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Finding Work That Works When You Have Bipolar Disorder

I'm a psychotherapist who has worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor - that’s a specialist who helps people with disabilities, including bipolar disorder, find and keep meaningful work. I also have bipolar disorder myself, and have struggled over the years to find work that meets my own “special needs.” 

The research clearly shows that work helps people recover - it provides structure, a sense of meaning and purpose, and social interaction. I've seen clients who are depressed improve almost overnight once they find a job they enjoy. Personally, I've found that work gives me a chance to stretch myself in a way that increases my confidence, decreases my generalized anxiety, and brings a sense of fulfillment to my life. 

Seek Work That Supports Your Recovery

It’s important to find “work that works” for you. There’s no "best" career or job for someone with bipolar disorder - but there are some things to think about when deciding what type of work to do:

  • Think about the work environment. Will it support you and help you thrive, or will it be detrimental? Many people with bipolar disorder find they do best in a quiet, relaxed workspace where they can easily concentrate.
  • Think about the schedule. Part-time work or a job with a flexible schedule are good options. Daytime hours are generally best. Most people with bipolar disorder shouldn't even consider work that involves overnight shifts or being on call - regular sleep is too important for recovery.
  • Think about the kinds of people in the job. Different kinds of jobs tend to attract different kinds of people. It's best to find a job where co-workers have values and lifestyles consistent with your recovery.
  • Think about creativity. Many people with bipolar disorder don't thrive unless they have regular opportunities to be creative. You can either find a job that involves creativity, or you can find a steady job that allows time to pursue creative activities outside of work.

Understand Yourself

Outside of these general guidelines, it's important to understand your unique self. Richard Nelson Bolles, author of the famous career book What Color Is Your Parachute? said “The key to a happy and fulfilling future is knowing yourself. This self-knowledge is the most important component of finding the right career.” Some of the things you’ll want to understand about yourself include:

  • Your interests
  • Your strengths and aptitudes
  • Your skills
  • Your personality traits
  • Your values
  • Your physical abilities and stamina
  • Your limitations and barriers.

Do Some Occupational Research

After you’ve done some soul searching, the next step is occupational research. A good place to go for occupational information in the U.S. is O*NET (note: this article contains U.S. resources - if you know of similar resources in your country, feel free to mention them in the comments). You can also do informational interviews, which are brief meetings with someone in a career you’re considering. Here are some of the things you'll want to find out about occupations you’re considering:

  • Work duties 
  • Required skills
  • Required education or training
  • Required license or certification  
  • Typical hours 
  • Working conditions (physical demands of the job, environment, and stress level) 
  • Salary and benefits 
  • Career path and opportunities for advancement 
  • Employment outlook (availability of jobs now and in the future).

Get Professional Help

If possible, get help with the career search process from a career counselor or other professional. Here are some possibilities for free or low-cost services in the U.S.:

  • Vocational rehabilitation: If you have a bipolar disorder diagnosis, you’re likely eligible for vocational rehabilitation services. If you are in the U.S., you can find your state's services in this directory. There are also private non-profits that provide vocational rehabilitation services - some tailored toward those with mental health disabilities.
  • Your school or alma mater: If you’re still in school, see if there’s a career counseling center. Take advantage of all the free counseling you can. If you've graduated, find out what services are available for alumni.
  • Government employment services: The U.S. has a nationwide system of career services called One Stop centers. They provide a wide range of services. You can find your nearest One Stop with this service locator.

Try Self Help

If you can’t get professional help right away, you can start with self help by using a variety of books or websites. What Color Is Your Parachute? is a good place to start. I also recommend a book by Robert Chope called Dancing Naked: Breaking through the Emotional Limits That Keep You from the Job You Want. The Resources page of the National Career Development Association is another good source of information.

Consider Your Own Business

Having your own business is a good option for some people with bipolar disorder. It allows flexibility and creativity. The downside is that you have to create your own structure and motivate yourself to get your work done. In the U.S., SCORE is a great organization for helping people start a small business. Many of their services are free.

Consider a Portfolio Career

A "portfolio career" is another option and is gaining popularity. When you have a portfolio career, you combine two or more sources of income - for example, you might have a part-time job as well as a small business that provides a product or service.

Consider Volunteer Work

If you're not ready for paid work or haven't been able to find a job that meets your needs, volunteering is a great way to go. I’ve seen many clients start volunteer work, build some confidence and connections, and move on to paid work pretty quickly. VolunteerMatch is a website that matches people with volunteer opportunities near them.

Live to Your Full Potential

I’ve just covered basic information in this article, but I hope it gets people thinking about options they may not have considered. People with bipolar disorder should have the opportunity to live to their full potential, and for many of us that includes enjoyable and meaningful work.

Comments

'ello Carrie Beth Lin. Many thanks for all your hard work and support for fellow sufferers of all mental illness. I look forward to reading more from you. Nico x

While our country has not evolved to the point that everyone can be open about their illness, the tide is changing. Research potential employers through Google. Employers who are openly supportive of LGBT rights is usually more progressive and more likely to have management who is understanding toward mental illnesses, as well.

Most people with bipolar disorder are also intelligent, it's part of the bonus of bipolar. :). We need jobs that we are constantly challenged but have flexibility and good medical benefits. This is most likely to be found with large employers.

Check out Fortune magazines Top 100 companies to work for. Larger organizations in that list are moving to more "virtual" positions where you can work from home. Those companies are selected based on anonymous sample surveys of the employees, as well as examination of benefits and career development opportunities provided to employees. They also review all employee assistance programs and packages the company offers. It is a great starting place.

I'm fortunate to work for one of those companies and hope that one day it will be the norm and not rare to find supportive employers.

Also - SLEEP! I cannot stress enough the importance of finding a job that will respect the routine and your need for sleep. When I changed jobs I didn't realize the impact it would have on my sleep patterns and it threw me into a tailspin. No matter how much you love your job, company, or how passionate you are about what you are doing, be sure to get regular, structured sleep every night.

It has been my experience that employers who are sympathetic to mental illness (not necessarily in the mental illness field either), make the best effort to give those with mental illness flexible hours and ease with leaving early to meet with psychiatrists or psychologists when needed. I find it hard to find these sorts of jobs and I lost one of them due to a long manic episode. I regret that loss everyday. I have gotten over 150,000 in debt in student loans since leaning that job. So the lesson is don't take advantage of the hand that feeds you and helps you out.

I have been diagnosed with bi polar depression and i duo not have an online of idea that i want to do but need to think quick.i have no support group my dr says i cannot work my family won't allow me to live with to get back on my feet.i have hit rock bottom was art my daughter's but my mom was w always saying how she missed me and other family members were interfering badly ended up coming home.my mom said i can stay with her but now she wants me out. So now i have to go to a senior disability building.and i don't think t this state is good for people with mental illness or the town.i really want to go back to my daughter's she believes i can over come this.do i.please give positive advice?

Hi Audra,

Sorry to hear about what you are going through. Have you tried going to a support group? There are groups available online and in person. NAMI and DBSA are two organizations in the US that have support groups around the country. If you need help finding a support group email Heather at hzupin@ibpf.org 

NAMI: http://www.nami.org/Find-Support 

DBSA: http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=peer_support_group_l...

I'm bipolar and all alone. My family is not familiar with bipolar and they say I need therapy. That may well be the case but I can't maintain relationships or stay focused at times. I've been through 3 jobs in the last 7 months. My mother thinks I'm a fake because to her bipolar is not real, she says I should attend church more often. One week I'm sad and the next Im fine. I feel on top of the world one day and in the very next day I can't get out of bed. I think about death, not just my life but people I've lost, and people I may lose. I just want to be OK. I would like to find a job where I'm accepted. I would like my family to accept me. I've never spoken to my father about this, when I'm down he keeps his distance and when I'm up he's confused. its when I'm down is when I need him the most. I don't want meds, I just want support from the people I love. Life is difficult as is but its even more difficult with a mental disorder. I'm a 32yr old male and with every year that passes I feel more and more alone. Things like this are just not spoken about in my family. I've reached out but its my family I NEED! I love you all and God bless.

Hi there J. I was looking for information on the internet because my husband is currently not working and looking for work. I wanted to find out what is said about hiring people who have bipolar and came across your comment. I wanted to encourage you in our difficulties. My husband is 47 and was just diagnosed last Oct. He was very manic. It was a very scary time for my children and I. We prayed and cried out to God more than any time in my life. God quickly answered our prayers by allowing my husband to get so bad he had to be involuntarily committed to a mental hospital for 11 days. It has been and continues to be a very rough time for us especially now that he has lost his job and has not been able to support his family. He was always such a good hard worker. We have been very supportive of him and helped as well as forced him to seek help. I am so grieved to hear that you do not have support from your family. That must be a difficult place for you to be in. I'm convinced it is because they simply do not understand bipolar and it is intimidating for people to believe that their loved one has a "mental" disorder and to believe it and seek help themselves. We do need to seek help as the family members of someone who has this illness. I would highly encourage you to find support where ever you can! Try www.NAMI.org also www.ccef.org don't just look up things on their websites...call them!! Reach out to experts. You shouldn't be experiencing such ups and downs like you do. My husband is finally on the right medicine and dosage for him and does not have that kind of mood swing that you are describing. I understand not wanting to be on medicine but it is so completely necessary! It really may be the only way to manage bipolar. If you go to a therapist that doesn't seem to be helping, try a different one but don't stop going to a therapist and DON'T stop taking your medicine!! It is so similar to other disorders like diabetes, thyroid disorders and other illnesses that require a person to take medicine regularly! It doesn't make you weak to take medicine! I pray that you will find support that you so desperately need!

You are most deffinetly not alone :/

J,
You sound like you're going through exactly what I was (and still am going through). I've been depressed and suicidal since my early teens. My mom tried sending me to a psychiatrist but, like you, I thought all I need is support from people who love me. Needless to say, after 20-30 years, I finally gave in and sought professional help. It's important to have family and friends who care about you however it is way too much to ask them to help you overcome your illness by themselves. Bipolar is a complicated illness. It's takes a trained professional to help guide you through your mental obstacles. And yes, medication does help. Don't be closed of to the idea. I wish you the best. Don't give up and stay strong.

Im in the same place have been for so time now. you are right its really bad to have family on the planet right next to you but they make you feel as though you are an alien....i know it doesnt help but im a single mother as well and have just decided to find my way alone just me and the lord

Hang in there. It's tough. You need all the love and support you can get having this bipolar disease. I commend you for being able to live out each day with no support but you need to find a church, friends, organization or somebody to encourage you. I will pray for you most definitely.

i feel your pain. i felt as is if i was the one who wrote your paragraph. people just dont understand even family. all you can do is just try to make it as comfortable for yourself as possible...
love, sue

Hi.. I got diagnosed bipolar when I was younger. The doctor gave me meds and I immediately flushed them down the toilet. I thought this was something I could 'overcome'. My life has been a train wreck with a mental illness, dysfunctional family, others who do not understand bipolar and me not even understanding myself.

Last year I hit rock bottom and my best friend literally saved my life. He first made me get on medication and oh my god how it helps!!!! Then my friend forced me to go to therapy and that has helped immensely also.
If you have been diagnosed with bipolar... PLEASE take proper medication!!!! Give it a try at least. I wish I would have taken medication sooner. There is a part of my life that was lost to do bipolar and I can never get that back.

Hi Aubrey! What medication did you take? I've tried many, but most just made things worse.

Good day Sam. I am from South Africa. I have been diagnosed with Bipolar 1 disorder and ADHD in 2013 and trust me, to stay without medication is not the answer for this type of condition. The medication I use is Concerta for the ADHD;For Bipolar I drink Epilizine 800mg 2 times per day,Epitec 200mg 1 tab per day for a mood stabiliser, Dopaquel 75mg fast release to drink at night before bed to make me switch off and sleep, Wellbutrin 150mg 1tab per day For my Severe depressive episodes and Lexamil 10mg 1 per day also for anxiety and depression episodes. Good luck

I feel the same as you. I will pray for you because I know GOD is real and HE loves us all. Please pray and never give up.

I found that factory work is great living for me. It's a set schedule and isn't stressful. It may be boring and not allow you to exercise that creativity biplor people have but it works for me. Factory work isn't for anyone though. You can get injured or burn out due to overtime and sometimes schedule does change. Also noise and lights everywhere. I somehow block it all out. I even work second/third shift but I make sure I get sleep.

I was diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar several years ago and have been through several jobs as well as Voc Rehab to secure stable employment. I try to deal with this but meds don't make it go away they only help manage it somewhat. The meds have tons of side effects making most jobs impossible and the jobs I do find I always seem to get irritated and snap either walking out or get fired from. I've tried school and some semesters go okay and others cause pure self destruction. My family needs the money and I need it as well. I'm at a point where I'm lost, confused, and irritated. This has lead to several psychotic episodes due to more stress upon more stress. I've got to a point that I don't know what to do and think I'm best off filling for disability. Can anyone help me figure out what to do before I lose my kids and my wife? Please!

Do not give up go to psych dr for help get your thoughts rolling on a therapist to sort out why an how your feeling. I too have identical patterns. This illness of ours will throw you down an meds only treat symptoms no cure. Disability isnt the answer find your passion working independently- outside inside -ect...medicine is key to tolerating all chemical imbalances going on . Hope this helped god bless.

Apply for disability why you continue to get treatment. Call your states dept of mental health to get free helP with your bipolar. Get stable and start with partime work if you get disability. Hopefully you have a medical and work failure paper trail that will help you get disability. Disability payments do not have to be permanent. I also have bipolar and finally had to file for disability 2 yrs ago , go to outpatient program and now am working with voc rehab to figure out what vocational goals are realistic for me.

Charles, are you feeling so irritated because you are trying to be someone that you are not? Are you trying to please someone who cannot be pleased? Some people just keep blaming us for their dissatisfaction, but really they won't be satisfied with anything. i humbly suggest that you stop trying to do these impossible things. And maybe take some anger management guidance to help you cope when you do feel super irritable. If we don't act as badly as we feel, our troubles will be fewer. i keep trying to do the same things in my life. I get away from one person who is a maniac, i end up with another. And another. I'm trying to stop the cycle of drama in my life.

This is a very interesting article and something I can relate to as a careers counsellor in the UK. I have currently got a client who is bipolar, and so many things mentioned here are so relevant. Something I work on with my client is managing the 'ups' as well as the 'downs', and looking for the right company and environment to work in, not just the job.
Bipolar is challenging, but manageable in the right job. Seeking specialist help, like at First Focus Consultants (www.firstfocusconsultants.com), can really make a difference.

I worked for many years in a government job working with families. It required tons of paperwork and strict adherence to rules. I was able to do this work for over 21 years, but am now retired. I am at loose ends, but think I have found a new passion. I took a course in welding and now plan to become a sculptor, and will be able to live on pension and whatever I am able to sell. I find there are days I just can't face people. I always wanted to work part time, but as the primary breadwinner was not able. Life is good now.

After 3.5 years I've finally been diagnosed with bipolar. I lost the job that I was in with a large company for 9 years because it was triggered there by a management bully and the company didn't understand or want to know me or my condition of repetative secondary depression (work related stress). I fought all the way with a grievance v disciplinaries tit-for-tat for 2 years but they wouldn't let me return fit for work and had replaced me and said they had no current job vacancies. I left and had to desperately drive taxis. I had for 2 years but got involved in 8 aggressive police incidents in manic mode over 3 years of illness of which 3 have gone to court and 1 so far was admitted guilty and cost me my taxi job. My relationship broke down last august and we got back together last month and another police incident over an ex feeling scared because of me has cost me my relationship again.

This is informative,but being in australia,basically the only option is a sheltered workshop.I can't do that,I'm married,have bills to pay and have my wits about me..I'm not severely dissabled.yet I'm expected to be a mute.a carer will get my social security,I will get $26 week.How is my country so backwards when it comes to people with bipolar?
Employment agencies just put me at the bottom of the list.I constantly get told 'sorry we can't help people like you'
Thing is I'm fully qualified in transport and logistics,have a national truck licence,dangerous goods ticket.I'm in the state emergency service and country fire authority.Have not been able to get employment in nearly 5 years.Its destroying not just my life,but my wife aswell.I will never be able to buy a home or have children(we are in limbo on the ivf program).everything depends on me
rejoining the workforce.any advice would be much appreciated

I know this is a far stretch but, have you ever considered becoming a pet-sitter, at least part-time work and in addition to that, working another "regular" part-time job? I know all countries vary in what the wealth factor is but, for some areas, people will pay high prices for someone they can trust to love and care for their pet(s) while they're gone on vacation (sometimes for a month). Some just want their house cared for, the trash taken out, newspaper & mail brought in, plants watered, etc... It might require moving closer to a city or "where the rich live" but, it might be a real answer for you and your family in the end. You can draft-up a simple contract that allows your family members (if responsible) to assist you in the "chores" of a home you are caring for, etc... I wish you the best in all of your endeavors with work and health both.

Believe in yourself you are strong you are powerful you can overcome anything I have bipolar doesn't mean in stupid but plenty of small minded people think thater call me mad under their breath surround yourself with positivity get more skills if you can I believe you can do this any problem can be solved I hace empathy for you and respect for you as I know what this illness is like get a good sleep pattern every night pray and bless your wife every night before sleep couples who pray together stay together I hope you get work soon!!! God bless!!!

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when i was 13yrs. old. I have been to multiple doctors and a few mental hospitals. I currently take only a couple medications and have gone to college and received an A.A.S. in industrial technology and am currently working on my B.A. for interior design. I received SSI for ten years and a few months ago they said i was no longer disabled. I have been looking for work ever since. I have gone to employment services and filled out several applications but to no avail, i was told by one company that i was a liability. I tried to do the ticket to work but was told that i did not qualify. I am running out of money and have begun selling my belongings to try and make ends meet. I am supposed to start my last year of school this august so finding a full time job that will let me have tuesdays and thursdays off seems impossible. I'm looking for any advice that anyone may have for me dealing with how i should find employment? or just any advice that may be useful?

Khrysta
I am facing a lifestyle change as well. Have you considered working I a restaraunt? If you can wait tables you get paid tips for being friendly.

Wow,that was a really great article, just put it all in order for me, thank you!!! I have a template to move forward.

I too am thinking about a part time position. I have been "retired" for several years. Almost every position I was fired from, due to not being stable and other factors. Currently I am volunteering at a Montessori school which helps but I still have too much time on my hands. I don't have a good tract record work wise. Am just starting to think about all of this again-Gina

I've been in a high stress industry for the past 20 years as healthcare facilities management. it's finally to a point where I question the very negative effects that stress has on me and my BP. In addition, I seriously question the wisdom of staying with the career because of my fears and added stress of the risks. And what will happen if there is a hospital crisis and people look to me for answers and I could say or do things that are contrary to the safety and welfare of my organization and community. Should a BP airline pilot be allowed to fly us all over the world? Thanks to all

I'm BP2 with ADHD when hyper and GAD when depressed ....
If your job is stressful you will eventually need to leave the job as stress exacerbates the Bipolar condition.
If it's stressful and your job involves the safety of others then you should do this to avoid that extra worry in the job.
The best thing about BP is that you have a lot a creativity...,
Also watch your spending when manic or hyper....
Look up the 13 effects of bipolar on the net..,.
Take your medication and talk to a councillar about your work and work options.
The BPs big plus is "creativity" you can explore this through writing and the arts music and painting..
Look up famous people with bipolar for clues on jobs...
Best wishes Allan

Personally i was relieved whn told i was bipolar and couldn't work..i tried for 8 years..no success..i've been recieving total disability since 1980 and love it..i sleep days awake all night and able to lollygag around at walmart and Denny's..wouldn't work if you paid me,,actually ..i can't anyway..

Walmart shoppers make me want to punch...throat punch, specifically.

I am 27 yrs old, I was diagnosed with Bipolar when I was 10, I dropped out of school when I was 16 because of being bullied about my disorder, I went back got my GED then went to school to become a CNA I have worked a several nursing homes but I just can not seem to keep a job 6 months is the longest i have stayed at one job. Right now I am about at the end of my rainbow. My mom says she is trying to help and so does my dad.. But in reality they are make my life worse, I am criticized because I cant keep a job. At this time I need help but I have no where to go as my insurance will not cover it. I know my medications are not working, I just started another new job and I cant do it... I am mentally not stable but no one will believe me.. Its all my fault they blame me.. My mom accuses me of being a lair. Saying I dont want to help myself saying I dont take my pills because I dont care. I just want some answers!

Have you tried working nites in a hospital? I did when I got my CNA. I can relate to your work and parent problems. I have to stop convincing them of my problem. It's insulting to hear I need to act right. I am a dedicated worker but can't retain info. lately which is insulting since I graduated from a California university in biology. Nothing but memorization!

Wow, thank you for sharing, it felt like I was reading my own life. Do know you are beautiful

Most people have to go thru our experiences themselves to understand or support us. Many people just dont have the time, patience or strength that we hope to get from them. When you know you are being honest with yourself, let that be enough to keep your morale from collapsing. Forgive them. Don't hang on to the bitterness or shock of how people talk to us. Not worth hanging on to. Your worth as a person does NOT depend on their opinions, or even on your own successes or failures. You are human and have dignity just for that, period. It's no fun being diagnosed with Bipolar, and i dont think it goes away, but we can learn to manage our symptoms to be useful/ productive. We may not be as fast as the next person is, but that's ok. Your worth does not depend on your speed. Accept the facts, hold on to your unconditional dignity, and move on to seek a better solution. It's not worth giving up trying. Learn skills for communicating with people who don't understand your situation. Learn other life coping skills. That's what i am working on, one day at a time.

I haven't been diagnosed bipolar, but I have the symptoms. I've been on my job almost 2 yrs. I'm on the verge of loosing my job due to a bully. Guys she sang a racial tune at work & I lost it shouting like crazy. I broke down crying telling them I'm a victim and they don't see how. I'm blamed for not being able to work with everyone just because of one person. I'm really good at my job, smart like MA level. I'm a business writer totally not appreciated. Someone told me I'm different, because I don't talk and stay to myself. Since then, it's the worst thing possible it feels like everyone is starring at me when they walk past my office. I wish being quiet was normal. It hurts like pure hell. I'm away from my son, because I moved for the job. I only have a few guys I talk to that want sex. I don't really have friends. I'm 28, and I'm so freaking angry I haven't found my true comfort place. I rush home to get snugly under the covers and cry asking God why do I let people hurt me so bad. I'm a timid adult nervous on the inside, while the outsiders take my quietness for hostility & when I assert myself I'm seen as aggressive. Guys it feels as if I can't win. If I start my own business, I'm afraid it will falter and I'll lose my home. Please reply. I'll be looking.

Hi A, thank you for reading our blog. I'm sorry to hear about what you are going through. Your story makes me think of a book I read recently called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking. It's not about bipolar disorder, but talks about why being quiet is seen as a bad thing in our society and why this is harmful. 

Your issue at work sounds like a legal issue, I recommend discussing it with your HR department if you have one or whoever is in charge or personnel matters. Depending on the details, the bullying could be illegal harrasment, especially if the bullying is based on your race. If it does meet the legal threshold, the employer has a responsibility to try to resolve the situation. 

It goes without saying that the stress you are experiencing at work will affect your mental health at home. Try to practice self care at home to de stress as much as possible. For example you could plan to do something you really like doing as soon as you get home from work - maybe watching a funny show and eating your favorite snack. Anything that will help take your mind off of work so that you can try to feel better at home.

If you have any other questions you can email me (Heather) at hzupin@ibpf.org  

Both of my sons had/have Bipolar disorder (diagnosed). I, however, am one of those quiet people who just want to do their job, but I was "mobbed" in my last job and became disabled. Mobbing is not well known in the US, but awareness is slowly dawning in our society (emphasis on slowly). If you are being mobbed, going to the HR department may not be the wisest course of action for you. Try researching mobbing and see if it fits what you are undergoing. If so, you may wish to follow some procedures that other mobbing victims have used successfully. Good luck!

This is my second time going on disability. My boss told me im mentally not focused and she wants to help by letting me go get the help i need. Im a mental health clinician at a juvenile hall and currently 600 hours away from getting my License but can't seem to make it past 6 months. I abuse drugs, gained weight, stopped taking pills prescribed, and feel uncomfortable in my oWn skin. I stopped taking the pills because i wanted to start a more holistic way of living ( zink, iron etcc...) didnt work. Im doing it on my own and i have a baby on the way and I feel distance from my job and my family. Any suggestions

Larry, i think i understand. I am on disability right now too and i have received similar /worse feedback at work. When I'm good i'm really good and when I'm not, it can gradually feel like my world is invisibly collapsing onto me. From my experience: better to not do alcohol/drugs or other escape methods. Do healthful things to destress but the known problem substances are just that -- problems. Personally i need the meds for mood stabilizing etc; i involuntarily go up and down otherwise. Try eating more veggies, fruit, protein including berries. And water to cleanse away toxins. They do help a lot in keeping the mind sharp so that i can do better when my mood is cooperating. I feel your pain and fear. I suggest : and i know this sounds impossible but it is doable : be calm and deal with your situation/challenges rationally /logically without heavy emotion in your approach. Staying calm helps everything feel less "aaaaagh" and we have more inner resources to cope. Get a good psychiatrist who knows the ins and outs of our disorder better than a family doctor would. It helps!!!! I hope my message helps and encourages you.

And regarding family -- i dont do NEARLY as much as i would love to do, and family dysfunction makes it even more challenging, like hugging a cactus. I guess we do what we can, and know that nobody else is perfect either. Each person has their own struggles that we may not see. Just be yourself and coexist, is my friendly suggestion. Do more when you can. You want to, it's nit that you don't care about your family.

Thanks so much for this article. I thought I had my condition under control but by reading this I see I need to get help.I prayed that everyone that was so kind to share ,will find peace and continued joy.I been off meds for almost 5years don't wanna go back on them but far as keeping a job I now know what to consider. I would always look for overnight since I dnt sleep well but I do remember one of my doctors telling me that was not good for me. Again thanks for a great article.

First of all I want to thank you all for sharing your stories...it is like I'm reading a piece of me in all of these stories. I was in matric when I was diagnose, I didn't want to have a mental illness I was a top student, ect...my parents were sad, I felt I was dissapointing everybody. But the sad part is I understand my illness. And I know what I feel.. And what I'm going through, but the weird part is people try to understand but they don't, where I come from people dnt talk about stress or even bipolar, I dnt even think they know what it is. I went craze one time cause that was the romours that I was craze, so I act craze and posted something online on my fb about bipolar. Because people believe if you dnt talk about certain things it will go away. And the truth is I need support. Not gossip and I found that in america.... The nearest support group for me is almost 2hours away.... I can help myself. I helped myself from day 1, I took out books began reading ect.... But I just want to thank u guys and encourage you guys to never give up on yourself and your dreams....like my friend told me once I shouldn't change the bipolar that God gave me, because if I take that away who am I?

Yes. God made us this way for a reason. We are not His mistakes.

We just found out yesterday. He is currently in his junior year at a top private university. When I read about careers for people with BP disorder, it seems like working is in general very difficult for those with BP disorder. Should he stay in school? Is it worth it? He had the goal of becoming a lawyer, but now that may be too stressful. Does anyone have any insights about this? We still haven't started any meds, just counseling until his appointment with a psychiatrist. HELP ME-I have been in a cloud since he told me and crying whenever I think about it. Please tell me he will be able to support himself and have a happy normal life. HELP.....

Hi Paula,

I can imagine the stress you are going through. First breath! Secondly, a parent that worries and wants to understand and be supportive is already one of the most comforting and helpful things you can do for him. I wished when I was diagnosed as a teen, that my parents cared or wanted to help and understand. Just let him know you may not understand fully what he is experiencing, but you are there to listen, help him find resources, and work with him on watching for moods and triggers. Just knowing that alone makes it less scary. Seeing people who are anchored in your life, really does help you recognize when your life is becoming unbalanced.

Before I address some of your questions about his schooling I want you to know that bipolar isn't a standardized illness, and varies from person to person. Sometimes it affects everyday life in a profound; However, that is not always the case. Bipolar symptoms can come and go infrequently, for others it may come in cycles. It may also be 'triggered' by something.

Bipolar consists of Depression and Mania. They may happen together, separably, and a person may experience one of these symptoms more so than the other. Everyone's manic episodes and Depression can manifest differently. Right now you know your son has bipolar, so start with his symptoms and what made him seek help. Start from there.

He will need medication and it is a trial and error process. One medication may not treat both symptoms. Besides medications via Psychiatrist ( please go to one over a regular M.D.) He'll need to talk to a therapist or use a group support to figure out ways to manage. Since it is a life long illness, medication isn't the only thing he may need, but rather tools to help him and others recognize his own ups and downs (swings), if anything "tiggers" or brings about an 'up' or 'down'. He will need to learn what works best for him to help ease or lessen the impact of depressive/manic episodes.( like getting out of bed when it is the last thing you want to do,because your are emotionally KO-ed!) Most importantly, he will need to know and recognize when to say 'I need help'. This will all take time, and he will come to learn what his brew of Bipolar involves, and how it is best managed. Just keep open dialogue with him as he goes through it. Maybe go to a family support group at some point after he has a better grasp on his own introspective problems.

So to answer your question from personal experience, many people have gone through school with bipolar. For people with worse cases, it's not easy, especially if stress triggers symptoms. However, it can be done. I was diagnosed in 2001, when I was a teenager. At 21 I had a child, and attended a community college on an off for 7 years. I've had jobs on an off during that time, occasionally I left to purse something better paying (where I had no issues with the job other than financially) but when I was terminated or left a job after a short time, the issue seemed to be that the environment was no conducive to communication. I'm not the fasted person, but I am hard working. If an environment is filled with passive aggressive co-workers, and there is no clear communication between the co-workers and management I worked with, then it would trigger mania or depression. This in turn would make me less productive.

After one job in 2012, I knew things has to change. I lived at home with my parents, who were toxic to my well-being. I was scared that I'd be depending on my folks forever, and that I wouldn't be able to support my son. I ended up taking my community college credits and enrolling into a university program full time for my BFA in a field I knew I wanted to go into since high school. I was able to do so because of support from family who were able to take on the burden of child care. Not many women in my position are that fortunate. Being bipolar meant I couldn't reasonably balance a full time job, full time class, and full time mother hood. I couldn't even afford a babysitter. I've seen moms do it ... and I felt ashamed that I needed help, that I couldn't do it alone ...

But I know know I couldn't have done it without support. There were late nights, project days without sleep that threw my moods off, awful short term jobs to make ends meat, being away from my son then packing in all mom duties on the weekend, being the oldest student in a sea of 18-21 year olds, issues turning in class work on time because I wanted to spend a weekend with my son, or sleeping, or attending a support group when I was manic or depressed ... Believe me, all of that made me question going back to school at then 26 years of age, But I kept going. I knew I was learning something that would keep my attention and never bore me, something that I could still do Manic or depressed. It worked to my advantage to be a graphic and web designer.

And while it was a long road,I just graduated. I'm Applying for jobs and I'm scared shirtless. I've revamped my portfolio and my website 3 times over since graduating. I'm scared I'm not good enough and that I might fail to provide for my son...

Then I think, "I'm the first female in all my family, extended and immediate, with a college degree ... and I have bipolar."
BOOOOYAH!haha!

That sense of accomplishment, it's a feeling that can't be replaced.

I will never regret it. I not only finished something, and proved that I can fight through some up hill battles, but I learned something that I love doing. I love designing through the shitty downs, it something that keeps my attention through the manic ups, and the stress doesn't shut me down, but makes me excited and motivated. It helps that I not only choose something I love to do, but I can flex around my illness. I just am anxious to find the right environment. As long as I have great communication in the work place, I will be fine. If that ends up not the case, I have that degree and other options.

So, if your son really loves law, if it is something that gets him up in the mornings, is something he can work with on the lowest lows and highest highs ... go for it. If it is something that, even after medication and stablization , doesn't make him happy, then find something to study that does. Even if he needs a break, don't let him give up. Having that sense of accomplishment is a motivator. More importantly, that degree is something not all bipolar people can earn, and it might make a difference in the job market for finding a good environment.

So yes he might not have a 'normal life' but to be honest, I never could recall a time I knew what a normal life was like. I can show you people living what is assumed to be a normal life, but to me my illness has painted my world in a way that this is my version of a 'normal life'. Even when the medication and counseling gives you some clarity, you always see and react to your world with the knowledge you have gained through your illness. So, I guess what I am trying to say is to look at it this way ... it's not "can you have a 'normal life'" but rather can you still have a life?

Yes.

Will it always be easy, no. It will not always be rainbows and sunshine, sometimes it's too many rainbows and sunshine! But tell him to keep at it, find his way to deal with his version of Bipolar ...

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