Whether it’s a job or a career, work can be a big part of your life. Holding down a job is one of the most difficult challenges of bipolar disorder. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) states that 88% of people with a mental illness reported that their illness affected their ability to perform their duties. I loved my job. It’s been seven years since I’ve worked, and I still miss it. Not only do I miss the actual work, but I miss the social interaction, the feelings of accomplishment and fulfilment, and the creative outlet.

When it comes to work, there’s the burning question of whether or not to disclose that you have bipolar disorder – to your immediate supervisor, manager or co-workers. An argument can be made either way but to tell or not to tell should be seriously considered. It’s a very personal decision. In most vocations you are not obligated to tell. Your health is private. But if you don’t tell you won’t have the support from your supervisor or co-workers. You won’t have understanding when your moods make you sick and keep you home. You’ll have to keep your medical appointments secret (or even problematically miss them). And you won’t have the accommodations that could help you succeed.

I chose to tell. I faced gossip, anxiety, judgement and even disrespect. So I suppose you’d have to say I faced stigma. But I’m glad I told. Overall it was for the better. My supervisor and manager were very supportive and accommodating, and most of my co-workers were understanding.

After an unsuccessful return-to-work and considerable research, I have learned some of the best supports that you should have in place if you decide to work while you have bipolar disorder. Those include: extra time to learn new tasks, a self-paced workload, modified hours (even some working from home), frequent yet short breaks, fresh air/brief walk, reduced responsibilities, know your limits, regular meetings with your supervisor and provide them with resources about bipolar, increase natural lighting, have a private office or quiet area to reduce noise and distractions, divide large assignments into smaller tasks, maintain several calendars and lists, structure but at the same time flexibility, and stick to your treatment plan. These may or may not be possible depending on your work.

For me, it’s not only the many symptoms of depression and/or mania that keep me from work, but also the executive and cognitive deficits that have developed as a result of bipolar. Those challenges include: memory loss, decision-making, problem-solving, concentration and organization. The ability to work is just another thing bipolar has stolen from me. I envy those who can.

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