The limitations of Bipolar Disorder

I haven’t worked since May 2016. It is not the first time in my adult history that I have been so disabled for so long. When I was fired for absenteeism from my first job in 2008, I wasn’t able to stabilize (and get lucky again) until 2011.

From May 2011 to January 2015, I was somehow able to stay with Macy’s and even get special capabilities like managerial functions at the register. I was publicly lauded and celebrated along with other well-performing employees on a regular basis because it was a commission environment, and I believe my authenticity was appreciated by their customer base.

During the second half of my time at Macy’s, I started a long-term relationship with the man that is still the last boyfriend I’ve had. I still suffered from depression and had a hard time regulating stress which eventually progressed my alcoholism.

I noticed it was normalized to perform that job under at least some form of alcohol, as I personally knew a few co-workers in close proximity to my department that did so. It helped them to function, so I started doing it, too. But I knew in my heart Macy’s wasn’t what I wanted for the rest of my life, so since I felt stuck, I would drink myself depressed outside of work, as well.

I wasn’t always crying when I drank, though most of the time I was, to my boyfriend at the time. The last season I worked at Macy’s, I recognized my problem and got myself back into psychotherapy.

I hadn’t been treated for my mental illness since I was in middle school/junior high. According to my dad, whom I’ve been living with since that time, my symptoms went into remission and I started living unmedicated.

I had already started struggling with schoolwork as early as 6th grade, which is when I believe I developed my disorder. I would kick myself for always falling behind because I had been such a good student in elementary. But I just couldn’t focus anymore and I started to become bullied on an almost regular basis.

I decided to fly under the radar and keep to myself in high school, even though the social climate was dramatically better by then. To cope with my academic disability, I would frequent the school library and read books in and outside of class, during lunch hour and even in the bathroom skipping algebra.

I was not the “cool” kind of truant, walking off campus with friends. I was trying to cope; not with drugs and socializing, but with books and music. I was a loner.

In junior year of high school, I started to pick up alcohol, alone, by myself at home. I had no awareness at the time that I was self-medicating. This is why addiction is NOT a choice.

Fast-forward 4 years and I was a full-blown alcoholic, finding myself in volatile codependent relationships with men. I would choose men I thought suffered with worse mental health so that maybe I could feel less “crazy.” Ironically, their crazy made my crazy worse.

Fast-forward to 2014 when I put myself back into the therapist and psychiatrist’s office, I began to wean myself off of alcohol and had entirely removed it by the very end of the year, but not before applying for another job under liquid courage one night.

That was the pharmacy, and I was hired within a month. I maintained sobriety at that job, beginning my journey with antidepressants.

I still suffered with my mental health. I showed no “obvious” signs of mania (though they were there), so I was treated under the diagnosis of unipolar major depression for 4 years, unsuccessfully going through several different combinations of antidepressants, with the occasional adjunct atypical antipsychotic.

The side effects from the latter were markedly worse, but when I took them I would show subtle signs of improvement. Still, I went back to strictly antidepressants.

In early 2016, my boyfriend of 3 years broke up with me and I was fired from the pharmacy a few months later. My depression spiraled and even though I was attending AA, I relapsed in the spring of 2017. Well, THAT didn’t work out well, and I went back to AA and sobriety that August. In two weeks, I will have a year again of not drinking.

My extended unemployment may still befuddle the rest of my family but my dad knows intimately what I’ve been going through. I’ve only been medicated for bipolar disorder for 4 months so I have to give myself a break for not stabilizing yet.

On my newest cocktail of Lamictal, Latuda, and Klonopin, I have still been isolating as bad as I’ve been since last August. I have no doubt that this has NOT been positively affecting my illness, but socializing again has been an uphill battle.

Without alcohol, I no longer have that soft cushion between me and my pain. I’ve still been rapid cycling, though I had thought it had improved while still in isolation, protected from the elements of the stress of being out in public, in close proximity to the nightlife I had once regularly immersed myself in.

Last night I did not party; I did not socialize with anyone besides my long-time friend. We settled outside the tamer environment of a coffee shop and played on our laptops with the rowdiness at a somewhat safe distance. I was so tired of being stuck in the house by my lonesome that I ate up the fresh air and the atmosphere of being around other human beings.

In hindsight of my miserably unsuccessful trials with men since my break-up 2 years ago, I had channeled my sadness over it into (healthy, or so I thought) anger, and at least I had someone I trusted to confide in and vent to.

Since I’ve been out of therapy for several months, I was not aware that these feelings were still triggering me. My body exhausted after being out and about for 12 hours, my longest amount of time since my bipolar diagnosis, I suffered an intense mood shift.

I was, unbeknownst, still rapid cycling. Achy and exhausted, the physical and mental toll of that day triggered me.

This was the moment of clarity I realized I’m still not cut out for a conventional job again. My disorder will not be able to handle it. My brain continues to hijack my brief states of contentment. I am having to come to terms more and more how fragile my state is under the seemingly slightest amount of environmental stress.

Therefore, it is in my best interest to look instead into freelance work and continue to pursue my writing career, the only seemingly appropriate venue with manic depression.

I am planning to go back to regularly attending AA as a social outlet and support system. I have only had my dad and my friend as my support system. That is not enough, and I am not improving in isolation.

Indeed, I need my solitude to collect my thoughts and strategize how to manage my symptoms, but I also need to feel needed, in the limited ways I am able to manage. Bipolar disorder requires the most vigilant level of self-care and the most diligent mindfulness.

5 thoughts on “The limitations of Bipolar Disorder

  1. I can totally relate. I have never been able to hold a job. I am either an over achiever upstanding employee or not employed at all. There just seems to be no middle ground for me when it comes to actually holding a job. I got a job a couple of weeks ago and walked out my first day. I had ran 6.5 miles that morning and I was working at a crazy busy restaurant. I think every tourist and baseball team came to eat there that day. I was there for 5 hours nonstop busyness. All I ate before I went in was a bowl of fruit and a couple of bottles of water…thinking I would get a break I took a snack and another bottle of water with me. By the time I walked off the job I was literally sick, dehydrated and had a massive headache from not taking a break. My boss just threw me into the job with no training at all so it was bad. Then, she proceeded to berate me in front of others for “standing there doing nothing” and I literally had just stopped to breathe for a half of second and she just happened to walk by. I thought it was my imagination that she was berating me but then I looked online and it was in a review of a previous employee. I was sick the next day, too and lethargic. It’s upsetting to know I can’t hold a job for long I wish that part of my life were normal. Then I might seem okay to “normal” people that do work for years at a time at the same place. It’s hard but I have to tell myself I’ve ran 4 half marathons and I am a long distance runner a lot of people that have been employed forever can’t say that lol 😂 My work is self-care, housework, laundry, paying bills, volunteering, etc. I have no friends right now because the ones I did have were toxic for my recovery. So it’s just me and my family and the people I will see when I volunteer. Thanks for sharing your take on working a job with Bipolar Disorder and mental health struggles!! 😊I understand!

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    1. Yep. See? Bipolar debilitates all of us similarly. I also used to take 2 seconds to breathe and glance at the calendar in the pharmacy and my pharmacist would get after me. I was pulled aside on a regular basis just because I would always have some kind of physical complaint, but he barely had any sympathy. Macy’s was much more lax and understanding. They allowed me to sit down if I needed to. So, basically fuck the pharmacy. I got good feedback from the customers/patients and I got good reviews customers at Macy’s would voluntarily write in. But we are still severely unappreciated anyway. You are a warrior.

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      1. Thank-you and so are you! I could write forever about jobs I’ve had and how my mental health has played a big part in why I no longer have them. It’s hard! People don’t understand how HARD it is for us! It is SO HARD!! Just waking up and getting out of my bed is a daily milestone. I even make my bed everyday so I won’t be tempted to get back in it and retreat from life. My OCD won’t let me mess it up until 9:30-10:00 pm when it’s time for bed. Lol I do get a lot accomplished more days than none these past few months I’ve been in a real good place/state of mind for the most part…but it’s still hard.

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  2. I was excited to see you using your writing talents. When I asked you to call me on the last blog that is what I was going to talk about. Every day we get to all wake up and decide what way we’ll go, it’s the unexpected that can side track us. I couldn’t do my life without hope, faith and love. I love you so very much, keep working hard and I’ll keep praying harder. Love you more.

    Liked by 1 person

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