Telling Your Boss You are Bipolar: Is There a Reason?   2 comments

A lot of times we just hear about people with bipolar illness who are suffering.  Well, let me rephrase that. All bipolars suffer to some degree, because no medication or cocktail thereof can make us feel 100%.  And even if you are one of the lucky ones in whom medication completely abates all your symptoms, chances are you still have to deal with some unsavory side effects.  Nobody gets a free ride.

But there are a great deal of bipolars in the everyday work force in all kinds of occupations.  Jobs with responsibility over others, jobs with pressure to meet certain goals, jobs in customer service, jobs which require intense concentration, jobs that have a major impact on people’s lives, jobs that are boring and repetitive and the list goes on.  And many of these people function quite well.  So the question is, at some point do you tell your employer you are bipolar?  And if so, why?

I think we can all agree it’s not something we mention in a job interview.  Although it’s illegal to discriminate against the mentally ill, and theoretically we should be able to say we are bipolar without reprise, not all bosses have graduated from referring to bipolar illness as the medieval sounding manic depression.  Or maybe they have someone in their life with bipolar who is not functioning well.  It can even be they just don’t want to bring someone on staff that might have an “incident” in front of an important client.  In their mind you are a wild card that could be running around the office yelling at an imaginary person named Marvin, overturning desks and firing a staple gun at your co-workers.

However now you’re in the job and doing quite well.  Your manager is happy with your performance and you are making friends with your colleagues.  Your whole work environment seems to be liberal and accepting.  So one day you are alone with your boss in the car coming back from a meeting and he or she confides in you about a family member having a hard time with bipolar illness.  Do you suddenly rip off your clothes and expose yourself in blue tights, rocket boots and red cape with a big BP on your chest and offer expert assistance?  Do you reveal yourself so your boss can see how normal a person with bipolar can actually be?  Do you tell your boss you are bipolar so if you ever do have an issue, they’ll be more understanding because they have a family member suffering from the same illness?  Do you uncover you illness in the hope of getting accolades for doing such a good job while suffering from such a potentially debilitating mental disorder?  Or, do you say anything at all?

I think the question is, what do you hope to accomplish by spilling the pills?  Will telling your boss you are bipolar help you advance in the workplace, or will it make them interpret everything you do through a bipolar kaleidoscope?  Are you branding yourself  “handle with care” and spend the rest of your employment in a corporate playpen?  Each individual needs to ask themselves these questions before they do the big reveal.

The one thing I believe is that it is not wrong to keep your bipolar status to yourself.  You are not hiding it nor are you acting as if you are ashamed of it.  It’s personal information you are not reacquired to share.  Your boss is not your doctor.  You don’t have to tell them if you have high blood pressure or micro-valve prolapse, so why then are you compelled to tell them you are bipolar, especially if you have it under control?

Of course, this is a personal decision.  But it’s not something I would rush into without looking at all the possible outcomes.  There is no time table for making a choice like this.  And your boss could love your honesty and bravery for being so successful while dragging around the added weight of the bipolar ball and chain.  Or, you could end up stagnating in your current position forever.  It’s a calculated risk.  And, you’re under no obligation to take it.

2 responses to “Telling Your Boss You are Bipolar: Is There a Reason?

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  1. Interesting topic! (And something I want to discuss on my own blog at some point)

    I’m extremely private when it comes to my mental health. It wasn’t until four and a half years into my job that I mentioned anything to my boss about it. I wasn’t looking for sympathy, but I was looking for a bit of understanding and flexibility – in regards to attending doctor’s appointments during working hours, and having my work load lightened a little while changing from one medication to another (the first being an SSRI, which are revolting to withdraw from). I was fairly lucky for two reasons. 1) My boss understands confidentiality and 2) My boss has some close-to-home experience with mental health issues – which I didn’t know about until I spilled the beans and my boss was able to offer some advice.

    Trust is a HUGE factor here, as is respect.

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