Cherise asks: how can I manage bipolar illness and also go to work and school?

Hello readers. I just received this email from Cherise. I answered below and know she could use your support as well. How do you handle wanting to do something such as working or going to school full time, but always having to manage the illness first?  Here is her post.

Hello Julie,

I have been diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1 for about 7 years. I have struggled with depression and OCD since about 14. I’m 44 and cycle about every 2 months even though I have tried every medication regimen possible. Now I am on Lamictal, which seems to have the fewest side effects and works most of the time. Right now I am in a downward spiral; my thought are obsessive, I’m borderline suicidal and having nightmares. I hope this lifts soon. I’m a high acheiver and got my nursing degree (RN), but I lost my license, because I got very depressed on the unit one day. Although I told the nurse manager I was not feeling well and to please have someone watch my patients; she turned me in to the State Board of Nursing. I have never forgiven myself for this; this was right before I was diagnosed and on medications. The world is so unforgiving to people with mental illness! Right now, I am back in school, trying to become a pharmacist, but my stress level is through the roof and I am not sure I should be doing this? The stress of school, financial problems and marriage problems are probably what is making me cycle? I do not know what to do. My goal is to get off of SSD, and make something of myself again. I feel stuck and I want out, what should I do?

Hi Cherise,

You are in a complicated situation- but not uncommon. It’s essential that the bipolar calm down before you can work in the way you know you could if you were not ill.  I face this daily. You have to ask yourself what is best for your stability and then go from there. Work or school that makes you more ill will always be difficult. Do you have a management plan outside of the Lamictal?

A plan is essential for all people with bipolar. You don’t have to do everything at once. Going to school part time- working part time or taking time off to get better is a better option that wearing yourself out.  I agree that those of us with bipolar disorder are looked at differently- but once you prove that you are a stable and dependable worker, people will be more accepting.  I just spoke to a group of pharmacy students on the topic of bipolar disorder- and I saw how much work they have every day. I know that my bipolar disorder could not handle this stress. Thus, you have to ask yourself if pharmacy school is the best choice right now. You can think of the future once the illness is more managed. I do sound like a broken record- because this is the reality of bipolar disorder. In order to work and have a life and not be overly stressed every minute of the day- somehow, someway the bipolar has to be managed- and this often means a person has to do less, even though they are capable of so much more! Julie

15 comments to Cherise asks: how can I manage bipolar illness and also go to work and school?

  • Lisa

    Hi Cherise,

    Hang in there with school. I know it is tough. I went to university to become a teacher, and some years were definitely harder than others. I ended up having to drop some courses sometimes, and it took me a couple extra years, but looking back it was worth it.

    I think if you can find a balance for yourself that is managable…even if it takes longer, don’t give up. See if there is help from a disability advisor…something I never looked into, but wished I had. I know at many universities here you can get extensions, extra help or have your course load spread over a longer time. I had to take one year off, which the university generally frowns on, but with a doctor’s note that I needed a medical leave it was no problem to drop all my courses and restart the following term. You might have to dig a bit to find what resources are available to you as you have a legitimate medical condition..not “just” a mental illness, and should be able to find help on campus…it just might not be listed in plain sight on their website.

    Hope this helps…I wish I could go back in time and follow some of my own advise sometimes…make my university years a lot less stressful than they were.

  • Jenn

    Boredome, depression, or bipolar ADHD?

    Hi Julie,
    I wanted to send you an email directly but I wasn’t sure how to do that other than responding to a category in the blog that best relates to the subject matter. My bipolar mood swings came to a head in 2007 after a severe depression. Then in October of 2009 I was hospitalized for 6 weeks in the pysch ward for a manic episode. My mania was extremeley intense, including spending 11 days in jail when I should have been placed in the hospital. I have been holding down a 40 hour a week job plus started massage school all day on the weekends. I’ve been at my job for about 10 months now. I feel like I barely make it through the days most of the time either due to intense boredome, lack of focus, or just overall despair. It’s very difficult for me to live in the present and I find myself drifting into the past a lot or worrying about what kind of future I really have with this disease. It’s difficult for me to tell if my struggles at work are because of the bipolar illness or just not a good fit. How can I distinguish between the two. The reality is I’m in so much debt I need the money and can’t just quit. The economy is so rough now. I’ve always been a hard worker but since being hospitalized last year my work ethic just doesn’t seem to be the same. Also I find myself mourning over a lot of relationship losses including my ex-boyfriend (of 5 years) whom I broke up with when I was manic. Well this letter may be all over the place but I’m just so confused and frustrated. I went to see the psychiatrist last week because I was seeing a lot of warning signs for depression, really bad depression. The meds just don’t seem to be helping. Just wanted to send this to someone who I thought would understand where I’m coming from. I’m also seeing a therapist once a week but it’s getting expensive. I lead a support group for young adults with depression and bipolar which can sometimes be helpful. Well I hope your day is going well. I purchased your system and it’s been helpful but I don’t really have anyone I trust to do the cards with. This disease really destroyed the majority of my relationships. : (. Thanks for listening. I know you must have a lot of people who contact you.

    • Sandra

      Hi, Jenn,

      I hope you’ve felt a bit more settled since writing your email. I know how unsettling it can be to feel so uncomfortable with yourself – but the good news is, it does not last forever!

      A couple of thoughts as I look over your note:
      1. You say your bipolar mood swings came to a head in 2007 after a severe depression. Maybe in another note you might explain that a bit more, okay?

      2. It was only last year that you were hospitalized for 6 weeks following a severe manic episode. That’s not much time since such a major event like that, so give yourself a little bit of “grace”. That means to ease up on your expectations and don’t rush to “fix” everything all at once.

      3. You’re working a 40-hour week AND taking classes to learn massage all day on the weekends. You’re feeling like you can barely make it through the days. Hmm…pretend that I am you – looking at that situation, what advice would you give me? I was in a similar situation years ago. I was teaching, working at a pizza restaurant, and writing obituaries at the local paper. Something had to give – and I decided it wasn’t going to be ME! Do you think putting something on hold right now could ease the strain you feel?

      4. You mention your job and wonder if the struggles you feel there are due to BP or that it may not be such a good fit. I think that no matter what job we have, BP plays a role in how we handle it. So, may I suggest that you hang onto the job – after all, it IS a job and you DO need the cash! Why not assess how the BP could be affecting your job performance and ask your therapist for some strategies? I came really, really close to losing my job two years ago. Fortunately, I have a very wise, very wonderful boss who looked me straight in the eye and told me that he felt I kept running away from my problems and that I cannot keep doing that forever. It was as if he’d looked into my heart and soul – I felt so exposed, but I trusted him and knew he was saying this to help me. Anyway, I ended up finding another psychiatrist and a psychologist who were absolutely wonderful. The following year, I was nervous, as you can imagine, but it was a great year. This year has been wonderful, too. I owe that to improving my communication skills, not being so afraid to tell others my opinion – gently, of course! Before, I was just to scared to do that – I’d hold it all inside. My suggestion is that if you feel you need to find new folks to help you deal more effectively with your BP, do it!

      5. You’re also upset over the loss of your relationship. I can understand that! But it sounds like right now, working on a relationship would only muddy the waters that you need to clean up. It’s not in your best interest. Your number one job right now is taking care of YOU and that means getting stability into your life. And, Jenn, that alone is a HUGE job! Every year, I learn something new about BP and how I can use what I’ve learned to take better care of me. Immerse yourself in information – if you don’t have Julie’s book “Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder”, it may be available at the library. It is like a BP “bible” – so, so good! It also sounds like you are just out of college with student loans? There is an excellent book written for young adults with BP; two doctors from the University of Virginia wrote it. It is very easy to read, uses case stories, which I find effective. It is called “Facing Bipolar: The Young Adult’s Guide to Dealing With Bipolar Disorder” by Russ, Ph.D. Federman and J. Anderson, Jr., M.D. Thomson Amazon carries it. I bought it and found great information in there that applies to me – and I’m 52!

      6. I think this is the last thing. When my mind is all over the place, I write a list of the things I need or want to get accomplished, then I prioritize it. For me, it’s nice just checking them off! (Okay, maybe that’s a little odd, but I like it!) Even if you’re having a difficult day, your list can include “Get out of bed, have shower, eat healthy breakfast, take a walk after work” – you get the idea. When you’re feeling better, your list can be a bit more adventurous.

      7. Oops – that wasn’t the last thing – make sure you are on a regular sleep cycle! That is SO important! Of oourse, typing to you isn’t keeping me on my sleep schedule, but I really wanted to respond to your letter.

      8. Hope this is the last thought – sometimes Seasonal Affective Disorder can affect us – you may want to inquire about that, too.

      I’m done! Aren’t you glad? :)

      Take care and write back, okay, Jenn? I’ll be looking for your email!

      Sincerely,
      Sandra

      • Jenn

        Hi Sandra,
        Thank you so much for responding to my email. It makes me feel like I’m not as alone as I’ve been feeling lately. I really appreciate all of your advice.
        1. I spiraled into a deep depression after graduating from grad school. I had also just completed a marathon and started a very stressful new job working for the government. My depression included several attempts to try and end all of the pain and suffering I was feeling. I was severly agitated, couldn’t concentrate, and just couldn’t handle to pressure of my job anymore. My boyfriend and I had also just moved in together and we had been doing long distance for a couple of years prior. When I look back there were just a lot of changes at once. I spent a large amount of time in bed not really able to do anything.
        2. I am trying to be patient but sometimes I get a lot of PTSD symptoms from everything that happened. I’m really trying to take things a day at a time so that I’m allowing myself to recover. My naturally tendancy is to want to just fix things, but there are some things that I need to find peace with and let go. It’s definately a process.
        3. Yeah massage school and work is a lot, you’re right. Fortunately if all goes well I’ll be done with massage school mid December. I’m trying to keep my options open. Sometimes barely making it through the day means that I’m bored out of my mind so I’m trying to find something I have a passion for. You sound like a very busy person as well. Do you struggle with boredome versus “over doing it” too?
        4. I love hearing statements that you had “a great year.” That inspires me and gives me hope. That’s great your boss was so honest with you. I didn’t really get that treatment at the last job I lost. That really shook my confidence and maybe that’s why I’m having trouble attaching myself to this job. It is a job though and I am grateful for being employed for almost a year now. That feels like an accomplishment in itself. What types of struggles do you face with your job?
        5. Thank you for the book recommendations. I bought Julie’s whole system and it’s been very helpful. I’m going to look into the other book as well. Knowledge really does help combat this illnes. I was just in denial for a while. I think the best thing is to focus on me but I can’t deny that I miss the intimacy. Relationships have always been a big part of who I am but I’m learning to reinforce my independence once again.
        6. I was using “To Do List” before and they were really helpful but I kind of stopped doing that. I think I should start again and maybe even use them at work. That might help me to focus more.
        7. I think my issue has been sleeping too much lately. My bed is this protective cocoon that helps me avoid the real world sometimes. I need to schedule out my sleep better and start exercising again which usually helps. Any tips for sleep regulation.
        8. SAD may be an issue. I know the foggy weather doesn’t really help.

        Thanks again for your respose. You seem like a very resilient and wonderful person. Would love to hear back and I hope you have a wonderful day.

        • Sandra

          Hi, again, Jenn!

          Thanks for writing back – it’s like having a new “pen pal”!

          You mentioned that your depression included several attempts to try and end all of the pain and suffering you were feeling. I’ve been there, too. More times than I care to remember. But that was before my diagnosis was changed from Major Depression to Bipolar Depression and I was placed on a good course of medications. It was hard to put that behind me, until I felt more grounded again.

          As time puts those past events further behind you, I think you will discover that those periods of PTSD will diminish more and more. I also have had PTSD following an assault by my ex-husband. It was really odd what the PTSD would do to me and how it would pop up when I least expected it to! Glad to have that in the distance now. Rest assured, though, that it will get better with time, okay?

          There are some days for me, particularly when I was suddenly a single mother with three children under five (one was only nine months old) and I was just so exhausted. A dear friend, a Franciscan friar, suggested to take it five minutes at a time on those days. I took his advice, and sometimes I had to take it one minute at a time! But I got through!

          You asked, “Do you struggle with boredome versus “over doing it” too?” No, I struggle between sheer exhaustion at times because I’m over doing it! A perfect example was this past week. I just sort of melted down Friday morning and couldn’t stop crying. One of our supervisors took my reading class, thank goodness, and after I got all my tears out and had calmed down, I made a list. Thank goodness for lists! First, I made a list of things I needed to do this weekend. Then, I made a list of all of the things that I’d done this week. I have it in front of me now:

          1. working late on grad school project
          2. Wed. – baby shower after school for teacher, finish syllable project for grad class that night, get copies of that syllable project to hand out to my fellow classmates, get to class by 6 (didn’t happen), school until 8:30
          3. Thurs. – put up Veterans’ Day display, help our art teacher with a very involved project that was really a bit too difficult for our students.
          4. Hadn’t been feeling well all week
          5. Going without enough sleep

          Then I read all of this and wrote, “NO WONDER I’M FEELING LIKE THIS!” I know it must sound funny, but I felt so much better realizing that I had every reason to be feeling the way I did! So, underneath what I had written last, I wrote, “But, I know how to correct it!” and listed what I would do this weekend to regain control of me and manage me, because it’s not enough to take the medication for BP. I also have to make sleep time consistent and include time to play and relax in my day (something which is rather hard for me to do right now).

          Losing any job will shake a person’s confidence. Especially when that person is feeling really vulnerable and fragile inside. But it doesn’t mean that you have to approach this job with trepidation – go ahead and embrace it each day. You’re right – being there for a year is an accomplishment! Every day is your day, and you deserve to get the most out of it! Create fun on your job, bring in some treats for your coworkers, invite some to share a potluck dinner sometime. Cultivate friendships that way and at church.

          You asked what types of struggles I face with my job. I teach, and I teach quite a distance from where I live. To avoid the horrendous traffic of this area, I get up at 3:15 and am on the road by 4 to get to school. I actually prefer that – it’s a nice way to start my day, and I get strength from alone time. But after a full day of teaching my students, I’m ready for down time – but it’s usually an hour and 15 minute minute drive home. Some Friday, it’s taken 3 hours to get home. That can be hard. Some years, it has been terribly difficult working with a colleague I’ve been paired up with. I did not know then how to communicate how I was feeling and it took a summer and fall working with my psychologist to learn how to do that. I’m better at it, but it’s still not my favorite thing.

          Another thing in my job is the time element – I think I could spend 48 hours every day working and still not get everything I wanted to accomplish done. We have students that need constant monitioring and evaluation, individualized lesson plans created, etc. It’s a lot of work, but I do love it and I love the people I work with.

          Sleep issues – I do have some suggestions. You can use your resting habits as indicators of your mood swings; if you’re in bed too much, time to get out and go be with people, walking around a mall, visiting a museum. I know when I get bummed out, I isolate myself. Once I realize what I’ve done, I take steps to correct it.

          Okay, back to sleep suggestions. First, I never watch TV. I’ll read and find that so much more calming and relaxing. I pulled the plug on TV 16 years ago and have never regretted it. Second, avoid eating late, don’t drink alcohol, and do not have caffeinated beverages, as they will keep you up. I like a nice cup of decaffeinated Constant Comment tea! Third, I have a little cat, and she is such a wonderful companion. Sammie will come and ask to be held and she’ll snuggle against me like she’s a baby, purring gently. Good therapy!

          One of my supervisors who knew I was upset on Friday told me I was overdoing it again and that I needed to map out my weeks ahead of time. So I’ve actually done that and I think it will help me avoid becoming overloaded. I’ve planned out the next three weeks to at least some degree.

          That’s about it for now, and it’s way late for me, so I’ll send this off. Hope it helps!

          Sandra

  • Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for taking the time to write Cherise. I know your ideas will help- it is important that we know others are going through what we go through. This illness can be so lonely!

    Julie

  • Sandra

    Hi, Cherise!

    Wow! You really do sound overwhelmed right now. If you’re still borderline suicidal, you need to get in touch with your psyciatrist right away. As a nurse, you understand that. Hopefully this will be over by the time I’m writing this and you’re reading it!

    Cherise, you are juggling a lot right now. Recognize that all of those things you mentioned are not helping you feel stable. What you’re feeling now is what anyone with BP would be feeling given your circumstances.

    You mentioned that you “feel stuck and want out.” That’s a typical reaction to stress – remember? Fight or flight? Don’t fly away, because you won’t be changing anything for the better. I think it might be beneficial for you to face things head on and work on them, even if it’s a little bit at a time. Baby steps.

    Sometimes, I think it’s helpful to consider what advice you would give to your friend if she were in your current situation and came to you for help:

    1. First, you’d probably get her a cup of tea (decaffeinated, of course!)
    2. Next, you would have her sit back in a comfy chair and relax, letting all the tension and fatigue that she feels float off of her shoulders.
    3. If she started to put herself down or recall a regretable incident, you would make sure that was stopped immediately! She’s your friend – she needs to be built up and encouraged! Surely she has accomplished many wonderful things in her life; after all, she is a high achiever! Remind her of that, and help her recall the accomplishments in her life.
    4. You would also reassure your friend that she does not need to figure all of this out in one day, and that there are options she may not have thought of.

    For example:

    1. This semester is almost over. Ask if she thinks she can hang in there until it’s done. Remind her that she does not have to get A’s in all her classes!
    2. If she needs help from her professors, suggest that she speak with them face-to-face (but e-mail first to make an appointment). She can then share with her professors that she has BP and how she is currently feeling and handling the courses. Your friend can even ask for extensions on projects or whatever she feels would help lighten the burden she feels. Professors are usually understanding about this.
    3. Suggest that she think about her options; does she really want to
    be a pharmacist? Is that a profession in which she can manage the stress? Or are there positions for a person with her nursing skills – that way, she wouldn’t have to get another degree, or spend the money she worries about on classes. Surely, there are positions that need her skills, and even ones with stress levels she can manage.
    4. As far as her marriage difficulties go, your friend may need to put that concern on the back burner for a while until she becomes more stable. She won’t be at her best or even thinking as good as she does when she’s stable. Emotions are pretty raw right now as it is. She does not need to add anyting else until she is feeling better. Then, your friend will be able to think more clearly, reason effectively, and communicate better.

    Cherise, I’m getting my master’s degree. I discovered that two classes a semester were too much for me (I also teach full time.) So I only take one class a semester now. I’m happy with it; I can concentrate better on that course so I get more out of it and I’m not getting all stressed out over the cost of classes. One class is manageable. Two is stretching it.

    I’ve also learned to share with my professor about my BP. I didn’t know how it would go, since my professor this semester is also my advisor, but she was wonderful and asked what accommodations I needed. I told her I may need more time to get a project in if I’m feeling too stressed. That was fine with her.

    I was in your shoes this summer – overwhelmed, stressed out, feeling so depressed. Just be patient with yourself and give yourself time to mend a bit. You will – as you said, you are a high achiever.

    Take care and write back, okay?
    Sandra

  • Julie, you are right. Every person suffering from bipolar disorder needs a comprehensive plan – not just medications, though medications will be a key component of such a plan for most who have this illness.

    The other critical component of such a plan needs to be a second opinion consultation with a psychiatrist/clinic/health system who/that is known for diagnostic skill. Bipolar disorder can coexist with other disorders which can complicate treatment, and sometimes other illnesses can mimic bipolar disorder leading to the sad situation of treatment for bipolar disorder instead of for the mimic – leading to ‘pseudo-treatment resistance’.

  • Tami

    Am in that boat right now.Im so use to being all over the place it was hard take a break from work and school but i had no choice.After years of running myself down ging school then from there wanted do another school and get this done i keep pushing and pushing.sometimes i achieved and learned something new other time i wasted time when i couldve been taking time out doing something else.After my crash this summer i told myself it doesnt matter what my friends thing of me talking a break sometimes it sucks cause am like am not doing all i use to do but saves me from comletly melting down more.I tell myself ive achieved this for now but its time to step back pull it togther theres days am ready go back out and push push i know the high achiever feeling but then i go from wanting to everything and be everywhere to not wanting do nothing.

    Its good step back take the time and refresh your brain if push too mush its not going help in the long run.Others take time out for many reason its ok to its hard saying this now because when your manic or in that mood you just want to go and keep going.Hang in there and take it one step at a time thats what i tell myself.everything else will fall into place

  • Sandra

    I could use a little advice – TLC – anything right now. I know that the people at work are well-meaning and truly have their hearts in the right place, but they are driving me crazy with their intrusiveness of late!

    Yesterday, before leaving school, one of my supervisors asked me to see her and she asked how I was doing, then “interrogated” me: are you taking your meds, are you getting enough sleep, are you doing things for you? She said she wondered if I was getting a bit “spinny” (maybe her term for manic) as I’d been sharing projects with her that could apply to the rest of the school. I cannot tell you how insulted I felt! Nothing like that to dash any enthusiasm for sharing what I create with my co-workers! I just feel that if I create something that another teacher can use, I’d like to share it. Why reinvent the wheel? I’ve always felt that way, and could never understand why teachers have been so reluctant to share their talents and ideas with their colleagues?

    Then today, another supervisor inquired how I was doing, too. I truly do not understand. I’m taking my meds, getting regular sleep and going to bed at the same time each night.

    I get this same “mothering-smothering” from a colleague, too. I’ve had about all the nosiness that I can handle. And today, I just could not stop crying. I’d stop, and tears just kept leaking out! I mean, my eyes are so dry they feel hot! And as I tried my best to stop, I’d just start thinking that if everyone feels I’m so unstable, I don’t stand a snowball’s chance in h— to keep my job! And that just brought on more tears! I’d been doing just fine until yesterday.

    I shall have to call my co-teacher and ask him if he’s noticed anything “off” about me – he sees me far more frequently than the folks who spoke with me lately!

    I do know that I am feeling pressured to complete this semester’s grad work – I did ask for – and received – an extension to turn in a project, which is good. There are two more after that, which will be a lot easier. It’s not that the work is hard, it’s just that I cannot stay up to do all that needs to be done to finish it. I also want to do my best. That does mean a lot to me.

    That’s it. I’m heading for bed. Any comments welcome.

    San

    • Jenn

      Hi Sandra,

      Just wanted to let you know that you’re in my thoughts. You know this illness makes me think a lot about what “appropriate” behavior must look like or can be categorized. When others know that you have bipolar I wonder if they can’t help but be extra sensitive or skeptical about our actions. Thoughts that may just be creative, as you have been with your school project ideas, can be seen as “manicky.” Yet there is a fear sometimes that we might not be seeing what others are seeing and that we’re spiraling into an episode. I myself struggle with labeling my own behavior sometimes. It gets to the point where I’m almost afraid to lift my depression and get excited about anthhing for fear that I might slip out of control. Also I can see how having those conversations with your coworkers must be highly stressful and have you doubting about your job. I struggle with thoughts of getting laid off on a fairly constant basis because of what has happened in the past. I guess what has helped me the most with dealing with this illness is being able to identify what I can and cannot control including the possibility of job-loss. This can be a very difficult process but has been helpful for me nonetheless.

      For instance I remind myself that I can’t control the actions or thoughts of others. However, I can see how others are reacting and engaging with me and modify that. Maybe now is not the best time to bring up new projects, as frustraing as that might be, if others are becoming supsicious of mania. Maybe finding another outlet for creativity would be better at the moment. That’s what I’m starting to think about in terms of getting bored at my job. I’m trying to read and write more to let my creative side out. All you can do is the best you can do that day or even that moment. I know how it feels to fear job loss but it looks like you’re doing the best you can. Also, I applaud you for knowing your limits and doing things to take care of yourself, taking meds (I still struggle with this), getting enough sleep etc.. This is a complicated illness but you seem very insightful and are probably stronger than you even know. Thanks for reaching out and take care. I’ll be thinking of you.

  • Sandra

    Hi, Jenn,

    Thank you so much for your very kind and helpful reply. I find myself unable to concentrate or “move” productively, so I will follow my own advice and write a list of what I’d like to do – in small chunks. As I’m writing this, I’m actually shaking; I’m so worried about Monday. Let me explain.

    One of my colleagues saw me upset at lunchtime as I was returning to my room and came over to see what was wrong. I felt comfortable telling her about the supervisors getting rather personal, etc. (I’ve helped her through some difficult times) and I also told her how hard this illness can be, and that I was thinking “bad thoughts”. (That’s not what I said, but I’m not going to share it exactly – no one with BP reading this truly needs to know. Just realize it was what Julie calls the bipolar speaking to me.) I also went on and told my colleague that there is no way I’d follow through – I love my children too much for that. I also said it was just good to let that whole idea “out” and that just sharing with her made me feel a bit better.

    I stayed through to the end of the day and felt better, which always happens to me just being around the kids. That same colleague came in to see how I was doing and I told her I was feeling so much better and thanked her for listening and being there for me.

    On the way home, I reached for my cell phone to call my housemate and let him know I was just leaving school. But I couldn’t find it – I must have left it at home. Little did I know how overlooking that one small daily ritual would result in panic among the supervisors at school.

    My colleague who I’d told how much better I felt at the end of the day, etc. looked in my room and noticed that my desk looked rather empty. It did – I’d taken home some small piles of paper that seemed to have grown roots in order to sort them and figure out what to do with each one. And the tissue box that is always there wasn’t. I think I’d used them all that day. Well, she panicked and, thinking the worst, evidently told our program supervisor, who in turn tried calling me – a LOT! When he coldn’t reach me, he called my housemate, who tried calling my cell phone a lot, too. Then my supervisor called my old psychiatrist (I hadn’t yet updated the file in the office) and she told him the only thing he could do was to call the police so they could be on the lookout for me! He called the state police, who in turn notified local police in the three counties that I travel through to reach home. Even our school director phoned me, which is pretty unusual.

    And I, oblivious to all of this, actually enjoyed the heavy traffic for once because I was listening to a really interesting story on NPR (National Public Radio).

    I learned all about the activity back at school when I arrived home. Fortunately, my housemate is incredibly calm and soft-spoken, sort of like a rock in swirling white rapids. He notified the school immediately and then we went to a quiet room with comfortable chairs and I just talked. I told him everything, including my conversation with my colleague at lunchtime. I told him how much better I’d felt at the end of the day and that I’d had such a good time playing math games with the kids that afternoon. At that, he sort of bolted upright and asked, “You mean, you weren’t crying when you left school?” and I said no, really surprised at his reaction. He told me that, according to my program director, someone had seen me leaving school crying and must have told him about my “bipolar thinking”.

    Reminds me of that saying, “For want of a nail, the shoe came off; for want of a shoe, the horse went lame..for want of a captain, the battle was lost.”

    I’ve got a new one. “For want of a cellphone, a cry was raised; for unanswered calls, a search was enacted; for want of miscommunication, a teacher was fired.” That’s what worries me now – it is a constant concern gnawing away at me every day. Anyone reading this who’s familiar with bipolar knows exactly why. But I’m not going to get into that now – just writing that phrase got me back to shaking.

    So that’s why I’m so worried about returning to school on Monday.

    Jenn, you wrote, “I remind myself that I can’t control the actions or thoughts of others. However, I can see how others are reacting and engaging with me and modify that.” I totally understand the first line, but would you help clarify the second one for me – especially the “modify” part? You have a very clear way of expressing your thoughts.

    You also wrote quite insightfully, “When others know that you have bipolar I wonder if they can’t help but be extra sensitive or skeptical about our actions.” I am convinced that’s what brings on the “smothering-mothering”. I realize they mean well, but it’s too much.

    Okay, now that I’ve written the equivalent of one of Tolstoy’s short stories, I shall send this off and write that list. Little chunks. Baby steps. But a move in the right direction.

    Thanks, again, Jenn,

    Sandra

  • I have answered Sandra’s last post on the blog! Nov 25 1010

    • Sandra

      Hi, Julie,

      I’ve looked but I cannot find your words of wisdom – would you please guide me to your reply? I am very interested in seeing what you have to say about this.

      I received a very nice phone call from my co-teacher this afternoon; he said “they” were all very worried about me. “They” means at least two teams (three teachers) know about what happened Friday. I cannot handle any questions Monday from anyone. I’m sure I’ll have to answer questions from our supervisors and don’t look forward to that, but teachers, no. This questioning stuff is what got me so down in the first place.

      Sandra

  • Alison B.

    Hi Sandra,

    I have been diagnosed Bipolar Type 2 for 3 years now and have struggled to find the right medicine in order to achieve the “normal” outlook and behaviors in life that everyone has always told me about. I finally found some relief with Lithium ER and was able to finally see some results in myself.

    I have gone through most of my life with the feeling of people not wanting me around or accusing me of being “overbearing” at times. This made relationships with family, friends, and coworkers a difficult task because most of the time they ended with the other people accusing me of being “weird”, “crazy”, and “annoying”. I always tried to understand and even tried to somehow change my “personal characteristics” ( which were actually Bipolar symptoms) but this was impossible for me because I was sick with a much more serious disorder than anyone ever thought.

    Once I was on Lithium though I started therapeutic treatment as well which lead to a kind of “connect the dots” game so to speak with my memories from as early as 3 years to present and how they could possibly relate to my new found diagnosis. The results thus far are off the charts and have caused many emotional ups and downs for me. But the most important feeling it gave me was a type of Ah-ha moment when I realized that all the previous relationships with people claiming to notice something “different” in me were somehow affected by my disorder and the unknown.

    Your blog about your experience reminded me of my experiences over the last 3 years and how once I was medicated and my family and friends saw the change and how much better I was they stopped saying I was “different” but quickly became a “self qualified doctor or therapist” in my treatment plan. None of them asked me if I was ok with this kind of intrusive and sometimes inappropriate advice. Friends and family all began asking me almost daily if I was “ok still” and things like “are you taking your medicine still/ have you taken your medicine today?”My mom at first was insistant on counting my pills to make sure that I was taking my meds because I was extremely sick and didn’t really accept my diagnosis well, so I was ok with this because I knew it would help me stay on track.

    But I later had to tell her she was not to continue those habits and that I was no longer so sick that I would reject my medicine and skip doses. It was hard at first to tell people to stop checking to see if I was still “normal” and doing the things necessary to stay that way but finally reached a breaking point.

    I learned to stand up to people yet not hurt their feelings and push them away or make them feel I was ungrateful for all their help and support in the past. But this no longer would give them an excuse just because they were aware of my diagnosis and hardships throughout my journey in treatment; they were not my doctor or therapist and I was finally at a place where they didn’t need to be worried about my ability to reach out to the right resources for help when I need help for my illness. I know how to treat myself and see my symptoms very clearly now so I can quickly correct them if need be with my doctors!!

    I always assured them that I appreciate the gesture of caring but they were unfortunately not doing anything that would help me with treatment; but actually would ultimately create only negative reactions to them by accusing me of not managing on my own. I stressed to them that I would rather they just know that I am always going to continue managing my disorder and wether or not I need their assistance I would communicate to them what they need to know and when. I would also let them know that without their trust and the accusations they were making immediately coming to a halt I could no longer continue to be around them and risk stability. They eventually understood and within a few months we had worked on a great communication and trust system that worked for everyone.

    It is hard to make people in your life understand when and when not to step into your treatment plan and wether or not they should be the one to do it. The truth is for me I dont ever feel that coworkers have the right nor the need to do this. I do understand making your management aware of your diagnosis and being open about medicine your taking or doctor appointments in the future for safety and availability reasons; but never should your fellow employees be made aware of your personal business unless you tell them yourself. Even if you were the one to tell them though they shouldn’t overstep the boundaries of business VS. personal and ask questions about your medical plan. I would be completely offended in your situation and immediately make them aware of the boundaries they crossed with your personal life and medical and give them strict guidelines to follow in the future. They need to know that you feel they have crossed that line and are offended by their questions. These personal concerns are for your doctors first and then followed by close family and friends if anyone….NOT PEOPLE IN THE WORK-FIELD!!

    I am sorry that you are going through this and I hope that you find your inner strength to stand up and enforce you work place privacy practice and code of conduct policies to anyone that is making any offensive comments to you. Its not ok even if they do seem “just concerned about you” or “just trying to help”, especially these people because it is not their place to become that personal.This is a place of your work and professional manner and you are just like everyone else who wants to demand and receive RESPECT in the quality of work and performance you provide.Good luck with this and I hope to hear future updates….sorry if this is a little lengthy! =)

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