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Yes, Managing Bipolar Disorder Is My Full-Time Job

Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

“Side hustles” are a big thing right now. Driving for Uber, or a food delivery service. Maybe dog walking on the weekends. They can be good ways to make some extra money on your time off from your “real” job. That kind of makes my job as a full-time private tutor a “side hustle,” since my real job is managing my bipolar disorder.

That may sound a little backward to you, since I make money tutoring and definitely don’t earn money managing my illness. So, I’ll explain it using an analogy. Let’s say you have a job as a florist and do landscaping on the weekends for extra money. You have one particularly busy week at the flower shop and don’t have the flowers ready for a Saturday wedding by the time you are supposed to leave work on Friday. What takes priority? Do you spend extra time as a florist to get the flowers ready for the wedding? Or do you do what you’ve done most weekends and switch off from florist mode and see who needs some landscaping help? You would finish the flowers. That’s your “real” job. It takes priority.

That’s what bipolar disorder is in my life — it takes priority.  There are some obvious ways this affects my day-to-day life. For example, I usually have at least one doctor’s appointment a month and that needs to happen, even if it interferes with my tutoring schedule. Of course, a doctor’s appointment or two a month doesn’t add up to a full-time job. It’s in the small, little chunks of time every day that it turns tutoring into a side hustle and managing my mental illness my “real” job.

I could be making more money tutoring if I opened up my schedule a bit more. Just a couple of extra hours on Sunday, maybe an hour more a couple of days through the week. That doesn’t seem unreasonable. But I can’t. I have to maintain a very tight balance to not spiral into an episode. This means that sleep is more important than tutoring — bye-bye making money tutoring on Sunday mornings! I know from experience that just three nights of poor sleep can cause my mood to shift into mania. And putting myself at risk of a manic episode is dangerous, and would leave me unable to work entirely. I also limit the number of hours a day I tutor.  Even though I have always been a friendly and outgoing person, interacting with people is difficult, even friends and family. I know if I push myself to be the happy, supportive tutor for too many hours on too many days, I will get overwhelmed and will have a huge spike in anxiety and/or sink into a depressive episode. My mind needs time to process, to wander and to be quiet every day. That must come before requests for an extra tutoring session for help preparing for a math test or writing a science lab report. (Even though I really hate telling people “no.”)

Medications also play a big role in managing my bipolar disorder and help explain why it takes so much time out of my day.  I am (relatively) stable on the set of medications I take now. But as anyone who has taken a psychotropic medication knows, they often come with a list of unpleasant side effects. For me, this means I often start the day feeling like I have a bit of a hangover. I am usually a bit dizzy, I don’t feel like eating anything, I have serious brain fog and can only move at a snail’s pace. It takes time for me to be ready to be a “normal” human being. (And before you start suggesting a change in my sleep schedule, when I take my meds, trying a new med, etc., trust me, over 20 plus years of this disease being in my life, I have tried already it.) This time is pretty much lost every morning as I can’t really do anything terribly productive. I feel (and probably look) like a zombie.

Then there is the time it takes to “clean up the mess.” These are the little and big problems that arise because bipolar disorder demands that it be my priority and consumes me. If I miss a day of work, I need to contact all the families, apologize for cancelling (usually pretty last minute) and find time to rebook their kids. (I also have to keep track of the lie I told them about why I was cancelling, because I’m still not at the point where I am open about my illness with that realm of my world.) If I make an impulsive purchase I couldn’t afford, it means figuring out where I am going to get that money, and sometimes reaching out to family for help. I hate doing that. Sometimes when I have the “I’m-going-to-take-on-the-world” feeling, I commit myself to projects I later realize I can’t follow through on. And I have to apologize to that person or organization for backing out. Not only do these little fires take time to put out, they are also emotionally draining. Just further reminders that as hard as I try, I still have a serious mental illness.

All of this being said, I am thankful that I am at a stage with this disorder I can have a “side hustle.” There were many years during which dealing with the symptoms of bipolar disorder consumed all of my time. And without the many supportive people I have in my life, I would likely still be in that place. So, I’ll wear my name badge at my full-time job, “Christine – Manager of Bipolar Disorder” and be glad for the time I get to work on my side project as “Christine — Tutor.”

Getty image by lankogal

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