The Challenges of Working While Dealing with Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar often presents challenges for people in the work force.  However, options such as freelancing can allow you to be productive while working toward wellness. 

By J.B. Burrage


I decided to go into self-employment years ago, when I realized I wanted to publish my own books, but I didn’t seriously consider it until I left the Army.  Then, I realized I truly no longer had a job and kind of lost a sense of purpose. After that, I faced years of obstacles to get to the point that I am at now, and most of that was because of my untreated and sometimes non-compliant bipolar disorder.  While hypomania caused me to make reckless and impulsive business decisions that cost me a ton of money and almost ruined my name, depression caused me to neglect the very thing I enjoyed the most and wanted to go into business for in the first place: creative writing.

I know people who work “regular” jobs who have bipolar, and are doing quite well. I realized that I’m not one of them. For me, freelancing made more sense. I can work my own hours, I can work from anywhere, and I don’t even have to leave the house unless it’s for a meeting. However, it takes discipline because you’re running and managing a business, most likely by yourself.  The ups and downs of having bipolar can make or break your business, if you let it.  Episodes can affect your money-making potential. No money; no food on the table.

The thing I try to get people to understand about the challenges of having bipolar in the workplace, or having any mental health condition for that matter, is how far behind our workforce is when it comes to how to handle an employee who’s sick. Because an employer doesn’t see it, it automatically doesn’t exist, and it’s probably an excuse to get out of work; that is until that employee is committed to the psych ward.  When compared to physical health, mental health in the workplace is something like a neglected stepchild; they tend to be invisible until they explode on the surface, they are simply ignored.  They are both equally important issues, but unfortunately it’s not seen that way. If you’re on a new medication regimen and it causes you to oversleep, or you’re depressed or manic and you can’t come to work for a few days, you can almost guarantee that you won’t have a job when you get back.

If you’re still able to work, but can’t handle working in a regular job situation, self-employment could be the way to go. But before you say, “I quit,” there are things that you must consider. For example, if your job offers a pretty good health plan for the treatment of your mental health, I would think twice about leaving my job, unless the stress and anxiety just isn’t worth it. I was lucky to leave a career that has a system in place to help with the treatment of certain mental health conditions and went into the Veterans Affairs system, where I receive good care with a great treatment team.

With self-employment, you’re responsible for everything on your own. Your health care, your paychecks, your overall lifestyle, all of that you’re responsible for on your own. It can be stressful. You have to learn your balance. It’s simply not for everyone. But for people with mental health issues who are still looking to make a contribution to this society, it’s worth looking into.

I kind of woke up one morning and said out-of-the-blue, “I’m starting The JB Burrage Agency”, after I already started one business that I decided to turn into an Atlanta-based production company, called 10th Avenue Media Visions, LLC.  I knew that I had to have an incorporated business though, so I could provide a good service to people by using my writing skills, which is something I have possessed and developed for at least 25 years. With my business degree and Army logistics experience, I could’ve gone into the workforce, but at the time I was suffering so much from constant mood swings and side effects of various medications that I knew I wouldn’t be too good to potential employers. It just made more sense to use my writing skills and my sense of entrepreneurship to try this experiment of launching my own venture, and to try to reach as many people as possible with my work.

I’m not a healed man. Anyone with bipolar disorder knows that they will never be healed. I’m not the perfect example of a compliant bipolar patient, and I don’t portray myself to be.  I’ve said that repeatedly, and people close to me knows this. But I try to take care of myself because I know that deviating from my treatment plan affects my chances of successfully running my business the way it needs to be ran. I have to, otherwise what’s the point in doing this?

I face challenges daily; some soul-crushing debilitating or super amped-up high. Sometimes I wake up wondering why I’m doing this, especially after spending a month and a half in a really bad depression not too long ago. But in the end, I’m doing it as a challenge to myself. I’m standing up to my illness by doing something I love, with the determination to win. I just want to be successful at what I’m doing despite the odds stacked against me.


Read more about bipolar and the workplace:

What to Know About Disclosing Your Bipolar at Work

Bipolar & Finding Meaningful Employment – Work for Someone Else or Create your Own Job

The ABCs of Disclosure in the Workplace

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