[Guest post by D Osborne]
As someone who suffers from bipolar disorder while holding down a demanding job and doing a part-time degree, I’m often asked how I manage it. Surely I must suffer at least some problems, professionally, because of this illness?
My stock answer, in public, is that my illness does not prevent me from carrying out my professional functions or attending class. While this is true, it’s also a tad misleading.
I am able to handle the slings, arrows and chainsaws chucked at me by my vindictive affliction because I follow one of the principles of carpentry and always “cut to the side of the waste”.
Those of you who have taken woodwork classes will remember that first you carefully measure out your piece of wood and draw a pencil line where you plan to cut with your saw. When you apply the saw, though, you don’t cut down the middle of the line – instead you cut to the “waste” side of the pencil line. This ensures that the lumps, bumps and gouges resulting from slight deviations from a straight line don’t eat into the piece you’re working on – they stay in the waste, which you will then throw away. A quick sanding and bob’s your uncle!
So it is thus with my illness. The “waste” side is my personal and social life. Any wobbles, big or small, caused by being ill get diverted into my personal life so that my professional existence remains pristine and untouched. For example If I feel myself getting a bit hypomanic and need to get away from people for a bit, I go to work regardless and cancel social activities for a few days. I put every action in the office through two sets of “is that really a good idea or are you manic?”. If I’ve had to use a lot of energy to ward off paranoia, anxiety or obsessive thoughts on a particular day, I push all that away while I’m in the office and then allow it to explode all over me later on when I’m home, so it’s gone in time for the next shift.The effort often leaves me worn out, but I also deal with that when I get home. Similarly for university work.
I spend whole weekends lying in bed because I am so run down. I need to be ok by Monday, because Monday I start work for another week, or I have lectures. Every day that I choose to get up and carry out my professional duties is a battle and a balancing act to ensure that I am able to do it again the next day. I’m sure many other disabled people feel the same way.
So my employer is happy, but will never know what it takes for me to come to work daily. Because if I were to tell them, they would assume this means that my performance must be sub-par, or that I am always in imminent danger of collapsing in a heap and leaving them one staff member down. That just isn’t the case – my CV speaks for itself.
This illustrates the dilemma faced by many disabled people: if they are honest about how their disabilities affect them, everyone thinks they can’t possibly hold down a job and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. But if they say everything is fine, then the rest of the world tends to assume everything in the garden is lovely and they are disabled in name only. Which isn’t particularly accurate.
D Osborne is in her late 30s and is a married IT manager who lives in Scotland and loves cats. She also has had bipolar disorder for 25 years. It sucks and she doesn’t care who knows it!