Category Archives: Work

Able to Work or Not?

So, with last month’s sudden hospitalizations…

I’m questioning whether I could even hold a job that wasn’t as flexible as the one I have now. While they were Not Happy to have me gone for 3 weeks so suddenly, no one died, the little bit of important work was picked up by very capable board members, and the non-important work was blown out of proportion for having been missed.

That said…

This was the first time I had to take time off for my mental illness. I was off for 3 weeks because of cancer surgery. The office knew weeks in advance that I was heading out, and had 2-3 weeks notice of the surgery date. However, my dr very much under-estimated the amount of time I’d need to be out. I’ve taken off 2 other days because of headaches from hell. One day because of an all-day dr appt downtown. All the little flexibilities or single days here and there, I have made up the hours. It’s not like I’ve left anyone high and dry. I schedule appointments outside my work hours. Most of the time I have to change my work schedule because the office wants me at a meeting or fundraiser that is in the evening.

This was the first time off that was sudden. First time for me to have to wonder very deeply whether I can work a job with a lot of structure, whether part time or full time. Is that an accommodation I can ask for? Do I ask for it up front?

I checked ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) for info. First off, it applies for workplaces with 15 or more employees. So I’m SOL at my current place should that be needed. But in the future, do I ask for reasonable accommodation regarding the need for unpaid or paid medical leave, even with short/no notice? I suppose so. I don’t know that I can ask for that legally at my current place because of the employee number restriction, but also that the “reasonable accommodation” could be considered a hardship to the business. Debatable of course (considering the evidence of the 2 times I was gone for 3 weeks).

I hope one day to work full-time again, likely in non-profits or medical or some kind of justice, compassion, social-awareness field. I’m questioning that again. Maybe this goal will take longer until going into the hospital is an anomaly instead of something that could happen at any time, as the situation currently stands.

Interesting side-note, but relevant none-the-less, I’ve been flirting with the idea of being a CT technician. I learned a bit about the training process quite a while ago. Then this week I checked into the College of DuPage program here. Yeah, um, there is NO Way I can pass the physical exam required of all students. I will not be able to position patients and move heavy machinery into place. To be a CT Tech, you get trained as a radiologist (x-rays) first, then additional work afterwards for CT. Even though CT would be physically easier for me, I can’t get there if I can’t be a radiologist first. Disappointing!! I was looking forward to that kind of schooling and job!

So back to questions and wondering and depressing outlook on my possible work ability. What in the world am I supposed to do with my time if I can’t work??? (Ok, volunteer – less stressful and more flexible for medical crap I deal with) How am I supposed to pay the rent?? Who am I supposed to be if working isn’t even a small part of who I am and what I do?


Update: Ok But Still Healing

paincopingAs you may have figured out, I did in fact land in the hospital this week. My therapist and psychiatrist encouraged continued use of skills, yet reminded me that only I know when it’s time to go to the hospital. Before I left for work on Monday, I packed a bag of items I’d need for the hospital, just in case. Sometimes a security blanket is all I need.


This is me everyday.

I tried to make it through the work day, yet as the day drew closer to a committee meeting… I knew I was heading to the hospital for an assessment. Anxiety, confusion, intrusive and obsessive suicidal desire. Barely made the drive. Naturally I was admitted, and there I began the hard work. I realized how stress had gotten the best of me. Just your normal, everyday stress, but too much for what I could handle at this time. A big piece is that the other people at my job are stressed because of the really fun, but stressful to plan, fundraiser next weekend.

The plan while I was there was to rest and de-stress (though the unit was unstable with alpha males being stupid…); to learn or reinforce stress management techniques; and to adjust meds if needed. I hoped all of those would eliminate the suicidal desire. Those of you familiar with DBT may know the skill of Riding the Wave. Even though I know and practice this skill, I needed a tune up to remember to, and practice, riding the emotional wave of despair that leads to suicidal desire. As I practiced stress management and got a med tweak and re-learned this skill, I became ready for discharge after only 3 days – a record short stay for me!

Conditions of discharge included doing the part-day Anxiety program, a totally sadistic (my psychiatrist’s word!) program that jumps on any anxiety you have to deal with it directly and head on. Yay.


This sadism started in the first minute of entering my group. The person talking was describing his/her struggle with losing a youth director job and looking for another one, whether current skills were enough or needing more education. Another person jumped in with experiences of being on an associate pastor search committee.


I nearly jumped out of my skin or at least left the room! I’ve been avoiding all religion and church because they are such strong triggers for me. I don’t need any triggers as I’m trying to have as boring a life as possible right now to stabilize, stabilize, stabilize. But… using my DBT distress tolerance skills, I pulled out my silly putty, got myself back in the moment and was able to put it away. Focusing on my breathing kept me from leaving the room. So so hard!!!

I guess it’s time to face these fears and anxieties. I hope the tune up I received in the hospital will help me get through this without going back!



Manic Episode #180-something

A wise woman (ok, my therapist…again) helped me discover that yesterday I got manic.

Human BodyI went to get a half-day assessment of my chronic pain that now keeps me from doing anything but sit (and even then the pain is at a 4). The results of the assessment was a strong recommendation to do the bootcamp-style all-day program for 4 weeks, which takes place downtown (an hour travel time whether driving or by train/cab). The program includes physical therapy, occupational therapy, biofeedback and meditation, group and individual work, meeting regularly with a pain psychologist and a physical medicine and rehabilitation medical doctor.

Because I switch to Medicare as my primary insurance on March 1, the staff strongly encouraged me to do the program while under my current insurance since Medicare is usually reticent to approve payment. That would mean starting the program on January 28. Yes, 10 days from the assessment.

The program sounds exactly like what I need to get past this terrible rut of not being able to move well. I could move again and exercise again and feel good about my body because it can do things.

manicHearing the parameters of the program and desiring to give a whole-hearted try to get moving again and get some pain reduced, my mind went like this:

  • My bipolar stability requires structure, with limited and scheduled days. With my care team, I decided to stay on the same path and schedule to further deepen the mood stability that I’ve been experiencing.
  • Doing the program, and so suddenly, would completely disrupt my schedule. My mood stability might be in danger.
  • I don’t know if I can do 40 hours a week of focused and intense work, which would be required in the bootcamp program.
  • Plus, the program would likely increase pain, certainly the first week, which would reduce my stamina for any further work in the program. And who likes to be in pain anyway?
  • Then there is the travel issue. The program starts at 8am. So I leave my house at 7am whether driving or taking the train. Which means changing my schedule even more by having to wake up at 5am to get the slow-motion morning started to be ready to leave by 7am.
  • There’s the stress of either commuting in tons of traffic, or being around tons of people on the train and shelling out bucks for cabs or a shuttle, plus train tickets. All of this adds stress, which increases pain and adds to a depressed mood, and so on and so forth.
  • And there’s the financial strain, with a deductible over $600 and out-of-pocket over $2600. There’s no way I could afford the program right now. Even with a payment plan, I’m not sure there’s enough money each month.
  • Plus – My hours at work just increased This Week to 20 hours a week. AND it’s the busiest season with several major events right in a row for the next 7 weeks. How could I ask for a month off, with short notice and during this time? I would feel guilty for leaving them in a lurch. I might use up more than the good will I’ve accrued while being there.
  • But leaving them in a lurch is not my problem. I have to take care of my body and my life before taking care of an employer. My supervisor even said several months ago that I need to take care of myself and my health first. I also know she nearly drowned in work and stress when I was out for 3 weeks after the cancer tumor surgery.
  • I could put off the bootcamp program to a better time for myself and my work, say April or July. It’s less busy at work, I could give more notice to my job, there would be no snow or ice on the ground to drive through (possible during February), I might have a chance to save up some money.
  • But it would be so much easier in headaches and paperwork to deal with just one insurance company, which means starting the program now.

manic cartoonThese ideas and plans to make it work in February swirled through my mind yesterday. I talked it over with Significant Other, sharing this semi-logic, but mostly mess, in my head. Today, I shared it with Wise Woman and asked for advice. She, of course, never gives advice, but did hold up a mirror by pretending to be me while I pretended to be her. She repeated back to me all these thoughts I had just shared, with the same speed I shared it, with the same pressured force that it seemed to tumble out of my mouth.

Then she asked me, “What would I say to you? How do I sound?” A couple seconds elapsed…

And I said, “Manic.”


And I fully recognized how this was a pattern I had been using for YEARS when faced with a decision. Especially when something didn’t feel right. The work issue and travel issue and stamina issue all were red flags, and I was trying to find a way to cram all the variables in, and find a way to make the situation work.

This is classic disordered thinking for people with bipolar. More than racing thoughts, it’s getting caught up in the race and obsessing about an idea or situation.

The best thing for me to do is to slow down, give myself time, and make a thoughtful decision. ESPECially when this buzzing-around-trying-to-make-a-situation-work thinking shows up. It could be triggered from the outside (such as a doctor saying it would be best to start the program now to avoid the hassle of medicare), or the buzzing could be internal pressure brought on by the illness.

I have time. I’ve had this pain for 20 years. I could do the program later, when I’ve saved money. I could find another program that wouldn’t make my mornings terrible or involve commuting. There are many ways to solve the problem, but I have to interrupt the race, take myself out of it, and think rationally and fully.

Life lesson learned! Conquering bipolar, one manic episode at a time now!

THIS Is How It Feels Every Day

Living with bipolar, even in a mostly-stable state like me, with a job, takes a Great Deal of Work! Wasn’t expecting this book to have a person with bipolar as a main character, but he has outlined life with bipolar quite well!

From The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

(p. 269) His main goal in the lab was to conceal his disease…He always had to wait until Jaitly and Benner had their backs turned before he tried to pull the well combs out of the agarose, because he never knew, from moment to moment, how bad his tremor might be. After he managed to load the gels and to run them for an hour or so, he then had to stain the samples with ethidium bromide and visualize the DNA under ultraviolet. And when he was done with all that, he had to start over with the next sample.
That was the hardest task of all: keeping the samples straight. Preparing strand after strand of DNA , and sorting, labeling, and storing each one, despite his flickering attention and mental brownouts.
He counted the minutes until he could leave each day.
… But every night, Madeleine made him get dressed, and they went to the dining hall, where Leonard tried not to betray his nausea or to knock over his water glass.

(p. 271) … Leonard tried, as best he could, to take things one day at a time. He did his work at the lab and soldiered through the evenings. He tried to keep his stress levels to a minimum.

(p. 287) …Being alone increased the volume of information bombarding him. There was no one around to distract him from it. As Leonard strode along, thoughts stacked up in his head like air traffic over Logan Airport to the northwest. There were one or two jumbo jets full of Big Ideas, a fleet of 707’s laden with the cargo of sensual impressions (the color of the sky, the smell of the sea), as well as Learjets carrying rich solitary impulses that wished to travel incognito. All these planes requested permission to land simultaneously. From the control tower in his head, Leonard radioed the aircraft, telling some to keep circling while ordering others to divert to another location entirely. The stream of traffic was never-ending: the task of coordinating their arrivals constant from the minute Leonard woke up to the minute he went to sleep.

[There’s more, but I’ll refrain from updating for now.

First Week of Work – In Over My Head?

My therapist says it’s too early to quit. I agree. It’s not too early, however, for me to question seriously whether I can actually handle this. One of my long-term goals during this time of disability has been to get back to meaningful full-time work. The first step is part-time, easier work, such as administrative or computer work. Get used to working again, keep a schedule, build stamina and concentration and competency. I still can’t believe how these things are not part of my repertoire anymore.

Because I had been volunteering at the site of the new position, already knew something about the org and knew the staff, we thought this would be an easier transition to part-time work than another place might be, even though my therapist thought we were about 4 months early to start working part-time. Yet, I applied, interviewed and accepted the job, knowing it would be harder than the volunteer work I had been doing, including different skills and software. And it is a newly created position, so there are lots of unformed and unstated expectations by staff, board and my self.

When I talked with my therapist, I acknowledged that within this first week, I saw all the normal signs of starting a new job. Overwhelmed by number of tasks to be done in 15 hours a week. Learning curve for software programs. Expectations unclear. Sense of doom (we all get that at the beginning – WHAT did I sign up for??). Emotional and tired feelings as try to absorb tasks and environment.

At the same time, I’m feeling things that are unusual for me. I feel physically and mentally ill, and at wit’s end when I’m at home. I’m able to disguise it or work through it at work (another of those “functioning bipolar” thingys). I get confused easily so I forget how to do simple things such as use a mouse or walk to the bathroom. I’m angry and hateful. Not at anything in particular, except myself, I suppose. Probably for biting off more than I can chew.

I desperately need rest. And a chance to S-l-o-w-l-y integrate what I’m learning. That’s what’s behind the unhealthy coping skill of wanting to hurt myself again. One of the coping skills I learned in the hospital in May is to look underneath the hateful and painful and dangerous impulses to see what I really need. And if I did those better things, the dangerous impulses would decrease.

I’ve got 3 days of rest now until I go back. I still feel hateful and angry. I still want to disappear from the earth. I suppose those could be side-effects of the steroids they pumped into my back on Monday too. Just another feature in my not-as-rainbow-like week.

I’m very glad to be progressing along the path to full-time work again. There is still a lot of psychological and psychiatric stuff to process to get there again. And religious stuff too (SIGH). Yet I have this good opportunity to try my hand at gainful employment for a non-profit I believe in. That should be good news.

I wish it was right now. Just too tired and emotional. I can’t even think what would be restful since I’ve slept a whole lot now. Watching the Olympics or reading a book or watching a movie still leaves too much room for my mind to wander down paths where it doesn’t belong. Figures.

First Day of Work

I went FBO on Facebook last night. (That’s FaceBook Official for n00bs, a term usually used for relationship statuses.) I am  now working part time as Marketing Manager at The LeaderShop, where I’ve been volunteering the last 4 months. I was in the right place at the right time to hear of the job. I talked with my therapist and psychiatrist about taking on a new job, part-time though it is. It will be a challenge to have another task and more responsibility to take on. It will be a challenge to appear ‘normal’ during work hours.

I worked 4 hours today, earning my first $60 at a job, instead of earning money by getting well enough to hold a job. It’s a bit of a different feeling. But I’m oh, so glad, there is a net to fall back into in case I’m not able to do this. Today’s 4 hours was orientation, with another 4 hours tomorrow. We already have pressing deadlines and events in the next 2 weeks. I really hope I don’t crash under the pressure of the steep learning curve and of the job requirements. Marketing Manager is a newly-created position, and so there are few expectations but also really high hopes.

In order to give this job “the college try,” I’m reducing other activities, such as exercise, cooking and social commitments. If this is going to work, I can slowly add those back in, but I’ve got to start slowly.

Greetings to My Online Family!

I am full of gratitude for my online family. I have a wide-ranging network of 400+ people I know online (several overlap among Facebook, twitter, and the blog). This week alone I received help from my online family in several ways. Since I’ve been out of the non-religious workforce for several years, my mind blanked. And I asked my online family for questions to ask in a phone interview. Several poured in!**

My online family, who knows my story and my struggles of the last many years, also gave me repeated encouragement to do the interview and that I can hold a job. They helped me through a panic attack last week because of increased chronic pain that incited plans to hurt myself. I didn’t think I could handle it, but with my online family and the support of my professional care team, I avoided a hospitalization – yay!

Through the internet I feel connected to people I never get to see, or don’t get to see often enough. Real connections. Real care. Real prayer. Real help. I know these friends are there on the other end of the line offering their real opinions and snark, and their real care. I wish more of my immediate family were online since I tend to update my status and converse online more than make phone calls. I never have been a phone person, and I took to the internet as soon as it burst onto the scene in the 90’s.

I also had the chance to be with my online family while my church of affiliation, the Presbyterian Church (USA), met for its biennial General Assembly. Many of us presby-geeks watched the live feed from the website and tweeted our comments and hopes. Several friends were there in person and tweeted what was going on when we couldn’t see or hear or figure out what was going on. We felt like we were part of the family reunion feeling that usually goes along with General Assembly’s 4,000 people in attendance. When votes didn’t go the way the Presbytery of Twitter (as we called ourselves) wanted, we took solace and hope in others who held hope and encouraged one another.

Another way I find help from my online family are mental health websites with a conversational feel in the content and comments. I get support to live healthily and without anxiety about my illness because of folks like Natasha Tracy, my favorite blogger. She blogs @ Bipolar Burble and Breaking Bipolar and Bipolar Bites. Yes, it is several sites. Two are two different mental health sites. She rarely repeats herself and so I find help by following her musings and reports from the medical community for cures and treatments.

Thank you again, my online family! I couldn’t do this without you!

** Some questions to ask during an interview

  • What is the X factor you’re looking for in the person in this job?
  • How will you know if this job is being performed well?
  • What challenges about this job do you think I should be aware of?
  • Why do you enjoy working there?
  • What about serving the clients is important to you?
  • What are you excited about in what you’re doing?
  • What’s the best part about working here? worst?
  • What makes you look forward to coming to your job in the morning?
  • What would you like this organization to look like in five years?”
  • Is the position likely to grow full-time anytime in the future?