One day during the Nervous Nellie saga while I was driving eight plus hours every two weeks to support my mom’s care, I was invited to join another department at work.
It was the opportunity I knew I wanted from my first month in my new role. I thought about it and discussed it with Tony. We decided I would turn down the transfer and raise to eliminate any new unwanted stress that might jeopardize my health during this trying time when my family needed me more.
Time passed. Mom died. Then, I was asked to transfer again!
This time I took the opportunity.
I dug deep and got brave to accept my first professional risk since returning to work after my hospitalization two and a half years earlier.
I started to use more of my brain. I resumed learning new skills after a long hiatus of coasting. I enjoyed feeling challenged and busy again. I began to write and contribute in creative ways. The transfer was a very good fit!
My new department gave me the opportunity to to be honest about my bipolar diagnosis for the first time in the workplace. One of the leaders had a family member with the same diagnosis. This opened a door for me to be honest and admit my health challenges to the first person in a professional setting.
I would get very depressed and anxious about completing new tasks at work. I had substantial sick time and would use it to call off. During one such episode, I missed four days in a row. I learned then that I must produce a physician’s note when missing more than three days of work consecutively.
This discussion and warning brought the truth out of me. I informed more of my employer’s leadership staff about my bipolar diagnosis and the challenges I faced. Much to my relief, the open communication was well received! They even encouraged me to see my psychiatrist for help with my anxiety that contributed to missing work.
Over time my honesty and openness helped me excel in my new role in a different department. I was promoted two years later and again two years after that. Each year I was learning new skills, growing professionally, and working more autonomously.
Setting myself a personal boundary that I could not be out sick and miss more than two days of work in a row, or I would need to involve my healthcare team, helped me.
I never wanted to go back to the office on that third day. My anxiety was great. My fear and dread was enormous. My depression weighed heavily and I had suicidal thoughts most of the day. But, I made myself go back.
I woke up.
I dragged myself out of bed.
I got dressed.
I made the hour and twenty minute commute.
I sometimes sat in my car in the parking garage and procrastinated crossing the street, but I eventually showed up.
I did my job.
By quitting time, I felt marginally better.
The next day, I did it again despite my depressive and anxious episode.
By 2015, I knew I needed to go back to school and earn a bachelor degree to continue to advance. Things had stabilized in my personal life. I felt healthier. I was stronger. I decided to apply and start down the path toward my next degree.
For the next two and a half years, I worked full time and pursued my degree while attending online classes at night, reading, completing assignments, writing papers, and studying for exams early in the mornings on the weekends.
I had little down time. No time to read for fun. Very little time to watch T.V. or movies. Limited time for exercise or walks outside for fresh air. I was barely able to find time to occasionally cook good food.
I was scheduled and regimented like a machine. Every aspect of my life had a day and time it was supposed to fit into. I mostly kept to that very rigid routine and it helped me succeed.
I took time off from school during my busy times at work so I could manage my workload. I traveled to over 10 different countries from Japan to Nepal and even exotic Istanbul with stops all over Europe too. I took my laptop with me and checked in on work and school each morning before our sightseeing and exploring commenced.
Earning my degree and successfully managing my life while achieving a manager level promotion at work restored my confidence. I had strong personal relationships that were also thriving. I believed I could do anything I wanted and truly felt for the first time since my diagnosis that my bipolar was not a detriment to my personal or professional success!
After graduation I was promoted again to a senior level manager role. The next step professionally was to earn a certification in my field. That pursuit was less intense and took about a year of study using an online program, some time earning continuing education credit and then the successful completion of the certification exam. I passed the test on my first attempt!
By the age of 40, I was finally where so many others are much earlier in their lives. My path was very different, certainly nontraditional. The lessons I learned and the hardships I endured are sometimes never experienced in a person’s entire lifetime. I don’t know anyone else who spent six combined weeks in a psychiatric hospital and was facing a three year commitment, then worked and fought their way back in quite the same way I did.
We all face obstacles.
We all face challenges.
I believe God and the universe never give us more than we can handle.
We may break.
We may shatter.
We have the potential to build back better!
Growth takes time.
Growth takes effort.
Growth and progress are decisions we make every day.
I don’t say healing. I cannot heal my bipolar. Modern medicine may one day be able to, but not yet.
I can treat the disease. I can work with my psychiatrist to manage it. It still impacts my life. I still struggle to sleep. I still fear falling into a dark, black hole of depression and being unable to see my way out.
Each of us is so much more than the circumstances we are dealt.
May you learn to make the very best of the cards in your hand.
When in doubt do like Lady Gaga sings and show the world your poker face. Remember the house always wins and you are the house in your own game of life. The odds are stacked in your favor.
Learn to be resilient. Fight to be strong.
Shine bright. Do not let the darkness win.
Here are more tips to living well with bipolar . I couldn’t agree more with the message at the top of the page:
“With proper treatment, along with support and self-care, people with bipolar disorder can live healthy, fulfilling lives.”U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration | samhsa.gov/serious-mental-illness/bi-polar