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3 Ways I manage Mental Illness at Work

I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2015. The diagnosis came suddenly, in the aftermath of a manic episode and I was really unequipped to cope. At the time, I was fortunate enough to work in for a company with a flexible schedule and health insurance but I ran out of sick days and eventually ran out of whatever budget was designated to mental health treatment by my insurance.

So I hit a point of intense stress, which you can imagine wasn't great. I had a client facing role and I was the only person in my department. Several of the medications I tried had horrible side effects (including a rash that could've blinded me and extreme fatigue). At my best, Bipolar Disorder challenges me daily in assessing my emotions and myself. But I worked hard to teach myself patience and understanding as well as responsible self-care which has greatly improved my experience of living with Bipolar Disorder.  I got through the initial rough patch and when I found myself in similar situations after, where my disorder created complications in my day to day, I was ready.

I drew upon what I did right, learned from what I did wrong, and created a better plan for the next time. 

1. I assessed my environment

For those of us with mental health conditions, "safe spaces" are key. Who can we tell, who shouldn't we tell? Where will be cared for and where will we be abused? Sharing mental health information at work can be tricky--especially if you work in a lax/comfortable environment. Even though your environment can appear relaxing and welcoming not everyone is trained to deal with mental health or understands the boundaries that should exist in the workplace. If you don't have HR at your company, tread lightly with the information you share with your bosses and colleagues. And be careful even if you have HR; understand your benefits fully on a technical level so you can fill in any gaps.

If you're not in the sort of environment where it will be safe for your to share condition, it's up to you whether you stay there or not. The point of assessing is so you can prepare yourself. 

2. I Sought Treatment

Medication isn't the only way to support your mental health. Treatment and therapy come in many forms. Don't feel like pills are your only answer, explore your options. And if you do choose traditional medication, like I did, don't be ashamed. Be proud you're taking care of yourself. When I went on medication and to weekly therapy, I found I was better able to compartmentalize and properly deal with stress at home and stress at work. Even though I still felt depressed or anxious, they weren't major roadblocks to my day to day. I learned to work around them and this helped manage their intensity.

I was able to use work as a healthy distraction; something to focus on while I healed.

3. I Self-Educated

I found out as much about bipolar disorder as I could when I was diagnosed. I read articles, I met with several doctors and I watched documentaries. It helped me feel more in control. At times it was scary, other times it was comforting but overall learning helped me be level headed. I understood just how bad things could get and knew where to place myself on a larger spectrum. I learned the warning signs for the condition worsening and studied common triggers and patterns so I could better take care of myself. This allowed me to create routines in my daily workflow that supported my mental health as well as invest in items (like a buddha board for my desk and meditation tools) to keep at work for emergencies. 

Help from the right person and an audience made up of the right people can be a great way to de-stress and find comfort in learning to live with mental illness. But often, discussing a disability of any kind--visible or not-- can be accompanied by embarrassment and shame. I can't knock anyone for wanting to tackle some of their new challenges alone. Hopefully these tips help.

If you have a community of folks reaching out to you and you want a helping hand--take it, but treat them well. Your mental illness is never an excuse for abusing or taking advantage of the people who love and care about you.

-Cairo

Head here for resources on mental health. Have tips that help you? Drop them in the comments for others to find. 

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