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What Happened When I Had a Public Bipolar Meltdown at Work

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Before I was diagnosed with bipolar 1, I had a total meltdown in the office — hysterical tears, raving, driveling, murmuring — the whole kit and caboodle. My officemate took me to our boss for help and my boss — sensing my distress immediately — escorted me to the Human Resources department.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I worked for MTV in New York, owned by Viacom at the time, one of the largest entertainment corporations in the world. The company was packed with young creative types who are more prone to conditions like bipolar disorder than the population as a whole. There are many creatives who are bipolar and famous and many artists who are not celebrities who live with bipolar, too.

What happened to me, Human Resources had seen many times before and they were experts at what to do.

I hadn’t slept more than a few hours the weeks before my breakdown, which occurred in the spring of 2008. I had stayed up all night most nights writing maniacally, smoking weed, drinking bottles and bottles of beer, listening to loud music, and even dancing with myself. I am sober now. I went skydiving to celebrate 10 years clean.

But I digress. That day at Human Resources, I was totally manic and sobbing. At first it felt like I was being taken to the principal’s office in high school, but once I got to HR, I suddenly felt safe. I met with a woman there who was maybe 10 years my senior and she calmed me down. I’ll call her Claire.

Claire’s voice was soothing, like an NPR host with a quiet drawl that had a dreamy effect. In my manic mind, I initially thought I was taken to HR to air my grievances.

“Why are you unhappy?,” Claire asked.

“I don’t know about you, but when I tell people I work for MTV, they think I’m so uncool,” I said, rhapsodizing, not realizing the gravity of the situation I was in. She replied, “When I tell people I work at MTV they think it’s awesome!”

As an aside: Many Gen X-ers like myself are disgruntled that MTV doesn’t play music videos anymore. In other words, MTV used to be cool and now it’s lame. But there’s a reason why they don’t play videos. Music videos don’t get ratings.

However, moving on, Claire and I talked some more, but I don’t remember most of our conversation. I was in her office overlooking Times Square for around 30 minutes. When we parted, she gave me a navy-blue folder with her business card stapled inside and some literature about overcoming struggles in the workplace.

We agreed I would go on paid medical leave for an undetermined amount of time. I immediately felt a sense of relief. I needed to get stable and so my new psychiatrist — recommended to me by a friend of a friend — put me on an antipsychotic and a mood stabilizer. We tried different combinations of drugs and dosages until we landed upon a formula that seemed to work.

The only reason I was never hospitalized was because I had a very supportive boyfriend who I lived with.

While I was on leave, I had the opportunity to see someone from an independent Employee Assistant Program (EAP). I met with Juan three times while manic, waxing philosophic on how divided this country was during the at-that-time George W. Bush administration. He tried to bring me back to earth. And by just having the opportunity to vent, it really helped.

When I was seemingly stable, he gave me a green light to go back to the office. But my quarter life crisis wasn’t over. I broke down crying the moment I stepped in my office again. Turns out I wasn’t ready to go back to work after all. My major bipolar episode wasn’t finished with me.

I wrote this essay to encourage anyone who is having a mental health emergency at work to be not afraid to seek help. I’m lucky my company was so compassionate about my situation.

Anyone in the field of psychology will tell you not let your feelings bottle up and exacerbate. I think in the end that’s what I did, and that’s why I landed in a place of gloom in the first place. Please don’t panic. Don’t allow your thoughts to blather. There is help.

But not all help is a panacea. If the doctors or people surrounding you aren’t working out, move on and find others. Continue to hunt for the best help.

I am truly grateful that I had such a positive experience with HR. Heaven forbid you land in a psychiatric catastrophe that requires a visit to HR. But if you do, know that you have a safety net.

Writing is a cathartic exercise for me. Nowadays I don’t write voiceover and create news videos like I did at MTV; I do freelance writing, with bylines in places like WebMDVICE, and Queerty, as well as regularly contributing here at The Mighty.

And my life became even more complicated. What happened next is a story for another day. Or if you’re curious, it’s a story you can read in my book.

The beat of bipolar is a tricky one to dance to. But the beat goes on. And on. And on. Until you blink and you’re OK once again.

To quote Kurt Vonnegut: “So it goes… so it goes.”

Getty image by PeopleImages

Originally published: July 9, 2022
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