Employment in bipolar disorder is a big topic and trying to work with bipolar disorder is no easy thing. If you have a job that requires the use of your brain, you’re going to have trouble if you have a brain illness like bipolar disorder. This is just logical. But what is this “trouble” like? What how does it really feel to work when you have bipolar disorder?

My Employment with Bipolar Disorder

As you probably know I work as a writer, a speaker, a consultant, and, well, as a few other things too. Work life is odd when you work for yourself, what can I tell you?

But what it really comes down to is this: I need to use my brain in complicated ways on a daily basis to get paid for stuff. No speeches get composed without my brain. No articles get written without my brain. No editing gets done without my brain. I need my bipolar brain and I need it a lot.

Working with a Sick, Bipolar Brain

The problem is, of course, that my brain is sick with bipolar disorder. This means that using it for anything — from washing to the dishes to writing a book — is difficult.

Imagine needing your compromised body part in order to work every day. Imagine if your job were to deliver packages but you only had one arm. Imagine if you were a mail carrier but you only had one leg to take you from house to house. This is what trying to use my brain for complex functions is like. And it only gets more complicated from there.

Motivation to Work with Bipolar Disorder

You see, not only am I depending on my bipolar brain to create amazing and creative works but I’m also expecting it to actually want to do the creating bit, too. Because, you see, without motivation, nothing gets done — no creating, speaking, editing, and so on. And bipolar brains are infamously unmotivated.

This means that even if I could, theoretically, create something, there’s a good chance that my brain just will refuse to do it. I can have my coffee, and my office chair, and my desk, and my lighting all happily set up for work but if I don’t have the motivation to do anything, then nothing gets done.

Trying to Work with Bipolar Disorder When You’re Too Sick

And then there’s always the possibility that I’ll just be plain oltoo sick with bipolar disorder to do anything. There are all those other severe bipolar symptoms that can crop up at any time too. Yes, there’s that. And that crushes employment and bipolar disorder.

How Working with Bipolar Feels

And those are the three complicating factors for work with bipolar disorder. If I manage to be well enough to work and I find motivation then my brain has to create. That’s a lot to line up on any given day just to produce something for a payday.

Working with bipolar disorder is no joke. It's increadibly difficult to maintain employment with bipolar. Here's how it feels to work with bipolar.

So what work with bipolar disorder feels like for me is a battle — an endless battle with my brain. It feels like I require self-flagellation constantly as a stand-in for the motivation I’m supposed to have but don’t. The pain of smashing my brain against a brick wall is what is required for me to produce things. It’s horrendous. It’s agonizing. It is no surprise to me that so many people with bipolar disorder are fired from or quit jobs. (Luckily, my in-house bosses, my cats, can’t fire me.)

I can’t overstate how much much of a war it is for me. And I can’t overestimate how exhausting it is for me and how entirely unpleasant it is.

People ask me how I can possibly produce what I do while still being sick with bipolar disorder. The answer? I have little insight into this. What I do is I threaten ever cell of my existence, every single day to do what I tell it to and I hope it listens. This doesn’t always work, of course. It only works for a few hours, sometimes only a few minutes and sometimes no minutes a day. That’s the lackluster insight I can share.

People insist on telling me that I’m fulfilled by my work but I’m pretty sure I’m the judge of that. And as that judge, all I know is that I’m exhausted by it. All I know is that I wish there were any other way. All I know is that I wish I woke up and actually wanted to work. But bipolar makes that mostly impossible for me.

Work with bipolar disorder is just brutal. It’s so much harder than for the normal person and it’s so much harder than people think. That said, it’s possible for me. I know that. I hope you can do it too but I hope you have better coping techniques to make it happen than I do.

Banner image by Flickr user Sybren Stüvel.