Speaking out about my Bipolar Affective Disorder at work

steveI am a health and safety officer. I am also a writer and a poet. Way back in 1997, during those heady times before the Millennium not long after New Labour had come to power, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder.

I’ve told a few people: spoken at conferences, workshops, presented my own show with a singer songwriter friend at the Brighton and Edinburgh Festival Fringes, published two books, had coverage in local papers. But I’ve not really spoken with those people who I work with, and there are 190 at our site in East Sussex.

At first I wrote and did not speak. I summarised my story in a health and safety journal. I was surprised with the number of kind emails I received with people sharing their experience.

I was surprised at how many unsolicited positive comments I received and how supportive people were

One of the first times I actually spoke about my experience of mental ill health was at an event as an Ambassador for mental health with the Mind Out for Mental Health campaign. 

But although, naturally, I was nervous beforehand, afterwards it felt like a great relief - a confidence boost. And I was surprised at how many unsolicited positive comments I received and how supportive people were. The Fringe events were more scary because, unlike a conference, I had no idea who would turn up, if anyone and very much less certain how I would be received.

At work I remain in silence

In spite of all I’ve said and done, now I’m worried that my professional competence may be called into question, my ability to do the work that I do. I’m worried that I might be thought less of a person. It is a kind of self-stigma, a self imposed fear or limitation. So, at work, I remain in silence.

It is as if I want to pretend that everything is ‘normal’. Well it is, my condition is managed through medication: lithium and olanzapine. But I also try to get out for more exercise on my bike and do creative writing, and Tai Chi, all good positive stuff.

I have decided that I will ‘come out’ to the rest of the organization

I have decided that I will ‘come out’ to the rest of the organization, to share my views and experience of mental ill-health, but I’m just not sure of how or when. I’m still trying to convince myself that I even know why. I think it’s because I want to be accepted for who I am, without any pretence, or reluctance to speak. Surely I owe it to my colleagues, to trust them, to trust their humanity, and for them to trust me?

Here’s a quote from my fringe event:

I am a poet. I watch my moods. Not only to be aware of the extremes, but also to register the subtle changes that may accompany that first slip towards oblivion. I have been close to the edge. I have fallen over.

Breakdown. Nervous breakdown. Fragments. And in those fragments, something of the truth. I didn’t see it coming until the third time around, bearing down on me. I’m more aware now. I watch for tell-tale signs, try to feel the ground ahead of me to predict and prevent that first slip into madness. As if it could happen at any moment.

And so I come to deeper reasons for wanting to speak up, to raise a voice that is bold, confident, self-assured, inspiring even. Because when you think about life, when you really think of it, the very fact that we exist at all, that we are conscious, that we live and breathe in this present moment of time and space in this world is nothing short of utterly amazing!

What is this to be inspired? To be moved by beauty, art, winning performance, ballet, dance, music, painting, sculpture, the human voice, the human body, ecstasy, heights we aspire to.

I hope to write again, to let you know how much closer I have come to realising my decision…

Meanwhile, I’d be interested to hear your stories of ‘coming out’ or 'speaking up' at work.


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Comments

Really interesting post. I

Really interesting post. I didn't have too much choice about coming out at work because of things that happened. But I'm pleased that I did. I've generally been treated with a lot of respect, and I'm playing a part in my employer's plan to sign up to Time to Change. I've also made some new friends at work.

coming out the closet with bipolar effective dissorder

I have just read Steves blog, about coming out to his work family, My Job was taken away from me in 1998, I had worked at my job for ten years, it was a decision I was consulted with, it destroyed my spirit having that done to me, I knew my work building inside out, ok I wouldn't have been ready for a full time position, but there was jobs I could have done on shorter hours, Instead loosing my job caused me to to loose so much, the stigma I wasn't prepared for, the abuse from some people I wasn't prepared for , on top of bipolar I got post traumatic stress disorder too, I lived in isolation, I am now seeing a clinical psychologist who is a hypnotherapist to put my primitive brain back where it should be, I have searched for 14 years for an effective treatment path, I beleave I have now found my pathway my points are people like me where swept under the carpet, there was no care about us. if you have a jpb already you are very lucky, I too am not sure if I would share with my work family if I had one, because of the way I was cast out it has left me traumatised , bt I am working on changing that, I would like to speak to employers about bipolar effective disorder and educate them , to help remove remove that fear peeps have , I am hoping to have vocal training so I may be able to speak at public events after my clinical hypnotherapy is finished , my story is not a fairy tail but it does show how ive fought back to get to this point and im not done yet, still got steps to take , but im coming back to the world , so out of a very negative story , there are great positive from that, it has taken me so long to get to this point, because, I was left on limbo land, I have researched and researched till I found my pathway it has taken me 14 years, so far, I am determined to move forward , to get quality to my life, to live again , so all the steps im taking now is very much like a jig saw, I was so so angry it was volcanic how I was written off, ive dealt with that anger through a charity named Moodswings, who are angels, any ways it just compelled me to write this, I am 53 yrs old now, I was 36 when I was written off,i never stopped figjting for my rights, bleeter is what ive been called, I will make those people eat those words one day , so one day at a time, little steps, I am on a pathway to becoming a person again, with a goal of also becoming again a strong independent woman, it does matter, that I was wrote off, it was wrong, onwards I go

Stevens blog

Well done Steve, I made DVD about my recovery from Depression it is on YouTube on the movingforwardnewcastle. Web site. I also put it on my FB page I was feeling brave lol . I think its good to be open about mental health issues . I also think its good to lead by example and hopefully people will feel strong enough to open up and share their stories and they will feel more confident and gain strength from the experience. I am also involved in the making of a film about shared decision making at the minute hopefully it should be finished by early June. Its about John who finds himself feeling depressed and about how he gets help from his Doctor and all the options available for him and his needs. Stacy his friend also offers her support and goes with him to the doctors. I am quite excited to see the finished film . Thanks for letting me share . Izzy

Thank you.

I was interested in your blog and also thrilled to read your account of the illness you have described. Thank you so much as the more open people become about their circumstances the more people will understand. It all helps in bringing down the wall of stigma. So thank you very much for sharing.

Interesting post

I wish I had a choice in coming out as having mental health problems. Had to take 4 years off work with depression in 2009/2010. When I returned to work I obviously got the "What was wrong with you?" questions. It was very difficult to talk about, especially when I was struggling with the return to work process and very anxious about what people would say. The awkwardness of some peoples' response made it harder. I still have to remain partly "out" due to my difficulty in working night shifts and thus the fact I do fewer than my colleagues - something which people do still question. I think over time though people are more accepting. I hope this trend continues. This is why campaigns such as time to talk are so important.

Thank you & well done.

Steve, Congratulations on a beautifully written post, it was a wonderful and interesting read and I think you have covered the subject of 'coming out' at work brilliantly. On a personal note, I am still 'in the closest' with regards to my mental health problems (Depression & Anxiety) whilst in my workplace. Despite having a diagnosis from my GP and attending regular therapy session for the past 2 years I have not yet found the time to disclose to my manager the issues I've had for the majority of my life. My hestitance in telling them has stemmed from the fact I work in a HR environment. I know my colleagues well, I have heard them talk on the subject of depression and discussed 'best practice' when a company employee has asked them for advice. Whist they are NEVER dereogatory or unkind about the employee, the thought of having leaflets and 'read from a textbook' advice thrown at me by the people I regularly chat to in the kitchen and socialise with after work hours does not appeal. Whilst their hearts may be in the right place with their advice, I still feel the discrimination against people having mental health issues is so rife that I would be treated differently on a daily basis. So I have kept quiet, and I know (this isn't just my anxiety speaking!) that my colleagues often eye me suspiciously when I am having a quiet day, and I have had the odd comment on social events that I am 'hard to work out' and 'take a long time to warm to'. This is the rod I have made for my own back. I chose not to tell my colleagues and have instead let them think me of standoffish. I don't know if this is the right thing to have done, but I feel now that 'coming out' after 2 years would make life even weirder as I am close to these people, they'd surely wonder why I never told them before? Anyway, enough of my troubles. All the best with your writing and I look forward to hearing about the outcome of your decision! Mx

Should you reveal your Bipolar Disorder?

Surely I owe it to my colleagues, to trust them, to trust their humanity, and for them to trust me? __________I have been a software engineer, project manager, mother of two children and now a part-time teacher. A sudden onset psychotic episode at age 44 leading to hospitalization and bipolar diagnosis meant I had to tell my employer. I had a deep understanding of bipolar and mental health issues as my mother has the condition herself. My boss was understanding and I wasn't concerned at all about talking about bipolar disorder to others in the office. It wasn't until this boss left and another took over that problems resulted. It became obvious that he didn't want me in my current role and wanted to move me sideways. After years of positive performance reviews, I was given a damming one which shook my confidence. He always avoided eye contact or indeed listening to any of my opinions. Suddenly, I didn't seem to be taken seriously. Gradually my areas of responsibility were lessened and I was moved into new roles. I began to feel disheartened and as a result, my enthusiasm for work diminished, leading to depression and ultimately I struggled to go into work each morning over a period of 2 winter months. I managed well but got a sickness bug in the March which meant I exceeded the maximum of 5 occasions off sick in any year with my total days being 10. I was too embarrassed to put down bipolar and would write down flu type symptoms which was very near the truth ( lethargy, aching muscles, etc.). Before I knew it, I was give a warning letter, I had to declare my bipolar as a disability and occupational health were called in. Occupational health suggested to me that they would extend my sickness leave for that year, but when the report came back it didn't reflect this. I was given notice that I would have my final warning if I was off once in the remaining 5 months of the year! My psychiatrist arranged counselling to cope with "the boss" and I negotiated working at home an hour a week. Both helped immensely and I managed to remain well for the remaining months. The latest is that after removing me from my previous roles, I was told I can plan in my own time as I am now overpaid for my new role! People "do" now treat me differently. Friends "have" disappeared off the "radar". In retrospect, I was too open about everything. I am very stable bi-polar with a minimum of medication and have been for a long time now. We need to end the stigma.

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