All in all, my work experience has taught me several things about working with bipolar illness. In no particular order they are here:
- Working in the public sector may be more forgiving than working in the private sector when it comes to stigma and access to short and long-term disability (in the US).
- People who have a family member with mental illness are 100% more likely to accept mental illness in an employee and be willing to work with that person toward mitigation strategies to help reduce stress and stigma in the workplace and help alleviate mental illness.
- Most people in the workplace do not have a family member with mental illness and in general do not have a clue how to respond or how to be of help. Generally these people consider you a danger to yourself and others.
- Keeping a presence in the workplace is very important if you are taking care of your own health insurance. If you are blessed to be on a family member’s insurance plan and/or your home country has universal healthcare, be thankful.
- Meds are sometimes difficult – finding the right one or the right combination of drugs. It is helpful if you feel you can work with a psyche doc about finding the right combination for you. It is preferred if you can have a partnership and a doctor who listens to you as to what is working and what is not. This can be a struggle particularly if you are going to work every day.
- I believe that mental illness like addiction has a bottom out effect. You will not start thriving and responding to meds and other interventions until you have hit rock bottom. This involves a sense of honesty about your symptoms and your challenges for yourself, your family, your support community and your medical team. It also involves honesty with self about what kind of jobs you are best suited for. For me project management work was not the best fit, but it took me a while to figure that out.
- Working for yourself, if you can afford it, allows you to explore your strengths without over-taxing your brain or your illness. You can set your own schedule and allow yourself breaks for med checks, labs, psyche appointments and so forth.
- Blogging is a good way to keep honest within yourself and with other people in your blogging community. You can learn a lot from telling your story and listening to other people’s stories as well.
- All in all, remember that you are more than your accomplishments. If you spend most of your time on self-care rather than in a career, you are still doing a great job and you still have a huge contribution to make. Being paid for what you do is not the tell-tale sign of success. Define success based on your own goals that you reach and setbacks that you overcome.
- Finally, don’t compare yourself to others especially those who don’t have a mental illness challenge or have very mild symptoms. Judge your progress in the workplace and in your educational endeavors based on your own realistic goals. Don’t be hard on yourself if it takes you longer than your peers or your siblings to reach your goals. Or if you don’t reach them at all. There are likely other strengths that you have that these people don’t have.
Does anyone care to add to the list of lessons they have learned about the workplace and mental illness? I am sure I have missed a bunch….