably (to put it bluntly) treat themselves like shit because of it too.
Anyway, a lot of that fear still lives inside of me. I may not be afraid anymore that people hear the words “bipolar disorder,” and I may feel a little less guilty for taking time to take care of myself, but I can’t seem to curb the nagging feeling that once theory becomes practice (if I have to miss a lengthy chunk of work, for example, because of an episode) that I might be pushing my luck too far, and suspicion and anger might make their way into the minds of those that have told me to “take care of yourself.” I realize that this is probably unlikely, but it is the only response I’ve ever experienced up to this point and it can be hard to imagine a different one occurring.
In the meantime, getting the work done and taking care of myself has become something of a balancing act, and I am extremely grateful to begin working with a new therapist this week to help me navigate it.