I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder back in early 2013, though I’ve had it for years longer (I sometimes think I had it even into childhood, looking back). In fall of 2012, I got my first job. I worked in retail at a video game store. Video games were my life growing up, so it seemed like a natural fit to work there.
I loved it. I got to talk about games all day and keep up to date with what new games and consoles were coming out. My wallet may not have liked me much, but it was fine. I stayed at that job for a year and a half before I quit. It ended up being a toxic work environment, and it began eating away at my mental health.
After that, something changed. I don’t know what and I don’t know how, but it did.
A couple months later, I got another job at an electronics retailer. Although I wasn’t directly working with video games, I still got to talk about them with certain customers and coworkers (I made some really close friends at this job that I gamed with). I figured, “Okay, I can still be nerdy here, I can do this! I’m going to love it here.” I was SUPER excited about this new job. I showed up on early every day, I gave everything 110%, and I was always willing to learn and do more. 3 months down the road…
My whole mindset changed. Stress ate away at me, and I felt like I couldn’t even do basic tasks without nearly having an anxiety attack or feeling like I couldn’t handle it. I was a walking oil leak: my mental and physical health were draining a bit more each day until there was nothing left in the tank. Energy wasn’t something I had. I wasn’t having fun–I now hated what I did. Just a few months ago, I LOVED working here! Nothing changed in the workplace… literally nothing. So, what happened?
I crashed. That’s what happened. It took me years to figure this out, but I was manic when I went into the job; I had lots of energy and motivation and all of these new ideas of how my future was going to go. Then, the fuel tank ran dry, and I skidded to a halt in depression. All of that energy and motivation and ambition I had? Gone, like it had never existed. Negativity filled me, and there was no possible way I could see anything positive anymore. How did I cope? By deciding that the JOB was the problem, not me.
I ended up quitting after 6 months. My mind decided that there was no possible way I could salvage what I once had and that it was time to go. For several months, I was jobless and just lazing around at home all day. I’m not going to lie, it was nice for a while. But eventually, I got bored. In spring of the following year, I decided to look for another job. I found an opening at a cookie shop and thought, “Okay, I like baking. I can do this! I’m going to love it here.” I was super excited, super motivated, and I even got promoted to shift leader a month in (are you beginning to see a pattern here?). Working there was great. But, again, something shifted. A few months in, I began to hate it and dread going into work. Did I quit? Yep. When? A few months down the road.
This has happened at literally every single job I’ve had since I quit my first job. Each time things went downhill, I figured it was the job, NOT an internal issue that I had. So, I ran and headed straight for the next, new, exciting option. Things were hard once the depression washed over each time. I’d get bored with my work. I wouldn’t have any energy to deal with even the slightest bit of social interaction. I’d tell myself I hated what I did, even though I fully enjoyed it just a few weeks ago. I loathed having to go into work each shift. At a few of my jobs, my anxiety and fear of confrontation was so bad (my anxiety gets worse when I’m in depression) that I just stopped showing up with no call ahead of time until I inevitably abandoned my job. Super unprofessional, I know, but in the moment, that was the only thing my mind was able to handle.
The feelings leeched outside of the job environment itself. I’d begin to doubt anything regarding my future. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life, because I lost interest in literally everything I used to enjoy while manic. I was a shell of a person.
I just recently lost my job. A quick summary: I missed too many days from being sick, I was going to be fired, so I quit. However, I still had the same cycle with work on top of that. Manic going in, depressed a month or 2 later. The other day, I talked to my therapist about this and my habit of quitting jobs. She told me, “You have to stop running. You have to make your situation work for you, otherwise the same problem is just going to reappear in the next job.” As she was explaining this to me, everything inside of me didn’t want to believe her and was trying to dismiss what she was telling me. But, she was right. It wasn’t the jobs that were the problem. It was me. Or rather, my bipolar moods influencing me. It was a hard pill to swallow, but I realized that I had to listen to her. The next day, I decided to voice my concerns with my managers (a big step for me, since I usually keep quiet and run), but that’s when I found out I was going to be fired. So, I won and I lost at the same time. But, I still see that as a big milestone.
Now, here’s the tricky part. If I have all of these interests and motivations while I’m manic, how do I decipher what I TRULY enjoy, since it all disappears when I crash? It took me a while to figure that one out. Eventually, I realized that you have to pinpoint what interest sticks around when you’re manic, baseline (“normal” mood), AND depressed. It may not smack you in the face, and you may have to dig a little to figure out what that is, but it’s there. What did I figure out my interest was in that regard? Writing.
I had written a few poems and prompts here in there during elementary and middle school. But in my junior year in high school is when I REALLY started writing. At one point, I said, “You know what? I want to be a writer/author ‘when I grow up.'” Some people shot me down though, because you “don’t make money” in that profession, unless you’re lucky. So, I dismissed it. Until recently. I did some soul searching and realized what I needed out of a job: to work from home, to make my own schedule, and to be my own boss. I realized that writing fulfilled all of those things (I realize you have a “boss” and somewhat of a schedule if you’re a published author, but that’s beside the point), and it has been an interest that’s stuck around through thick and thin. So, I’ve finally decided to pursue it. Sure, I’m going to have to have a side job in the meantime until my writing takes off, but the fact of the matter is that I realized my unhealthy patterns and decided to “make my situation work for me,” as my therapist put it.
What’s my point in all of this? Well, for one, to showcase what a lot of people with bipolar disorder deal with when it comes to working. But, I also wanted to share my personal story and how I’m overcoming the hurdle I’ve been trying to jump for 5 years now. Even if you don’t have bipolar disorder, here’s what you can take away from this: if you dislike or hate what you’re doing in life, don’t run, hoping that things will be solved elsewhere. While you may be in a situation like I was with my first job where the environment was toxic, in a lot of situations, the things that are bothering you can be fixed. You can’t let external factors lead you like a marionette. YOU have to take control of what’s inside of you. Make your situation work for you.