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Bipolar Disorder – Work and Bipolar or Depression

Nori Rose Hubert
Most people look forward to taking time off of work for the holidays (even if the holidays look a little different this year thanks to COVID-19). Folks who live and work with bipolar disorder are no exception. However, the work difficulties that come with bipolar can put a damper on what should be a time to relax and decompress.
Nori Rose Hubert
As a working-class person with bipolar disorder, I have several limitations and face a lot of barriers to gainful employment. Jobs that require monotonous, repetitive tasks don't provide my brain with enough stimulation to keep me engaged, which can trigger both mania and depression. Part-time jobs with irregular shifts are also out of the running since inconsistent scheduling hurts my sleep-wake cycle (which any psychiatrist will tell you is essential for managing bipolar). And despite the protections afforded to people like me by the Americans with Disabilities Act, employment discrimination against folks with mental illness remains a serious problem. Yet, in spite of all the hurdles to meaningful, profitable work and financial freedom that I face, the truth is that I'm grateful for my limitations from bipolar.
Nori Rose Hubert
I've always been a hypersensitive person, so it's important that I create a comfortable work environment to thrive with bipolar disorder. For example, I don't process sudden, loud noises very well, and too much background chatter can completely overwhelm me. Fluorescent lighting hurts my eyes, and I can't concentrate if I'm too cold or if my immediate environment isn't colorful and inviting.
Nori Rose Hubert
I don't do so well with bipolar disorder and seasonal changes, especially moving into fall and winter. Yet, October is one of my favorite months. I love anything and everything to do with Halloween, breaking out my boots that have sat neglected in the closet all summer, and anything with the words "pumpkin spice" on the label. But one thing I don't love is how the seasonal daylight changes affect my mood, which has a direct impact on the way I work while living with bipolar disorder.
Nori Rose Hubert
Healthy sleep habits are an essential part of bipolar disorder management. They are also some of the most difficult habits to develop. Proper sleep habits are critical for physical and mental health, but the highs and lows that come with bipolar disorder can make it exceptionally difficult to wind down at the end of the day. Unhealthy sleep patterns can lead to a vicious cycle of mood instability that wreaks havoc in every facet of our lives -- work performance not least among them.
Nori Rose Hubert
We live in a culture that prioritizes productivity and output above connection, rest, and self-care -- all essential components to maintaining mental health. As such, our sense of self-worth is often intimately tied up with our professional and financial lives. When you live with bipolar disorder, and all of the workplace challenges that come with it, that sense of worthiness can plummet into a lurch of suicidal feelings and ideation. I know, because work stress has taken me to those depths. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
Nori Rose Hubert
We live in a culture with a profoundly unhealthy attitude towards work. Every day, we are fed a message that our worth is directly tied to our productivity and that making room in our lives for rest, play, or tending to our basic needs as humans is frivolous, even selfish. The go-go-go attitude and desire for endless productivity in our workplaces is stressful for even the most neurotypical person, but when you live (and work) with bipolar disorder, the game has even higher stakes.
Nori Rose Hubert
The decision to disclose your bipolar at work is an important one. You may feel unsure of whether or not you should speak to your employer about your illness, or worried that you could face professional or personal repercussions for speaking up. There are risks to talking about bipolar at work, as well as potential benefits.
Nori Rose Hubert
When I'm hypomanic, I tend to overcommit myself. Yet, when I tell people that I have bipolar II disorder, I often hear "Oh, I'm sure the depression sucks, but I wish that I had a little taste of mania! You must feel great and be so productive when you're manic." While not intentionally harmful, such comments display an ignorance of the realities of living with bipolar mania (or, in my case, hypomania). Many people have the miconception that mania puts one into a hyper-productive state. But the truth is that mania more often than not hinders performance rather than aids it.
Nori Rose Hubert
Real talk: when it comes to time management, I don't have the best track record. While most people can benefit from improved time management skills, keeping track of time and using it productively seems to be the bane of bipolar existence.