Standing Up to Low Expectations

Author: George Hofmann

One of the most difficult things about thriving with bipolar disorder is that people don’t expect very much of you. They expect your moods to be inconsistent, and they assume you can’t take care of yourself.

I was recovering from a string of hospitalizations living with my parents and struggling to get back on my feet. I felt trapped on disability insurance and wanted to be independent. So I went looking for work.

I found a job as a job coach with a human services agency and excelled at it. I worked with three adults with developmental disabilities who ran a mail room. We had a surprising number of similar experiences in common, and we forged strong bonds. But the job didn’t pay enough to enable me to strike out on my own.

Our delivery route included the executive offices, and I got to know some of the key people in the organization. They asked me about my past.

I, too, had been an executive before I had a psychotic break and mixed-states tore apart my life. I never thought I’d work at that level again.

One of the managers offered me a key job, and I was thrilled with the possibility of getting back into the business end of things.  Excitedly, I took the news home to my parents. Independence was in sight.

Sometimes out of love and compassion people want to shelter you from harm. They want to keep you away from stress and coddle you so that difficult episodes of mania and depression don’t recur. My parents wanted me to be safe. They wanted to protect me from suffering. They talked me out of taking the job.

And so I settled into a state of dependency for a while longer. The people who cared for me shared, unintentionally, low expectations of my ability to be self-sufficient. They didn’t mean to hold me back, but they did.

I came close, and it fired in me a desire to work more to move up and achieve a level of success that would enable me to move into my own home and live my own life. I learned ways to manage my tumbling moods and gained more experience at work.

I found the confidence to take a chance and rely on my own potential to support myself and find independence. And it worked.

I took a retail job and ended up managing the store. I overcame the low expectations people have for those of us with severe mental illness. Eventually I got married, started a family and began to teach other people with mental illness how to face down the stigma that makes us doubt ourselves.

Each of us with bipolar disorder can face the questions of others and answer with a resounding yes. Yes, I can work. Yes, I can excel. And yes, I can take care of myself.  

It’s not ungrateful to the people who shelter you to leave them and find independence. My parents and I are still very close. They still worry about me returning to the terror I faced years ago.  

But I’m better now. I can manage. I still need them, but not for day-to-day support. They are glad I left and found success. And I’m glad to have them stillI’m on my own, and better off for it.

To me the idea of #bipolarbrave is to smash through the low expectations that keep us down and find the life we each want. I did it. You can, too. 

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