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Working with Bipolar: An Experience

Posted Oct 23 2008 6:06pm

I found a great article, “Support or Stigma? Bipolar in the Workplace”.  It raises the question of whether to disclose to fellow colleagues and employers a condition of bipolar.  I liked the question the author purported.  It got me thinking.  In a perfect world, those of us with bipolar could tell our close coworkers and boss of our disease, possibly leading the way for us to receive support.  During times of relapse, support for the bipolar patient is critical.  Surrounding ourselves with people who see us everyday as additional persons who could raise questions when our moods change, might provide the accountability sometimes needed.  This kind of support in my opinion, might find us with many less suicides and suicide attempts.  That is a perfect world

My recent experience with telling a colleague I had bipolar disorder proved a disaster and one I still trying to overcome.  Months ago during an after hours phone conversation, I acknowledged my condition.  My friend and colleague was surprised.  It was the first time I had ever told anyone I had worked with.  I felt like I had made a huge step and I just knew the outcome would be beneficial for me.  I did not know however, in my coworkers eyes I was no longer an equal.  I was now weak. After my disclosure, my colleague would make comments like, “Did you forget to take your medicine?” or “Isn’t it time to see the shrink.”  I always laughed it off.   Until one day I made a common error that affected the both of us.  My colleague made another sarcastic remark in front of others, I blew up in anger.  The bad part was there were customers around.

I don’t have anything in my personnel file but above standard employee evaluations.  Now, because of this experience, I can add a written up altercation.  Who knows if I would have reacted to my colleague in the way I did, if I was not so hurt that my mental health being belittled.  To this day, I don’t know if other coworkers found out and am suspicious it was revealed to my boss.  I am thankful for the American’s with Disabilities Act and I am also a member of the ACLU. One never knows when they might need help.   I also know even with all that, the stigma remains.

In answer to the author’s question.  My experience is: work is work.  Outside of work is where one gains support for any illness they struggle with.  Acknowledging my response is skewed on the basis of recent events, I can’t recommend telling anyone you work with about one’s illness.  I should have kept to my Psychology professor’s advice:  “Never tell anyone you work with about your illness, trust me when I tell you:  they will treat you differently.”

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