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What It's Like When Mania Affects My Work

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Have you have had a hard time sitting still while at your desk, but weren’t able to get up?

Have you ever had a hard time concentrating on your work?

Have you ever had someone tell you to calm down, when it was really out of your control?

Have you ever had someone joke to you to take a “chill pill” when you couldn’t control how you were acting?

Have you ever felt like hurting yourself because that was the only thing you felt could bring you back down to earth and focus yourself on something else?

That’s exactly how I felt last week when I was sitting at my desk and a manic episode hit me like a dump truck. I work in a call center and I first noticed the mania affecting me during my calls. I was talking fast, not paying attention to the callers, trying to end the calls quickly and couldn’t sit still. I pulled my supervisor aside and let her know I was having a manic episode. She understood and started looking for things I could do to center myself. She brought over our “self-care” basket of coloring supplies and she told me to organize it.

When I’m feeling manic, I need to do something with my hands. Actually, all the time I need to be doing something with my hands or I feel like I’m going to spiral, and empty hands gives me a higher chance of hurting myself. I organized the basket so quickly, but still found myself needing something else to do. So I decided to color, because I felt if I didn’t do something more I was going to start lashing out at others around me.

As I was coloring, I started to feel tears forming in my eyes and I knew I wasn’t going to be OK. My supervisor saw this and pulled me aside again, reassuring me. This helped me so much, because if she hadn’t pulled me aside both times, I probably would’ve hurt myself and being at work, I fear I would be immediately fired.

I’ve had issues at work before, where I mentioned to a co-worker I was going to hurt myself and my work sent law enforcement out to my house. Where I live we call the 72-hour suicide watch a Baker Act. My supervisor has mentioned “Baker Acting” me in the past and I didn’t want that to happen again.

I’m not going to lie, I’ve had thoughts of suicide in the past, but I don’t want to end my life. I know I have so much to live for and where I work, I’m helping others. I work in a crisis call center and talk to people all day about the crises they are experiencing. Sometimes these are thoughts of suicide, them wanting to hurt themselves or a substance abuse crisis. If my mental health isn’t addressed, I’m going to have a hard time helping those people.

Since that day I’ve told two other supervisors about my bipolar disorder and they’ve told me they will help me as much as they can. I’m starting a PHP (partial hospitalization program) in a couple of weeks, which I’ve also told my supervisors about. They want me to get help and help myself as much as possible, so I can continue to work and help others. They also want to make sure I address my past trauma so I’m at peace with it.

If you have a mental health diagnosis and it affects your work, perhaps tell your superior about it. Of course, only talk to your superior if you are comfortable discussing your mental health diagnosis with them. I’ve been comfortable disclosing that information with them because of my place of employment. If I didn’t work in the mental health field and wasn’t getting my degree in mental health services, I probably wouldn’t have told them about my diagnosis. Now I’m not saying you have to say something just because you work in the mental health field, but I’m saying mention it if you feel comfortable.

In the middle of writing this, I had to go to training and I experienced another manic episode. I texted my supervisor — who I was in the room with — and she coached me through text to take deep breaths and to remind myself where I was and that I was safe. I followed her directions and it helped some, but I was the antsiest person in the room. I couldn’t sit still and was moving my hands around non-stop. I took a moment when the training was done so I could breathe, which helped somewhat too. When I got back to my desk I immediately continued to write this article.

I was pulled aside by our self-care provider, who works in our building, and she gave me more ideas for self-care that I wanted to share.

1. Breathing exercises. (You’ve probably heard this one before.)
2. A small bag of items that you can touch (with different textures).
3. Drawing with a regular #2 pencil.
4. Grounding yourself by standing barefoot outside for two minutes.
5. Coloring. (I know you’ve also heard this one before.)
6. Seeking professional help.

If you’re having thoughts of wanting to hurt yourself or others, or just need someone to talk to, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline number below. Someone is available to talk 24/7, 365 days a year. There is help. You are not alone.

If you’re looking for resources for mental health services in your area, you can call 2-1-1 and get connected to your local information and referral line.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via Cathy Yeulet