Q: Dear David:
Why has my husband, who has bi-polar for the last 29 years, having such a hard
time with his career, especially these last four years?
Most people with bipolar disorder have trouble handling the stress of daily
work. Work can be a very powerful trigger. It's natural that your husband
might have problems staying in one job for a long time or staying well enough to
work at all. Often the pressure from friends, family, society and self cause
one to feel so guilty over their work that the guilt may trigger even more
symptoms affecting your partner's self-esteem and your relationship. People
with bipolar disorder are stressed by any situation that requires time-scheduled
work even attending school, parenting, or volunteering. Anything with strict
time obligations may cause your husband to experience major symptoms of bipolar
disease. Think of it- while you both have had 29 years of experience with this
disease, what do you know? The occurrence of mood changes and the need
for medication adjustments is periodically predictable; however, the precise
timing, the length and nature of their occurrence is not. As you may or may not
know, bipolar disorder is an illness triggered by stressful events whether the
stress results from a good or bad experience, makes no difference. Can you
imagine a more stimulating or stressful place than an ordinary work environment?
It's not about desire or potential. It's about bipolar disorder.
It's about having to be somewhere at a certain time combined with meeting
deadlines and expectations for eight hours a day. Over time, this has the
potential to make your husband ill. The good news is, your partner's
sensitivity to time pressures can change both ways which means they may also be
able to do more. Rather than re-invent the wheel here, I would like to
recommend an excellent book as a source for developing a work plan that's
comfortable for you and your husband; "Loving Someone With Bipolar Disorder;
Understanding & Helping Your Partner, Fast, Julie A., 2004 (Chapt. 10,
Work and Money).
Maintaining a stable mood is essential to functioning well at your job.
This is, of course, another reason to stay consistent with your medication
regimen. It is equally true that working within a supportive environment is
important to maintaining your mood stability. The key is finding the right
balance of stability in work hours, levels of stress, levels of stimulation, and
satisfaction with the directions your job is taking you. It is possible though
not always simple to find this balance. This is an excellent topic to discuss
on an ongoing basis between your husband and his psychiatrist and/or therapist.
The recommended reading is an excellent resource for both you AND your husband.
If you like, share this email with him and please explain that it is written by
someone who let his own pride stand in the way of accepting help from his own
psychiatrist and eventually for disability for far too long. Good luck. You
are far from alone.
David Schafer, M.Ed.
Published May, 2006