To Work Well with Bipolar, Say No to Toxic Productivity
We live in a culture with a profoundly unhealthy attitude towards work. Every day, we are fed a message that our worth is directly tied to our productivity and that making room in our lives for rest, play, or tending to our basic needs as humans is frivolous, even selfish. The go-go-go attitude and desire for endless productivity in our workplaces is stressful for even the most neurotypical person, but when you live (and work) with bipolar disorder, the game has even higher stakes.
I know how it feels to work yourself into the ground. I once had a two-hour commute to a nine-to-five sales job. I left that position after just five months because I became so depressed that I began feeling suicidal. Another of my jobs came with inconsistent shifts, long commutes to and from various sales sites, a requirement to keep office chat alerts turned on my phone at all times, and an expectation to participate in daily (unpaid) « after-work » activities. Fortunately, by that time I had wised up and realized that my mental health and physical wellness were more important than any job, and I ditched that gig fast. I’m now on a freelancing career path that I love and that gives me room to tend to my wellbeing while I work with bipolar.
Toxic productivity culture is practically endemic in our society. We are fed a message from the media, our workplaces and professional networks, family, friends, and even some faith communities that « hard work » is a virtue. While having a strong ethic is certainly important, being a « hard worker » should not involve depriving ourselves of sleep, food, social interaction, and self-care — especially those of us living and working with bipolar or other mental health challenges.
You Are Not a Failure For Leaving Jobs That Hurt Your Mental Health
Yes, it’s a hard truth that we must make money to survive. But at the end of the day, no job is worth your health (or, realistically, your life). Being driven to succeed is great, but you should never feel like you must work non-stop in order to achieve your goals. During the times that I pushed myself too far and neglected self-care for the sake of productivity, I never felted rested (even when I managed to sleep), I was always hungry and thirsty, and I experienced rapid cycling and dangerous mixed states on a regular basis. I learned that if you sacrifice your health — mental and physical — for sake of work and success, in the end, you won’t have either. There is no shame in walking away from a project or work environment that is hurting you more than it’s helping. Even if people try to guilt or shame you for it, it is okay to put yourself first. It is not a character flaw to say ‘no’ to skipped meals, no sleep, and spending every waking moment of your life stressed out about work.
If You Want to Work Well with Bipolar, Don’t Skip Lunch
If you have bipolar disorder, you probably know that we have a harder time finding and keeping work than the rest of the population. That does not mean that success is impossible, but it does mean that taking care of ourselves is critical in order for us to perform well. Don’t skip lunch. Take breaks. Say ‘no’ to working that extra shift. Say ‘yes’ to more sleep. You owe it to yourself to make health and wellbeing your first priority. Therein lies the real key to success.
How do you prioritize your mental and physical health while working with bipolar? Do you have a story to share about advocating for your wellbeing at work? Drop a line in the comments.