Working with Bipolar Disorder
Finding a place to start with this story has been difficult. I could start at the very beginning with my father who made me genetically predisposed to inherit his depression. I could start at the beginning of what I can remember when at 9 years old cried myself to sleep and didn’t know why for the first time. I could start at the “official” beginning when I went to my university therapist after attempting suicide and he diagnosed me.
All of those things are singular, isolated events. They are important pieces of my life and my mental illness, but they are not the condition itself.
I don’t like talking about being bi-polar. Not necessarily because of the stigma but because I don’t know how to talk about it. My brain struggles to find the words to describe what it’s like. Words like “sadness” and “anxiety” don’t seem to be adequate enough. I get sad when I watch a movie where a dog dies. I get anxious when I’m waiting for good or bad news. When my bipolar disorder takes over, “sadness” and “anxiety” are the best words I have to describe how I feel, but they aren’t accurate.
It’s very messy, living with this disorder.
I cannot separate my real feelings from overreactions. I can’t tell if I’m stressed or having an episode. I doubt myself constantly. Overall, I know I’ll be okay. That doesn't mean it isn't a very real and scary struggle.
Living with bipolar disorder has been inconvenient. Working with bipolar disorder has been a nightmare.
Every job I’ve ever had has been like walking on eggshells. I’ve mostly worked in customer service positions or in offices where emotions need to be monitored, level, and consistent. I needed to be predictable and I rarely was. Some days it felt like a death sentence to have to go to work. Having always been an overachiever, as the disorder took hold of my life, I would find myself walking into work with almost a psychic sense that I would fail that day.
I remember working in the box office at my university’s theater. I would miscount money, lose tickets, work too slowly or too quickly. One day I went to work in my pajamas because I had enough energy to either walk across campus to work or get dressed, not both. I almost lost my job.
In my last job, it took me a year to separate my own over-emotional tendencies from the emotional and verbal abuse I was getting. I would cry in the bathroom and tell myself in the mirror that sometimes life was hard and I had to get over it. But I didn’t. Looking back I was in a toxic situation and my own depression was telling me it was my own fault.
Now, because I work from home, discipline plays a huge role in my everyday life. In an ideal world, I would get up early (like 6 am early), eat breakfast, exercise, shower, get dressed, sit down at my desk and work. This is the woman I’d like to be, who posts “candid” pictures on Instagram of her crisp white sheets, shiny MacBook, mug of tea, and strategically placed flowers.
Instead, my routine changes drastically from day to day.
On low days, sometimes I don’t get out of bed at all. Or else I spend all day goofing off, finding the idea of work or food to be insurmountable. I don’t answer the phone, I make excuses, I snap at people I love, and avoid looking in the mirror. I lose productivity and confidence on these days and hate myself for it. Both of my suicide attempts happened on days like this.
On high days, I get up and speed around my house like a tornado, cleaning, working, making calls, scribbling down ideas for new projects, making plans, and being “productive”. These days are better than low days since I do get things done, but I usually choke myself with productivity. I can’t focus on any one thing, so I do a million things and usually do them incorrectly. I make too many plans and when I level out and look at my planner, I’m overwhelmed. These days are fueled by the anxiety that I’m not good enough and the desperate need to fix that. These are days when I get panic attacks, when I stare at my hands, frozen solid by too much going on in my head. Usually after these days I crash and end up on a low day again.
Because I work virtually, I can constantly put on the same happy face day after day. I have a tone of voice in my emails and social media that I’ve been practicing for years. Saying “I’m fine” when I’m not, hiding tears, making up excuses like “I just didn’t sleep well” or “I think I’m getting sick.” Forcing a smile when I really feel like tearing my own skin off to get rid of the anxiety and fear that makes my bones feel prickly. My pride in my work and excitement for growth is genuine. But on some days, the only way I can express it is by faking it.
Thankfully I’d say a good 75% of my life I’m level. But low days and high days happen without warning. Sometimes they aren’t even full days but bouts of short-lived extreme emotion. Just the other day I was in a bookstore with my boyfriend and was somehow triggered. I fell into a low period and he could immediately tell. I had been excited to go home and put up our Christmas tree together. But when we got home and I couldn’t find the stand for the tree, I cried harder and longer than I had in ages. We went out and got a new tree (his idea) and after decorating, drinking eggnog, and listening to Christmas music, I felt better.
It’s moments like these when I wonder: is that my disorder or am I an over emotional spoiled brat? My loved ones tell me the latter isn’t true, but our loved ones tend to say what they have to to protect our feelings.
So far, my business has been successful enough despite my disorder. Having a partner who understands has done wonders for soothing the extremes. But I still go to bed every night wondering who I will be tomorrow and whether, one day, my disorder will push me to do something (or not do something) that will ruin everything I worked for. I’ll have to wait and see.
Photo Source: Jazmin Quaynor, Unsplash
Allie Nimmons is a creative entrepreneur dedicated to providing high quality and professional websites to people who are in that award stage - big enough to need a solid web presence but small enough to not be able to afford an expensive agency. She also provides consulting and coaching on SEO, content creation, social media management, and more. She currently lives in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. When she's not working at home, she's collecting comic books, listening to podcasts, or eating sushi with her boyfriend. She tries to work and live with my whole heart whenever she can.