Do I pick a career by taking my limitations (bipolar II diagnosis) into consideration, or do I just dream of anything that sounds like I would like it when I am not in the throes of suffering?
August 14, 2006 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Do I pick a career by taking my limitations (bipolar II diagnosis) into consideration, or do I just dream of anything that sounds like I would like it when I am not in the throes of suffering?

I have been depressed for my entire life. I have dealt with not being able to concentrate to not getting out of bed, to being able to function well enough to get through without any meds or counseling, to needing all the meds and counseling I can get. I graduated with my master's degree two years ago and landed a good job in account management for a tech firm. I'm still trying to figure out what to do with my life. I thought about being a benefits or mutual fund analyst would be just the thing for me. I've been diagnosed as bipolar II and currently am on an antidepressant that isn't a mood stabilizer like lithium or depakote or anything.

This is how I ended up on antidepressants: I was fine for the first three months of the job and then I started falling back into feeling depressed, hopeless, scared and unmotivated. I felt like I couldn't move fast, couldn't do anything right and couldn't concentrate. My ambitions about what I would do with my life suddenly seemed unrealistic and impossible, and I felt scared. I asked my general physician to help me until I could get a psychiatrist's appt and he gave me Lexapro, which my psychiatrist thought was a good idea. It really helped. Later, I tried Prozac but it made my head buzz and I couldn't sleep or feel emotions. So we switched back onto Lexapro.

Lexapro's been good to me. However, I recently ran out of it and didn't have it over the weekend. This weekend was a horrible nightmare. I have never felt so depressed, scared and unable to deal as I have (in recent memory at least) this weekend. I crawled into bed, I felt an enormous sensitivity to light, lack of appetite (plus thoughts of death loomed) and I was crying all weekend.

I guess I tripped into that cavernous blackhole without two days of meds, which is incredibly frightening, as in, three days without Lexapro can do this to me? I had to step out of the office to cry today on an adjacent street. I felt like I was hopeless, worthless and didn't have a future. I felt sick over myself. I felt like quitting my job because I felt like I was an imposter. I had my medicine refilled at the pharmacy at lunch, took my daily dosage and as of half an hour ago, I am a lot better. I'm in shock.

I spent all day today reading anecdotal articles about people who suffered from bipolar illness and depression. This last episode has made me think that I really need to take it easy, let go of these enormous ambitions I had and just let my life play out. I had thought of starting a tough graduate course in finance this spring but I'm realizing that perhaps I'm not good for such a career, because I'm bipolar and trying to still get my depression under control. Maybe I should be picking careers based on the level of stress they cause me and the kind of flexibility they would afford me, versus on how challenging and lucrative they would be for me.

How do I pick a career while still taking my limitations into consideration? Should I? And how would I define my limitations as someone who is diagnosed as Bipolar II?
posted by onepapertiger to Work & Money (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The horrible nightmare wasn't going back to "being normal" it was most likely Lexapro withdrawal which could trigger some pretty horrible things. If you really want to get off lexapro you need to taper off.
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay at 1:09 PM on August 14, 2006

I thought lexapro had longer latencies than 2 days? It takes weeks to kick in, so how did you react in 2 days?

Regardless, it sounds like you are just going to have a harder time navigating whatever you do, career or otherwise. Obviously, you'll have to steer away from anything that DEMANDS stability, predictability, judgement and that involves the safety/security of other people who would depend on you.

But you probably would benefit from considering the management of your various problems part of your career choice. Sounds like it will be the elephant in the room wherever you find yourself.
posted by FauxScot at 1:17 PM on August 14, 2006

Uh, yeah, I'm not sure what to tell you about your career, but it sounds like you had a withdrawal reaction to the meds, which is not the same things as depression! I would NOT decide that you can't go two days without soul crushing depression based on this incident. Either make sure to taper off your meds or make sure you never run out.
posted by OmieWise at 1:34 PM on August 14, 2006

Bipolar disorder isn't a limitation. It's a condition. If you allow it be a limitation - and even wording it as such indicates that you are - then you've already accepted to narrowly define your life and career by it. Start by changing your mind about it.
posted by xmutex at 1:51 PM on August 14, 2006

I took lexapro which made me extremely depressed on both ends (starting and coming off). This sounds like withdrawl to me too.

Any time you're depressed, or just coming off a bout of depression, is a bad time to consider life choices. As you already have a master's degree and a job I would have to guess you're not that incapacitated by your illness, or at least willing to work to make up the difference, and as such shouldn't throw in the towel on your ambitions. I'd say you should probably try to fit stress level in with money and the challenge. Having an easy low paying job is not going to be great for depression. But you shouldn't be so stressed out at work that it threatens to ruin your stability.

I'd just look for a job where people in your position actually take their sick time and what not, doing what you think will challenge you.
posted by shownomercy at 1:59 PM on August 14, 2006

I'm Bipolar II with possibly a touch of Borderline Personality, and I have a decent job, a wonderful girlfriend, and a life that perhaps isn't as fulfilling as it could be, but I'm constantly working on that.

xmutex has it: It's only a limitation if you let it be. Bipolar can be a miserable condition to have, but there are drugs that can work. There is absolutely no reason to tune down your expectations because of it. It's like the air force: aim high. That way, when you miss, you'll at least make for a huge, neato mid-air explosion.

I mean, er....

Really, man. It sounds like you're in a down-swing. You'll get through it. Just remember, next time you enter a manic phase, that you aren't "ok", and you *do* need to get back on meds.

Hang in there. :)
posted by jammer at 2:04 PM on August 14, 2006

Response by poster: I thought lexapro had longer latencies than 2 days? It takes weeks to kick in, so how did you react in 2 days?

My psychiatrist and I both observed that I am very sensitive to medication, including increasing dosage.
posted by onepapertiger at 2:05 PM on August 14, 2006

I crawled into bed, I felt an enormous sensitivity to light, lack of appetite (plus thoughts of death loomed) and I was crying all weekend.

Welcome to SSRI discontinuation syndrome. I had an absolutely horrendous reaction to Celexa (Lexapro 1.0, basically) withdrawal in the middle of a workday and thought I was going to land in the ER. Be careful with that stuff, and NEVER, EVER go off of it cold turkey.

To answer your question, I wouldn't suggest limiting yourself based on mental illness. This is something that's not going away, and you've got to learn to live your life with it, not in spite of it. Bipolar doesn't mean you're less capable or less able to achieve success, it just means you have to (forgive me) work smarter.

On preview, xmutex and shownomercy have it. Coming off a low point is not a good time to be making life decisions. Give yourself some time to feel better.

There's no shame in a little chemical assistance. Take your meds, and good luck to you.
posted by timetoevolve at 2:05 PM on August 14, 2006

Bah, corrected link.
posted by timetoevolve at 2:10 PM on August 14, 2006

FWIW, I've noticed that in the year or so that I've been on Lexapro, the amount of time that it takes to start feeling withdrawal symptoms has dropped drastically--I used to be able to go for three or four days without feeling any ill effects, but now it's all-hands-on-deck if I go more than about 36 hours between doses, and some of the effects sound EXACTLY like what you're describing.

Thus, I would not let the temporary side-effects induced by a drug affect the life choices you make. You've obviously been coping pretty well--if you can handle the stress required to earn your master's degree, you can certainly start a career!
posted by Mayor West at 2:10 PM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

I'm on lamictal, same diagnosis as you.

If your meds work and you function fine right now no reason to think things will change. You are under treatment, and following your doc's instructions, apparently. Just be careful to keep enough meds in the house and you should be fine.

Worse case scenario, you fail. But if you don't try you fail right out of the box. I think you will be just fine.
posted by konolia at 2:45 PM on August 14, 2006

Have you considered that your "ideal" career isn't really? Nothing more depressing than devoting your working life to a field that doesn't get you excited every morning.

I highly recommend The Lazy Way to Success as inspiration for finding your purpose.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:31 PM on August 14, 2006

I don't know anything about Lexparo, but I'll throw in my two cents.

Do what you'd love to do, and stop defining yourself by your condition immediately.

It won't change your condition, but at least you won't hate your work (as much) you can be pleased with yourself, at least intellectually, through the dark times, it might help to level you off a little bit by focusing your mind on something that actually engages you (or it might not) but most of all...

You won't spend your life at an endeavor that you chose simply because you thought you had to. Biploar II surely makes your life more difficult, but if you are to live with it, the last thing you should do is let it dictate your career.

I don't want to risk going into bullshit dime-store psychology, so I won't claim that willpoer or anything else will help you overcome. All that I'll say is that if you do something you love, something that you feel strongly about, something that you think can make a difference, than maybe when the depression sets in, your priorities will be in a place that lets you push through regardless.

I might be wrong, but I don't think so, and I certainly hope not.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:46 PM on August 14, 2006 [1 favorite]

As xmutex said, bipolar is not a limitation. Plenty of bipolar people live "normal", often very successful lives.

One tip - which may not relate directly to your question of "which career?" - is that you would do well to find a flexible career or workplace that can tolerate the occasional black dog day, week or month.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:22 PM on August 14, 2006

I was on Lex for a bit but due to several factors and fear of the weight gain triggering the eating disorder triggering the... you know how it grows. I wouldnt take it. I have been in your dark stormy hole a bit of my story is here. I quit effexor cold turkey after 3 years of it and had those symptoms and more for around 8 months...that was before I started therapy...they dont tell you how long that stuff stays in your body when they give them to you...

anyway when I was on Lex I had an occasion to run out on a weekend, if you are a regular customer at a pharmacy you can sometimes talk the pharmacist into selling you 2 to get thru the weekend til you can have your doc call in a refill. They did that for me several times because I had such a long history and stable script history and they know how bad the withdrawals can be...just in case it happens again.

I heard a line on some movie that was on while channel surfing... It said "what do you do when your dreams are destroyed?... you create new dreams, better dreams, unselfish dreams and then you make it your mission to fullfill them".for some reason that stuck in my head...careerwise....let me know when you figure that out
posted by meeshell at 10:02 PM on August 14, 2006

Remember that you won't always have this disorder, so don't discount anything based on it. What if they come up with a permanent cure 5 years from now?
posted by Mr. Gunn at 6:26 AM on August 15, 2006

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