I have bipolar disorder. If my meds are working and the stress level is reasonable (I can accept a tight solid well defined deadline) I deliver superior work. I am a systems engineer and damn good at what I do. I have received national recognition for a system i built. I developed a software architecture that goes to sea with every Navy aircraft carrier.

But when the meds are wavering, and somebody proposes something bat shit stupid, I lose it. The manic part of bipolar kicks in and I am furious, angry, rude, throwing things, and generally being a 100% walking tantrum time bomb.

I have never held a job longer than 3 years before completely alienating everyone in the company or having a meltdown severe enough to either get fired or decide to move myself along.

I have not only burned bridges, I have nuked them. I can’t go into consulting. No people skills for politics and networking. There are pretty much only three major corporations in my area of expertise that I haven’t worked at and they do a lot of defense work. I do not want to design something that kills people and I don’t want the hassle of a security clearance.

And I have just been laid off.

I need some advice.

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9 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    You don’t have a lot of choices beside defense if you have already gotten into trouble at the other companies. Not everything in the defense industry is designed to kill people. And, frankly, there’s plenty of nefarious stuff being built in most industries, so I think, in this case, you can bite the bullet and go to defense.

    However if you stay in a company for four years with no outbursts, I bet one of your former companies will take you back, and then. You can change your career by changing your emotional patterns.

    Here are some suggestions on how to do that.

    1. Disappear.
    I worked for a CEO who was bipolar — which is common among CEOs, by the way — and when he was in bad shape he just disappeared until he could get on even keel again. And we just sort of got used to that he’d disappear for two or three days.

    2. Different types of therapy.
    Anger management training and cognitive behavior therapy might work to help you stop the outbursts in the office.

    3. Making rules for yourself.
    You need better rules for yourself leading up to a yelling fit so you don’t even get close to a yelling fit. Like, people who want to lose weight can’t go out to dinner because it will take too much restraint to stay on the diet.

    For example, you could announce, before the meeting, I am not dealing well emotionally today so I am not going to talk in this meeting. I will only listen. And people will say okay. People can be accommodating as long as you’re not a jerk. Other ideas for rules for yourself are: no talking to people for that day, or not talking in a meeting or no answering emails becuase you feel like you might be bad.

    4. More medication.
    Sometimes you can mix medication with bipolar meds. (You’d have to check with a doctor, of course).
    But you could use pills to calm yourself down on days when you can tell you are a firecracker and you have to be near people. You can take a Xanax or something else which might really decrease your perforamance but it will keep you from yelling. Also, I think respidril can be used for immediate panic. I’m not sure.

    I guess what I’m saying is that you need better rules and plans for yourself so you can’t open your mouth on days when you are not good. And then you need to get a job, maybe even not your dream job, and be nice to people in that job. That will open up more opportunities for you.


  2. downfromtheledge
    downfromtheledge says:

    You might be able to find a support group in your area to hear ideas from other people on how they manage their bipolar.

    There might be an opportunity to fine-tune the meds and figure out how to recognize and better respond to your triggers in this period where you’re not facing the challenge of dealing with co-workers.

  3. anonymous
    anonymous says:

    You need to go into teaching. A lot of teachers/professors are expected to have a certain level of craziness (hey, if you doubt this, just read the NYT recent article: The Professor and the Bikini Model). Also, I think there is a huge demand for people to be systems engineers, or, anything software design related, so there should be a demand for people who can teach that stuff. Then, once established with at least a regular part-time teaching job, you could do consulting on the side. Just don’t think of it as networking, if you know that is something you are not good at. Just stay working and on target in your field in any way you can as you never know what will come up at another company or institution that is not defense related.

    Also, please do not use bipolar as an excuse, I have never been bipolar so I don’t know what it is like but I have had experience with other disorders and my own temper related issues. You are only limited by that diagnosis to the extent that you use it to define yourself. Best of luck.

  4. Cora
    Cora says:


    Penelope, lots of the ideas you are talking about are covered in a mental health model called wellness recovery action planning. It basically means making a plan covering what you need to stay well (Meds, exercise etc) how you and others can tell you are becoming unwell, what you and others can do. You write all this down and share it with a small group of ‘supporters’. It helps people feel in control of their own symptoms and well being.

  5. Karen
    Karen says:

    Regarding the above posts, especially the CEO who could “disappear” for 2 or 3 days at a time when not feeling well, this is not an analogous example for the “rest of us.” I don’t mean to be critical. I assume your cavalier attitude is from lack of understanding rather than dismissiveness.

    I’m BPII who has generally been a high performer and top earner (well, $100,000+ a year) In my last job, I had mistakenly co.nfided my BP II diagnosis to a colleague. I felt safe doing so because his wife suffered from an unspecified mental illness that kept her from holding a job to the point that he had to leave work early or pretend to work from home to care for her, sometimes 3 times a week. He constantly and loudly talked about her issues. Because of this, he was counseled for chronic absenteeism while still billing the client for this time, so he threw me under the bus.

    Out of the blue, my supervisor demanded to know why every Thursday I needed an extra 15 minutes for lunch (I was seeing my therapist), time I made up by staying later that day. I thought this was odd to question. This put me in a tight spot and was counseled by our shared consulting firm’s management for this and taking 3 sick days in a 2-month period when I literally couldn’t get out of bed. I told them that those days were due to migraines brought on by trying a new medication for a chronic illness that needed time to work. Then I was flat-out asked “what is wrong” with me; in other words, what was my specific diagnosis? I was caught off-guard and just *couldn’t* bring myself to say, “I’m Bipolar.” Instead I told them I had a neurological illness that was under control by medication, but their conclusion was pretty clear.

    I was offered the opportunity to transfer to another project that was open if I wanted to leave the current role, and I agreed. (The first job’s environment was extremely hostile and chaotic.) Guess what? That new job never appeared. I’m single, 45, and have been out of work for 5 months. I had no protected rights or unemployment benefits because I was a contractor. I have no financial safety net and am about to lose my apartment because I have blown through my savings. Thank god my pdoc and therapist have waived their fees all this time.

    Taking time off to settle yourself is a rare option for 99% of us. The stigma of being BP is very real and if you aren’t a full-time employee, discrimination in the workplace is legal. Let me also point out that I was never counseled for poor work performance.

  6. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    I totally understand how your feeling. I just got fired from my job because of my anger and being outspoken to the management staff. This is the second job I have been fired from in the last 6 years. I also can only tolerate people I work for or with for no more then 4 years. I’m very good at what I do, but always think I’m the best at it. This craziness always seems to happen around my menstral cycle and it’s very hard for me to control my behavior. I even tell myself in meetings not to say a word, but these people are so stupid with their ideas that I can’t control my outburst. My medication helps me for 2 weeks out of the month. I feel crazy when I’m like this. I talked to my doc and my OBGYN about medication during my cycle but nothing has worked. Lesson learned everyone’s replaceable and a company can fire you for anything.

  7. BP4life
    BP4life says:

    This hits home in so many ways. I see the advice given is pretty good so far. Although, I have to disagree with using Bipolar as an excuse.

    I was diagnosed in my thirties. I have always been a firecracker and had occasional mood swings that resulted in not so great consequences. I always seem to yell when I get upset. Well, on the phone. My husband tells me but, I can’t hear myself yelling. I just want to get my point across! Anyway, I have been fired several times for my behavior too. I was fired for making an outburst on Facebook and this time I yelled at a Manager because I was having problems with another staff member and they owed me hours. It is a stressful job I am a nurse. I work in large hospitals with a large type of patient population. I decided to get into Travel and Agency work to make ends meet when my husband was laid off from work. It isn’t like a nurse who has had the same job in one place for several years and has support. Plus, management treats you differently. All of this on too of life is not easy. When stress triggers there is it *BOOM*!

    I would love to learn how to control it. Even on medications I have became angry. Although I haven’t tried everything. Xanax sounds good but, I don’t like to disclose my disorder for the simple fact that I get drug tested and most places will wonder why I am taking narcotics. When I don’t work it isn’t like I can afford medication so it gets worse.

    I will keep following this page to get some insight on what to do. Hopefully, things will get better for you, me, and everyone!

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    My sister is bi polar 1 – there is a shot you can take called respirdol consta it works wonders gives you your life back. You take it 1 or 2 times a month depending on your diagnosis. Hope that helps.

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