AB: When did you go on to have a career at Microsoft? How long did it last? What did you do? How did your illness affect your work?
NT: It was in 2006 that I started at Microsoft. I had been working with another technology company who had a contract with Microsoft, so I had been working with Microsoft as a client. The people at Microsoft got to know me, liked what they saw, and eventually hired me.
At Microsoft I was a program manager for a learning management system. My job was to manage the development and implementation of this system to the 100,000 users within Microsoft. It was a very challenging and high-stress position.
Unfortunately, the move to the US and the change in job were very hard on my mental health, and I ended up having to take a short disability leave (around a month) after only having been there for seven months. However, I managed to use that time to work on getting better and getting treatment.
My mental illness did affect me at Microsoft, but mostly personally and not professionally. I tried my hardest to keep my illness out of the workplace, and by and large I believe I succeeded in that. My career there came to an unfortunate end in 2009 when Microsoft laid off thousands of workers.
AB: How does your bipolar look to other people?
NT: I think mostly my bipolar doesn't look like anything to other people because I hide it so well. I'm the kind of person who will cocoon when sick so others don't see it. I function well in social and professional situations. That being said, under times of exceptionally high stress I might seem a bit emotional to people, and I am aware that I can act out of character if I'm really in the midst of an episode.
AB: Some people describe bipolar disorder as a blessing and a curse, but you say it's the worst thing that a person can be saddled with. Do you feel like your bipolar disorder has given you a different perspective on the world?
NT: Well, to be fair, I can't really say what the worst thing is to be saddled with, whether it's a mental illness or not, but I will say that having a constantly broken brain is akin to some form of torture. I realize that some see it as an occasional blessing and I wouldn't want to take that away from them, but for the vast majority of my life my mental illness has not been well controlled, and so to me has been a curse. It's something that I have to fight every day just to live something approaching a normal life.
I think bipolar disorder has given me a different perspective on life. I have learned many things because of it, and my compassion for others has increased tenfold. However, all that perspective is likely not worth the extreme cost of having a mental illness.
AB: Do you believe that people learn to cope on a day-to-day basis with mental illness, or do you believe in recovery? Do you believe in being "cured" from this insidious illness?
NT: I think some people learn to cope on a daily basis and others achieve recovery (the recovery may or may not be permanent). However, I strongly suspect that even those in recovery still maintain a lifestyle that assists that recovery, and I also suspect they still need to use therapeutic tools to maintain their wellness. I don't think anyone lives with bipolar disorder impact-free. And no, I don't believe in, nor is there any evidence of, a cure for bipolar disorder.
AB: You write three extremely popular blogs: Bipolar Burble, Breaking Bipolar, and Bipolar Bites. You're extremely prolific and have quite a presence on the internet. How much time do you spend a day writing? When did you start writing about mental illness?
NT: Sometimes I spend one hour writing and sometimes I spend eight. It really depends on what I'm working on, but I don't tend to take any days off: no weekends for a writer! I started writing in 2003 simply on a lark when I read a blog I really liked and thought: I could do that! I had no idea, at the time, that I was a writer in a techie's clothing.
AB: You're working on a book about ECT, which as you know, fascinates me and is one element of my book, Electroboy. Tell us a bit about your book and what we should expect. And you can trust, I'll be the first person to order it!
NT: The book I'm writing on ECT is called Between the Electrodes: Everything you need to know about electroconvulsive therapy. This book is dedicated to helping people who are considering ECT as a treatment.
It is designed to give people all the facts about what ECT is, how it is done, how it works and our scientific understanding of it. It also includes my personal story of undergoing ECT as well as the stories of others who have had the treatment.
Between the Electrodes aims to help people make the right decision for them about the treatment while being neither for nor against ECT. I am very proud of this work and see it as being able to help many people through a difficult situation.
AB: Natasha, you're very well known as a brilliant social media strategist with tremendous presence on the internet. How much time do you spend doing this every day? Do you have help? Or are you a workaholic, blogging and posting?
NT: Social media is something I discovered when I started actively promoting my own work. Publishers will all tell you that you need a platform before publishing a book, but getting that platform is something few people know how to do. A big way of finding an audience, as I have, is through social media. Like-minded people will clump together when given the opportunity, so it's a matter of getting out there and finding those like-minded people who absolutely want to support you.
I spend hours a day on social media, and while I know that sounds like a lot, that is the system that drives people to take a look at what I do and it's how I make an impact. By maximizing my time online through the use of tools, I can make that time really work for me. I also teach others to do this through consulting services.
Yes, I m a bit of a workaholic. I always have been. Driven might be the word.