Working with bipolar disorder: Guardian article and your thoughts please!

Hello! I was interviewed for this article in the Guardian:

It’s estimated that bipolar affective disorder affects one in every hundred people in the UK. But what are the challenges faced by bipolar professionals in the workplace?

When suffering manic episodes, bipolar professionals can experience mammoth boosts of uncontrollable energy, resulting in incessant flows of incoherent ideas, which they feel compelled to act upon with great urgency and sometimes aggression. This can be difficult for colleagues. For example, Seaneen Molloy-Vaughan, who currently works as a writer but has experience in the healthcare and charity sectors, says such behaviour has led to “trouble with professional boundaries”.

Likewise, depressive episodes can also be difficult to manage at work. When Molloy-Vaughan has suffered depressive cycles she has been “withdrawn and snappy”. This behaviour stresses relationships with colleagues and in extreme cases can lead to disciplinary action if the real cause of such behaviour is unknown.

Medication for bipolar disorder can also take its toll with side effects such as drowsiness, nausea and poor co-ordination. Molloy-Vaughan reveals: “At the beginning I was unable to work because I was too unstable. I was also starting medication and it took a long time to get the right dosage. I had a lot of appointments and this time commitment, alongside the behavioural side effects, made it difficult to hold down a job.”

It’s a good article but I quickly want to make it clear that by professional boundaries, I’m referring to hypomania some years ago when I thought my great ideas should be shared with the company directors when I was a temp admin, and “behavioural side effects” refers to drowsiness, not me running around and kicking cats or anything!

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts- for those of you with any mental health problem who work or volunteer, how do you find it? 

This is a good a place as any to also say that I left my nursing degree in February.  The straw that broke the camel’s back was I did return after my sick leave.  I was reassured by my tutor that my placement would be 9-5, just to ease me back in and take some of the heat off.  I was actually assigned pretty much the same placement I was on when I had my mini-breakdown last year and was told, basically, suck it up, and if you can’t handle it, don’t be a nurse.  And to be fair, I couldn’t.  The shame is, I was really bloody good at it and academically one of the best in our cohort. I didn’t leave in a huff, I had, as you know, been thinking about it for a long time but was very torn.

I’m currently working as a temp copywriter at a charity, which ends in 2 weeks, then I have another six week job lined up then into the great unknown!  I am happy with my decision, it was killing me (I can’t work shifts, I need to accept this) and making me absolutely miserable.  I will also never, ever be comfortable giving people medication.  I really miss working with patients, though, and mental health is still my joy and my passion.  So I’m also applying to study psychology part time.  Even if nothing comes of it, just learning about our minds and our society, the complexities, the pathologies, the brain and the body, will make me happy.  And in a lot of debt!

I have a ton more to say but still not sure how to say it here.  Suffice to say, I am happier with my uncertain future than I was with my certain one.  My depression has finally passed, too, thankfully. On the subject, though, I am struggling a bit with full time work at the moment but it’s largely because life has handed my ass to me in the past couple of months and I’m extra tired, but managing better by the day.

Things are getting better, though, a lot. I am still fragile and quite emotional, but and I am crazy proud of how I have handled myself in the past few months, a few blips aside.  I have done nothing that I would have done when I was 21.  I haven’t hurt myself, freaked out, done anything destructive and have been thinking clearly, been strong and been honest, and above all, seeking people out, which is something I have been afraid to do for most of my life.  And they were there for me, they’ve always been there for me.  It’s okay to let someone take care of you once in a while, it’s okay to be vulnerable in front of someone.  It’s okay to be wrapped up in a blanket and let people bring you food, let someone stay with you while you sleep.  You don’t have to internalise everything and cope on your own, which just makes you fester in self hatred.  It’s taken me 27 years to realise that.

It is knowledge I will try to carry with me for the rest of my life which will make me strong. I’m proud. And incredibly thankful.

18 Responses

  1. Seaneen,
    This is an awesome update! I’m so pleased that you realized that shift work is destablizing, and that you decided to give up nursing as a result. It’s great to hear that you are happy with your decisions and are proud of the way you’ve handled yourself during the past few months. I think you’ll do really well in psychology and I’m glad you’re starting part-time studies. I envision you eventually working on a Ph.D. as you’re a bright lady with many gifts to share.

  2. Hello Seaneen,

    I agree with everything Carol has written and I note the complete analysis in your own writing about your future goals which are the most positive you have been since I started reading your World Class Blog.
    The proof of this is in the amount of visitors to it and like most projects on the w.w.w. you have had a problem generating an income from it.
    As i have said in the past you have helped a considerable amount of people ,including myself, in your use of I.T. to get your thoughts and ideas across on the web.
    Thank-you and Good Luck with your new life

  3. I have worked, mostly full time, almost continuously since leaving school in 1984. That was until 8 years ago when I had my first and only child. On reflection, it is now evident from my ‘real’ CV that my career and private life have been driven and dominated by my previously undiagnosed bipolar episodes. During the mania phases, I felt as if I could do anything and craved knowledge and new experiences that led me to enjoying working with computers in DTP – having left school with very few qualifications, I felt empowered by excelling at something I enjoyed doing but the confusion and despair of the depressive episodes (and actual real life dramas) would take its toll and another job, another address, another relationship would be history.

    In 2003, 6 months after a hideous miscarriage and my consequent immersion into another stressful job, I suffered a massive ‘meltdown’ and my doctor (of a year) sent me for long term counselling. During this time (18 months), I was assessed and provisionally diagnosed with bipolar. I also fell pregnant again and a new era and a new start in Wales began another phase of my life.

    I struggle more now than I ever did because my number 1 priority is looking after my son who is now 8 years old. With no family on my side and my partner working (healthily) full time, the primary Childcare provision is down to me – which has left my health and career in turmoil. I try to work as a freelance designer but can rarely indulge in the focus and discipline that I need to make a self-employed business pay off. Finding a balance between the mania of my ideas and highly creativeness to the self loathing and depressive destructive reoccurring episodes is almost too much to bear in between making another person my top priority. I need to find a ‘healthy’ balance, with the meds and my lifestyle choices but I’m not quite there yet; today it feels like a million miles away.

  4. The point of my ramblings, btw, was to say that I think the end goal is irrelevant. Our journey is going to be rocky whatever we choose – so go with the flow and enjoy as much of it as you can. Don’t regret letting go of things that don’t work for you – I think by our very nature we will always be ‘seeking’. As the saying goes – life is a roller coaster – I’ll see you at the front with white knuckles! 😉 xxx

  5. Maggy,

    I would like to help you, I hope Seaneen does not mind on here, by giving you my e-mail address please contact myself if you want assistance.
    I look forward to your reply positive or negative.
    Bye for now.

  6. I struggle very much with depression and anxiety which means I cannot always do my job to the standard my boss likes. Despite churning out salient bits of the Equality Act 2010 I’ve had my probation extended and been told that the reasonable adjustments I requested (asking for a bit of help now and then) were me not doing my job. Since getting Occupational Health involved things have changed a LOT. I’m taken more seriously, albeit begrudgingly. I’m told my behaviour makes my colleagues feel uncomfortable (I asked, and it doesn’t) which is a nice bit of stigma on the part of my boss.

    I believe I can do this job with a bit of help. It’s gentle, part time, and a step in the right direction of the career I want to do. I just happen to have a very uninformed, unaccommodating manager, and it sounds like you did too.

  7. Thanks for your update Seaneen. Glad things are working out 🙂 Even though I’ve had severe depression, been in hospital a few times and have attempted suicide twice, I’m coping alright with work. I suspect that might be because I’m on a high dose of antidepressants.

    But I do shift work too and it’s hard trying to organise my mental health life with work life. I remember last year I needed to book time off to attend a CPA to see my consultant but my deputy manager said it was too short notice and wouldn’t have been able to find someone to replace me. It’s also a bit awkward when some of my colleagues talk dismissively about suicide and self harm (I’m recently qualified as a nurse and sometimes I think it’s both a positive and negative that I’m on both sides of mental health of that makes sense).

    Also it’s still hard to feel legitimately able to ask for time off if I’m feeling stressed. If my wrist was broken then no-one would bat an eyelid. But if you need a day or two to unwind and de-stress then people just think you’re being lazy and not being sincere. I dunno.

  8. Hi,

    Have you ever thought of becoming an occupational therapist or OT assistant? I’m an OT in inpatient mental health services and absolutely love my job. Most mental health OTs work office hours Mon-Fri and there are more jobs going than for psychologists. Being an OT assistant is a great job too, encouraging people to do things that they enjoy, and doing it with them.

    Anyway, just a suggestion. I do a lot of psycho-educational work too so there are some overlaps with the psychologist’s role.

    Rachel xx

  9. I too worked as a nurse for 22 years….15 years ago when my late husband died and left me to raise three young sons…

    Studying externally.working fulltime…volunteering for saint johns ambulance became far too much.

    Studying the mental health unit did me in. They wanted me to write a paper about a person suffering mental illness…
    Trying to document the fake patient seemed so pointless…cant they see ive lived it…cant they see i grew up watching a manic depressive…cant they see i too have the illness..

    Than it came to studying community care for my last two units….no recognition that my role for 8 years involved knowing community care better than most nurses…after all i was the discharge planner…advanced care planning consultant…for eight years….

    So three units off my degree i went into an infamous spiralling low…

    To top it all off my mother passed away in 2010..
    Watching nurses i worked with being total bitches to my mum and myself in the four weeks of her dying…
    Nursing is my passion but sadly i now work as a cleaner…over the red tape of being a nurse….it impacted on my wellness to the maximum.

    Thats my experience of being bipolar….i just couldnt get my head around they just dont get my ideas. especially the ones outside the box.

  10. I’m currently a nurse-administrator who’s about to be fired, ostensibly for my facility’s failure to pass state survey after three attempts, but in reality it’s because of my inconsistent performance and mood swings that make me irritable, expansive, withdrawn, and hyperactive by turns, I thought I had it together, but my goal-directed activity isn’t good enough to maintain a department serving 85 residents, and I won’t be surprised when the pink-slip arrives.

    I don’t know what I’ll do after that. I’m thinking that this latest trouble is a sign that I ought to get out of clinical nursing and go do something I can handle…….hey, didya want fries with that??

  11. Sorry to hear you had to give up your studies. I was suppose to commence on my own studies into mental health nursing last month, but (again!) dropped out two weeks before I was due to start, much to the surprise of everyone. Therapy taught me recently that if I could not control my own emotions, how would I ever cope with dealing with others, yet I still find passion in doing my voluntary work in MH!

  12. Hello stranger!

    Sorry to hear you’ve left your course. You’d have been an ace nurse. You’ll be an ace anything though. I’m just a couple of months from qualifying now – eek! Hide away your mad people folks, the mental mental nurse is on the loose – the occy health doctor’s words of “wisdom” that us mentals shouldn’t treat other mentals has been motivation enough to plod on through the bad bits and the sad bits. I’m not quite “up yours” enough to tell her I haven’t taken my seroquel since I went cold-turkey on xmas day however (hell hell hell!).

    When I read your blog, I half wish I was still in the blogging world. Alas, as a student nurse you’ve got to keep your mouth shut, your legs crossed and your awareness of being well and truly at the bottom of the pile in your mind at all times. That and your tea-making and biscuit finding skills for the consultant need to be honed. Well honed.


    We should catch up (and the rest of the old blogging crowd)

    Love Em x

  13. Am now 55 and I never stop learning about Bipolar Disorder – they will go discovering new things, which answer the problems I had years back, now solved!

    Too many job struggles to name – nurse at the London, reluctant to leave; later a senior library assistant, often the whizziest in the library and they “suddenly” reduced my hours from 36 to 12 (i.e. broke me) after a few weeks off with depression – treated by Maudesley until 3 years back.

    Now living on home/school-turf Essex with excellent 8yrs OH, a fantastic Mental Monitor (he has a very large and shiny badge), plus excellent MHT/Home Team.

    I am hypo right now. Restricting mental/social overstimulation by coming off Twitter for a while + only 2hrs online per day. *takes grip of self* The rest is rest, meds, sleep, etc. But, hmm, yesssss…

    So I finally found a slot in which to read your blog. Yes, it was up there in the crammed psychedelic Alton Towers To Do List that pinballs round my head. It’s a wonderful blog and that was an excellent post. Good luck to you and enjoy your writing… TTx

  14. I did rotating shifts and night call as a nurse, and it was horribly destabilizing – I’ve gotten into a day shift job with an office, and the regular sleep schedule makes such a huge difference… nevermind the inability to leave work for doctors’ appointments without making a scene with coworkers or having to find people to cover my patients. Having my own work space is very helpful when I’m either up or down – I can separate myself from coworkers a bit in order to regroup when needed.

  15. Hi Seaneen~
    I just came across this article and thought you might enjoy reading it:

  16. Hello! I was recently diagnosed bi polar II in January. I currently work as an EMT on an ambulance. Working with bi polar is very hard for me due to the stress my job already ensues. I have not been to work in 3 weeks due to severe depression which has left me bed ridden and hopeless. Every so often I do see a little glimmer of mania and happiness but so far its all negative down here. I have recently started Abilify and Zoloft. I am anticipating the results more than anything.

  17. Seaneen:

    I was in nursing school too. Have you thought about perhaps trying a part time role in mental health? In Canada we have Psych-aids which basically do a lot of the dirty work but they interact with the patients the most. Maybe that is an option for you as they don’t give out meds and it would be part-time so you wouldn’t get over worked. I’m thinking of doing this part time myself…

    I was most recently a heavy-duty mechanic but I left the job because I didn’t feel comfortable there as the meds I was on made me foggy, really foggy.

    I am currently set on having my own marketing business. I’m going to take a home-study course and then open up shop. Right now I have the business license setup for tax benefits. Hopefully I can stay “set on is” I have had problems with getting focused on other things. I have ADHD too and can’t take meds for it because it runs the risk of making me manic.

    Add me to facebook if you want I’d love to chat sometime =)

  18. well done you so happy for you. I got diagnosed 6 years ago bipolar , bdd and ocd. I’m on meds , and due to start volunteer work next week only one day for two hours if I can cope. I have lots of support of my cpn and support worker . But recently racked up 14k debt , I’m paying it cos I’m scared but I’m struggling, have not told my cpn or anyone as hate disappointing people. But reading yours was very refreshing and gave me hope . Thank you Jessica age 30

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