Can’t Stop a Moving Train

About a year and a half ago a bipolar mixed episode with psychosis and delusions wreaked havoc on my career in the fashion industry. My paranoia spread through the company until it got a grasp on the HR department and sent everyone reeling and investigating one another. It wasn’t until I pulled myself from work (for fear of hurting myself or someone else) and spent over a month in depression before I could see the delusions for what they had really been.

At the time I was extremely frustrated. This sort of thing has happened to me fairly regularly while working, I’ve never been able to hold a job for much longer than a year. My entire healthcare team (my psychiatrist, therapist, etc.) suggested I stop working because the stress of it was potentially triggering episodes far worse than I would normally experience.

I remember falling into this daydream-like state, wondering if I could eliminate all stress from my life (and primarily stress due to working) if things would quiet down. If the episodes would minimize, and I could have a stable-ish (albeit slightly boring) life by simply doing nothing at all.

Seems like a simple enough theory, doesn’t it? Remove all triggers and there is no reason for an episode to happen. I don’t know why I believed a move like this would work; I had seen plenty of people on SSDI at support groups who seemed totally out of control all the time (and they weren’t working either!).

My therapist at the time seemed to believe this would “work” (lessen my general episodes) because she, unlike me, believed all episodes had to be triggered by something. I tried to explain to her that wasn’t how it worked, and that episodes of bipolar disorder often seem to come and go as they please, but we were both too hopeful to pay much mind.

A few months ago I was sitting with her, now over a year since we put this plan into action. It was right around the time after my hearing (February) where I was significantly depressed. After all of the time I had put into applying and waiting for an SSDI decision I sat down in front of her and she said to me,

“You know what I think would help you? Working.”

Completely exasperated, I slapped my hand to my forehead and sighed. We had come full circle. Needless to say, my desire to get a new therapist (I start with someone new tomorrow) had been growing for quite some time.

As it turns out, you can’t just wave your hands and expect to stop a moving train. True, going without working is generally one of the things I attribute to not having been hospitalized lately, but it has honestly (at times) been just as stressful as working would be (with a much lower income).

Last week I managed two or three days of stability in a row, and I found myself thinking how great it would be to start working again, to meet new people, to have a task, and to have a little (as opposed to no) money. I’ve been here before though, I know this charade. I know that when I feel stable I generally feel like I can take on the world without any problems, and the truth of what happens when I do gets pushed to the background.

To top it off, even if I wanted to work (I say “work” but realistically mean roughly 10 hours a week) right now, there are some significant roadblocks. Some, like my social security disability application, I put there myself. I still haven’t received an answer after my hearing in front of the judge in February. My attorney has suggested that working (even 5 hours a week) will often return a negative reply from the government, because working 5 hours a week (and I kid you not) somehow suggests I could potentially work 40.

You can believe that if I could work 40 hours a week without becoming totally delusional, homicidal, and suicidal I would be doing it. I have always been an overachiever, and I’ve had several good positions at some very noteworthy companies (making sometimes incredible amounts of money). Why would I ever stop if I could handle it? Why would I ever give that up to sit in the dark alone, teaching myself to make a proper cream sauce for lack of anything better to do?

Honestly, I also found it a bit of a slap in the face when I met with my social security judge and the “vocational expert” for my hearing suggested I become a hotel maid, or a bottle-capper, or a mail-room clerk (because those jobs couldn’t possibly exacerbate bipolar disorder!). It felt rather humiliating that these “experts” were so quick to throw out the degree that I earned (and am still paying for) and my intelligence or goals or interests, simply because I have a mental illness. My attorney assured them that no matter what job, I am not capable of maintaining it (in my current, still unstable state) which I appreciated, though I still left feeling sour.

The other roadblock is the train itself. I am still looking for ways to help reduce my symptoms of bipolar disorder, and without some kind of useful treatment I am likely to become very volatile very quickly in the workplace. I like to believe (especially when I am feeling good or stable) that I am in control. After 10+ years under that delusion, I understand that there is a lot more to it. It appears that the more stress I experience, the less control I seem to have over myself. While I have been working hard to combat this truth with practically anything I can find, I am still doing so in an environment with the least amount of stress possible.

I’ve had a lot running through my mind. Frankly, I don’t know exactly where I am going to go next, and there are still many things up in the air (my SSDI decision, what my attorney will suggest to do next if it is a “no”, etc.). Right now I am putting all my attention on moving, because if there is one thing I want to get right… that one is it.

9 responses to “Can’t Stop a Moving Train

  1. I don’t really know how to comment properly. But as someone with Bipolar 1… I dunno. Reading other people’s journeys makes me feel less alien. Thank you for taking the time to share all of this.

  2. Has anyone ever suggested DBT? I went through it for borderline personality disorder, but I also have a bipolar 2 Dx and I find that it helps a ton with that as well. It’s really just another form of therapy that teaches more effective coping skills for when things start to feel out of control. It’s not a cure by any means, but it’s usually helpful.

    Regardless, I hope something positive happens for you soon. Being in that state of unknowing is rotten.

    • Ideally I’d like to try DBT or CBT, however in the last three years I haven’t been able to get into anyone who practices those types of therapy. Not only is it incredibly competitive in Seattle to get good mental health treatment, it costs an arm and a leg (more than I can hope to pay with no income!). Now that I am on medicaid I get therapy for free, unfortunately I’m limited to the therapists willing to take it (which are most of the intern-level, low-income therapists I was already seeing). I am hoping this new one has, at the very least, more experience than my last two therapists (who were both interns and never had a client with bipolar disorder before me). Anything is a step up at this point! Thanks!

  3. I feel your pain. I have been approved for ssdi and still feel lost. I would like to work part time, but worry over my work ethic driving me into a tail spin. Second thing is what do you do for a part time job where you can only work a limited amount? Do you tell the part time job of your condition and limited income you can earn? Look forward to others comments. Thanks for the fine article and being real with your emotions.

    • Right now I have been exploring local charities who focus on placing people with disabilities (of all kinds) in the workplace. I have tried advocating for myself in the workplace, but honestly I don’t exactly know what accommodations would help my symptoms and I don’t know the best way to work out how to ask for them. If I reach the point where I am looking for a selective, part-time work situation I am hoping one of these services can help me find a management team that is willing to work with my needs, after all… many of them have a lot of experience doing so, and a lot of them also seem to have had a lot of success. Just the way I’m leaning at this point!

      When I was younger I didn’t have a problem getting jobs, earning as much as I could, and then bailing a few months in before my symptoms got out of control. At this point I am looking for a job with longevity though, and realistically I can’t go into another job without telling them about my condition. It has reached the point that I feel to do so would be extremely negligent on my part. I also want to work in an environment that can be supportive (does that exist? I’m not sure yet) of my needs, I think I just need to do a better job of negotiating them.


  4. Since I was hospitalized nine years ago I have been first on CA disability then on SSDI, and I am “only” bipolar type II. I am surprised you are having difficulties qualifying for benefits given the fact that your illness is treatment resistant and your symptoms severe.

    Your blogging is a form of work that uses your intelligence but does not interfere with qualifying for disability benefits. Volunteering (for NAMI or other peer support or mental health advocacy organizations) is also an option. I wish you the best in battling the social security bureaucracy, obtaining income, and trying to find the right balance.

    • My attorney was extremely confident until my hearing, I had the judge with the fewest approvals in the county. I am still waiting for a response (4 months later) so I do have a little hope, though not a lot. I’ve been told that the information my doctor offered up from my records should have an approval in the bag, but (again) I had the judge from hell. I also wasn’t on the state disability program at the time because if I was, I wouldn’t have been able to see my doctors anymore. I considered this a worthy trade-off, but apparently looks bad on my record.

      I agree that the blog has helped a lot, and I’ve done a few training programs with NAMI but had a lot of difficulty finishing them with my symptoms still all over the map. There are also some aspects of NAMI that I don’t agree with on a personal level, and I’ve gone back and forth about spending that much time supporting an organization I don’t entirely agree with. I have also been told (by my SSDI judge) that any volunteering on my part (and even this blog potentially) counts against a positive SSDI response.


      • I’m not 100% a NAMI fan, either. You are in quite a catch-22. Being on CA disability first definitely helps. Follow your disability attorney’s advice. I wish you the best in your battle with Social Security.

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