Friday, March 20, 2015

Bipolar and Working—My Experience

For 5 months, I was physically and psychologically unable to return to work.  At times I was convinced that law enforcement officials were waiting there to take me away.  At other times, I slept for so much of the day that there was no time for me to engage in any constructive behaviors.  I knew that I was in danger of losing my reputation, my income, and my own self-respect, but there was nothing I could do about it.  At the hospital, my doctor tried to explain the irrationality of my fears, that the bad things I was imagining could happen to me anywhere, and that I could get back to work.  But my brain wouldn’t, or couldn’t, listen.  My once-welcoming office, where I’d spent so much of my time, was a place that inspired sheer terror in the deepest parts of my psyche.  My therapist recommended that I apply for short-term disability, but it was unavailable at my workplace.  All I could do was wait to feel better.


Bipolar disease is a serious mental illness that affects an individual’s ability to work and function properly.  According to the Social Security Administration, mental disorders, including bipolar disorder, accounted for approximately one-third of all disabled workers receiving Social Security disability benefits in 2013.  Other sufferers are homeless or otherwise unaware of potential benefits and go without help.  Crippling depression and untamable mania can cause problems with coworkers, promptness, and completing assignments.  The disease can ruin careers and render sufferers unable to perform their jobs.


I was very lucky.  The managers in my office were extremely understanding about my disability.  I had enough sick and vacation time accumulated to get paid for most of the time that I missed.  I returned to work on a part-time schedule, which allows me to devote time to combating my illness.  While I was out, I considered applying for permanent disability, because I could not envision ever working again.  Now, I’m very glad I did not.  Working is giving me purpose, a constructive outlet for my more obsessive tendencies, and the social interactions that are so key to effective healing.  I am taking on more assignments and responsibility and hope to continue to grow my professional career, with a little more emphasis on taking time to care for myself. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

My Diagnosis
2013 was a very tough year.  My father-in-law passed away suddenly, and my beloved cat died equally suddenly a few days later.  At work, I was spending countless hours on a thankless project.  Then, in early 2014, my husband’s hip gave out on him and he had to have a replacement surgery.  In the midst of it all, I was assigned to a new position at work, a temporary position that was supposed to be a great opportunity.  Then, strange things started happening at work.  I was in new surroundings, working on a nebulous task, and I began to become extremely paranoid.  I had a panic attack, at home, on a weekend, and my husband had to take me to the hospital.  I was mute and gasping for breath.  In the car, I kept wanting to ask if we were going to see Tommy, my cat who had passed away.

 Then the bottom fell out.

In the following weeks, I became increasingly convinced that I had been framed for a crime of international proportion by my coworkers.  I believed that there were cameras in my mirrors, CIA helicopters circling my house, and surveillance in my new therapist’s office.  I wrote suicide notes to my family and an expose letter for Fox News that my husband threw away.  I believed that I was going to be assassinated or sent to Guantanamo Bay.  I was hospitalized.  While my husband was waiting for the call that the psychiatric hospital had an open bed, I sat next to our window with a knife in my hand, convinced that he and my therapist had arranged for the police to come for me and that I would need to stab myself when they arrived.

In the hospital, I received my diagnosis, and my struggle with bipolar disorder began.  After nearly a year of hospitals, therapy, medications, and a support group, I still battle obsessive thoughts, like that I am being watched or investigated.  I’m getting better every day, thanks to good doctors, a supportive family, an understanding workplace, and the coping skills I’ve learned along the way.


Bipolar disorder affects between 2 and 3 percent of the U.S. population.  It is characterized by manic highs and depressive lows and can sometimes cause psychotic, or delusional, episodes.  It is generally diagnosed in a person’s mid-twenties.  My diagnosis came later, when I was 38.  The disease can strike anyone at any time, but it is caused by a mix of brain chemistry, genetics, and luck, I think.  It can be triggered by environmental factors, such as stress or loss, or it can develop organically.  It affects both genders equally.  People that develop bipolar disorder are not less intelligent than their healthy counterparts.  A recent Swedish study showed that straight “A” students, like me, are four times more likely to get the disease than other children.  The disease is treated through a range of medications, such as mood stabilizers, like Lithium, and antipsychotic medications, like Seroquel.  In some cases, the depressive components of the disease can be treated by antidepressants, but their use can trigger mania in some patients.


I am starting this blog because I want to share my story and learn from others that have been affected by this disease.  I would like to share stories, struggles, and perhaps most importantly, coping skills that we can use to support one another.  I would also like to provide a place for those with a family member or friend with bipolar to go for information and support.  So please join me by sharing some of your personal thoughts and observations.  This is a complex, nasty disease.  But we are nearly 6 million strong, and we can get better together.