Bipolar Disorder: Workplace Challenges Part 2

Song of the Day: That I Would Be Good by Alanis Morissette.

(Photo Credit: Lynne Kirton available under a Creative Commons Licence.)

Yesterday I posted Part 1 on Workplace Challenges, which looked at the problems involving being around people at work during Bipolar episodes. Today’s post covers other problems which may arise.

Inconsistency and Expectations

I’m usually hypomanic when I begin a new job (I often apply when I’m hypomanic coz everything seems so exciting!), therefore I work very quickly and intensely, getting lots of good quality work done in minimal time. I therefore set my standards high with work colleagues who come to expect this of me all the time. Inevitably I am unable to maintain these standards when my mood dips back down. This hasn’t been too big of an issue for my employers, but I think it affects me in that I set myself mini- timescales of when I expect to get tasks done by everyday. If I’m slower than last week, I do tend to judge myself and think that I’m not working well. Because I think like this, I expect others to think like this too- so end up putting way too much pressure on myself to match my hypomanic standards. I guess I even go so far as to think I am being judged as no good, by my employers, if I can’t keep it up- which I know is a load of rubbish!

Nowadays, if I feel myself rushing through tasks or putting increased pressure on myself to maintain overly high standards, I try to have a “cigarette” break (I don’t smoke) where I have a quick stretch outside in the fresh air, take a few deep breaths and just give myself a chance to calm down a bit. My usual warning signs that I’m over doing it are tense neck and shoulders, achy back muscles and headaches.

Flexibility 

No, not the foot behind the ear type- but the being able to change tasks at the last minute, work at different times and generally go with the flow-type. Flexibility and Bipolar just don’t seem to work well together, last minute changes can cause me more stress than usual.

Luckily in my job I don’t have to be flexible with my working hours or routine too much. But there are times when I have to share a computer so if it is in use I need to be flexible in finding other “paper-based” tasks to perform. These can often be “one-offs” my manager has requested. It’s so strange that a little change like this can really throw me: I suddenly feel insecure and unnerved! I think this must be pretty hard to understand for most people.

If I’m particularly Bipolar one week I will mention this to my boss who then knows if a task is likely to be stressful, so she will give me easier bits to do or ask what I would like to do. She never makes this seem like a big deal and is very relaxed about it, so I do think I’m lucky in that respect. But still, I need to learn to be flexible, so practice I must!

Concentration

Cropping up in both depression and hypomania, lack of concentration can be one of the killer problems at work.

When depressed your brain’s working too slowly or you’re thinking about morbid things or obsessing over the fact that “Phyllis” blanked you in the corridor or endlessly worrying, then concentration on work can be near-on impossible.

When hypomanic I myself can’t sit still for more than 5 minutes and usually end up flitting about from colleague to colleague as Little Miss Chatty, monopolising conversations and arranging social gatherings. Ooooh- I just remembered that I gossip way more too and get very excited about little office scandals! Any social contact serves only to increase my excitability and decrease my concentration even more. It’s difficult to stop though when you’re having so much fun! I do realise that earlier I said I work more quickly and intensely when hypomanic– this is only when left alone in the quiet.  Then if people are about I start to get a bit crazy! Therefore I guess in future I will try to spend more time alone when hyper- I ruin all my fun 😦

Toilet-Crying

One of my favourites this, when I’m depressed is to go into the toilet and cry my little heart out.  I’ll be sitting at my desk holding it all inside, then my eyes well up and I think “oh s**t”! I’m rubbish at holding it inside, so I find the best thing to do is just let it all out in private. Sometimes I’ll talk to one of the others if I’m feeling really bad and need to go home, but most of the time I’m learning to handle it better on my own now. Either way, when I get home it’s TLC time- hug from Chris, hug from the dog, music on the iPod, soak in the tub (ooh that rhymes…well kind of)!

Performance Anxiety

No not singing, dancing and acting anxiety– but the kind where you go all nervous and light-headed when the manager comes over to watch you work. A time when your brain is bound to fail you and you forget everything you’ve learnt since the age of 10, sometimes even how to string a sentence together.

This has been quite an issue for me, not necessarily with my current job, but more in customer service roles where customers expect you to be quick and efficient. This increases the anxiety you already feel from having them watch you, loads of pressure. Absolutely hate it and have decided I am not cut out for customers! I would often have panic attacks before going into work in these kind of roles. It’s funny though, because I really love people and chatting to them socially, strangers included, but when it comes to feeling some kind of expectation or judgment from them, I freak!

Talking on the telephone is the other one I hate- no idea why but it’s always made me really nervous. Maybe it’s because other people in the room can listen to what I’m saying. I always feel I’m being judged all the bloody time! As long as I never have to work in a customer-based call centre I’ll be fine!

The trials of Bipolar Disorder continue (sigh).

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7 thoughts on “Bipolar Disorder: Workplace Challenges Part 2

  1. Sonja Frick

    Hi Rachel, I came across your post, doing a search on Bipolar at work. Thank you for this. 14 years ago I was diagnosed as Bipolar 2 and have suffered from many hypomanic states, that get out of hand and then are followed by Depression. I recently have come to a conclusion that a codependency may lie at the bottom of it all, at the moment I am exploring this further. It is my unconscious thinking and beliefs that trigger my states. When starting a new job, I usually go into hypomania like you have described, I want to be loved, valued, told I am fantastic, I seek validation in my outside and through my work performance, so I give it all, often too much. The success this creates goes literally to my head, I get grandious, I work twice the speed of others, everyone else seems incapable and I start to get angry. By now I have neglected my friendships, my relaxation time, myself full stop. Work is the MOST important thing in the world and don’t you see I MUST work so hard, I have SO much to do! I CAN’T take time out. I am in an adrenalin rush. And EVERY TIME it results in a break down. You see by now I have pissed others off through my behaviour and words. When I then get critisised, I crumble! So completely and utterly!!!! They don’t love me anymore, I have made a mistake, I don’t deserve to live any more = suicidal thoughts and deep into a phase of Depression. So I have made my state of being codependent on the reactions of others. I don’t know if you can relate to this?
    I know the cause was set through events in my early childhood, the knowledge of this has not been able to free me from my reactions I have as an adult, by now 53 years of age. The only way I can see out of this insane cycle is to work on my inner self talk and find strategy to deal with this codependency. What do you think? Best wishes Sonja

    Reply
    1. rachelmiller1511 Post author

      Hello Sonja- so lovely to hear from a new reader!

      Oh my goodness- this is IDENTICAL to my experiences with jobs!! I thought I was the only one!!

      I have issues in the past with my upbringing. Codependency has played a large part there. I think I was always biologically susceptible- runs in the family. But I also believe childhood experiences have kind of “switched it on” if you know what I mean??!

      I think you are totally on the right track with the inner-self work. This is what I’ve been doing. I’ve also taken up a spiritual development class which has helped enormously. A lot of it is personal development really and it is wonderful to be around like-minded people. We all support each other through life challenges. Having that kind of support can be very helpful. Other people tend to see what we can’t as well. So being open to what others point out can be useful too. We all often find we’re going through similar things at similar times as well- it’s quite magical!!

      I’m so glad you have found the article useful- it’s the best compliment to know someone has connected with what you’ve written so thank you so much for sharing this. It means a lot! xxx

      Reply
      1. Sonja Frick

        Hi Rachel, thanks for replying so quickly. 🙂 You are certainly not the only one, I can’t tell you how many job’s I have left on account of this hypomanic/depressive scenario. Shame galore! So thank you for writing your article, it is a huge ‘buildingsite’ in my life. From the outside people look at me as super successful, own Design company, two teaching posts at Uni’s, on the inside I feel a total failure and fake. A healthy spiritual core I know is the solution but keeping a regular spiritual practice in my life seems to be the problem, and I have tried many from Yoga to Mindfulness Meditation, to Chanting practice and Mantra meditation, Self-hypnosis, guided meditation you name it, I’ve done it. 🙂 even here I go full power all enthusiastically, yes I have FINALLY found the answer and then just drop it when work get’s too busy. May I ask what spiritual development class you are doing? Big hug Sonja

      2. rachelmiller1511 Post author

        I don’t think you’re giving yourself enough credit!! A design company and teaching at university sounds amazing to me!! The feeling of being a failure and a fake I can relate to. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how outwardly successful you appear to others, inside your mind you can still feel like a total mess!! I think we spend so much time hiding what’s going on in our heads from everybody, that we end up losing ourselves a bit, and losing a sense of what is really us. We deny and stuff down the crazy in our heads to fit in with society, but end up rejecting that authentic part of ourselves.

        Do you love what you do? That’s always so important!

        It’s great that you’ve tried mindfulness, meditation etc. Did they help at all? I always find they help a lot- it’s just getting round to doing them when there’s so much else to do. We deserve to give ourselves this time though- even 10-minutes a day. Can sometimes be a bit scary to really look inside ourselves too. Think I make excuses sometimes because I’m scared of what I’ll find in there!

        My spiritual development classes are with Dawn Crystal- probably easier to direct you to her site:

        http://www.dawnchrystal.co.uk/

        We do meditations and psychic development work. But as I said- a lot of it is personal development, as we need to start with loving ourselves!

        Don’t discount what you’ve already achieved, which sounds pretty immense to me :). Don’t worry about what every one else in the field has achieved.

        Big hug back 🙂 xx

      3. sonja frick

        Thanks Rachel for your sweet reply. Yes I do love what I do, that is why spinning into work-hypomania is so easy for me. I recently have come down from it and it feels like an awakening from a madly driven period. Today I had a manicure and a Thai massage and wrapped some present for friends, I can breath again. My self care is pretty good when not hypomanic but like I said when in a hypomanic state there seems to be nothing and noone to stop me. I used to be on Lamotrigin but I have found it made no difference, I am still on 75mg Venlafaxin, that’s all. I have done an immense amount of work of CPT, therapy of all kinds in fact, I am in a 12 Step Programme and have dug very deep into myself trying to find answers and coping strategies. In London I used to be part of a Bipolar Self Help Group and for about 5 years I kept a daily mood diary trying to find patterns, triggers and if my monthly hormonal fluctuations affect the Bipolar, the answer to this is YES big time. Now in/past menopause things have gotten a lot better.
        The easiest spiritual practice for me def has been the Chanting, it is an active meditation, so even when the mind is busy, I can still do it.
        Mindfulness I found too tedious and boring. I also see two Naturopath. You see I have worked so hard and yet I cannot master it. The worst part for me is when I start to get angry and start really telling others the ‘truth’ and hurt people and therefore destroying relationships privately and at work. I feel so much regret and shame afterwards and yet I cannot control it. it’s insane. Do you get this?
        Love Sonja

      4. rachelmiller1511 Post author

        I’m on Venlafaxine & Lamotrigine. Lamotrigine has been a bit of a wonder-drug for me. Venlafaxine has been difficult to come off.

        With relationships- I certainly do!! When I’m hypomanic I blurt out what’s on my mind. My communication filter seems to fail me!! I have been in arguments when hypomanic. I hardly ever argue when I’m well- only with my boyfriend :). I’m like a different person if I switch from hypomanic to angry- there’s no control. I have lost a few friendships. I definitely feel the guilt and shame afterwards. It is really difficult. I think some of my worst depressions have been after hypomania fall-out where I’ve done things I really regret.

        The manicure and massage sound great!! Wouldn’t mind some of that myself 🙂

        Rachel
        xxx

      5. sonja frick

        That’s interesting Rachel, can you tell me how Lamotrigine has made a difference to you? I’d love to know. I have tried to come off Venlafaxine several times, the side effect were horrendous, feeling totally nausious, waking up at night, wide awake, itching like crazy, want to crawl out of my skin, can’t go back to sleep and then falling back into a Depressive episode, so each time I go up the dose again. And I have tried to come off really, really, really slowly over the course of 8 month. So no luck yet 😦
        Your description of arguments in hypomania is totally on the spot, SO ME! I have been recommended a course, possible starting in January, by my Psychiatrist here in Germany called DBT. Nothing I had come across on my extensive search in the UK. It is called Dialectic Behavioural Therapy by Marsha Linehan, it sounds very interesting indeed. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectical_behavioral_therapy, it is based on Mindfulness. I recently started to go to Codependency Anonymous meetings, to look at my Codependent issues with work that usually trigger my hypomanic states. I feel I am onto something here. Codependency Anonymous meetings are about learning to have healthy and loving relationships with other people and oneself, well that is certainly what I would like to have. 🙂 Sxxx

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