Navigating workplace pressures can be difficult as it is, but even more so during a public health crisis. When my career started exacerbating my bipolar, I needed to make tough choices and big changes for mood stability and quality of life.
I have found that stress at work manifests in numerous ways, including physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. It took me a while to accept, but there is a definite link between the symptoms of bipolar disorder and the stressors of work life—especially at times like these.
Many of us are unexpectedly working remotely while also juggling new challenges at home, or possibly risking our physical health to complete job tasks on-site. As we all face uncertainty and changed life circumstances, it’s important to recognize how our stability might be affected.
My Personal Struggle with Stress on the Job
I currently work from home in a flexible environment—but that has not always been the case. I used to hold a nine-to-five government job. I stayed in that position for years, but it was not always easy. It seems “normal” for most people to wake up at the crack of dawn and then return home before dinner as it starts to get dark outside. But I struggled extensively over those years, trying to keep up. I dealt with a difficult boss and a strict and unforgiving attendance review. Bipolar is an episodic illness, and it remains extremely difficult to adhere to a firm work schedule or an office culture that frowns on flexibility. I eventually learned that I require accommodation to thrive and be the stellar employee that I know I can be. And that my work environment was significantly and adversely impacting my mental health.
Managers Make a Difference
Over the years, I had two types of bosses. Those
who are extremely amazing, caring, and understanding, and who totally believe
in my abilities—and those who left me to sit in a cubicle in the corner, collecting
dust. In one position, I was ignored for the better part of a year, which I
believe contributed to my mental breakdown. I am a very capable worker, but I
felt stigmatized by my manager. Between this and being under the microscope
during a very grim attendance review, I was lucky to even remain employed. My
depression increased, as did my personal and private struggle with psychosis.
The mental anguish relentlessly affected my ability to function.
I decided to embrace the government’s extended health plan and took a six-month leave during which I was paid the majority of my salary. That was the best decision that I had ever made during my working life. It allowed me the time to get my meds right, obtain optimal mental health, and to come to the realization that much of my happiness hinges on my career.
I eventually quit my job and invested time in passionately
building a new position as a charity president. The transition took some time,
but the decision proved to bring me much more joy and hope in life. Taking time
off and making this transition remain some of the best choices that I have made
in my entire life.
My Tips for a Mentally Healthy Work Life
Over the years, I came to a number of insights that
brought harmony into my work life:
Tell your boss about your illness, or find a new job where you feel comfortable sharing. Do you really want to work for someone who does not provide you with understanding and accommodation for your mental health? I gather not. Do not work for anyone who is stigmatizing; speaking your truth is a surefire way to find out if someone is biased.
Be a mental health advocate in the workplace. There are many amazing workplace and professional development opportunities, events, or ways to disseminate information among coworkers.
Ensure your physical work environment suits your mental health needs. If you are an extrovert who loves being outside and having numerous meaningful conversations throughout the day, then it’s best to not work in a cubicle-like setting like I once did.
Work only as much as you are able, so perhaps work 30 hours a week instead of 40 hours for the time being. Lean on your partner if you have one, who may be able to work increased hours for a temporary amount of time.
Do what you love. Always. (This is actually number one.)
I understand that there are barriers and reasons why many of us stay in the same mentally draining jobs. I empathize with having familial obligations, financial debt, car payments, increasing rental costs, and so on. It never ends, and I know this. However, if we are in an employment situation that negatively affects our mental health, then it will only bring detriment to all other areas of our lives.
Stress is a
common trigger for mood disturbances, so it is very important to recognize the
impacts of our work environment and how best to empower ourselves to make the
most mentally healthy choices possible. There is rarely a “perfect” job, but we
have the agency to choose our life’s path. I recommend that you go where you
are appreciated, accommodated, supported, and empowered.
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