If I had big dreams
what would they be?
If I could say anything to you
What would I say?
If I could hold your hand forever
How hard would I squeeze?
If I cry into your shoulder
Would you lean into me?
If my story were being told
Would you listen?
If my heart was broken
Could you mend it?
If I asked for forgiveness
Would you give it?
If I told you I am bipolar
Would you stay?
There are days the alarm sounds and I rise. There are other days when my alarm sounds and my heart starts racing. And still there are other days when my alarm sounds and I cannot move. It’s not the weight of the blankets. It’s the weight of my existence. The buzzing continues and in my mind I beg it to stop. Rolling over hurts. On these days it could go a number of ways.
The delusion that my office couldn’t possibly go a day without me. The projects I’m working on are going to fall apart somehow lifts me out of bed. I text my boss letting her know I’m late. Tears in the shower. Tears as I stare in the mirror blowing my hair dry. I can’t figure out what to make for breakfast or lunch, so just plan to go without. On the drive, I promise myself I’m going to keep it together. Fighting back more tears I will them not to fall. I walk into my office as if all is well and turn on my computer. The flood of emails brings on such overwhelm I find myself running to the restroom. Anxiety now fills my body. I shouldn’t be here. There is no graceful exit at this point.
Another way is to notify my boss I will be out sick for the day and roll over one last time. Sleep well past noon, at least hope to. When I wake again I am full of guilt. I should be at work. I should be a functioning member of society. The tears fall staining my pajamas. Why can’t I keep it together? I was okay yesterday. Just yesterday I completed reports, answered emails, went for a hike, made dinner. I can’t do this any more. Enter suicidal ideation. I think about all the medication bottles. I think about the bridge only 25 minutes away. The voices begin to shout..you don’t belong here. They are better off without you. There is no more sleeping. Escaping the chaos in my mind.
When my feet hit the floor I feel weak, flush, scared, uncertain. I stumble around my house for a while not knowing what to do. Eventually I’m a crying mess somewhere on the floor.
The last option is to acknowledge its going to be a rough day. I can feel it in my bones once that alarm sounds. I make no rash decisions on whether to go into the office or not. I lay still a few minutes longer and breathe. I need coffee. I do not beat myself up for having bipolar disorder and the subsequent mood fluctuations. I sip my cup of coffee and consider how the day can play out. I try to stay ahead of the emotional game. I take it one minute at a time.
That third plan is the ideal. It’s a work in progress, or rather what I’m striving for. Mostly it’s a mix of option 1&2. I usually get myself to work and I usually have to go home early. I struggle with just allowing myself to be…good day or bad day. But, I’m working on it.
It’s funny how it can take someone else to hear your story and connect the dots. Well, I guess that’s what therapists are good for in the end. It was in her office a little overa week ago I sat with tears in my eyes telling her I didn’t think I could handle my full time job anymore. I have been at my agency for 17 years. They have put up with my numerous leave of absences for the past three years thanks to bipolar disorder. I like to think its cuz I’m loyal and they like me, but really it’s probably because of the law.
I was explaining how I feel like a failure and a burden to my boss and coworkers. I had just taken 2 weeks off needing some crisis treatment. The amount of work and stress of the job has been steadily increasing and I’m not adapting so well. Combine that w a new supervisor who doesn’t know what she is doing, and my overwhelm and anxiety is charging through the roof. If I go to her for guidance, she in turn looks to me because I have worked in this department the longest. She feels more like my team leader than a supervisor. She looks to our unit for input and feedback, which I guess is nice but ends up feeling like MORE work.
So, as a good therapist should we switch our focus to what would work for me. What would the ideal job look like. I already knew my answer: 30 hrs per week, full benefits to start immed, good salary, ideally in social service/nonprofit world that I would find meaningful. So, I guess here begins my intention. We talk about pros and cons for a quick second with my homework to be writing about this further.
The next morning at my current job my cell phone rings. It’s my friend who just left my agency to work for a vendor. I had mentioned to her half heartedly about a 30 hour position w her. Well, she took it seriously and pitched it to the Executive Director. She was calling to say they are very interested and willing to offer a 30 HR position. That same day I agree to a Skype chat with the ED. To be fair, I should tell you I work closely w this vendor on projects so we know each other. I’ve had lunch w the ED more than once. But the position they are hiring for is completely new and different to me.
My friend also tells me they agree to benefits immediately. This is huge and really my priority over salary. I need to know mental health services are covered..obviously. So, I have the skype chat. Basically they want to know what they can do to snag me for their team. So, I now have to think about my offer.
I’m going to cut to the chase. I begin to envision myself in this new role. I feel a sense of relief at the idea of leaving my current job wash over me. I talk to others to check in about making such a change. I write pros and cons. I decide I am going to go for it. It took several days to get medical information. I needed to see the Plan coverage. When I got my hands on it, the air went out of my sails. I would have so many out of pockets expenses for psychiatric care it just didn’t make sense. I was willing to pay a hefty amount out of my paycheck to be covered, but I just couldn’t walk away w a $3000 hospital bill for EACH admission..if that were to happen. I have not gone a year yet w/out a hospitalization.
So, in essence I had to turn the job down because of bipolar disorder. If I were healthy, it wouldn’t be an issue. Once again on my therapists couch w tears in my eyes. I was telling this story. Just yesterday I was full of life, putting out fires left and right. Social. Participating in group discussions. Even picking up the phone-which I NEVER do. But today, I can barely walk up stairs. I stared at my computer at work not comprehending much. I’m slow. Heavy. Lifeless. I didn’t understand why as I woke up this way.
She said I was grieving the loss of a job opportunity that was only lost because of a mental illness. I thought I had put it away as the insurance was a deal breaker. Period. But, truth is I’m really disappointed. A bit disillusioned because everything fell into place so naturally. Cosmically. Then fell apart so quickly.
It’s not that I’m not grateful for the amazing benefits my current job provides. It’s been a life saver. It’s that I feel stuck. Because I’m sick. Always at risk of getting sicker, I can’t move about freely. I’m beholden to a benefits package that covers the chaos of bipolar disorder. I feel guilty and ashamed I’m even complaining about this. Others have no job or coverage at all. I’m lucky in so many ways.
I have to find a way to respect my needs as a person with an illness, not feel like a failure.
I kid myself. I set myself up with an art project and put on a favorite record. What could be more soothing, right? Connection. Connection with another human being. My curtains are drawn. Doors locked tight. I’m alone. And lonely. Isolation is dangerous. I can keep writing. I can wipe away the tears. I can take the razor blade to my wrist and numb out for awhile. But the fact remains my world is too small.
I went back to work yesterday after 2 weeks of outpatient treatment. I felt a flood of panic and overwhelm. I fought back tears in the restroom. At lunch I called my husband and the tears ran loose. I fear I can’t do this job anymore. I fear I have known that for some time and just keep pushing myself to the brink. What would it mean if I can’t work? I’m weak? I’m pathetic? I texted a friend who is distant but have some issues like me. He suggested I talk to a friend about it. While that’s what I thought I was doing by reaching out to him, it was yet a reminder I have no friends. My world is too small.
I’m entertaining changing jobs. It’s still in social services, which is all I know. But this would be part time. A good friend of mine left my agency and she is recruiting me. Truth is I already work with this agency as they are a vendor. So, there is some comfort in already knowing people. Plus my friend knows of my mental health issues.
Trust in myself is a big concern right now. I don’t trust I know how to make a decision. I don’t trust it’s not just the depression talking when I think I no longer can handle my current job. But, history speaks and I go out on leave about every 5 months and the trigger is often work stress. The trouble is I think it’s my own fault. I get in my own way. I care too much about my job performance. I have too high of expectations for myself. I don’t allow myself mental health days. It’s almost as if I push harder to prove I’m still good enough despite a mental illness. Funny thing though, almost no one at work knows of my diagnosis. So, who am I proving it to?
The constant chaos and chatter in my mind is overwhelming. I can’t collect my thoughts. There is “safety” in my job now in that I have been there for 16 yrs and have quite a bit of seniority. They have worked w me over the last 3 years since my bipolar diagnosis. My longest leave of absence was 3 months. It can’t be easy for an employer. But more often I feel like I’m hanging on by a thread. Would this feeling exist even if I didn’t have a job? Are the symptoms solely because of bipolar or exacerbated by work stress? How do I find the answer?
Uncertainty then fuels my anxiety. What an uncomfortable existence. Sometimes I think I want to run away. Pack a bag and drive. Sometimes I think I want to jump off a cliff into the ocean never to be found. Yet here I am trudging through the mud trying to figure out what’s best for me. If I do a face plant, my husband will help me up. He is my world. Something else I got to work on.
One step at a time with his hand in mine we are going to figure this out. He promises. If I can’t trust myself, maybe I can put my trust in him.