Today I walked in my old neighborhood, with my old boss (who used to hold my current position). She is a gem of a human, and someone I’ve always looked up to, so it was great to finally connect again for the first time since the summer.
I told her about my latest episode, and it made me think of my first manic episode, when I reached out to a lot of coworkers (including her). Whether it was via slack, text messages, or social media, I felt the need to make dozens of inappropriate jokes, abstract references, and nonsensical comments until I had contacted practically the entire staff.
My mom and Matt were, understandably, concerned. While the American Disabilities Act protects me from losing my job as long as I can perform it through reasonable accommodations, receiving the accommodations, from a practical standpoint, requires me to disclose my diagnosis to my workplace. Matt made the judgment call while I was psychotic the first time that my HR person needed to be kept in the loop for some insurance reasons, and I had a call with my direct supervisor (the person I walked with today) shortly after I got home to clarify what had happened and how this was going to affect my intermittent maternity leave schedule.
But, for the most part, that’s where the legal protection ends. There’s no law that can control employees’ general perception of me, or make them treat me the same way they did before they watched me lose my mind in real time. And I was dumb enough to give everyone a front row seat to that show.
I was in and out of lucidity, so some of my messages to coworkers were just sweet affirmations that people needed to work less and spend more time with their family.
Others were useless bits of personal information that I remembered (or thought I remembered) about people. Others were inappropriate (like requests for back rubs) or illogical (like asking someone to say hello to Marlon Brando for me). I even texted two coworkers a picture of the scale while I was weighing myself, with the embarrassing post-pregnancy/mid-psych med number on display for them to see.
After I came out of my psychosis, it was thoroughly exhausting to explain to everyone what had happened. I used the phrase “postpartum bipolar,” which isn’t one a lot of people are familiar with, and doesn’t make it immediately obvious why I was so unhinged. People who hear bipolar often think of depression or hyperproductivity, but the psychosis is less familiar (and doesn’t happen to everyone with bipolar).
I didn’t quite have the words to explain to people what had happened to me- to apologize for the things I said and did while I was a different version of myself.
But to my pleasant surprise people were unbelievably gracious. And kind. Working in the nonprofit sector, there is a desire to care for others, and I needed that kindness to get back on my feet.
This latest manic episode was a quieter one. Despite a few keyed up meetings with very poor notetaking and some frantic well-wishes sent out to everyone about the Thanksgiving holiday, I had left relatively few breadcrumbs about the decline of my mind by the time we reached the long weekend. I was hospitalized the day after Thanksgiving, Matt informed my new boss (who is an angel and has provided me with exactly the support I need) on Monday, and she told everyone I was going to be out for the week with no other details provided.
This would have been sufficient, but many who knew about my previous episode reached out to ensure I was ok. I appreciated their support and found myself feeling the need to disclose my situation to many new staff, even those in leadership, for reasons I can’t quite articulate.
Maybe I’m just a chatterbox. Maybe I’m bad at keeping secrets. Maybe I have a mental disorder that affects my decision-making.
But I prefer to think of myself as a warrior for living as my true and authentic self, wherever I am. It is a battle to do what I do every day. And so many people are fighting similar battles, many much harder. I fight in solidarity with them.
Statistics show that 30-60% of people with bipolar do not reenter the workforce after their diagnosis. That feels shitty to me as someone who has bipolar and has always put a great deal of value on my career. But for as much as I love statistics, I love beating them even more.
With full respect for why someone would make the decision not to reenter the workforce (or why that decision might be made for them), that is not the right choice for me (right now). God or whoever is running this show has given me the ability to bounce back from my psychosis and continue to use my mind, and I don’t want to let fear keep me away from pushing myself to my fullest (responsible) capacity. I would rather go down kicking and screaming and filling everyone in on the war within me than throw in the towel out of fear that I’m inconveniencing others or making them feel uncomfortable. So long as I feel I can do a good job at my work and not burn myself out, I will keep working.
And to you I ask this: question your assumptions. What would you think about someone at work who told you they had bipolar disorder? What would you say if your employee, or even your boss, had it? What could we do, together, to make this a world where an employee is more than a diagnosis, and a diagnosis is more than a death sentence to a career?
Thanks for reading,
72 miles down, 28 to go