National Alliance on Mental Illness
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What WORK works for you?
Figuring out the right fit will feed your recovery
By Chris Swingle
For most of his working life, Charles of Florida took pride in his identity as a hard-driving professional. At different times, he ran a jewelry repair shop, directed campaigns for the United Way, and worked around the clock as a political fund-raiser.
“I enjoyed the power and the prestige, and I enjoyed the money,” the 58-year-old says.
That all changed when he hit a wall of depression seven years ago. He couldn’t stop crying. Everything felt threatening. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he realized the high energy and workaholic tendency he’d had since his early teens were hypomanic symptoms.
Since then, Charles has been able to manage only slow-paced, part-time work. He puts in about 10 hours a week posting sermons and other information on two church websites.
Financially, “it’s been like falling off a cliff,” he says. No more expensive cars, fine clothes, and vacations in the Caribbean. His savings are gone and he depends on food stamps and government support. On top of that, he’s traveling a long road of redefining himself in terms beyond, “So, what do you do?”
Kathleen, 45, of Connecticut, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she became manic during her first year at Harvard Law School. With her degree in hand and her disorder under treatment, she thought representing clients at a legal aid program would be her dream job. Then she was voluntarily hospitalized five times over 18 months for depression. It became obvious that she couldn’t stay in that line of work and stay in balance.
Now she’s thriving in a position with a legal aid hotline, she says, “doing a job I absolutely love.”
Like many people with bipolar disorder, Charles and Kathleen have learned that finding the right employment fit is a key to managing their mood disorder. Solutions vary from individual to individual: switching to a different type of job, scaling back to part-time employment, or taking on volunteer positions as a way to get the structure, socialization and satisfaction provided by work.
Multiple studies have found that a majority of people with bipolar don’t hold a paid job. In an analysis of work functioning that appeared in the February-March 2007 issue of Bipolar Disorders, Canadian researchers phrased it this way: “Employment rates are relatively low in this patient population.”. … [end of excerpt]
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