Bipolar Disorder: Workplace Challenges Part 1

Song of the Day- Guilty by Nero.

(Photo Credit: stewickie available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License.)

Taking a look at the challenges that present themselves for those with Bipolar Disorder whilst at work, I’ve split my ideas into two posts: part one, below, looks at challenges involving relationships and social functioning. Part two will be posted in the near future and will cover more skill-based challenges.

Part 1: Working Relationships

Working in the “real world” with Bipolar has to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Luckily things have become easier over the last ten years- I’ve learnt so much about living with the disorder, when to push myself and when to accept my limitations. One of the hardest things, I’ve always found, is getting along with others at work when symptomatic.

Interpersonal sensitivity and irritability, both present in Bipolar Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder, can be a nightmare when trying to maintain healthy working relationships. When irritable it is so easy to snap at colleagues or end up arguing. Obviously combined with the sensitivity- when it is very easy to take offense and tend towards paranoia- the more likely you are to cause friction with those who are around you everyday. I’m open with my colleagues about my condition and luckily they are fine with it, so if I’m having a bad day I’ll tell them and maybe have a bit of a chat about it. That way they know why I’m a bit off my game, and don’t take it personally if I’m grumpy with them (well hopefully)! If I know I’ve been more sensitive and moody lately, then I will usually withdraw a bit socially anyway- this isn’t always a good thing in everyday life, but at work I think it really helps if depressed or irritable.

Dealing with authority figures I find either very intimidating when depressed or, when hypomanic, I tend to think I know better than them and have ended up arguing- one argument leading to a job loss. Never underestimate the power of even mild hypomania to get you into trouble! Because I’m fairly well-educated and bright, and work beneath my capability level, I always feel I can do things so much more quickly and efficiently than them! That sounds so conceited and up-myself, but it’s the truth! Hypomania has a nasty habit of distorting perception of the self in a positive light, just as depression does in a negative light! I don’t feel so great about myself at all when my mood is “normal”, I’m much more laid back and certainly don’t think myself better than others. When I’m depressed, others seem way better than me! Anyway, I’m starting anger management classes in September- so hopefully that’ll sort out my lack of temper control!

Other people’s bad moods affect me enormously too, so when a colleague is stressed I stay out of their way as much as possible. I think this is a sensitivity thing- where I seem to soak up other peoples’ moods and take on their feelings as if they were my own. This is when some of that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) comes in handy: if “Phyllis’ has blanked me in  the corridor I have to remember to tell myself that “she’s probably having a bad day” not that “she must hate me”! When colleagues are stressed it’s very difficult to not take moody comments personally- I always feel so personally responsible for everybody else’s happiness! There you go- another CBT fixer-upper: “I am responsible for my own wellbeing only”. Gotta love that CBT!

I’m sure there’s loads more to cover on this topic, but I think I’m done for today- just bought an iMac so we’re going to go and have a play- woohoo! Look out for Part 2 which will include ideas on basic skill issues, such as concentration problems.

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