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The Reality of Having a Mental Illness in the Workplace

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Having a mental illness in the workplace is hard. I have a severe case of bipolar disorder with mixed state and paranoia. The paranoia is wondering if my boss is trying to kill me, my husband is trying to control me, and it’s a never-ending cycle of fear.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I don’t mean fear as in fear of losing my job (although that exists as well). I mean the numbing fear that I am out of control, knowing that I am out of control, but too fearful to reason my way out of paranoia.

This doesn’t even cover the sleepless nights that impair my ability to function. The most I’ve been without sleep is three days. In those three days, by the second day, I realized I was a danger to other people. If I drove, the roads would swirl and bend in front of me. I was louder, laughing and screaming at the same time. Sometimes I would hallucinate that there was a screaming lady in my head, and sometimes I was convinced that I was the one screaming, or I perceived that someone was in danger.

Mental illness in the workplace is when you say you have a disability and need accommodations, they put you on a forced leave of absence. It becomes an infuriating mess and a bunch of paperwork that my brain simply can’t focus on completing. When I say I can’t focus, I mean my thoughts race too fast and I read too fast that each word I’ve read before simply passes through. Plus, my doctor refuses to sign and I may not get paid.

Another issue is when people say they have depression or anxiety, but they don’t understand I can’t control my bipolar. If you can’t control being anxious, why would I be able to control thinking I am God? (Literally thinking I’m a god.) Or they think that bipolar simply involves mood when it can involve so much more than euphoria or depression. Not all people, however, are like that. There are the precious few that understand when I say that I hear people speaking to me, they understand that in my brain… they are. These voices are as real to me as someone asking me to calm down. Honestly, I prefer to listen to them.

Mental illness in the workplace with bipolar is for months being the very best employee to being the very worst and there is no explanation other than it is my illness acting up. I would like to think that it has not affected my work, but that would be a lie and there is nothing worse than to lie to yourself about your condition.

However, mental illness in the workplace is also being vulnerable and telling others you are struggling, getting the support needed and helping destigmatize the world one person at a time. I decide to be fully vulnerable about my condition in order to teach the people who I work with that there are people like me who can’t help their condition. But I work in a very progressive company that is very supportive of being your authentic self.

I encourage everyone to be vulnerable. You never know who you may influence. But be cautious, because there is still stigma.

But because I said something, I am now on medical leave to adjust to my medications and my boss has been tasked by his boss to learn about my disability in order to better work with me. There are upsides. I’d like to focus on them.

Getty image via jossdim

Originally published: October 1, 2020
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