In the mental health 'strike zone'
August 28, 2011 6:46 PM   Subscribe

I have bipolar disorder. I live in Ontario, Canada. I'm not sick enough for disability and not well enough to keep a job. What should I do?

I've only had two hospitalizations in the last ten years. The field I've been working in most recently has a high burnout rate. I'm reasonably, though not perfectly, compliant with my meds. I take care to avoid triggers. Sooner or later I have a bad day though, and despite my legal right to not be discriminated against, employers seem to be able to find ways when they need to. I have never brought up my illness in an interview and I likely never will.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you been in contact with the Mood Disorders Association of Ontario? They have lots of peer support stuff. The Canadian Mental Health Association also has programs like clubhouses that can be of help.
posted by SMPA at 6:55 PM on August 28, 2011

I'm wondering what happens on a "bad day". Is there a way that you develop strategies so that when things fall apart, you do it outside of the office. If you can keep the symptoms out of the office, they shouldn't know why you are out sick and unless you miss a lot of days, this should help. (Of course, if you are working in area where you just don't get any sick days then you have a different problem.)
I would also suggest that you think strategically about what jobs are really the best for you in terms of stress and flexibility for sick days as well as the other usual considerations.
Good luck - I hope that with experience you will find a work/life balance that can accomodate your needs.
posted by metahawk at 9:24 PM on August 28, 2011

despite my legal right to not be discriminated against, employers seem to be able to find ways when they need to. I have never brought up my illness in an interview

They aren't discriminating if they aren't aware you are ill. Either look for accommodations via your doctor's request or stop the bad days from affecting your work in proactive ways like looking for suitable work, adjusting your workload etc. If you are unionised, talk to your steward; if you aren't, you simply aren't as protected.
posted by saucysault at 10:14 PM on August 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your bad days might go away if you comply fully with your meds. It ain't worth it to fudge (up or down), let me tell you. It's like punching your brain in the face.

If you have side effects or something that bother you, talk to your doc and get a different cocktail.
posted by TheRedArmy at 7:57 AM on August 29, 2011

I have Bipolar I. I refuse to even consider going on disability until I'm dragged kicking and screaming. Here is how I manage to stay happily, and gainfully, employed:

- I have a good education, including a Master's degree. The more education and skills you have the more choices you have with regard to jobs and fields.

- I don't take jobs that I am qualified for that have high-burnout type requirements: constant crunch times/80-hour weeks, constant travel. That's not to say that I don't work overtime many days or do some traveling, but I don't want to do that constantly.

- I'm compliant with my meds. Work with your doctor to get yourself on a medication regime that works for you. (I'm on Lamictal which has fewer side-effects than older bipolar meds)

- Sleep, sleep, sleep! Food, food, food! Exercise, exercise, exercise! If I get adequate sleep (7.5 to 8 hours), a decent diet (high in protein), and some physical activity, that does wonders for my mental state. If you can't sleep well, there's no shame in using sleeping meds (Seroquel works great for me).

Please do the best you can with managing your condition before you give up and go on disability.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:59 PM on August 30, 2011

Bipolar II here.

nthing Metahawk and Rosie. I wish I had the committment to sleep, food & exercise that Rosie speaks of, but I can attest to the fact that when I'm slack on those things (and I am sometimes) my mood suffers for it.

Do not screw with your meds without agreement of and supervision by your pdoc. I occasionally forget to take mine, and inevitably regret it.

My solution was to go into business for myself, so that I can take down time when I need it. Of course, the ideal and the actuality aren't exactly in sync. The stress involved, especially in managing cash flow causes me some pretty dire effects sometimes.

The good education spoken of (if you have or can manage to get it) is really helpful. I'm making use of it, also in a very high-stress / burnout field, but being my own boss means I get to manage the workload to suit myself most of the time. I can turn down the work I think will trigger me, although the "negative health effect vs. paying the mortgage" dilemma is a real one.

My bottom line is that I'm not giving up my business even if I lose my house and have to move back into my parents (figurative) basement. The control I have over my work and time, and the freedom to earn at least SOMETHING doing what I've trained and stuggled to do for years is too much to lose.

That said, if I couldn't do what I'm doing now, I don't know how I could do regular employment. I left my last employment in part because I had started to have symptoms that were interfering with my ability to function in the required fashion. I had a sympathetic boss, but without him I think things may well have been different. I'm frankly terrified of ending up in your position. I hope this helps you a bit, because if my business should ever fail I would be exactly where you are. And I don't want to be there.

One last thing - be very careful about disclosing. In some situations it shouldn't matter too much, but in some it's catastrophic. If your industry is heavily reputation-based, you can do real damage by confiding in people who you think would keep your confidence. I speak from experience.

Good luck.
posted by MadMage at 8:30 PM on September 19, 2011

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