It's very nice that some of the people who have commented think that I'm brave and courageous for writing a blog on a disorder that makes "normal" people's hair stand on end.
It's really got nothing to do with bravery, courage or any high moral values on my part. Believe me, I'm the world's biggest chickenshit.
What it has to do with is my acceptance of who I am. Consider a gay person coming out of the closet. Now that takes guts, in my opinion. And total acceptance of who you are and complete disregard for "public opinion". Which may or may not include one's family.
And then there is always the question of who do you tell. I don't wear a "Kiss Me, I'm Bipolar" badge on my shirt. Most people don't even suspect that I have any kind of mental disorder when they meet me or even get to know me. However, the workplace can be extraordinarily difficult for someone with a mental disorder. Let me give you an example.
In my last position, which was operations manager for a small consulting firm, I was literally chief cook and bottlewasher. During the course of a week, I might have been off at a client site doing database consulting work, managing the network back at the office, running statistical spreadsheets, interviewing someone for a temp office position, designing and implementing the company web site, organizing trade show crap, writing contracts for clients, and a host of other things. I juggled many responsibilities.
However, during a medication change, suddenly I was falling asleep in front of my computer at 2 in the afternoon. Despite my using a Franklin-Covey planner religiously, I could not remember simple things, such as renewing service contracts on the company laptops. Always a sharp proofreader of my own work, suddenly I was making mistakes that were being caught by other people. Not good. And my boss was concerned enough to ask me if there was anything wrong.
So, what do you say? "Gee, I guess I screwed up?" Or, "I didn't tell you when you hired me but I'm a manic-depressive and I take killer drugs that can turn me into a zombie."
Anyone who takes psychotropic medication will find at some point that their functioning may become somewhat less than it had been. My feeling regarding my employer was that while he had the right to some explanation of why my performance wasn't up to speed, he did not necessarily have the right to know everything. My solution was to explain to him that I had been recently put on medication that had certain side effects such as drowsiness and that I did not expect the side effects to be permanent. And of course, they weren't. In the context of my work performance, he completely understood. To a point. I knew that if my mental state did not improve, he wasn't about to live with it indefinitely.
Sure, there's always disability when the going gets tough. I've been on disability exactly once--during a severe depression, for three months until I was better. However, I prefer to keep working rather than rely on SSI, which is harder than shit to get anyway. Working at something is really the best medicine, whether you have a high-level job or not.
In this country, people with mental disorders have rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Making sure that your rights are respected at work may mean that you will have to disclose your disorder. Here's a very good article about handling your disorder at work. I've found it to be quite helpful.
And when you're really struggling at work or with anything at all, think about all the well-known, creative people, past and present, who've been manic-depressive or depressed. They did it. There's always hope.