Heavy despair weighed me down and dulled my mind. I just wanted to hide. But then I shifted my focus to taking care of myself. Now I’m living proof that, in time, you will recover from the worst of it.
During my dark days, I tried to work. I wanted to work. I had started working at 14 and had always held a job. And I wanted out of the hell I was in. But, time after time, bipolar depression would raise its ugly head. During the depression, my work suffered. I struggled to do a good job. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t.
While training for my new position, I could not grasp what I was being taught. With depression and anxiety, nothing stuck. So I faked it. I pretended that I got it, hoping that at any moment I would. But that moment never came.
One time, I was hired as a store manager for an international chain of coffee shops. Depression dulled my mind. I read and re-read the training manual, but I could not learn. For weeks, I tried to remember the names of the drinks that people were ordering. I tried and tried to learn how to make them correctly. I couldn’t operate the cash register, even though it should have been easy. None of it stuck. My mind was dull and occupied with just trying to hold it together.
I dreaded every workday. It took great effort to go to work. But I did. At the end of each day, I was totally spent. Being there took all my energy. I went home and sat, doing nothing but existing. There was no relief. I just felt the emptiness inside.
Finally, during the fourth week, it was time for an evaluation and a test of what I had learned. I had retained almost nothing. On the day of the evaluation, I had to escape. My feelings inside were embarrassment, disappointment, failure, humiliation, and the strong sense that I had let people down. Before the evaluation, I called in and quit.
I tried several jobs. Each ended badly. Either I left without notice or I quit on the verge of being let go.
Finally, after a long time, I accepted the fact that I could not work. But I would not tell people that. When they asked what I was doing, I said I was semi-retired. I told no one but my family that I was on Social Security disability.
In social settings, I often felt the same way. It was all I could do just to get to social events. Once there, I hid in the shadows. I did my best to be invisible. Soon I would feel the same sense of dread that I felt while trying to work. I felt the same emptiness inside. And then couldn’t take it anymore. Again I just had to escape.
I would slip out without anyone knowing. I would hide in the car and wait for my wife. I would set the seat back and try to recover. Usually it took days.
During these dark days, I know I let people down. I looked normal—I mean, what does bipolar look like? Everything was happening on the inside.
I am doing better now. I work part-time. Full-time is too much for me, and I accept that. I do okay in social situations. I am open about my bipolar disorder now, so I am not trying to fool anyone. The sense of dread is gone. It has been a while since I have had to escape.
So the moral is don’t give up. Sometimes work is too much. It is okay not to put ourselves in situations where we cannot succeed. If we do find ourselves in those situations, it is okay to escape and take care of ourselves. In time, we recover from the worst of it.
It does get better.