Work and Bipolar Disorder – Dos and Don’ts for Success

May 7, 2015 Natasha Tracy

Working when you have bipolar disorder can be challenging. Use these work and bipolar dos and don'ts for work success.

When working with bipolar, there are definite dos and don’ts. These dos and don’ts can help predict just how successful you can be with bipolar at work because you can work with bipolar but that’s a much easier goal to achieve if you keep certain rules in mind (Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder).

Work Dos for Bipolar Disorder

  1. Do work the day shift. Don’t forget that bipolar is a circadian rhythm disorder – this means that our bodies have a harder time than others at regulating our own biological clocks and you make that infinitely harder if you work against that be trying to sleep during the day and work at night.
  2. Do get a low-stress job. When I was a child, I always envisioned myself in a suit at a high-powered, high-stress job in the corporate world somewhere. Now, though, I’m pretty much in exactly the opposite position. I’m an independent contractor who spends most days in her pajamas. I manage my schedule and I have power over, um, my keyboard? Suffice it to say, reducing stress at your job with bipolar can help you be successful there. (Check out these 10 most anxiety-friendly jobs.)
  3. Do avoid the “Peter Principle.” The Peter Principle basically states that people will move up the corporate ladder to the point where they become unable to succeed (because previous success leads to a promotion). Avoid this. Choose a position in which you are successful without stretching yourself every minute of every day.
  4. Do consider alternate forms of employment. Traditional forms of work may never be for you if you have bipolar disorder. That’s okay. Maybe you need to consider a position where you can be your own boss and control your own world a little more than in the regular 9-5.
  5. Working when you have bipolar disorder can be challenging. Use these work and bipolar dos and don'ts for work success.Take sick time when you need it. Just like we don’t expect people with the flu to come to work, you shouldn’t expect yourself to go to work if you’re having a really bad brain day. And if you have to take more than a day – maybe even take disability – then do it. You get one brain. Take care of it.
  6. Do look into your rights as a person with a disability. As I’ve stated before, bipolar is a disability under the law of most states and this affords you the right to “reasonable accommodation” of your disability. Only you know what makes the most sense for you and whether you even wish to invoke such an action at work, but either way, research and at least know what your rights are.

Bipolar Work Don’ts for Bipolar Disorder

  1. Don’t do shift work. As mentioned above, people with bipolar need to work to regulate their daily rhythms and changing up your work schedule on a weekly or daily basis is going to make this nearly impossible.
  2. Don’t tell people at work you have bipolar (without carefully thinking about it). In general, I do not recommend telling employers you have a bipolar unless you have to (Bipolar Disorder and Work in the Office). There is too much prejudice in the world and if you need a paycheck for you and your family to survive, then you don’t want that prejudice jeopardizing your ability to pay you rent. (Of course, there are exceptions to this. It’s a very personal decision.)
  3. Don’t let your work harm your bipolar symptoms. If you find your work is harming your mental health, then, really, nothing else matters because it’s likely that you’re just marching towards a bipolar cliff. Make the changes you need to both succeed at work and optimize your mental health whenever possible.

Work Success with Bipolar

I realize we don’t live in an ideal work and we can’t all obey every do and don’t on the list all the time. That’s okay. But what we all should be doing is balancing our need for gainful employment and our need for bipolar wellness because you can experience work success even with bipolar disorder.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2015, May 7). Work and Bipolar Disorder – Dos and Don’ts for Success, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Ak Mohammed farook
February, 22 2017 at 7:04 pm

I am suffering with bipolar disorder for the past 35 years
I have lost huge amounts in my bussiness
Earned lot of legal issues
Keep on trying to do big things ,which end up with bad results
But I have achieved lot of big things from my childhood
Earned a good name in business and a role model to some
But keep on borrowing above my limits
Stretching 100 times more than my capacity
Getting suicidal thoughts often
Health is totally spoiled

August, 22 2016 at 8:33 pm

I am bipolar type 2 and have two jobs - a part time office job and have set up a backpackers/bar with a friend (guess which point in my cycle I was at when this seemed a good idea).
The last two months however I hit a low, everyone in both jobs has been highly supportive, which makes me feel worse. I haven't hit rock bottom, but am floating halfway in the depths of this body of water and have nothing solid to push off to get me back up - or at least let me sink the rest of the way and break so I can piece back together and push off the floor.
I guess I just need to know if anyone else has a similar situation and any advice that can be offered.

November, 26 2015 at 3:36 am

I'm in my 40s and bipolar - when I was diagnosed, he said I'd been such since at least ten years old.
I also have chose to be unmediated and never have been.
I don't consider myself to be broken, but do need to manage myself. I, fortunately, come with a huge amount of will power. I have rules and stick by them.
I did 12 hour shift work for years, and I will admit (especially as it was a very high stress job) a bit of a colossal disaster.
I went back to 9-5 stuff, in lower-mid management and am miles happier.
We love in a world where bi-polar is seen as 'crazy' or an excuse.
So I don't allow excuses. Before I call in sick to work, I have a list that I go through before its allowed. Things like: make sure I've ate, slept, showered and am dressed (hair done, makeup on) before calling in sick. Usually, I feel better and go in. So my sick calls are extremely low.
I also learned the hard way to never tell people at work. Never. Ever. Even if a coworker is a friend, they're a coworker first, friend second.
My mother is 74. She lives with me, which actually helps. I never ever let her see me on my bad days m, so I hide them very well.
Mad coping skills! But I'd rather do that than medicate. I don't drink, do drugs, smoke, nada.
The price: loving a lie when some days I just want to stay in bed all day and the migraines. Lordy, he migraines!!

July, 18 2015 at 9:23 am

My job of 2 months has been a complete disaster. I have failed at simple tasks. Literally, forgot how to do simple calculations. I'm embarrassed by how bad it's been, but I have been so depressed / anxious. The environment is high-stress and very toxic (negativity everywhere). Too bad that wasn't included in the job description. I'm disappointed by the effect this had had on me, but I continue to go to therapy and take my meds. Although, I feel like an idiot for not finding another job immediately.

May, 21 2015 at 1:47 pm

Every minute of every day. That really hit home.

May, 21 2015 at 1:41 pm

Well no wonder I'm miserable. I don't do any of these things. I think I'm going to print this and really look at my life. Thank you!

Penny D'Andrea
May, 20 2015 at 4:57 am

After I had a psychotic break and was diagnoisef Bipolar 1; I was told I would never work again. I finally was able to but- i made the mistake of disclosing. Huge mistake. Very high pressure and stressfl job, that I could have handled- but, after 10 years of working- my co- workers made my disorder a tool to get me " out of there." I finally retired, and because it was a Federal Government job, I won my case and recieve benefits far more superior than SS. I stated in a mixed state for 6 months before I retired. For me; I think it is the extent of the condition.

EJ Conroy
May, 19 2015 at 10:11 am

When I was diagnosed in 1994 a normal career path was no longer a viable option. However, I was unbelievably lucky. First I found success as a freelance writer and editor, which suited treatment admirably. Then we had the most amazing arrival that not only was accessible to all of us, but connected all of us to each other--the Internet. Suddenly the world had landed in my lap and on my own terms--and I ran with it. So I've been captain of my own ship, and calm seas turn into maelstrom. The key to success has been to somehow stay in control of what I do and when I do it. Of course there are times when the SS Flipperface runs aground and little or nothing is being produced. But this, too, is part of being a professional with bipolar disorder--make plans and stock up during the good days so as to have a plot charted when the wind has fallen slack. Sorry about all the naval references. :)

May, 17 2015 at 7:16 am

I have found for me - the being in control of when and how I work is essential. There are days that are easier than others. I have my own pet sitting business which I stay at people's homes. I have been successful at this for 6 years. I cannot run a business with employees, so I keep it simple. In addition I work in customer service which offers me consistent hours - but does increase my highs.

May, 16 2015 at 10:40 am

I agree with you and praxis to some extent. There should be a disclaimer to this. Honestly I have been in high stressful environments since I have been 5 years old, my mathematical skills were highly developed very early, even though I'm from a "developing" country. Anyways, I've ended up becoming an engineer and as a woman in this environment and having bipolar, my bipolar depression has become worse and worse every year. Though I have really promising leadership qualities, I know at this point I need to go for a less stressful job. But that doesn't mean I will run a very successful company one day.
Thanks Natasha, I feel like each message reaches the right person at the right time.

May, 13 2015 at 1:10 pm

"Do get a low stress job"? I understand that you might feel you require this for yourself, but why would you want to limit others with Bipolar Disorder? There are many people who are Bipolar who are extremely high-functioning such as actors, CEO's, surgeons, etc. Just because you feel you require a job where, as you say, you can spend most days in your pajamas, this does not mean you should categorize EVERYONE with this disorder as such. Please, if you are going to post advice like this in the future, at least post a disclaimer that there is another side to this. Otherwise, implying this is a "definite do" may come across as discouraging to someone who may have been just diagnosed with Bipolar, and it would be a shame for people to unnecessarily limit themselves.

tom d
May, 12 2015 at 3:24 pm

Bipolar and I have a high profile job. I also have an on and off switch that often I am in control of. But sometimes not. I use it a lot 5 days a week. These days when I'm also fighting seasonal allergies and am damn near suicidal. I am lucky that i recognize my problem days and nights. I am lucky to have someone to remind me to take my meds. Find someone who will remind you to take your meds.

Karen Gale
May, 12 2015 at 4:51 am

I would like to return to work also but I'm so scared I will mess up again.lve had 3 jobs this year and l couldn't do them and after l beat myself up pretty badly after .Even my psychiatrist told me I wasn't ready but l felt so .....bad for not contributing to helping out my husband .We live in a very expensive city and l feel so guilty everyday that I'm not working right HELP! I sometimes think he'd be better without me .

kim cooper
May, 10 2015 at 6:39 am

I want to return to work but I am afraid I will have a relapse.I would like to work from home.Do you have any suggestions for me as to what I could do ?

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