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.