What It's Like Having a Job and Having a Mental Illness

I think one of the most difficult things to accomplish living with a mental illness is holding down a job. Some people call me high functioning because I've always been good at whatever I put my mind to, including any of my careers. This probably is due to how I was raised when it comes to work ethic. I put a lot of pride in the work I do, no matter what the job is. I've gone from washing dishes at a sandwich shop in a podunk New Jersey town to being a top female adult performer to expediting at a fine dining restaurant in the middle of Hollywood. No matter what I've done - I do my damnedest. But that's not easy living with BP1 and BPD. I confuse my coworkers. I have days where it's almost impossible to show my face at work. I get embarrassed. From the outside it looks like being successful comes naturally to me, but it's a painful struggle everyday to not check myself into a hospital instead of showing up to work.

What's a struggle for me when it comes to work is I am around people who don't know me the way Zak does. I can't casually let people know what mental state I'm currently in because they won't understand. “I'm manic” or “I'm depressed” or “I'm having a rage fit” aren't understood, and frankly, not anyone's business. But it leaves me in this uncomfortable limbo where I'm wearing a mask until I get back to normal. The facade of holding it together, especially in a high stress job like mine, is key. That doesn't make it any more painful to feel like you're screaming from the inside out. I am guilty of saying “How are you?” The stupid American custom of saying hello. Dozens of times a day I'm forced to say “Okay, you?” I'm not okay. Some days I truly am but the days I'm not - I have to lie. I recently started saying “Hanging in there”. Sure, I get weird looks and I'm sure people are sick of hearing that - but that's exactly “How I am”. I'm hanging in there.

Like I said, I'm really good at whatever I put my mind to. My dad says it's just a thing I have, an “it” factor that has taken me far when I pursue something. I'd like to believe that, but I also know I just work my ass off. That's how I was raised. That's how I've always done things. It feels amazing to get promotions, hear compliments from my bosses or be praised by customers. All of that makes me wonder though. How much better could I be if I didn't struggle to stay in reality? How much better could I be if it was easy for me to get up in the morning? How much better could I be if existing wasn't this cruel cycle? I won't ever be my best on a downswing and I'll never be better than when on an upswing. It's honestly something painful to come to terms with. I know I should focus on what I am capable of and what I have achieved. I'm not letting either disease hold back my aspirations but it's ignorant to assume I can just ignore the feeling that I could be so much more, so much better, if I could just be normal.

Sometimes when I get compliments on my work I just want to break down. Selfishly I just want someone else to know how difficult it is for me. I know that's no ones business, no one wants to hear a sob story. I guess it's just a product of this intense feeling of loneliness that this disease floods my mind with. Sometimes I want to say “Fuck yeah, I did do great” but I don't let myself have that win. I keep my head down and keep pushing because I know, deep inside, my full potential is still less than what I could be if I didn't have Bipolar or BPD.

I affect the people I work with. Whether I'm manic, normal, depressed or angry. I've been there long enough where people notice. I'm pretty open about my mental illness when the topic comes up but that doesn't make me feel any less responsible for the way people see me and all my different personalities. That doesn't make up for how awkward I make things with my morbid jokes about dying because it's actually something I fixate on but have to play off as fun and games. Sometimes I just try to speak as little as possible all shift because at least then no one knows which mood I'm in that day. I honestly feel bad for my coworkers. I'm sure they don't notice as much as I'm assuming they do, but in general, I am uncomfortable in any group of people I step into. I feel like an alien.

To the people who work with someone struggling with mental illness: I know I don't have to apologize but I still feel like I do. The mood swings are the least of my worries when it comes to holding it together at work. Sometimes even showering before work is next to impossible. It's the worst when I disassociate there because I need to be on the ball constantly. Sometimes it feels like I'm hanging on to reality by a string but if I keep going I'll make it through the shift. No, nothing "happened" to make me so depressed. No, I don't have "anything exciting" going on to account for my exuberant behavior. Sometimes I'll lie and say I'm hungover so my quiet, slow, run down movements make sense. I just want you to know I never want to let any of my teammates down. I'll always work my hardest despite my mental state at the moment.

I'm not even sure why I'm writing this. I was just sitting at work looking around and wondering what this feeling inside of me is but then I remembered it. It's very familiar. It's that feeling you get when you first walk into class as a kid in a new school, when you start a sport and go to practice with people you've never seen before, when you walk into the cafeteria and everyone stares at you or when you trip in a crowded room. All normal feelings of isolation and being foreign. The painful thing at this point is that feeling doesn't go away. On the inside I am still that girl walking alone into the cafeteria with paranoia and feelings of being alienated. Not because of anything someone has done to me. It's just a feeling I've lived with my entire life. I used to think it was my family. Then I thought it was my school. I thought it was the parties I went to. I thought it was church. I got older and I thought it was my job. But it was none of them. I've always felt like an alien in a group of people.

Hopefully nothing about my disorders screw up the job I’m at currently. I have this intense fear that I’ll end up in the hospital one day for whatever reason and then I’ll have to explain to my bosses why. I’m not afraid of being open about my mental illness and I’m not afraid of how people see me because of it. I just want to be the best at what I do and it does feel quite humiliating knowing I have to surpass the boundaries this disease gives me to achieve what I want. I just really love my job and when I cycle it gets increasingly difficult to hold it together and I don’t want anything affecting my performance. But I guess I’ve gotten this far.