You are here

5 Things to Remember When You Cannot Work

Help us win Healthline's Best Health Blog of the Year! Vote for International Bipolar Foundation here

I have not worked since I left my job in 2013 due to my mental health. I have successfully gotten a couple of jobs since, but have not made it past the induction period before I’ve become unwell again. I just don’t seem to be able to deal with the stress that comes with being employed. I may be able to work again one day, but for now I am unemployed and I stay at home. 

At times I have struggled to find meaning in my life now that I am not working, and to feel that I am still of value. 

Over time, I have come up with some things I think are important to remember, and I would like to share these with you. 

1. You can still be productive. 

If you want to make some money, find something you are good at and turn it from a hobby into a profession. It could be anything – sewing, building things, crafts, computer programming. Find possible freelance jobs online, or try selling what you make on eBay or Etsy. 

You can still be productive even if you don’t make money. You could write your own blog, or for one such as International Bipolar Foundation. You could write short stories or even a novel. 

Even the simplest hobby can be transformed into something productive. I like reading, so I set myself the challenge recently of reading all of Oprah’s Book Club books. I get the books out the library to keep it free and clock my progress on the Goodreads website. Making goals like that gives me structure and something to aim for, and makes me feel like I’m achieving, no matter how slowly. 

2. You can still refresh yourself and learn new skills. 

There are countless online courses available now in every subject you can think of, and many of these are free. I do a lot of the English literature ones and learn about books and poetry, because that is what I am interested in. 

You could also check out your local college for daytime or evening classes, to learn new skills too. 

You could teach yourself a useful skill you’ve always wanted to learn, such as cooking, gardening, knitting, or anything, using the Internet or books from the library. 

3. You can still expand the size of your world. 

This may be easy or difficult depending on your condition, but getting out of the house is really important to stop you getting bored or isolated. 

If you prefer to be alone, you could take yourself on adventures. Find out about all the free attractions in your city or area and go and visit them armed with a camera. Be a tourist. Walk around your neighborhood. Find local parks or nature reserves and explore. 

Try and meet up with people if you are able. Being around other people will lift your spirits and give you fresh input. 

If you don’t want to leave the house but are getting frustrated and feel stuck, try to change things up by moving space. Try sitting in a different room, or go outside in the yard. 

4. You can still help others. 

Volunteering is the best way to do this. It is great way to feel like you are part of something and to get a sense of satisfaction. It also is a chance to be alongside others who are in need, and puts your own needs into perspective. 

Some places require references and have a long hire process just like a job, though with some you can just turn up to and do what you can. These are the type I prefer, because they are flexible, and the work depends on how much you want to give or are able to do that day. Others find a regular volunteer service works better because it gives a sense of structure to their time. 

You don’t even have to be an official volunteer to help others. I have an elderly neighbor who loves to engage in conversation with me, and I give him a hand with his trashcans each week. I’ve also joined some online mental health forums and I try to answer people’s questions and make suggestions to help support them. 

5. You can still have a vocation. 

I have often dreaded the question ‘so what do you do?’ in social situations.  It is so much harder to answer this question if you don’t have a job or vocation of some sort. 

The thing is, you can have a vocation or an identity even if you’re not working. Spend some time thinking about it and creating YOU and who you are. 

Depending on what you do, you can say you are a writer, you sell things online, you make things, you volunteer, you are studying. 

When people ask now I say I blog from home and I’m working on various writing projects, alongside some studying and volunteer work. People are genuinely interested to hear more, and I no longer feel uncomfortable about them finding out ‘the truth’. 

Being unable to work is nothing to feel ashamed of. There is a lot you can do, and you should feel proud of the things you do!


Thank you for sharing this Zoe! I am on disability due to Bipolar Depression,anxiety, and a few other disfunctions. It has been difficult for me knowing I am not be able to work. I left teaching kindergarten 7 years ago due to my illness. When I read that you didn't make it through the induction period of some jobs, I felt like I wasn't alone. I've tried volunteering twice, and I couldn't make it past a few months. I struggle with what God has planned for my "destiny", but I have come to find peace in realizing that being home with my 5 labs and being a stay-at-home wife is actually a gift!! I struggle on a regular basis, but I do what I can and that's the best we can do! Thank you again for helping me to feel like I'm not alone!

Hi Kelly. I Too am a teacher and have been unable to make it past one year of teaching in 7 years. I have had 4 positions since 2012.I am staying home as well and making peace with myself. I just wanted to say hi.

I still have to work. It's getting harder and harder everyday. I don't have health insurance anymore so I can't get my medication. I don't know what to do anymore.

If your employer has an employee assistance plan (EAP), you can use it to see a doctor at virtually no cost to you. Additionally, there should be a county mental health agency where you live. As for drug costs, there are drug coupons available online. You might also ask the pharmacy to run any prescriptions on a discount card. Try these options and see if they help. I wish you the best of luck. xx

Please contact the drug manufacturers as they often have programs to assist people who do not have medical insurance. Good luck :)

Go to your county's mental health unit. ...or even Catholic Charities. ..don't need to be Catholic to get help. .

Even if you do get insurance, the medical field is in chaos. No doctor i go to will prescribe me anything to treat my issues. I've been told that it's an Ohio thing that doctors can't prescribe medicine for mental health or controlled substances. I don't understand what the point of seeing a doctor is if they can't prescribe what you need when you're on disability for an issue and wanting to work.

I'm a nursing sister; or at least was up until a year ago when my medication stopped working as the stress became too much. Since then a major family emergency caused me to remain at home to care for my 12 year old niece. Things got out of control. I felt as if life was closing in on me. My sister in law is also mentally ill but refuses help and is mentally and physically abusive. My brother can not afford to move out and I'm taking strain as my husband and I have been alone for the last 19 years as I am unable to conceive. I was admitted to hospital a few weeks back but at that stage I had forgotten how to cope as my last manic phase was 8 years ago. My how one can forget! I've only this week started Gymn, getting out of the house and meeting up with friends. I am starting to accept that I am not yet ready to get back into the work environment. I have too much work to do to help pick up the pieces of what is now my life and accepting that I can only change myself and the rest of the puzzle will fall into place.

Same happened to me Collette, I'm now medically retired, all that I studied and worked for gone. The stress of work as been replaced with a different type of stress. I'm left feeling despondent and bereft I'm trying to be optimistic about the future but it's hard. On the positive side I've got more time to catch up with things I've neglected over the years (slowly) and spending more time with family which is lovely

I say I am retired. I live on a private pension which I paid into while I was working. I no longer work, so technically I *am* retired. People are impressed with how I can be retired in my 40s.

Thank you for this I have been struggling on how I validate myself since I no longer work. This helped a lot.

Thank you so much for sharing this information. I feel better now and have the courage to go on not feeling guilty and bad because I don't work

Thank you so much for this article. It can be difficult to derive a self-individualized sense of purpose from a life of being stuck at home due to medical reasons. I'd genuinely enjoy more articles on subjects related to being unable to work because of Bipolar Disorder.

Thank you for this. I lost my job in February and have been feeling like I have lost myself.

Thank you for this article, as there many aspects to this article I relate with. My father had bipolar diorder and was put on disability due to the diagnosis. It was years later when I was in my 20s when he was diagnosed, but when we got his diagnosis, it was like a sigh of relief as he could hardly hold down a job through my childhood and adolescence. What he ended up doing was flea marketing, as it was more like a hobby for him (although he made no money from it). I know for a long time, I couldn't understand why he would do this, but as time passed, I began to see it was something that gave him something to do and he made close friends that were into flea marketing. And believe it or not, it actually helped him to stay on his medication, as he knew it would need it in order to keep his emotions stable in order to be around others.....sadly, my father passed away last year from a heart attack. Though he had is struggles with his illness, I am still proud to call him my father, and I miss him so much. He's one of the main reasons why I am pursuing my master's in professional counseling.

I enjoyed your article. I haven't worked for almost 5 years. I feel stuck...alone...lost. I am on a few mental meds.I suffer from bipolar depression...anxiety..manic depressive..ptsd. my home and my mind are my prison. I want out but don't have a support system. I do want to thank you again for the article.

Thank you for this. I found it really quite helpful and comforting. I left my career in early 2015, tried to work at a totally different type of job at the end of 2015 but had to quit due to symptoms and being hospitalized.

I'm struggling with what to do with myself and found this something I'll come back to for ideas.

I went through the this same struggle when I stopped working in 2009. Thanks for a great article on the subject of finding meaning "after work."

Loved what you wrote. It gave me a much better perspective on being jobless.

Thank you so much for this piece of writing. I can really relate. This puts a positive twist on something that can be so hard to come to terms with.

This helped me feel so much better about myself.

Finances still suck, but it's good to know others experience career trouble -and discovered how to beat it

Great read. I'm currently not working due to mental illness. But I keep myself busy with a daily routine...when I feel good at least. Some days I just can't but I try my best. I can feel angry at myself thinking everyone else is out there putting on a smile and working hard...why can't I seem to do it? I believe I'll get back to regular work someday. Have to have hope.

Hi i have bipolar and while i was manic i quit my job ive been trying to find a job ever since i feel hopeless but i will try all these options in the article

I have been on disability since 2010 and was found unable to work since 2005. Getting on social security disability was probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make. It makes you feel less of a person and society looks down on you. Even my dad has disowned me and told me to take his name off of me so that nobody would know that he had anything to do with bringing me into this world. I have between myself and my husband 5 kids 2 of which are mine. At the point I finally gave up the fight and applied for SSD we were living in a shelter and I just couldn't let my children suffer anymore for my pride. I definitely struggle with the "So what do you do" question as it's embarrassing to me that I can't even do the simplest of things and work! Not that I don't do a ton of work I have 5 kids after all and now my cousin after the passing of my aunt. Myself and my young son have been diagnosed with bipolar anxiety ADHD and I have the paranoia kicker and my cousin has schizoaffective disorder so I definitely do lots of work but it feels meaningless to me. I know with my son anyway I have the chance to help him turn out better than I did with his diagnosis at such an early age. My daughter always refused any type of treatment at all though I know she is also bipolar. She is now married with 2 children of her own. I search all the time for the meaning of my life and what contributions I could possibly leave on this earth before I leave it and I'm coming up empty handed. I have yet to find a medication that works and won't give me the scary side effects like high blood pressure and high cholesterol and extreme weight gain. My Dr tries every new medication that comes out but it either makes me so tired I can't function or I get one of the above named side effects so as of now I'm not even on any medication. Bipolar is a constant struggle with or without medications. Good luck in your battles to anyone reading this

Had to quit working 4 years ago and fully understand. Have held various jobs over the years with the longest being one I held where I was in charge(head cook). Now I work on needlework and quilting, teach children how on good weeks, and have a goal to open a small business. Have found that not pushing myself and just letting things go has helped the best.

Am in the same boat, I can't even leave my house. Tried started doing projects from, trying selling the work I did but every month is a struggle. I have been living like this for a year. I really want to go back to school so I have a career so I don't struggle all the time. I mean, it just feels like it is never ending. I have lost everything I owned really and at wits end.

I try and search for others like me. I can never work again and live off a house I sold. I have one friend who moved and I stay in her house.I live within the he'll of my mind. I don't do anything everyday. I'm 52 and feel my life is over and I can never get ahead. Even my son's hate me because of my mental illness. I have failed them and myself. I just don't know how to survive. My husband died. And all my family is dead. My son's don't care and if it were not for my friend letting me live in her house I'd be homeless. I look at other people and see them with homes car family job and I will never have that. Any one else live like me and how do you get thru the day. Other people including my son's make me feel useless. I have bipolar PTSD chronic insomnia and just can't work. I will never work again. Is there anyone else living like this I feel like the only one in the world. I feel so alone I can barely breath.

Add new comment

PLEASE POST COMMENTS ONLY. If you are in need of an IBPF resource, please contact Aubrey @ If you are in crisis, please call 1-800-784-2433.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.