Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Work: A Bipolar Bummer (Part 2)

Yesterday's blog on work tied for the top number of "hits" on any subject I've written about thus far. And more people posted comments than on any other topic.

Clearly, we all agree it's a very important topic and as far as I'm aware, there's not a lot written about it--in books. Perhaps, it's been discussed on some of the major bipolar web sites but I'm not sure. As I mentioned in an earlier posting, I rarely read these sites because dwelling on the sad aspects of this illness doesn't make me feel well. While I'm happy to discuss any and all problems, by nature I'm a solution-oriented problem solver.

Having said this, I suddenly realized that I wasn't sure how to proceed on this topic. I'm not sure how to use the blogging format to discuss individual questions that may be pressing. For example, I read Syd's comment and she needs help right now. She was recently diagnosed. She's currently experiencing a depression. She's been a freelancer for the past six years and she needs to find a job.

The other comments ran the gamut. Dootz, who's a full-time fundraiser, gave helpful tips on how he handles stress in a high pressure job. Marja talked about switching her career because of stress to that of a part-time freelance photographer. Polly discussed problems at the university because of the seasonal nature of her illness. Jinnah posted three times. He posed some interesting questions as well as providing support to Polly.

Privately, Jinnah wrote an email to me and suggested that we move this discussion to a Google discussion group. Two days later, we both decided that it's too much of a commitment although I must admit that I was initially intrigued. The reason I've never participated in bipolar discussion groups (in the past), is that they've always seemed so downbeat to me. When I was at my sickest moments and spent hours online trying to find "success stories," all I found was despair.

When I've had specific problems, where I've needed some truly insightful advice from someone who's bipolar, I couldn't find anyone whose situation was similar to my own. More than a year ago when I was in a depression and truly needed some career advice, I began researching the topic of work and bipolar disorder, and the information was unbelievably depressing.

In my journal, I wrote, "Where are the bipolar people like me? I'm having some career-related problems and the only advice I can find is geared for people who feel that it's a step up to pursue careers as members of clean-up crews, as restaurant workers, or low level office workers. (I'm not being critical here, it's just that all of the services seem geared for this population.) Why doesn't anyone seem to care about those of us in professional occupations?

"Perhaps it's because they feel we can privately pay for the services we need. What they're missing is that the financial fall-out from this illness hits us particularly hard because we don't get any help whatsoever. And it's not like people who provide career advice have any insight about the special work issues related to being bipolar."

Because it was my personal journal, I went on and on. The more I wrote, the angrier I became. The more research I did, the more hopeless it seemed. Finally, I found a 2004 study on unemployment and depression from Psychiatric Services Online.

While you should evaluate this article for yourself, I must admit that upon reading it, I laughed out loud. While I do have a quirky sense of humor, I was stunned that it took ten doctors, psychologists, and social workers to figure out that people who suffer from depression have more disability, less job retention, and more diminished performance on the job than a healthy control group and a group of people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (Where do they come up with these control groups?).

Their conclusion? "In addition to helping employees with depression obtain high-quality depression treatment, new interventions may be needed to help them to overcome the substantial job upheaval that this population experiences."

What a "frigging" waste of money. All of us who are depressed and/or bipolar are well-aware that we need treatment for our illness and that we may need job-related advice. Surely, the grant money these people received would have been better spent providing services for us rather than subsidizing studies for academics.

What services would I like to see? Free high-level career counseling for bipolar professionals. Government funding for small business loans for bipolars. Research on the best working environments for bipolar professionals, tips on coping with job-related problems, a hot-line for immediate work-related problems, government tax breaks for companies that are willing to provide flex-time schedules for bipolars or job-sharing arrangements, free seminars on how to find a job when you're depressed, grants for bipolar writers and artists, and the list goes on.

In the short-term, I realized that I should have researched the topic of work and bipolar disorder before I planned on publishing daily posts about it. The preliminary research I've done is not encouraging and I don't see that it would be valuable to post it. Personally, I don't find it uplifting to read stats on how many bipolars are unemployed and how many problems we have in work situations.

So, while I'm committed to exploring this topic and will continue to try and post something on it every day this week, the best I think I can hope for is to try and find resources to explore further, individual success stories, or perhaps sites where helpful articles are listed. And I promise to do that. I'm hoping that I'll be able to provide a much higher level of advice--down the road--after I spend a lot more time researching this topic. If you have specific questions you'd like me to try and find answers to, please let me know.


Syd said...

I can't tell you how much I appreciate you taking on this project that is of such importance to so many of us. Thank you.

One resource that I stumbled on last week that I thought I'd share is vocational counseling. I contacted the State Dept of Rehab Services in the state where I live and found out that there are a wide variety of no-cost career counseling and job placement assistance resources available, and at least in my state, BP does qualify for assistance in this program. Examples included aptitute testing, job search support, interview coaching, and even some job training to make transition into the new job easier.

In my case, the counselor seemed very interested in working with me, but suggested (and I believe rightly so) that it would be in my best interest to focus first on getting the proper meds and getting my mood stabilized in order to avoid the job-hunting process itself becoming yet another trigger.

I did find an this article on the subject that may be helpful in your research.

Thanks again for being such a wonderful resource and a source of support!

jinnah said...

The mood swings and the time away from work really seem to be the critical thing.

I've realised that once I am at work and not depressed, I can do the job. I suspect it doesn't matter if the job is being a Wall Street broker or a guy who hands out leaflets on the pavement. If we can get there, we can do it.

With regards to stress, regardless of what the literature on being bipolar says, I am not convinced that stress causes depression. It could equally be depression causes stress. The strands are awfully difficult to separate.

I also don't think that we should take on jobs that are beneath our skills. The fallout from having mood swings is damaging enough to our self-esteem - we don't need to think the best we can do is a low paying job.

There must be a class of jobs that fit us. I've often though that research and software design jobs may work for us, because the flipside of missing time at work is our incredible ability to focus when we are present and somewhat manic or indeed, somewhat depressed. Anybody has other ideas.

There are also successful bipolar people out there. We don't hear from them because they don't need to search the net for help / support. How do we enlist them to support us with ideas and being role models.

BamaGal said...

Well this is very important to me--I had to leave my nursing career behind for awhile---I'm a member of APSE---association for persons in supported employment---the voc rehab syd was talking about---they do have alot of excellent programs to assist you in returning to thw work force after an absence---what I'm trying to change within APSE and voc rehab---they tend to focus more on the MR/physical disability---face it---most employers run at the very mention of severe mental illness---then if you try to find a position in another field---you are questioned repeatedly why you can not work in your trained field---if it had not been for the local mental health facilty---where I had lived at a time in my life---I would not have a job today---
I'm very active in our state in the consumer movement---the fate of the mental health system should be placed in the hands of consumers/survivors---

Like the new program that the state of GA as put into place---psych rehab tech---recovery is possible---I'm tired of the so called professionals in the field saying---here's your diagnosis--get used to it---my own therapist tries to get me to just quit work and live off of disability---

working keeps me more stable---granted the stress can be a trigger for a big mood swing one way or the other---but that's where I come into play--I do what I can to keep myself stable--exercise---eat right take my meds---get enough sleep,

and if things go too far south I have a psychiatric advanced directive in place letting my family know what course of action to take

sorry to ramble but this is an important issue---well all issues dealing with mental health are important to me

Polly said...

Jinnah -- thanks for the encouragement in your earlier comments, but you don't have to worry about me giving up on my education, 'cause I'm finally finished with it (unless I decide someday I want a third degree). I didn't listen to the people who said I couldn't do it and I received my master's degree last fall. (Okay, so it was supposed to be last spring, but a few hospitalizations last year messed that up.)

I am not minding working at low-paying jobs so far, but eventually I'm going to have to find something that is actually in my field, which probably won't happen until my boyfriend and I leave this town. I'm not in a rush. Last year was awful, so I don't mind spending a while just getting used to being stable before I start my first real career-type job.

Courtney A. Walsh said...

Hi there---how exciting and refreshing to find kindreds...I just wrote a blog about this very subject.


I also am a bipolar author and recently self-published my memoir,

"Lipstick and Thongs in the Loony Bin"

So far I am having a blast on this journey...


Blessings and mental wellness for ALL...

~Courtney A. Walsh

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

I enjoyed reading some of your posts. Good luck with your book and I'll add you to my blogroll!


bp mom said...

Thank you all so much for your comments and honesty. It is so good to know there are others dealing with the same questions we are. We are parents of a 36-year old bipolar son and are struggling with the question of how much can we expect from him and how much should we encourage, push or stand back in terms of work. Of course, he is the one who has to want to work, get the job, hold the job... but we would like to be appropriately supportive. He is very bright, but very resistant to work, telling us that his mental illness means he can't work and can't hold a job, while we are convinced that there is a place and a job for him, even with BP. We help with his rent and phone, but he has to become self-sufficient! He hasn't even worked long enough in the states (spent 4 years teaching in Japan) to get social security disability aid. Your comments have all been very helpful as we continue to try to think our way through this. Any suggestions, ideas, thoughts would be greatly appreciated. BTW, I've scanned the BP sites for several years and agree that they aren't very helpful on the subject of financial survival and job situations!

Bipolar Wellness Writer said...

Dear Bipolar Mom,
Thank you for your kind words. I truly don't have a lot of information on this but I'm going to post your comment in the main body of my post tomorrow to see if others do.


GeorgieO said...

I have been off work for months because of getting in trouble for not getting work done because of my illness was making me feel it was too much to even know where to start.

I am now able to return, but my work doesn't know what to do with me. So, currently, I am on a paid leave. Honestly, I am happy to be getting a pay check, and very scared to return to work.

I have worked for over 30 years, and I do not know if I can handle going back even with meds. Even with all the ups and downs of the illness I could always "MAKE MYSELF WORK", but the since I had cancer a few years back - I just can't do it anymore.

I afraid what they are going have me do, afraid to leave the house, and afraid after them trying to work with me - I am just going to fail.

Sorry - I know that isn't the happy story you were looking for - what I will at least tell you that as a BP person I did have 30 years of successful work. Sadly, none were high enough paying to have a "nest egg" (Or my illness kept me from doing that ... lol) ... but they were all what most people would consider "good" jobs.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear GeorgieO,
Sorry it took me so long to get back to you. I'm on a break, and only check email once a day.

You have my sincere empathy, and I wish I had some advice for you. There are some who commented whose suggestions you might find helpful.

I'm just coming out of another depression and when I was at my lowest ebb I thought about how badly I "screwed" my career when I was so very sick for a decade. And even before that, I quit a lot of jobs.

So, I truly applaud you for staying in your job for 30 years. And I'm hoping you're seeking help to talk with someone about how you're feeling and what you might do.

I'm wondering if the cancer scare and having to deal with your own mortality didn't cause you to rethink your career and whether it makes you happy and fulfilled.

But, even if that was the causal factor, other than the resources that others have listed, I just don't know what to suggest and I apologize for not knowing.

I always hate it when I really need help, ask, and can't get it. So, I do wish I had advice for you. But perhaps some of the other resources will pan out.