Together at the Poles

Guest Post: On The Job or How Not To Take Care of Me

In this guest post from Mental Canyons, she describes some of her experiences and lessons that come from living with bipolar disorder at the workplace.

The past several days have been tough. I lost my job last January – I was fired. I know I contributed to the dismissal.

When it came to caring for me, I made poor choices. Lunch time would find me shoveling food into my mouth while feverishly working at my computer. Short breaks throughout the day were non-existent. One of my colleagues implored me to join her in the break room, but I repeatedly declined. “You need a break. You need structured breaks to replenish your well.” I was working 50 to 60 hours per week. Why was I so driven? The workload was intense, and I thought I had no choice. I had to work hard to support my family. I began to think management was watching me in particular. Now I think everyone was “under the microscope.”

A contributing factor to my dismissal may have been the complaint I filed against my supervisor for verbally abusing me on the telephone. She was exhibiting at a conference 3,000 miles away, and one of the regular vendors I had hired failed to arrive on site at the pre-designated time. I was accused of not doing my job, not knowing how to do my job. She was relentless and oppressive. By the time the call ended, I was fighting back tears. In the privacy of a colleague’s office, I broke down, sobbing and rocking. The more I tried to recall the conversation for the complaint report, the more incoherent I became. The next thing I knew, I was in an ambulance. I remember providing a urine specimen and lying wrapped in a blanket on a bed in the psychiatric emergency room, but not much else. Convinced by my older daughter’s promise to monitor me, the E.R. psychiatrist reluctantly discharged me. I was grateful to have narrowly escaped another hospitalization. I returned to work a week later. In an effort to protect me, the company’s H.R. department chose to tell my supervisor that I had had a problem with my diabetes, a more acceptable illness. (In addition to bipolar disorder, I have diabetes and am on daily medication for it.)

While the company’s management style was difficult, the physical environment also proved detrimental to my well-being. My cubicle was one of many on the floor of a factory. People had a tendency to yell to one another rather than communicate by phone. Between customer service conversations, phones ringing and the persistent overhead paging system, the noise level was often unbearable. I found that I would have to insert ear plugs or headphones to reduce the assault on my brain. On multiple occasions I implored my supervisor to allow me to move to the quieter building, but my request fell on deaf ears. As a result I started having anxiety attacks. Fight or flight! I felt as if an elephant was sitting on my chest. I started taking clonazepam just to get through the days. I became irritable and impulsive. I recall standing up in my cubicle and addressing my coworkers: “I can’t stand stupid people! There is no excuse for stupidity unless first cousins marry! No, that’s not what I mean. It’s ok to ask questions, to ask for help. What I mean is that I can’t stand lazy people. Why can’t people do what they’re supposed to do, what they’re hired to do?” Yes, I really said those things. And with gusto. No doubt my outburst did not help my tenuous situation, both mentally and financially.

Ok, so when I land another job, which I will…. It’s only a matter of time, right? Rather than eating at my desk and working through my lunch break, I shall eat my lunch in the cafeteria or go out. I shall take breaks throughout the day to recharge my battery. I know there are other things I can and will do to help myself. The point is that I’m learning, right? I certainly hope so! That I won’t make the same mistakes? I certainly hope not!

5 Responses to Guest Post: On The Job or How Not To Take Care of Me

  • Thank you for sharing your experiences! Once again I am wondering whether the bp sufferer is the mad one or whether her/his is in fact the healthy reaction to an insane situation? Just because the majority do it does not make something true and sane? In the meantime, take the breaks, the lunches, the time off. Even the harshest of employment regimes recognises that its people need breaks to maximise profitability.

  • I don’t know how you are able to function, at all. I have been on disability, since I was diagnosed 13 yrs ago. It was the work force that took its toll on me. Thank goodness for having a great Dr..

    It’s ashame you lost your job, but on the other hand it might just be for the best. As you said you’re learning. Take all the breaks you get and try not to worry about the work. I know it’s easier said than done, but remember your health comes first.

    Good luck! And I wish you well!

  • i can relate to a lot of that, i remember breaking down at work – very loudly (call centre) and the next day i was pulled in for a meeting, i wasn’t very well, 2 days later i was admitted to hospital for 3 months with psychosis. a few years later, well about 9, i have just found meds that really work well for me. (fingers crossed)…thanks for sharing

  • I had a decent job as a caregiver, with a regular daily client, decent schedule, and regular trips home, and I was beginning to put a little $ away to move away from here and get back home to my waiting Fiance’ after having been disowned by my father when I returned here to care for him when he was placed in hospice. March of last year, my new step-mother decided to be as cruel as he had been, and told my employer about my Bipolar Disorder,though my condition has been in total remission since 03. I was immediately fired, and am now suing the agency. I have since been blacklisted throughout the county, because my step-mother has followed me all over, wherever I’ve applied, and filled businesses in, to where I have even received calls and letters asking me not to frequent the business. I can’t wait to settle my case and see this town and county in my tail lights for the very last time. I only have to survive for 6-10 more months here. I haven’t seen my Fiance’ since Feb, and I won’t until I leave here for good, because my money is now gone, and there will be no more visits home until after settlement. I only pray we can survive the separation. I have faith that we can.

  • Thanks very much for sharing your story which I really identify with. I hope you find a much better job where you feel valued.

    I also learnt recently how scary a place work can be when they use your BP illness against you. I also reported my manager this year for their bad behaviour. But it got turned back on me and they tried to make out that it was my health which caused the trouble. I am lucky I work in the civil service. If I worked in the private sector my vindictive bosses would have probably forced me out of the job.

    The other thing is I don’t think supervisors obviously appreciate being complained about and will strike back. And unfortunately a person with BP is an easier target for them to neutralise. Its not fair, but its part of the challenge for us BP sufferers in work situations that stigma and outright bullying can be actively used against us. I really wish you well

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Counselling from Daniel
Daniel Bader, Ph.D., RSW, CCC
Daniel Bader, Ph.D., RSW, CCC is a Registered Social Worker and Canadian Certified Counsellor with a private practice operating out of Kitchener, Ontario. He provides in-person counselling in Kitchener and email, video or telephone counselling within Canada.

To find out more, please visit the website for his private practice, Bader Mediation & Counselling Services.