Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder

September 3, 2013 Natasha Tracy

Keeping a job when you have a mental illness like bipolar disorder can be tough but these tips can make it easier. More at Breaking Bipolar blog.

Many people with bipolar disorder hold down jobs, just like everyone else. We get up, swear in traffic, survive on coffee and rant about our bosses behind their backs.

But people with bipolar disorder or another mental illness have special challenges when it comes to work. We’re sick more often, we need time off for medical appointments and stress affects us more than your average person. Here are a few tips on handling work and bipolar disorder.

How to Keep Your Job With Bipolar Disorder

1. Don’t tell.

This first piece of advice is contentious, I know, but I recommend not telling anyone at work that you have bipolar disorder – not even your boss – without a very good reason. That piece of information is terribly “juicy” and telling one person means the information will eventually crawl its way around the office until everyone knows. And whether one person knows or everyone does, you will likely find out what stigma, discrimination and prejudice are all about.

People will start to look at you differently and interpret your actions differently. People will stop recommending you for projects and you might even get passed over for a promotion. And that’s all assuming that more overt, illegal acts of discrimination and hate don’t happen. Is this a worst case scenario? Maybe. But it’s a real one that many people have faced and I recommend not risking it unless you really have to.

(If you do need to tell your boss, look into filing for a protection as a person with a disability. This can protect your from overt acts of discrimination.)

2. Work hard.

Perhaps it goes without saying but you should work hard at work. You should strive to work harder than others. Be on time. Turn in projects by the deadline. Create stellar work. Why? Because you are going to need more time off than others for appointments and for sick leave and you need your boss to remember you for your hard work and not your absenteeism.

3. Don’t stress.

Try not to let work stress you out. When you’re stressed you raise levels of hormones in your body and when you do this for prolonged spans of times you feel sicker and your immune system becomes comprised. Then you have two problems – you have the flu and you have bipolar disorder. Learn to meditate, practice yoga, do relaxation exercises or just go for a run.

4. Take the time you need.

Yup, you want your boss to think of you as a good employee but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the sick time you need and that you’ve earned. When you’re sick just admit it and stay home. It’s okay. It’ll be much better for you in the long run than trying to “power through” and making yourself worse for weeks or even months to come.

5. Be discrete.

When you need to take time off, understand that you don’t need to say why you’re sick, only that you are. It’s perfectly okay to need to take time for a psychiatrist’s appointment in many workplaces but you don’t need to tell people that’s what you’re doing. When you need to take time off because you’re too depressed, you don’t need to tell anyone that’s why you’re staying home – you just need to say that you’re sick. The details are your business.

Working and Keeping the Job with Bipolar

Holding down a job with bipolar disorder is entirely possible. You can achieve and succeed at work and bipolar doesn’t have to stop you but it may be more difficult than for others and it may take more of a toll on you. But following these tips can make it just a little bit easier.

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

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2013, September 3). Keeping a Job When You Have Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 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.

January, 15 2015 at 6:05 pm

Jake, I know how you feel!! I am 25 and I cannot hold a job due to the fact that I have bipolar II, with and anxiety and panic attacks on top of it. The longest I've held a job has been this one I'm at right now, and April will make a year. My apartment lease is over at the end of March and I have to move back in with my family due to another health issue(I have to have shoulder surgery). So I will not be able to keep this job either. I've tried telling my employers and not telling them, either way it didn't make a difference. They looked at it as I called off "too much". I'd have dr notes for 95% of my call offs because I knew they'd want one since being sick was the reason I called off. Meds do not seem to help, they either make me literally pass out, gain weight, or turn me into a hyperactive person. There is no middle ground that I can find. I personally feel like a failure because my family doesn't understand that I am trying so much harder than they see. All they see is that I'm 25, living with family and "mooching" because I don't have a job :(

January, 15 2015 at 3:29 am

I have bipolar II and GAD. I live with my grandma watching TV all day. I have quit every job I have ever had due to not being able to fill my hours of my contracts.
I'm 26 years old and don't know how to be an adult. Sive always been too messed up to learn how to manage my own life.
Now I just count down the days.

December, 6 2014 at 4:14 am

SHERI, I could have written the above comment. I am a RN and have had two employers treat me tremendously awful as well as ignoring my human rights. Although I filed complaints with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario that does not help the devastation of having all my "friends" and coworkers turn on me. I had been employed at one place for 12 years and thought they were a huge part of my life. The second place I was there for 4 years but it was such an accepting environment I told my manager (a RN) and my employers (6 Doctors!!! and I again was isolated and asked to resign. I can relate to your feelings about loss of confidence and second guessing yourself. I wish I had the answer. I have used up my savings and feel I can't go back to nursing but am not qualified for anything else. One small thing that helped me a little was that there was one Doctor who valued my work at a previous job and not only told me but stood up to another Dr who disliked me. That helped validate that I have been a good nurse and the perception of other employers was not entirely true.
You are not a failure, your employers and friends let you down. You are so right if we were physically sick we would get flowers and phone calls. I hope you find what you need.

December, 5 2014 at 11:04 am

i have bipolar I, and suffered a lot personally and professionaly, and my opinion is never tell anything to anyone that they don't really need to know. I learned to put up a front, to control the behaviours so that people can't tell what is going on, If things get bad i have to escuse myself. It's difficult, i get really nervous around people, but can't really Trust anyone. If you have a disease everything you do that doesn't fit the expectations is labeled "crazy", it's just one more thing people can throw at you. On the other hand is hard not to be yourself, it's like i need to create various layers to deal with various people, even the ones you love, especially those you hurt... This was my survival instintc strategie to avoid another hospitalization. I take my meds, always, and since they finally found the right one i never had any big problem, just some bad/worse days. Although it Neves goes away, that feeling that something is not quite normal... I worked in several places, always had problems with co-workers. Now i finally can work part time in a more protected environment (famíly company), i was unemployed for 4 years... But my effords to control these behaviours paid off, now i regained some dignity and trustworthiness you lose when you are labeled "crazy". It's really hard, but with some efford and luck you, who also share the effects of This illness, Will also find positive things in your Life, and be happy.... This disease Opened up my eyes to some very important things about my Life, it's not all bad....

December, 5 2014 at 9:36 am

I have recently been diagnosed bipolar. I thought I was one of the lucky ones. I had a "melt down" at work. I worked in home health care. My bosses were amazing they helped me get the help I needed. Very understanding... Or were they? After about 6 months I was feeling much better. I confidently went back to my employers,my " friends " and said I was ready to come back. I was feeling better seeing Dr. And on medication to help. They had me give a resume. A week or two later I got a short no jobs available letter in the mail. This is seriously suspect, they are forever looking for people. I feel so betrayed and wish I'd never started looking for help. :-( my confidence, which was never great I'd destroyed. I find myself second guessing every thing I want to apply for. We are now on social assistance and it isn't even enough to pay rent. I've never felt suicidal but I can see how a person can get to that point now. I feel betrayed by people I thought of as friends and co workers. I was amazing at my job. Im just so scared and frustrated and I feel like a failure. I have a wonderful family and I am letting them down. If I had recovered from a physical illness I'd be back to work now. :-(

November, 24 2014 at 8:05 pm

Sorry Natasha. I recently read your bipolar burble commenting rules... Now I understand. I really enjoy reading your blogs. I get a lot out of them. Your hard work and dedication is very much appreciated

November, 23 2014 at 10:57 am

Why do you keep removing my blogs? Do I trigger things in you or others that you/they don't like. Seriously, I really want to know...

November, 7 2014 at 8:17 pm

In 2012 I had a psychotic episode which resulted in a rather public breakdown which unfortunately made the newspapers so my cover was blown at work. After people at work found out I was passed over for a promotion despite having successfully acted in that role for many months.
While I was disappointed to miss out on a promotion and I have definitely had to put up with ignorant people treating me differently (a senior manager started talking to me very slowly, over-enunciating everything) there is also a sense of relief at not having to live in fear of people finding out.
It has also given me the opportunity to have some very real conversations about the reality of living with a chronic mental illness like bipolar disorder. Many people are genuinely curious and because it's not something that is often talked about openly it's an opportunity to increase awareness and promote tolerance and understanding.
It's also a lot easier for me to take time off when I need to now. I don't hesitate or feel anxious about it and I don't feel like I have to explain myself.
I have also since moved into a casual role with the company and I've found that has helped me immensely as I can adjust my hours in accordance with how well I am (I live in Australia so fortunately there are government payments available for me when I'm too unwell to work).

October, 31 2014 at 6:05 am

Advice please!! I am 27 yrs old and I was diagnosed with Bp/ptsd/anxiety back in 08' but i was told that it went untreated since childhood. (For time sake) i will get to my point, i have had close to 20 jobs, ive NEVER been fired, i have GREAT references, i just CANNOT seem to stay employed. I will just walk off a job. I quit everything i start even school. Now im working witj vocational rehabilitation to get into a supported employment program. And i got a SSI lawyer. So i have a SSI hearing Nov. 18th. Ive been denied 3times. So my lawyer was like now since were going to court and I actually have a lawyer things should go favorable. Any thoughts/advice?? Thanks!!

Jane Dough
October, 26 2014 at 10:35 am

Never disclose your business to anyone. Haven't you learned that people are not trust worthy. People are so uneducated, and ignorant themselves, and people do not need to be put down more, labeled more, judged more, then we all already are. Having Bipolar disorder is no different, then so one with heart problems, or diabetic, but the stigma that is caries. You have people out their that are mis diagnosed first of all. So when you watch the news, or other shows on TV they always say the person with the gun or knife had Bipolar disorder...NOT... Even on Dr. Phil you will here him state "well I don't think you are CRAZY" , but then on another show he will say, " well lets get you some help... I like and respect Dr. Phil, and I love the fact that he helps a lot of people that needs to be helped, however... him calling people "CRAZY" then helping them, is disrespectful, and does not help the stigma on mental health. Not all people with Bipolar, PTSD, ADHD or any other issues dealing with the brain, do CRAZY things, jealous things, hateful things, evil things, so how do a person with the disorder get better, keep your business to yourself. It is so many people not diagnosed, and those are the people running this world and those are the ones who people need to watch out for, the people who are uneducated on their feelings, and the way the human brain works.

October, 17 2014 at 4:01 am

Replying to William: I disclosed my bipolar disease to two successive managers in 2000 and 2001, no problems, they seemed to really "get it". The second boss even had a degree in behavioral health.
In 2004, I received a really crappy review from the second one, it was a list of my previously disclosed symptoms! I lost it, went manic and almost lost my job. HR started the reasonable accommodation process, part of which was to contact my PCP to see what reasonable changes could be made to help me do my job. I should note here that I was not thinking clearly due to the mania and thought contacting the PCP would work. He had not diagnosed me, a psychologist had, all my PCP did was manage my meds. Anyway, we all signed documents and the accommodation ended up that I got 30 minutes a day to go for a walk and unwind.
Cut to 2012, I'm still at the same employer and I've made many good contributions to my team and the organization. I also made the assumption that the info on my disability has been handed down to any of my newer managers.
It's two bosses later and the current boss writes a crappy review for me, once again a list of my symptoms (attention span in meetings, attitude at times, etc...). I write up a response that references my disability and my reasonable accommodation from 2004.
The next day I get called into a meeting with my boss, his boss and an HR rep. They don't know what the f--- I'm talking about. They ask me questions and the HR rep starts getting a worried look. The next day I bring in all the supporting paperwork, with signatures. HR starts getting very very apologetic and asks if I'd like to do the reasonable accommodation process.
I am completely flummoxed at this point, the manager from 2004, whose signature is on the paperwork now avoids eye contact with me in the hallways. To add to that, she had been a very good friend to myself and my wife. They created a facade of paperwork back in 2004 to shut me up and get me back to work. I think my PCP just didn't give a satisfactory response. You don't just lose paperwork when someone discloses a disability!
Technically, HR and my 2004 boss committed fraud (fraud can be taking money, something else of monetary value or a LEGAL RIGHT). I should have done something legally at that point, but I was emotionally devastated by the whole thing. I redid the reasonable accommodation process, getting diagnosed once again by another psychologist who added that I also had some symptoms of PTSD from trauma in my teenage years.
Four months later, the company went through a 10% budget cut and guess who the one person in my department was who got the axe? After all of that crap I am much stronger in dealing with bipolar, I meditate and exercise everyday.
But one thing I would tell you is to never, ever disclose that you are bipolar in the workplace unless it is in extremis. People will either not believe you and think that you are looking for some kind of angle to be a protected goldbricker or they will loook at you as a liability.

October, 15 2014 at 5:10 pm

Your advice is excellent, but every person with bipolar is different. Some of us can work full time, some of us can work part time( me, for one),and others cannot hold a job- no matter what mental tricks they use to cope. God bless!

October, 14 2014 at 12:17 pm

I refer to the original article. The postings have bee3n far more elucidating.

October, 14 2014 at 11:33 am

All this is nice for people freaking out on regular mood swings but bipolarity needs to be treated like a disease if it's ever to be acknowledged and treated appropriately.

October, 13 2014 at 4:15 pm

Doubtful that anyone will read this and respond since my posting is well after the original article, but I find the first order of advice here to be one of the most irresponsible things I have read in regards to dealing with bipolar disorder. As clever and engaging as the author may be in spots, the "don't tell" advice to someone suffering from a very real but very treatable disability sends the worst message possible.
Sure, there is a stigma associated with bipolar disorder, and disclosing this information to protect oneself legally (or morally) requires courage; however, doing so is the best possible thing one can do to improve their present and future employment options. And that action sends a critical message that can and will ripple throughout the employment landscape: bipolar disorder is manageable with fair accommodations, and employers that wisely embrace the truth will more often than not retain fantastic employees who often outperform their peers over time.
Tell. Always tell. It will empower you and others.

October, 10 2014 at 7:06 pm

Are you serious Jennifer?? I don't think anyone is here for a grammar lesson how trivial can you be? Manwithtoolbelt I would contact the nearest disability office and ask them for advice, I would make sure i did that asap to cover yourself quick

Kathleen Brannon
October, 9 2014 at 3:56 pm

The word as you're using it is spelled "discreet" not "discrete." Apologies:I'm a grammar fanatic.

September, 28 2014 at 4:56 am

There seems to be a lot of information out there. One should find out first, how to approach this default work place situation. I worked as maintenance person for over eighteen years. My previous boss and CEO, know of my disability. Now we are under new management and this information is available to them. As some of you may have experience when new management comes in, out with old and in with the new. With this change I went from site supervisor to the golfer. This was and is very degrading. Before this new management the company's model was this should be a great place to work as it is to live. So does one tell or not. Pryor to the change we all got along great. A home like atmosphere. The stress now is at an all time high. Get up in the morning and don't wish to go to work there. The resident have been the only reason I keep ed going to work and now because this is considered private property they have stop me from being able to visit any of them. More stress. I believe this is another way to have me leave. I have been told I'm being mounded. If it wasn't for the need of the money I would leave tomorrow. I seem to go back and forth in this listing. My first ever of any posting. Who do I contact for my rights so as not to lose my job. What I do I do very good but there will always be something small but when compiled. It gives them the upper hand. I need to know who I can contact for me and prepare for when (hit hits the fan). You know it's going to happen, the wrighting on the wall. I could go on an on but this may not be the place. Thank you for this piece of out put.

June, 30 2014 at 3:36 pm

Ok, let's be honest here. No one is or should be obliged to tell anyone anything. Secondly, any repurcussions from telling or not telling can be mitigated by various laws, potentially, and depending on where you live.
In the US, there are laws governing state civil rights and a federal law against discrimination based on disability (or age, race, etc). I for one do not know anything about FMLA and time taken off through it, other than people's jobs can be protected by it. But I know nothing other than that.
As for laws against discrimination, I am very familiar as I currently have a federal suit against my former employer. First, there are different grounds for discrimination. Second, there are 3 different prongs under which one can be discriminated: a)actually having a disability, b)having a disabiity in the past, and c)regarded as having disability. Those prongs will affect which grounds are legitimate.
Third, regarding accommodations, it is recommended that the individual disclose to the supervisor the need for xyz because of abc. It doesn't need to be a formal diagnosis. Check out the EEOC's website and guidelines for more info. The words "reasonable accommodation" and "disability" need not be said. It is recommended that the time of disclosure be as soon as it is evident the person needs some kind of change (accommodation). Even if it's a behavior issue, the same applies. You can't be fired for poor behavior resulting from your disability. (unless it's been previously addressed) You have the right to a facilitated meeting.
Fourth, they have to give you any reasonable accommodation, BUT, they can ask for further evidence/documentation of your need for such accommodations. That, however, is on them, not you.
Note--these things (as far as federal law) only apply to employers with 15 or more employees.
Happy Hunting!

Tamilyn Henderson
June, 30 2014 at 11:16 am

I feel you have to disclose that you have bipolar. Being bipolar is just an illness like any other. If you had cancer, would you tell people? Of course, so that they understand why you are tired sometimes or why you need time off. Not telling just buys into the stigma surrounding us and the stigma we have about ourselves. We are not different, we have a physical disease that causes the way we do things. It almost sounds like you are telling us to be ashamed of who we are by not telling.

kath brigg
June, 22 2014 at 1:55 am

After trying many jobs over just as many years i finally had to accept that going to work was not `working` for me.Starting a new job made me feel valuable and needed ,however after a few weeks I would become paranoid and self-destructive.My self-confidence would slowly erode away;I would doubt myself and miss-interpret other team members comments.I would imagine that other members of the team were colluding against me.I would begin to focus on one team member , feeling that they were `out to get me`.Loss of concentration,memory loss and confusion would follow,with a crumbling` and final `shut-down`;this unfortunate happening would culminate in me ringing up the boss in a tearful state saying I could no longer do the job. Unfortunately, after a few months of recovery I would feel over-confident and apply for jobs; deluding myself into thinking I was a waste to society by not working and that i had a lot to offer!
SO HERE WE GO AGAIN!!! The whole ,sad process would repeat itself.
When I did get the diagnosis of Bi-Polar it all made sense to me - the tablets are working for me but getting another job?-well, put yourself in my shoes---what would you do?

June, 16 2014 at 11:02 am

My experience has been that I do not have organizational skills, time management skill or an ability to handle stress. That is part of the disease but there are no accomodations made for such issues. I do best when I do work that is below my level of experience and ability. It is heartbreaking. I disagree about telling your boss about a mental illness. That is your insurance should they try to fire you. This is a very difficult to bear.

Kuldeep nanda
May, 18 2014 at 3:48 am

If you have BP do not change job as you know about your mates some of them will
Make you in low mood avoid them others will lift your mood and are helpful
You can always have sickness leave for one or the other reasons

May, 17 2014 at 6:27 pm

I am a teacher and work on a campus where the people have been like family to me. Everyone knows I am bipolar and accept it because they love me. I am very blessed. We have students with mental issues and the other teachers often seek my advice in helping those students, even though my only expertise is dealing with a mental illness myself. My advice in telling employers and co workers depends upon the type of work you do and the atmosphere of your work environment. I have worked on my campus for years. I didn't tell right when I was hired. A coworker led me one day to my car in tears and I then began to reveal it slowly.

May, 17 2014 at 8:21 am

Totally disagree!
I worked 8 years with Starbucks Coffee Company. I had no choice but to tell my manager I was bipolar due to all the time I had to take off (Short Term Disability, etc.) and my unstable behavior. They were so very supportive, thank you Howard Shultz. Until I finally had to resign and go on Long Term Disability and then ultimately Social Security Disability because I could not commit to a schedule, nor focus and the stress was just too much.
But for the time I did work while I was diagnosed, it certainly helped me for my manager and partners to know and understand my mental illness. I couldn't have made it without their support!

Margaret trainor
May, 15 2014 at 6:34 am

I don't agree with your telling people to take time off as needed, if as needed is often. All your boss has to do is provide REASONABLE accommodations and that is only if you tell them you have bipolar. Attendance rules are in every job. You can be fired for being off too much, and the boss only has to help you out if you admit to the disability.
I was in mgmt for a Fortune 500 company and know the laws. Don't lead people astray.

May, 13 2014 at 5:41 am

It is spelled "Discreet". Not Discrete.

Betty Carlson
May, 12 2014 at 2:23 pm

I suffer from medication resistant depression. I have been under treatment for 25 years with each episode being worse. I had ect Last summer and went on disability then. The ect Did help but I now have memory issues that I am told are not noticeable but do add to my anxiety as I know they are happening. I would Do the treatment again as I do know they Helped but I do not see me being able to work again.
I have always Disclosed my disability at work more by not hiding it then public announcement. I don't think it hurt me and I have had several people ask Me about treatment or information for themselves or family members.

December, 5 2013 at 4:55 pm

That sucks. It really is tough to understand some people. They have no real compassion and sometimes no real motive for their crappy behavior. Their existence is merely to be a toxic entity, and unfortunately, their toxic energy is affecting you. Hence, the sabotage.

December, 5 2013 at 10:12 am

I am going through this situation right now. I didn't 'tell' my bosses, but a co-worker did hear me and she herself has depression issues, so I thought she'd be sympathetic. Instead she made my life a living hell and I ended up worse off than I have been in months. I was getting my hours cut because of her comments to superiors and ended up stressing out over our bills and issues that I've had because of my disease. I spiraled recently into a deep depression, using alcohol to escape from the bipolar. Because I have had troubles with staying in jobs, I've had issues keeping insurance, which then leads to issues with getting the medical treatments and medications I need. I am feeling like I'm in a no win lost situation and no matter where I try to turn for help, it seems like no one understands the urgency. I am sitting here typing this as I once again, try to get some medical assistance and job hunt, because I have to be able to pay the bills. My husband is at his wits end with it because of my manic situations that had led to some of the now bill situations (not to mention the months in between employment in the last 2 years). I seriously wish that there was an easier way.

October, 28 2013 at 9:13 pm

I feel as though you should let others know about your illness if the time should arise or heck if you want to share it, or even if you don't want to share it, share it! How else will we end the stigma of mental illness? A person with say, Diabetes for example wouldn't be discriminated against at the workplace for their sickness, so the thought for a person dealing with mental illness like Bipolar Disorder should confidently be "I shouldn't be discriminated against either, I have a real sickness as well that people need to be aware of". How else will we decrease or end the stigmas if we don't TALK about it? Will we not also be to blame if these stigmas stick around, because we chose to keep quiet about the illness rather than try to educate others about it? I think we in the mental illness population need to work on accepting our curse/blessing and just as importantly work on not being ashamed of it. Its a naturally occurring part of us to me, our brains are functioning differently from others, but normally for us...why hide it? So what you get discriminated against? Fight back for the collective whole so it doesn't happen in the future. Do as gays and blacks and women did and still do for example to reduce stigmas. Educate, don't stay quiet about something so important. One might be surprised to find that by talking about things, people learn to feel compassion. Heck they might already be compassionate and understanding of your medical situation before you reveal your BPD or whatever to them. The nonmentally ill are not as inhuman as some others may perceive them to be. They have hearts too ready for understanding. It is up to us to attempt to change the false perceptions of mental illness. We must EDUCATE, NOT TOLERATE!

October, 24 2013 at 8:34 pm

My goodness! This article has shed a new light on all sorts of things I deal with. I never knew bipolar people struggle w/ immunity and getting sick often.I have struggles w/ every point in this article. I'm at the moment looking for a job right now. Thank you for sharing this. I have a whole new positive outlook.

October, 24 2013 at 4:35 am

I'm 39, haven't worked in six years,I'm bipolar and stable on meds. I've been trying to get off of veteran's disability and work full time. Disability doesn't pay much and I also have a section 8 apartment through a homeless veteran's program. Only job opportunity recently is for tax season and then it ends. I am just hoping that my goal of getting off disability and being productive is possible. Debating on taking the tax consultant job in hopes that it will add recent experience to my resume, but the disability will instantly end once I start working.

October, 4 2013 at 9:40 am

I really liked all your points. I am having to be out 1 or 2 days every other week (thank God for FMLA), but I get outstanding reviews because I work hard to make up my work and purposfully (sp) bring issues to my bosses attention so she can see that I am concerned about my work. I already use your advice and it has worked for me. I doubted myself a few times thinking I should tell my boss, but ultimately I am glad I didn't. Thanks!

Vanessa Williams
October, 1 2013 at 8:31 am

I gave up a good freelance job so I could have the protections of FMLA and ADA. I damn near blew up my career over a two year period of increasingly erratic behavior. Freelance is better for me from a time management perspective, but I need the security of a regular job.
I have opted not to say anything to my employer yet about my bipolar. Instead, I have tried to explain my outbursts of anger and general bitchiness as personality quirks.
I also take PTO (including mental health days - it's a real thing). I will use whatever legal protections I have should the need arise.
Here's the thing - if an employer discriminates against me, they are not likely to tell people about it. But if I blow up the place on my way out the door, then everyone in my profession knows about it.

September, 27 2013 at 9:36 am

"Yes, if I spent 12 to 14 hrs a day playing violent video games; I could see maybe my disease triggering the thought of being violent. Please!"
Very funny! But true - violence grows out of specific situations - not mental illness. Here is what researchers say about the link between mental illness and violence:
- "Although studies suggest a link between mental illnessesand violence, the contribution of people with mental illnesses to overall rates of violence is small, and further, the magnitude of the relationship is greatly exaggerated in the minds of the general population (Institute of Medicine, 2006)."
- "…the vast majority of people who are violent do not suffer from mental illnesses (American Psychiatric Association, 1994)."
- "The absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is very small. . . only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill (Mulvey, 1994)."
-"People with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crime (Appleby, et al., 2001). People with severe mental illnesses,schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2 ½ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population (Hiday, et al.,1999)."

September, 26 2013 at 6:07 am

The problem I have is the disease is defined under a limited structure. I had a horrible surgery which went south. I knew they lied to me about what had happened (besides over 5 hospital professionals hinted I was right). Yet, I was ignored because I was bipolar. I bought the 996 pgs report. My psych shooked his head and said "why did you tell them you were bipolar? What they think you have, you don't have." Being left completely physically disabled; I have time to look back. I worked 30 years for the same company and was never cross ways with anyone. In fact,executive complaints were given to me on many occassions because worked well with outraged customers. I made employee of the year twice (very large corp.). I came home and screamed in my pillows and constantly self-talked my way out of suicide. I had failed marriages because the depression was painful for them to watch. I fell apart when I was secluded within my home from the public. After my father's death, I completely went bonkers. Yet, I have always paid, lost promotions and treated like less because I am bipolar. I never had a self esteem problem. Actually, I had illusions of grandeur. Now, we are the murderers on TV. Yes, if I spent 12 to 14 hrs a day playing violent video games; I could see maybe my disease triggering the thought of being violent. Please!

September, 12 2013 at 2:12 pm

Jo, after many years of resisting it, I had ECT. I had to stop treatment early because I live alone and showed up one morning for a treatment drinking Diet Coke. Since ECT requires anesthesia which must be done on an empty stomach, my treatments were stopped half way through the recommended course. I was a little better but I don't remember the two weeks of therapy at all. I also lost several months prior to the treatments and I was confused for at least a month afterwards. I've seen other people who had ECT on an inpatient basis who had miraculous recoveries. If I were you, I'd try it. Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get rTMS treatments which are less invasive, have almost no side effects and are half as expensive as ECT.
Everyone's situation is different when it comes to revealing a mental illness at work. I had no choice because I had a long hospitalization four years into my employment. It haunted me for the next seventeen years. It impacted my ability to be promoted and when someone got angry with me, they claimed that I was showing symptoms. That's really not surprising as I was a police officer but I recently suffered the same treatment from a woman in my church. The betrayal was horrible. Otoh, I just stop working on the same ministry team. I wouldn't have that choice in a job. You never know how someone will respond. I wish that I had told fewer people that I was ill. I don't believe that the support that I received balanced out the cruel treatment that I received. Then again, I'm a valuable human being, illness and all, so, screw 'em.

September, 12 2013 at 9:21 am

**PS- they hired me and I worked there for years until the company went out of business

September, 12 2013 at 9:20 am

Yeah, so I told the CEO and Managing Editor at my second interview. It was sometime after being recently diagnosed and then getting to an OK place after a horrible mixed state episode + 10 years of un/misdiagnosis, and I was like, f*ck it, this is me and what I have to deal with and I don't want to have to hide it- they obviously liked my skill set. As for the diagnosis, they could hire me or not. Though to be fair, I had another job at the time, and the job I was interviewing for was psychiatry related. But regardless, I think having to hide something major like that about myself to keep a job is worse than unemployment, because at least with the latter I have my dignity.

September, 7 2013 at 8:58 am

I have lost positions telling my bosses that I have bipolar. They wouldn't work with me, even though I had a great record of work put in. I wish I would have known about the organizations that help you keep your job no matter the boss's position. You have to know what options you have so you can maintain your work options. Ms. Tracy, thank you for the post.

September, 6 2013 at 8:19 am

Any Ideas?? I am 35..I was diagnosed with BP2 7 years ago. According to my family doctor and my psychiatrist after getting my history and my families they both stated that there was about a 99% chance that I started becoming symptomatic at about 14. It's no wonder why I never felt "normal", but now I understand this is my normal.
Jobs...oh goodness. I had a couple jobs I really enjoyed and with a family over the years I had no choice but to work. 2 jobs I ended up getting "laid off" due to company issues but that is crap because I know they were interviewing people in both cases before I was laid off. I most reccently had a job at the post office. Amazing pay, easy work, 3rd shift a couple years which made me a horrible awful person to live and deal with. My marriage which was only in 2 years was crumbling quickly and I had no relationship with my daughters. I got to 1st shift, easy job, most stressful place ever. From the start I had to get FMLA right away becuase I knew the good times wouldn't last long. Weeks even time totalling months a year I was absent because of my syptoms. I was also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. As time went on things got better for almost a year then got worse and worse. There were rumors of course that I faked symptoms. So being the federal government they did an iquiry in which the found out my diagnosises. It got around to the whole plant and suddenly I was worthless, lazy, mean, weird and just an altogether bad person. Not having any reason to get rid of me (my work when I was there was amazing and having the FMLA covered me for being late sometimes.) After 6 years and a unusually high changes of managment I made a mistake on my time card by 2 hours. I have memory issues and tend to "check out" sometimes. They insisted that I was "stealing time" from the postal service because I was not found on any cameras in the plant working and was fired for forging federal documents. My union is currently fighting for my job back but i can never go back there. I don't think working anywhere will be possible now. I have had medications changed, therapy,lifestyle changes...nothing, I mean nothing is working. My husband has been the most supportive person in my corner since I had changed to first shift years ago. I had a major depressive and aniety breakdown in 2011, rendering me pretty much useless if I went out of my house or comfort zone of my town.
I am on unemployment now. Between my memory, cognitive skills, depression, anxiety, manic episodes I decided to file for disability when this is all over. My sleeping varies, I either don't have sex or have alot. Since being home for the last 3 months, I set myself on a schedule everyday and plan what I will do in advance. When I stick to it it helps quite a bit. When a "bad day" surfaces it's easier for me to handle the symptoms and am able to take the medication I need to. My husband has seen a positive change in me even though for example right now I have been in a manic depressive episode for 2 weeks now.
My next and last resort is ECT. I am 50 lbs overweight, have no self confidence and even with a healthy diet and hot vinyasa yoga can not get this weight off. Sometimes I don't eat sometimes I binge eat. I do have normal days even weeks, but it doesn't really last very long. There are some more meds I can try. I am on 7 right now and 5 of them cause weight gain. Everything else causes weight gain.
I have horrible luck and I'm scared ECT will do more harm than good. At this point when my unemployment runs out I am cashing out my 401k..we have to do it to my husbands to because over the years my compulsive spending and being off with no pay put us in a severe hole....That money should last us about a year of me covering the bills my husband can't. My only hope is in that year I can get approved for disability then try ECT or inpatient therapy. I have to know I did everything I possibly could. I seem so normal sometimes..I have become skilled at faking it. With enough meds and anxiety medication, my daughters and or my husband there, I am perfectly normal. Panic attacks from too many people my husband blames it on a migrane. Too much anxiety he says we have to do...(fill in the blank).
Outside of these walls I am either completely normal or completely screwed. I carpool kids and go to yoga. Get to my councesling appointments most of the time, get my daughter to tumbling and grocery shopping in normal weeks because I coupon and the stress of that is huge in itself but when I don't feel good, impossible.
I am so so sorry this was so long. I haven't had an opportunity to speak with, ask questions to from people that have my "imbalance..)
What do you think? I think disability is my best bet at this point. Anyone have opinions on ECT?
Thanks for reading my book : )

September, 5 2013 at 6:06 pm

@ashley. You brought up some good points, but the reality is a place where bipolar is accepted is few and far in between. That is why the majority of people keep it a secret. Another reality is we have to work. I am very hesitant to file for disability, and even if I did, I would most likely be rejected because I don't have frequent episodes, nor are they extreme (enough for disability anyway). It sounds like most BPII sufferers fall in this camp.
I don't be honest, I really do wish it were the way you've described it. I remember Catherine Zeta-Jones saying suffering from bipolar is "no big deal" - and it is kind of true. But the press didn't think so, and certainly the public ate it up. The headlines could've read, "Catherine Zeta-Jones is an alien" and the reaction would've been the same.
Really, it is on an individual basis and no one should be giving anyone who decides not to disclose crap for doing so. They have reasons that only they understand, and it is THEM not you or me, who has to live with the consequences that such disclosure bring. Personally, I never experienced it as a good thing. I don't like hearing someone's unsolicited opinion on it because their interpretation is largely untrue.
It is a tough place to be.

September, 5 2013 at 8:21 am

I don't like or agree that the basis of the advice given is to keep secrets. I feel that only furthers stigma and makes you look flaky. Personally I would rather work somewhere I am accepted and don't have to lie about my life or hide. Being open and honest about having the disorder has definitely caused me problems, but it has also allowed me to make connections. I currently work with two other people who have BBD. Sharing your own struggles with mental illness can also create an open, supportive work environment, which is what I need. Also in the past when I lied or hid it and then started acting irrationally people accused me of being on drugs. There is much less tolerance toward drug abuse than there is mental illness.

September, 5 2013 at 8:00 am


September, 5 2013 at 5:54 am

@milagro. I wish I knew what to say about your situation, but hearing such things leaves me speechless. The people that work there are such hypocrites...
I would never donate money to them and I hope no one does either.

September, 5 2013 at 3:53 am

Hmmm...sounds more like a prison. I wonder why these people don't just get out of the industry? Obviously they're of no help, and their frustration builds to the point of becoming monsters.
A pity, really - as they have become the nonhumans they project in their patients. Obviously, you've had bad experiences in such a place?

September, 4 2013 at 7:09 pm

I AM BIPOLAR, Depressed, PTSD and anxiety.
My father passed away in August of 2012, I fell into ” the black hole”, missed a lot of work, hit a deer, car in shop needing a new engine, no money, got evicted, no where to stay, then got fired! After coming clean to my employer on the advice of my psychiatrist! My employer, THE UNITED WAY OF GREATER KC!!!!!
I finally got the courage to tell them what was going on in my life and they fired me!
Now, if you are familiar with this non profit organization, I would be the campaign poster child! They never offered me any type of help. I am still in shock, needless to say, I am so sick that I spend most of my time in bed, numb, feeling worthless, alone and living in a transitional homeless shelter. Really?, or is this just a dream?
Any comments?
Sola, Milagro

September, 4 2013 at 5:56 pm

I agree Judy, the mental health industry can be one of the worst for stigma. It does depend on if the workplace culture is a 'them and us' situation. It may be disadventageous to view your mentall ill patient as a person, if the policies of your workplace frequently abuse the human rights of the inpatients.

September, 4 2013 at 4:37 pm

@Kris. Thanks for sharing this. The general consensus seems to lean towards nondisclosure as the bad outweighs the good, but it is helpful to hear of experiences like yours. I guess it is a matter of putting out your feelers, but this doesn't help unless you know your diagnosis in the first place, and you're not having difficulties as a result of bipolar symptoms. Still, I hesitate to see it as a good thing overall.
@Sarah, I think you brought up some good points:
#1 - that some industries are more understanding than others is true. Truer still is some people are simply more open minded than others - and usually it's because they know someone who suffers from some form of mental illness. I recall one of the commenters sharing her experiences with stigma in the mental health field. In fact, she said it was the worst stigma she had ever experienced. Something is definitely wrong with this picture. It is like being a bus driver asleep at the wheel. Or a cop who is trigger happy in the line of duty. But I sort of get it. I worked with developmentally disabled kids for a time and what you read and what you have to deal with is different. My manager's advice was to distance emotionally - otherwise, it will affect you and you will burn out quickly. You can really apply this to any service field, I guess.
Man, where is this magical golden place you mentioned? And can I take my dog to work? Just kidding...
#2 - Thanks for pointing out that the bipolar tendency has some good qualities. Very true, and when not ill, I can definitely remember them, but it is nice that someone throws it out there as a reminder.
#3 - Urgh! This has gotten to me at some point in my life. I've done yoga 4 days a week, biked and walked to work, meditated some (but never really got good at it - it's not easy!). It does alleviate the stress, but bipolar can still drop you on your rear, so it is hard to hear this in the context of my current life.
#4 - this one I am still learning to do. My parents are WWII survivors who lost family members on both sides so it is hard to use an illness as an excuse to take it easy. I tend to gloss it over and try and power thru.
#5 - sadly, sometimes this is not possible. Being discreet is not an option when really symptomatic. It is hard to be in this place.
Thanks for the good perspective.

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