Worklife after Postpartum Depression

There are several stories to share about working as a project manager after the postpartum depression associated with the birth of my daughter.  Most are rather distressing to me as I was unable to hold down a job for any real length of time. 

 This includes work at:

               – a local planning and environmental company in 2004/2005

               – a major telecommunications company in 2007/2008

               – a non-profit environmental organization in 2010 and 2011

               – a health services company in 2013

               – a nonprofit management services company in 2014.    

Work at the local planning firm built upon prior work I did in the community for naturalizing the stream near my home. I served to facilitate the steering committee that was all-volunteer and dedicated to this stream restoration project.  My health at this time was still impacted by the postpartum depression.  The job was cut short when the principal developed lung cancer and retired and shortly after passed away. Generally speaking, working in the environmental sector proved less stressful than in telecommunications information technology.

A year or two after completing the job at the environmental planner and program manager job, I decided to go back into project management work at the telecommunications company.  This was a mistake.  The job was highly stressful.  At one point I was asked to work over a 70-hour workweek.  This was the death knell for my health.  Shortly after being up all night with a computer software launch, I began having break-through bipolar symptoms.  Within a day, this was full blown mania.  I wrote an incoherent email and forwarded it up the chain of command.  I was a contractor at the time.  My contract was immediately terminated and I was escorted from the building.  I was not even given the opportunity to retrieve my belongings.  The representative from the contracting agency retrieved my personal belongings and brought them to my house a few days later.  The treatment I received there made me feel like I was a criminal and/or dangerous to my colleagues.  There was absolutely no understanding of mental illness and/or bipolar symptoms.

Later that year, I was hospitalized for an extended period of time and started on a new regime of meds called Clozaril or Clozapine.  It was discussed at that hospitalization that I would perhaps not be able to work again.  After an extended stay in the hospital, I began weekly therapy visits and participated in CBT and other talk-therapy protocols.  My daughter by this time was almost five years old.

After a two-year stint away from the workplace, I landed a part-time job with a local environmental non-profit. I started working there 20 hours a week and eventually was promoted to 30 hours a week.  At this juncture, I was completely upfront with my boss about having bipolar illness.  My boss was more understanding than most people.  It appeared she was somewhat familiar with the illness.  During this time I made many contributions as project manager to this environmental start-up.  In addition to making strides on various environmental projects, I helped with the sale of one program to a national management non-profit organization.  I continued to work here for about two years but found that interpersonal relations with my boss were such that I wished to leave this place of work.  And I did.

From here the story tends to repeat itself.  I was hired in 2013 to do software development project management work. This contract lasted two months or less.  In 2014, I was hired to do project management in the certifications and educational departments for two non-profit agencies at a non-profit management company.  This job lasted about 6 months.

All in all, I found that project management work was too stressful for me.  I was not able to divide my time between two major projects I was asked to work on simultaneously.  I would tend to work on one major project and let the other slip.  Once in 2013 and then again in 2014, I resigned from each position in the project management information technology space within the period of several months.  Basically since I started on Clozaril or Clozapine in 2008, I have not been able to stay at a job for longer than two years.  And that was part-time work.

From here picking myself up in 2017, I resumed my work as a volunteer in the town where I live.  I was appointed to the local environmental sustainability board in the spring of 2017 and served on that board, chairing one committee for a time, until the end of 2020.

All in all, my work history after the extended postpartum period in 2004 has been very inconsistent.  I have had to re-orient myself as to what is productive behavior and what is not.  I have been very accomplished at volunteering locally and at researching and writing papers that were or have been presented in national and/or international settings.  But this work has not been “paid.”  I have had to re-direct feelings of being “less than” because I have been unable to keep a paying job. 

All in all, I feel like a major component of my checkered job history is due to the fact that bipolar illness carries such a stigma with it.  I either have been asked to leave employment because of it or I have left employment early because I was unable to manage bipolar symptoms and worklife at the same time.  If there had been some sort of support for mental illness like referring me to a less stressful job, perhaps I could have made a go of it.  As it stands now, I have basically given up working at a for-pay job.  I spend my time focused on managing homelife and illness and doing volunteer work including my blogging.  I also am striving to see if I can get published with my story of bipolar illness.  So far the only publishing options available to me are self-publishing. 

Working for Myself as a Project Manager / Circumnavigating Stigma but Forfeiting Income

For two distinct periods in my career which includes the present day, I became a self-employed project manager so as to be able to manage both work and illness (bipolar illness).  During these times, I dedicated / have dedicated myself mostly to environmentally based volunteer work in my community.  In later years this often has translated to work in new measures for the environment and new measures in health.  Work also includes a period of service on the mayor’s environmental board in the town where I live.  In earlier years, I submitted grants for environmental development on behalf of my community.  In later years, I began to write papers that were accepted for presentation at the US government and at academic institutions in the US and abroad, including two acceptances from overseas groups.  This work includes being published by one overseas organization dedicated to sustainable development.

During both of these periods, I was able to put my health first and manage whatever bipolar symptoms or needs presented such as therapy appointments, psyche doctor appointments, meds management, or lab tests.  I also did not experience stigma in the workplace as I was working for myself. The first period was 1998 to 2001 and the second period was 2005 to the present with 5 plus jobs in the marketplace scattered among the second volunteer period and duration.  (I will recount the stories of these jobs at a later date.)  The downside of these two periods is that I was not able to make any income associated with these many accomplishments.  Work was volunteer in the community or involved publishing/posting papers that I developed on my own time. 

During this first juncture as a volunteer in my neighborhood, I was able to make important contributions to my community.  One effort resulted in a near million-dollar creek clean-up and naturalization effort about ten minutes from my house.  Another effort resulted in a survey-based community development plan for an in-town neighborhood including such priorities as walkability and economic development. I also developed three community-based sustainability grant applications to the United States Department of Agriculture recommending an environmental approach for managing agricultural waste and converting it into biofuels. 

During my later juncture of self-employment as a member of a city sustainability board, I worked on a variety of environmental agendae items including climate change.  I chaired one of the four subcommittees for a time.  This subcommittee worked on recommendations for the local tree ordinance, storm water management, and reforestation and trails development at a near-by park that was newly acquired by the city. 

Papers that I wrote and presented during the second timeframe focused on systems-based orientations to and measurements of environmental development.  The idea of much of the work at this time was that proposed adoption of systems-based measures in the Health, Energy and Food industries would correlate with simultaneous advances in all three industries.  Aligning measures for Health, Energy and Food advances means we can promote Energy work that allows for climate change concerns and we can promote Health work that allows for citizen well-being in the face of extreme weather events and the like.  This work and related work was presented and/or posted at a US government website in 2009, presented at a well-known public health university in the US in 2011, presented at a US academic non-profit geared to values in higher education (several submissions/presentations from 2010 forward), and submitted/presented/posted at two overseas non-profits dedicated to health economics and/or sustainability. 

Overall, my accomplishments during these two periods of self-employment are/were notable.  I am proud of these accomplishments, but I would not have been able to pursue this work if it had not been for support both financial and otherwise from my husband and my husband’s family.  Basically all this work in environmental development and new measures for the economy in terms of health economics and the like was financed by my family at that time.  This self-financing continues today with my blog writing and other work with which I am involved.