Bipolar & Self-Employment: What You Need to Know
Ah, self-employment. Beholden to no one but yourself. In control of your own finances without the constant fear of pay cuts and layoffs. No annoying coworkers. Waking up every day at your own pace to do work you actually love. It’s a dream that many aspire to — and that many succeed at with enough time, patience, and grit. For folks with bipolar, self-employment offers a number of advantages as well as challenges. If you struggle with work and bipolar disorder, self-employment may be an option worth exploring.
Being Self-Employed with Bipolar: A Snapshot
Currently, I am not completely self-employed; I am a freelance writer and I also work part-time. This mixed approach to work gives me a healthy balance of structure and freedom. On the self-employment side of things, the biggest boon has been the sense of pride that comes from finishing projects and satisfying clients on my own time. Aside from my medication, it’s probably been the biggest factor that has helped me stave off depression.
The downside is that the « high » I get from self-employment also puts me at risk for manic episodes. That’s where my part-time job comes in: the structure, while lax, helps « ground » me when I start to elevate. (Of course, I’m also fortunate to have a positive work environment at my job.) The freedom to mostly be in charge of my own schedule and routine while remaining tethered by an external structure has allowed me to grow professionally in ways that didn’t feel available at traditional jobs I’ve held in the past.
The Advantages of Self-Employment with Bipolar
When you’re self-employed, you make the rules. Being able to set your own schedule that matches your circadian rhythm is one of the greatest advantages of self-employment with bipolar disorder, which requires a consistent daily routine to manage effectively. You can also tailor your work environment to your own specific needs in ways that aren’t always possible in traditional work settings: if you’re the type of person who is easily distracted by office chatter, you can have the quiet that you crave in order to focus. Conversely, if you need background noise to focus, you can listen to music or ambient sounds while you work. And you can tend to your basic needs like eating and taking restroom breaks on your own time.
Of course, the greatest advantage to self-employment is the obvious one: you get to do work that you love every day, which is critical to overall happiness and wellbeing. Ditching meaningless work that holds no joy or purpose for you truly is a dream come true, and that kind of fulfillment — which is great for kicking depression and mania to the curb — is unlike anything else.
Plus, getting to wear whatever you want all day is certainly a perk.
The Downside: Self-Employment with Bipolar is Hard
Self-employment may seem like a good way to circumvent the less-than-promising statistics concerning people with bipolar disorder and work, and it is for many of us. But no matter what the self-styled « business coaches » say in their « Ditch Your Corporate Job and Make $5K in 30 Days » courses, self-employment is far from glamorous. It requires a healthy dose of self-discipline that, to be blunt, not everyone has. It also takes resources that may not be readily accessible for many of us: do you have a dedicated space in your home which to work? Money to invest in web hosting and supplies? The credit history to apply for a small business loan?
If you work with bipolar disorder and are thinking of going the self-employed route, there are several questions you should ask yourself before taking the plunge:
- Do I currently have the resources and support I need to quit my job and pursue entrepreneurship full-time?
- If not, how can I begin working towards the goal of self-employment while also working my day job for the foreseeable future?
- What kind of goods or services would I offer? Are my business goals in alignment with my skill set? Will I require additional training or schooling? Will my business be enough to sustain me in the long-term?
- Do I have the discipline needed to manage self-regulation without the structure of a traditional job? (Hint: it’s okay if you don’t. We’re all different and require different approaches to living well with this disease.)
As always, you should talk to your psychiatrist before making any major decisions. They can help you navigate big transitions in a way that is conducive to managing your illness.
No matter which path you choose — self-employment, traditional work, or a mixed bag — the important thing to remember is to be brutally honest with yourself about what you want, what is realistic for where you currently are, and what kind of life you envision for yourself. Working with bipolar is hard under any circumstances, but fulfilling employment is possible with the right support and resources. I wish you luck in your career-building journey.
Are you self-employed with bipolar? If you have tips to share, hit that button in the comments section and tell us your thoughts.