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Get Over It!

Bipolar Disorder in the Workplace


Updated June 18, 2012

Although I was not diagnosed bipolar until my late 40s, my depressive symptoms go clear back into childhood. Between high school and college I had a year of therapy; then I was back in therapy all through my sophomore year of college. I managed to get out on my own, find an apartment and a job away from home, but not until I connected with a talented counselor, when I was about 28, did I start to make real progress toward a life that could include some real happiness.

However, in the summer of 1994 things were bad. I had survived, in December of '92, the sudden and unexpected death of my fiancè, but when, 18 months later, a "friend" set me up with hopes of a splendid new job, then abruptly turned her back on me, I crumbled. It was one of the lowest points of my life. My job performance was already suffering by that time. I had great difficulty making decisions, a serious problem in an assistant supervisor. I had trouble organizing my own work. My sharp-tongued supervisor had become extremely critical.

I remember telling my counselor that all the tricks I had learned to jump-start myself out of depression had stopped working. She said, "Do you think it's time we tried medication?" and I burst into tears ... because she had validated my feeling that it really was that bad this time. She believed me.

My doctor prescribed Prozac. I was given just a two-week supply and made a follow-up appointment in 14 days. The doctor warned me that it might take some weeks before I felt better.

On the morning of the 14th day - the day of my follow-up appointment - I suffered an anxiety attack at work. I couldn't make a simple decision, and my supervisor went into a rage - as if screaming at me would help the situation. In front of the entire department she scathingly dressed me down, telling me - basically - that I needed to "get over it," to pull myself together and get back on track. I tried - shaking and weeping - to point out to her that my behavior was not normal! I tried to get her to recognize that my uncharacteristic behavior was a signal that something was WRONG! - All to no avail. I was told I had a week to get it together or be placed on probation. (Bear in mind, now that I had worked for the same company, in the same department, for more than 20 years at this time - longer than the supervisor.)

That afternoon, the doctor told me such anxiety was a common side effect when beginning Prozac therapy, and that it would probably pass soon. He prescribed Xanax, which I never needed to take.

And although I went back to work that afternoon and passed the doctor's words on to my supervisor, she never acknowledged that what had happened to me that morning was due to medication. In fact, after Prozac began working well for me, when I became more self-confident than I'd ever been before, when I was sailing through the work days - that same supervisor said to me one day, "See? All you needed was a good swift kick."

The moral of the story? There are some bosses who simply will not recognize an emotional problem or a mental illness, even when it is staring them right in the face.

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