How I Finally Stopped Cycling Between Jobs While Managing Bipolar Disorder #rwanda #RwOT #MondayMotivation

“Heather, we need to talk about your article.”

The words I had been dreading appeared in my email inbox one morning about a month ago. I’d been extremely busy with writing projects and the money was rolling in. I’d even had three articles published under my own byline. On the surface, my writing career had never been better.

Despite these successes, I couldn’t shake a feeling of impending calamity. My anxiety had me crawling out of my skin and I lay awake at nights, my mind racing, every cell in my body super-charged with energy. I had so many assignments, I felt burned out and I could sense that the quality of my work was slipping. When I learned that one of my clients wasn’t satisfied with an article I’d written, it seemed to confirm the worst of my fears. I was an imposter. Worse than that, I was experiencing the telltale signs of a mixed episode.

This wasn’t the first time my upward trajectory of success was halted by symptoms of mental illness. When I graduated college as a single mother, I earned highest honors and was invited to join Phi Beta Kappa. My senior thesis won awards for academic excellence. It felt like I couldn’t lose.

Two years later, after a disastrous year of teaching, I crashed out of graduate school, so depressed I could barely take care of myself, let alone my young daughter. I moved to California to live with my mom until I got back on my feet. Within a couple of months, I found a job and began to excel, only to slide into a severe mixed episode that earned me my first hospitalization a few years later.

I spent the next 10 years cycling between different jobs, the hospital and various forms of public assistance. Then, in 2014, I landed my current job. After five years with the same company, I felt like I’d finally made it. Now, my mental health was starting to decline again, just as I was making some real progress with my writing.

This time, I didn’t go to the hospital and I didn’t quit my job. I took time off work when I needed it. I asked my supervisor if I could cut back on my workload. I got on the phone with my psychiatrist and my therapist. I scrupulously followed my medication and self-care routine. I challenged my negative self-talk until it subsided from a screaming chorus to a nagging whisper.

A few weeks after that email, I feel like I’ve mitigated an episode that could have sent me into a months-long mental health crisis a few years ago. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about myself. I’ve learned that I have tools to weather the periodic cycles of depression, anxiety and mixed symptoms. I’ve also learned that without a solid foundation of mental health, all the external markers of success are meaningless.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Bipolar 1 Support group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Join the Bipolar 1 Support group to connect with others who understand what it's really like to live with hypomania, rapid-cycling, depression and more. Click to join.

I recognize that sometimes all the self-care in the world isn’t enough to head off an episode. Bipolar disorder is an unpredictable storm that blows in, sometimes without warning, and it can a leave a financial and emotional mess in its wake. Still, the fact that I can mitigate even some symptoms some of the time feels incredibly empowering.

I’m also learning to redefine success. Getting those accolades feels good for a minute or two, but ultimately, I can’t let other people’s opinions define me. From where I stand today, holding down the same job for almost six years is a monumental achievement. So is writing something new after a harsh review. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the only way I can fail is if I give up altogether. If I keep writing and showing up for my life, even in little ways, I consider that success.

See more from Heather on Medium.


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