Due to the number of hours many of us spend at work, it is natural for work to become an integral part of one's identity. In fact, there's a term for it: work identity. Depression also affects one's work identity, so much so that it might define you in your workplace. What's more, it may also define the way you see yourself.
Work and Bipolar or Depression
Bipolar is a liar, and it's a liar that can't even keep its lies straight. Depression will tell you that you're worthless, while mania will lull you into distorted, grandiose thinking that can cause you to overestimate and over-extend yourself, which can have unpleasant professional and personal consequences. Because of the never-ending falsehoods that bipolar likes to trick us into accepting as truths, knowing our worth as workers and as people can feel like an impossible task. If you work with bipolar disorder, you are not alone in struggling to hold onto your sense of worthiness -- but it's easier to reclaim confidence than you might think.
I started writing about depression in 2017 on my blog, "Mahevash Muses." Then in 2019, I got the opportunity to write about it here at HealthyPlace. The experience has been cathartic, and I wouldn't want to trade it for anything else (other than not being clinically depressed). That said, there are some things I wish I had known before I became a depression blogger.
Being unemployed not only results in a reduced standard of living, but it can also cause depression. Speaking from personal experience, depression can hit the underemployed individual hard as well. However, while I have read a substantial number of articles about depression and unemployment, I have not seen much content on depression and underemployment. And that baffles me because many of us are grossly underemployed today, and the situation is likely to worsen even in a post-pandemic world.
Let's talk about self-care as it relates to working with bipolar. As you know, self-care is a trendy topic. On the one hand, it's encouraging that more people -- especially folks with marginalized identities -- are recognizing that all people deserve to have their physical and psychological needs met regardless of external expectations, including those of our employers. The downside is that the conversation around self-care is often focused more on treating ourselves than building sustainable long-term practices to carry us through life's trials. Building and maintaining a good self-care routine is essential for everyone and is non-negotiable for those of us who live and work with bipolar disorder.
We are living in the age of the gig economy, but how are these side hustles affecting depression?
It can be a struggle to say "no" on the job when you have bipolar. We live in a culture that prioritizes productivity and output over physical and mental wellbeing. Many people feel obligated to take on more work than they can handle at one time or to provide labor that they are unfairly compensated for. Learning to say "no" in the workplace is an act of self-preservation, and it's especially important for folks who work with bipolar disorder.
If you have depression, especially for an extended period of time, you might also have a case of internalized ableism. The combination of depression and internalized ableism can have a severe impact on your work and career. Let's take a look.
Let's be honest: job hunting is demoralizing if you're neurotypical. There are so many uncertainties that can wear you down when seeking a new position—and when you live with bipolar disorder, job hunting stressors can lead to changes in mood, which could result in a full-blown episode of depression or mania. It may be easier said than done, but a critical key to preventing mood episodes while you're on the prowl for a new job is learning ways to keep yourself motivated.
It's true that correlation does not equal causation. It's also true that some of the world's most innovative and creative people have been affected by bipolar disorder, from Carrie Fisher to Halsey. Psychologists and scientific researchers have been examining the link between bipolar disorder and creativity for a very long time, and while the subject is not without controversy, examining the correlation between bipolar disorder and creativity may be helpful for folks with the illness working to build a creative professional life for themselves.