‘Bipolar Disorder Makes Me Great At My Job…Sometimes’

Paul Komarek is the author of Defying Mental Illness: Finding Recovery with Community Resources and Family Support, which focuses on strategies that support mental illness recovery. He’s a consultant and adjunct faculty member at Cincinnati State Technical and Community College. He told The Grindstone:

“My bout with bipolar disorder wrecked my legal career. Putting things back together meant assessing my strengths, learning to work within my capacity, and accepting that I am less productive at times.  I do what I must, and attend scheduled meetings no matter what my mood. But I don’t live a regimented life. I use my less productive time to attend to errands and household chores. When I’m really productive I work in two-hour chunks so I don’t get carried away. I make sure I take time to talk with people. If I have to kick start my attention, I change the scene, using my laptop or tablet instead of my PC, or visiting the library.”

Another major issue with BD is the medication needed to treat it. During those manic periods, creativity can be very high, making these people ideal for some jobs. Some of the innovative and creative minds in history had (or have) BD including Beethoven, Ted Turner, Theodore Roosevelt, Congress woman Lynne Rivers, Winston Churchill, Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola. But drug treatment often vanquishes the creativity in the patient. The illness can be treated with mood stabilizing drugs, such as lithium; Depakote, a product of Abbott Laboratories; Zyprexa, a product of Eli Lilly; or Lamictal, a product of GlaxoSmithKline.

The attorney from above told The Grindstone:

“The medication helps with the mood, but it also makes my mind sluggish. My mind is not as sharp as it should be which can be a disaster when arguing in front of the court. By sharpness I mean the ability to remember details. It’s the classic “on the tip of my tongue” syndrome. To compensate, I try to write down every argument I think the opposing party will present. Inevitably, I miss some. So my solution to that problem is to do less court appearances and take less of the medication.”

But for some people with BD, work can be the best thing. “Work keeps you on a consistent schedule–when you go to sleep, when you get up,” said David J. Miklowitz, a professor of psychology at the University of Colorado-Boulder and author of The Bipolar Disorder Survival Guide: What You and Your Family Need To Know. “People who work are less likely to use alcohol or drugs that make a bipolar condition worse.” Structure provides predictability. It also reduces stimulation and promotes organization and stability. Miklowitz said people with BD usually approach their disorder in regards to their professional life in four ways:

–Tell everyone at work about the condition, including the boss and co-workers.

–Tell one or more trusted co-workers who don’t hold positions of authority.

–Don’t tell anyone, but admit to having bipolar disorder on work-sponsored health insurance claims, opening the possibility that the employer may find out.

–Don’t tell anyone at work, and don’t use employer-provided health insurance to cover the costs of treatment for the condition.
“The advantage of telling your boss is that you can ask for reasonable accommodations at the office,” Miklowitz says. “If you have a tough time in the morning, you might be able to arrange to start later in the day. Some people don’t do well in dark offices and work better in a well-lit room or near a window. Others find it better to take several short breaks rather than one long break. If there is some reasonable accommodation the employer can make, it makes sense to disclose.”

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