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3 Ways I Gained Clarity While Job Searching With Bipolar Disorder

A few months from now, every major news outlet will run 24-hour updates about COVID-19. The entire world will be in lockdown. On the brighter side, LGBTQIA+ candidates and women of color will sweep local and state elections, and DJ D-Nice will bless us with Club Quarantine. But, at the momentum, my priority is clearing snow from the parking spot outside our humble Baltimore abode.

We’ve been slow to put away decorations because the holiday season was a light in a time of monumental heartbreak for our family. My wife has been the sole provider, as I’ve recovered from a major manic episode. For a long while, I wasn’t cleared to return to work. But, with time, things began to change.

A few nights ago, we made the final decision to move to the southwest. We need a fresh start and want a loving environment in which our daughter can grow and thrive. At the same time, we’re shrouded in uncertainty. Will I actually be able to work full-time again while living with bipolar disorder?

I test-drive Grammarly with hopes that the program will catch errors on my resume and cover letter. Suits and dress shirts are laid out on our living room sofa. On paper, I’m prepared.

In reality, I don’t feel ready, nor good enough, to return to being a master’s degree-level professional.

All I can think is:

Why would anyone hire someone broken like me?

What if my new employer finds out I live with bipolar disorder?

What if the stress is too much and I end up in a bad place again?

UCLA psychology research assistant and blogger, Brittney Moses, recently tweeted: “Clarity also reduces stress and anxiety for the things within our control. You deserve to have a sense of direction to act in the ultimate best interest.”

Here are three ways I gained clarity while job searching with a bipolar diagnosis:

1. I phoned a friend for advice.

I contacted trusted mentors and inquired about if/when I should disclose my mental illness during the hiring process. I was told that it was my choice, and advised to play close attention to HR policies. There were pros and cons either way. Eventually, I decided it wouldn’t be meaningful to share about my bipolar diagnosis during the interview process. I was already cleared by my therapist and psychiatrist, and I had been consistently stable for quite some time. What mattered most was having an emergency action plan. So, I worked on this with my wife, and we made sure to: identify symptoms of hypomania, list all medical contacts, and be mindful about my access to funds.

2. I clarified my goals and narrowed my job search.

My number one goal was to secure a well-paying job that provided insurance. Furthermore, I wanted to position at a place that provided an adequate amount of paid time off for doctor’s visits and vacation. My non-negotiables: no crisis management, no night or weekend work, and no being on-call. I landed an ideal position and signed on the dotted line.

3. I worked closely with my supervisor.

Naturally, I still carried self-doubt and shame. Getting a new job didn’t mean that l was instantly cured. It meant new challenges and opportunities. The reframes my therapist provided me with helped. She encouraged me to ask myself, “Is this true?” whenever I felt myself entering a shame spiral. It helped. What also helped was working to clarify metrics of success with my supervisor. How do I know when I’m doing well in my role? What are indicators that I’m providing quality service to our students? These questions became part of our check-ins.

I excelled in the new role. Fast-forward to 2021, and I’m still doing well. Along the way, there was stress, some nights where I ended up working late, and I hit burnout. This time around, however, I knew who to contact for help. I’m intentional about tracking my mood. Sleep is a priority.

If I could give advice to anyone preparing to search or currently on a search, it’d be to focus on your skills and not your diagnosis. You get to work as much as the next person does. As long as you’re following your health plan, and have a system of accountability, you can get back to the work that matters. It won’t ever be the same again, but it’ll be better because now, you’re better.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

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