Managing Bipolar in the Workplace

Last Updated: 7 Feb 2022
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I worried my bipolar diagnosis would hold me back professionally. In time, I learned that bipolar could propel me to better self-management and career success.

work job employment bipolar disorder anger self-control fear stigma focus self-improvement

Diagnosed & Doubting My Life Dreams

When I was diagnosed with bipolar, years ago, I was working full-time and pursuing my graduate degree. It was my last semester of school, and I had just been promoted at work. Then—boom!—my first manic episode and a bipolar diagnosis.

I’m not going to lie, my diagnosis was difficult; it filled me with doubt and hurt my confidence and self-esteem.

I felt like I would go from graduate school to disability, and my aspirations were over.

But, since that time, so much more information about living with and managing bipolar has become available, showing me that being successful with bipolar is an option for us all.

Had I known today what I didn’t know then, I think my outlook would have been more hopeful and less ominous.

Bipolar Was a Driving Force for Self-Improvement

I felt the gift of bipolar was that it was a driving force. It drove me to better myself and improve how I handled myself—to be better able to manage my life and my bipolar.

I started to address my own problem areas, like anger, insecurity, inferiority, focus, and a big bane of my existence: communication.

I listened more than I spoke, and I stuttered when I spoke because I didn’t always feel comfortable expressing myself.

Our workplace can be an opportune environment to focus on cultivating better habits for productivity and success, which also helps us to manage bipolar.

On a daily basis, it can be (or become) a place for your personal growth and bettering yourself. This puts the focus on areas you want to improve and can take the focus off times we mess up. (Everyone makes mistakes, we’re all human!)

Challenges of Bipolar in the Workplace

#1 Fear

I found being in the workplace challenging with bipolar. I lived with fear, not wanting others to find out and feeling nervous that something would cause me to “act crazy.”

This definitely impacted my work.

Today, I choose to rise to whatever challenge comes my way and do my best.

#2 Focus

I prioritize being focused because it helps the mind stay where it should be—on my work, effort, productivity, and effectiveness—instead of being frazzled, distracted, and “all over the place.”

Also, as I discovered, the workplace is not a good place for anger, grudges, or fights.

#3 Fights & Strong Feelings

There is always going to be personal conflict—in life and in work. When I was learning to manage my bipolar while in the workforce, I found it helpful for me to resist the urge to engage in anything that could provoke me and where I would lose control.

As someone who had “office tantrums” at one job, I learned the hard way that it was best for me, my office, and my mental well-being to focus on self-control and self-discipline to keep myself out of fights and out of trouble. Also, this encouraged me to learn new ways to handle challenging situations—without anger or conflict.

Personal Standards for Professional Conduct

The workplace is for professionalism and, even if everyone doesn’t act professional all of the time, my years of experience working in office settings have taught me that it helps to maintain my professionalism.

Holding myself to a personal level of professionalism also supported my mental well-being because that kind of professionalism entails a level of maturity, respect, and calmness.

Plus, I found that if I could align my behavior to these personal expectations and maintain self-control, it also improved my productivity, success, and mood/symptom management in the workplace. As a result, my confidence in the workplace improved, too.

Professional conduct, in a way, also keeps out the upset, drama, and pettiness, as immature behaviors are not respected in the office or considered acceptable in most professional settings.

Reasons for Hope

Back when I received my diagnosis, I felt that having a bipolar diagnosis was like wearing a scarlet letter.

But this was many years ago. (And maybe it was just me.)

Today, while there is still a stigma to cope with, there is also—in my opinion—more understanding and an awareness of the need to be sensitive to people’s mental health needs.

With work cultures that are increasingly accepting of people’s mental health conditions, my hope is that people with bipolar would no longer need to feel the weight of the diagnosis as a debilitating thing.

Also, we now have way more resources available to set ourselves up for success in the workplace, even while facing the challenges that come with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Doesn’t Have to Hold Us Back

It is easy to feel intimidated going into a new job or workplace with a bipolar diagnosis and to be worried or concerned about whether you will fit in or do a good job. But you do not need to feel this way right now. Bipolar doesn’t automatically stop success.

Undeniably, unmanaged bipolar can create real challenges that need to be addressed. But there is hope: the better you can understand and manage yourself and your triggers, and focus on your success, the better the workplace can be for you.

And, of course, acclimating to a work environment takes time, usually a few months; it is not something you can just step into or snap into. So, allow yourself the time to get adjusted, understand the office dynamics, and get to know your colleagues, all while maintaining how you manage yourself and your bipolar.

The Takeaways

The point of this—as with most of my writing, is to not let your bipolar be in the way of your success and life. And, again, I found the blessing to be that my bipolar required me to take responsibility for myself and seek ways to manage my mental well-being so I can live my best life.

This is an option not just for me but for all of us, too.

Originally posted February 7, 2022

About the author
Debbie Jacobs is an advocate, writer, and healing specialist living in Alexandria, Virginia. She lived most of her adult life with a diagnosis of depression and anxiety, and then was diagnosed with bipolar. She speaks out on how self-improvement is life improvement and believes we all can live happy lives by making positive changes to ourselves. Her influences are Louise Hay, Napoleon Hill, Les Brown, and Tony Robbins. She does positivity life coaching and is in the process of writing her first book on her healing process of accomplishing positive thinking, positive effective coping skills, and healthy self-esteem—what she calls “freedom and happiness.” She shares her work to motivate, inspire, and help others make positive changes to themselves for their freedom and happiness, too.
1 Comment
  1. I’m glad you were able to learn how to cope at work with it. I was diagnosed with bi-polar. I find it extremely difficult to keep employment. I was a programmer/analyst for 11 years. When I went on medication for bi-polar it made it almost impossible to work as the medication just made me incapable of thinking and made me very tired. About 6 months after the bi-polar diagnosis I also was diagnosed with ADHD(not so much hyperactivity!) That medication doesn’t seem to help as much as I’d like. ADHD makes it even more difficult to work.

    Keep it up, I’m glad to hear of your success. It helps me to hear of that! Now I need a magazine ADHD Hope! I’ll have to research that!

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