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How Working Again Is Essential for My Bipolar Disorder Recovery

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I taught Special Education for over 10 years, until the severity of my bipolar disorder symptoms became too severe for me to teach anymore. I started receiving Social Security Disability and have been receiving it ever since. For over 20 years, I was in and out of the hospital and halfway houses and was basically just trying to survive, live and cope with the severe symptoms of my bipolar 1 disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). My bipolar was hard to treat because initially, I wouldn’t accept my illness, and I also had severe side effects and adverse reactions to most bipolar medications needed to treat my severe symptoms. After finally accepting my bipolar 1 disorder, receiving numerous electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatments and learning how to cope and live with my symptoms, I have finally recovered enough to be able to live and love life again.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

It is rather ironic that society wants us to get healthy enough to work again, but they make it very difficult for us to find a job, keep a job and work. Finally, after about 20 years of being too ill with my bipolar symptoms and unable to work even at a part-time job, I became well enough to work again.

I began looking for employment of any kind, which was a difficult task. It took approximately four years for me to finally find a part-time job I like a lot and which works out well for me. I work part-time with a company that is very good to me and is very good at making sure they keep my hours within the allocated number of hours and amount of money I can make each month, due to the constraints and rules from my Medicare Plus insurance company.

Most jobs require you to work more hours than my Medicare Plus Insurance plan allows me to work. I work part-time and working is very therapeutic for my mental health. I would love to work a few more hours and not have to worry about the number of hours I work each month. Also, I would love to make more money to supplement my small social security disability check each month, but I can’t because of the rules from Medicare. Plus, I cannot work too much because I can’t overdo it. I need to keep myself healthy and make sure I take care of my mental health effectively, so my bipolar symptoms don’t become too severe again. I need to always take good care of my mental health and be proactive about it.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

However, last week I worked 36 hours because I worked two days for my supervisor of my department, who needed the days off. I know I should have said no, but I do have a problem with liking to help people and make them happy, so I said I could help her and work for her. Now I need to pay attention to the rest of the month, so I do not go over my monthly hours and pay, or I will end up having to pay my Medicare Plus insurance plan $500.00 — money I do not have. I think that is ridiculous and is just something I always worry about. Worrying is not good for me, of course.

I have not been able to mentally or physically work five days in a row for a normal 40-hour work period for over 20 years — since the time my bipolar disorder became too severe for me to teach Special Education anymore. So, working five days in a row for almost 40 hours in one week is amazing and a miracle for me. It was actually very hard for me to work five days in a row, but I am proud of myself for accomplishing it. People take so many things for granted, and most people who do not have bipolar disorder or other types of mental illness cannot understand how difficult it can be to just get out of bed some days. The company I work for has absolutely no idea how amazing it is I get to work on time for each of my shifts, and I can work as well as I do for them. I give all the glory to God for saving my life and healing me to the point that I can work and live my life again.

I know it may seem silly to some people who do not have bipolar disorder, but this was huge for me. It was not easy for me to complete the week, but I did it and for that, I am very grateful, happy and proud. Every day, I still live with rapidly changing symptoms and struggles related to my bipolar 1 disorder, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and personality disorder. I have learned to live, cope, function and survive with my daily symptoms.

We need to educate others of the daily struggles we face. Some mornings, I battle with even getting out of bed and then taking a shower, but I make it to work most days. Most people take it for granted that their minds will always work properly so they can function with their daily lives. But, for people living with mental illness, daily life is not always easy. We need to put a lot more effort into everything we do and accomplish. Every task is much more difficult than people realize and can observe or see on the outside.

When I make it to work, I am a very pleasant, personable, positive person because I have learned that is the best way for me to be. Staying positive and making sure I surround myself with positive people is the best way to help me stay healthy. People at work have no idea that I isolate myself in my home most of the time, and I’m afraid to get close to people because I am afraid of people hurting me, like many times in my past. I am awesome at relating to people and treating them very kindly and well at a surface level, but right now, I need to make sure I do not let anyone in too deep or too close, so they cannot hurt me. I am afraid of getting too close to people right now, but it is something I am working on.

People at work do not know how much effort it takes me to get to work and do my work well, but I always do the best I can. Once I am at work, it usually goes very well and I enjoy it. It is usually the work of getting ready and getting somewhere that is the most difficult for me. Once I there I am usually good, but getting myself physically ready and out of my house can be a constant battle and a daunting task for me.

I live one day at a time (or at least I try to) because I do not know what tomorrow will bring. Then again, no one does. However, this does apply more for someone like me with ultradian rapid cycling bipolar 1 disorder with mixed episodes, and PTSD that can trigger my bipolar symptoms.

It is a miracle I can work at all. I feel very blessed that I can finally work again, especially at a job I like a lot and that works out well for me. Working has been an essential part of my recovery. I need to go to work when I am scheduled, so that holds me accountable for something, making me responsible again and proud of myself for accomplishing each shift of work I complete. Plus, it helps me isolate less by getting me out of the house, being around many other people and socializing positively. Work keeps me focused and distracts me from negative thinking and ruminations, and from bad memories that might resurface in my mind.

One of the best parts of working now is that, when someone asks me what my name is and what I do, I can answer. I do not have to stumble around with my words and not be able to answer the question because I am not working. Now I can proudly answer that question and tell them where I work and what I do. Working can be an essential part of our identities, for ourselves and especially to other people. I may not be a special education teacher anymore, but I have a new identity, a new job and I am proud of myself for being a bipolar survivor. I am also a mental illness advocate and I have a huge passion in life to help others in any way I can.

Thinkstock photo via Getty Images

Originally published: August 26, 2017
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