Working While Bipolar, Dealing with Stigma


I work at a seafood restaurant that has a nice big lobster tank in the lobby. When I’m done for the night but can’t leave (we have to leave in groups of 3), I sit next to the tank and fiddle on WordPress my phone. That’s right, I read all your lovely blogs while I’m chillin after work.

I’ve never had anyone – much less a stranger to me – sit down pressed against me and lean over and peer onto my phone before…but a guy from the kitchen did a couple months ago. He’s nice enough. For some reason, he sticks up for me when people start to pick on me in the kitchen. I much just look like a little lost kitten.  But then again, when I’m “normal” and not in any form of mania, a little lost kitten is exactly what I come across as. So, whatever. It’s a side of me.

“Whatcha twittering?”

“Oh, I don’t twitter. I’m reading blogs.”

“Oh, you blog?!”

…shit. I know where this is going…

“Yeah, I do.”

“Oh! What do you blog about?”

—pause—

—pause—

—pause—

“I’m bipolar. So I blog about that.”

“Oh really? I never would’ve guessed. That has to be really difficult. How does it affect you at work?”

“I’m still kinda new at it, and I’m not quite sure yet. But I don’t think it causes me many problems.”

 

 

It ended there. And he’s still very sweet to me. We’ll hold the occasional 1 minute conversation you’re allowed in a restaurant.

But ever since then, he’s had me considering just how this affects me at work. I’ve become more mindful of how productive I am, how confused I get, how well my memory is, etc.

I’ve come to the conclusion – and this is still a study in progress – that I am at my worst times (normal mood – luckily, I haven’t had a depression while working outside of the house), just an average worker. Forgetting stuff here and there, a memory that is about as hard to catch as a feral cat, not too social with the guests, not very fast, not very vocal.

At my best times (which would be hypomanic/manic episodes), I am amazing. Super productive, very fluid movements, very vocal, conversing with the guests, memory like a steel trap, etc. I love working like that. I make more money like that. I don’t get in trouble with my bosses for forgetting stuff, etc. Its much less stress free.

I’m on the down side of my last hypomanic episode, and worked last night. I’m losing all of those lovely qualities I just mentioned :(:(

I kept forgetting stuff. Losing stuff. Having a hard time concentrating. Damnit.

 

My therapist was insistent that I not tell anyone at work about my illness. But, I don’t think I can do that. It would feel too much like hiding, like I have something to be ashamed of, like there is something wrong with me.  And that’s just not the truth. She thinks (heck, maybe she knows…she’s been doing this for over 20 years) that people will use it against me. Maybe they will. But the naive side of me (which I didn’t even know existed any more) thinks that I’d like to prove to them just how awesome I am so that when they find out, it will help them understand that we can be productive.

Oh, Oh! Another funny story from work concerning mental illness…I was dropping dishes off with another server, and he said something about schizophrenia, and then “Can someone even work with a condition like that?”. My reply:

“Yeah, actually. We can. I’m bipolar.”

—silence—

“Well, I’m tri-polar.”

“I’m quadrupa-polar.”

Then we both laughed and walked off to finish working.

Since then, I’ve noticed he’s a little softer to me. He usually is very sarcastic and picks on me a lot. Maybe related, maybe not.

I guess something really bad is going to have to happen before I stop fighting the stigma. I am awesome. I am bipolar. Therefore, bipolar is awesome. Sometimes. 

 

I was a little loose.


Still being fairly new in my diagnosis, I’m still looking back in my life with a fine tooth comb. Trying to find previous episodes that went undetected. How serious had I gotten? Were my 2 previous episodes of depression and hypomania my worst? Do I think any future episodes may be worse?

So I was just casually thinking aloud to myself last night as I was crawling into bed with Mr bRaving. I was thinking of past moments that qualify as hypomanic episodes. Those were what I was oblivious to. Who would question such a good feeling anyways? Especially when they were always peppered with depression.

Any hypomanic episodes I can remember are mainly characterized by hypersexuality. Looking back on them, I wonder why I did that. It wasn’t getting me anywhere. There was no emotion behind the sex. No desire for the person, just the act. At the time, when I questioned it, I summed it up to Daddy issues. Last night, it was clear to me what all that was.

It’s been clear to me for weeks that that’s what that was. But then I let my mind take it another step and ask, “Why didn’t anyone tell me I was doing something wrong?”

Who would’ve told me? The guys I was banging? Um, no. My Mom? Yeah…like I’d tell her the way I was behaving. My boyfriend at the time? He never found out. My friends? I didn’t have any. Me? I was following an instinctual drive.

It was souless. Very much like pounding a pawn around a game board. I was just hitting the spaces, counting up the numbers.

Then it occurred to me that I had no boundaries at that point in my life. No marriage vows to break. No rules as a single girl in her late teens/early 20s, living away from home.

Fast forward to now…rules are in place, and I broke them. My pawn hit the “Got to Jail” square. And finally my illness is revealed.

I wish I had known all this before I did something that I’m having a very hard time living with.

Hey, it’s better than cancer.


That’s what my therapist told me shortly after my diagnosis. And my first thought was “Dear God, what if I get cancer AND am bp…can I take my meds together? Will I have to choose between dying of cancer or a severe depression or episode that makes me wanna kill myself anyways?…..” She could see my eyes glaze over and asked what I was thinking, and for one of the first times in my 3 years visiting her, I was totally honest. She told me to forget she said anything. Too late. I’m pretty sure I’ll be asking the next medical doctor I see if Lithium and chemo mix well. A girl needs to be prepared.

It hasn’t quite been 2 weeks yet, but it feels like forever. I’m sure the fact that I am acutely aware of everything I think and dissect each thought to make sure it is a reasonable one doesn’t help. I have had plenty of time to research the disorder and find stories of varying kinds about the ups and downs of bipolordom. HAHA, a pun! The stories that remind me that the illness brings life and creativity give me hope, while the stories like that of a seemingly normal mom who choked her 5 year old in a bathtub threatens despair. (www.oprah.com/world/Coping-with-Bipolar-Disorder)

I’m on the starting dose of 900mg of Lithium. I see the psychiatrist again in about 3 weeks, and he said we will probably up my dosage to 1050mg then. I had my first Lithium levels drawn almost a week ago, and he said they came back just fine (.5), not anywhere near a dangerous level. That is one topic I need to research. I trust him, but I will never be a doctor’s blind sheep.

There are a few things of which I am sure, and many more things of which I am confused, angry, scared, and ashamed about. But mostly confused. What things did I do that were coerced by this illness? How far back in my life does this reach? How strong of a hold did this have on me, and WHO AM I? I have my morals (although some were corrupted by the illness), and my love for my husband, children, and my family. But past those 2 things, I do not know what hasn’t been touched. That makes me feel like an empty shell. I know I will warm up to it and embrace what I am and not be so hesitant and questioning about my feelings some day. Hopefully some day soon. But for now, I just have to let this sink in and sift through the last 20 years of my life to make sense of it all. I want to know who is looking back at me in the mirror.