I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why it is, exactly, that I have trouble working full time. It is true there are the problems with the social aspect of it that have been my downfall lately, and the fact that working is extremely stressful for me (stress contributing instantaneously to episodes) has been readily apparent, but how can I express what my real understanding of the problem is? How can I put into words what makes it difficult?
Today I think I’ve figured out a way to convey the concept in a way that makes sense (well, we’ll see anyway!).
I’m going to start by saying there are two elements in this problem. One is time. I have an extremely difficult time some days fitting everything I need to do into the day, and on others I have extra time left over, have you ever noticed that? The fluctuation in this situation is, of course, me (not time), but it often feels like time is working against me, and when I’m lucky, it is working in my favor.
As I said, as much as I’d like to think it might be, time isn’t fluctuating. It is me, I fluctuate, or rather what I am capable of doing in a given period of time fluctuates.
What I am able to accomplish, my efficiency, my capability is the second element in our equation.
This might be a little confusing, so I’ll bring in a visual aid.
This pie chart represents the 24 hours in a day for the average person with a full time job. They can maintain 8 hours of sleep, while spending an hour covering hygiene, two hours commuting throughout the day, 8 hours at work, 3 hours a day eating, an hour at the gym, with an hour leftover to hang out and watch tv or perform some other leisure activity before doing it all again.
This may be how most people live, but I know from experience that I can’t seem to make my pie look like this one. And it isn’t because I am not capable of doing all of these things on their own, because I am. There is something about forcing all of these tasks into a single day that makes it difficult for me to complete them all.
Here is another example.
I call this one the mildly depressed joe. This is what happens to me when I start to become depressed (not even full on depression). Suddenly my sleep schedule takes up twelve hours because I am so tired all the time, and between work and getting to work I have no time leftover except to eat. That means no leisure, no fitness, no hygiene.
When the priority is to show up for work and, well, work… there are days where I suddenly don’t have time (literally) to do anything else. Living a life like this pie chart is a very, very difficult existence, and you can believe that it doesn’t help one spring out of depression all too quickly.
Here is hypomanic joe. Suddenly I’ve got little need for sleep, and now we’ve got the opposite of the depression pie. There is time for everything, and then some leftover. It feels easy to complete all tasks, so much so that taking on new projects seems like the obvious thing to do.
If this was me all the time we wouldn’t be having this conversation. One of the big problems for me is that when I begin a new job, I almost always have begun in the hypomanic phase. I can complete the work standing on my head, and have time to do all of the fun things I enjoy on top of it.
But that is the nature of bipolar disorder. Things change. And once the depressed pie comes up, I struggle and work comes to a grinding halt. That fluctuation, those days where I can’t fit living in because there are too many other things to do, that is why work is an issue for me.
Finding the right balance of work, leisure time, and projects that give my life meaning but still allow for the fluctuations I experience has been a very difficult task.
Lately I haven’t been working at all, so things have been slightly easier. This is what my current pie configuration looks like:
It is a little skewed because I have been sleeping considerably less than I am used to, on the pie I noted it as 8 hours but it has been less. I am also trying to treat my projects as a stand in for work, so I spend a large chunk of time on one or two projects a day, if not more (motivation willing). The amount of leisure time here also varies dramatically, if I go downtown, or meet someone for lunch, or see my therapist that amount is cut in half at least. Really, it acts as a buffer for more stressful parts of my day (like appointments and going out) so I still have time to relax once everything is over and done with.
So far things have been ok without working, relatively stable at least. I still have intense fluctuations that leave my day dried up, and others that leave me rolling around wishing the day would just end already.
I hope that what I’ve tried to convey here makes sense. I believe that as someone with bipolar disorder, my efficiency is something that varies as wildly as my mood does, and the constraint of time against that variance leaves me, at times, incapacitated. I didn’t even bother adding a pie chart for zero capability, but you can imagine what that looks like… either via mania or depression.
I think understanding my own limitations helps me make goals and pick projects that will be more helpful and attainable, and taking the time to learn about myself helps me better communicate my needs and ideas to others.