Why I Keep My Bipolar Disorder Secret at Work

Posted on August 30, 2013

Last winter, I was declined by five health insurance companies. I am 26, do my preventative screenings like clockwork, and have no physical health problems. As my boss told me when I started working at a small start-up a few months ago that has no group health plan: “You’re young and healthy, I assume you’ll have no problems finding a new plan.” I smiled and weakly said, “of course.”

Five applications and four declines later, I anxiously awaited my last and final letter. The verdict came: Declined. Reason: Bipolar II/ADHD.

So there is my secret: Like millions of other Americans, I have a mental illness.

The most frustrating thing isn’t the insurance—with Cobra I can stay on the plan from my last job for 18 months. It costs $675 a month, but at least for now I have that option, which makes me luckier than many. No, the most frustrating part of my situation is that I can count on one hand the number of people who know about my mental illness. The stigma that surrounds mental health is suffocating, and I don’t feel comfortable talking about it with most of my friends and family, and certainly not my boss or colleagues.

My doctor said I need to see this like having diabetes—it is a lifelong chronic illness that I just have to manage. Instead of insulin, its daily meds, therapy, making sure I get enough sleep, avoiding alcohol, and limiting high-stress situations. None of that advice is compatible with working in an inflexible corporate setting where I can’t be open about this. When I travel for work, I need to make sure the flights aren’t too late or early. When I go to work dinners, it’s awkward not to partake in the expensive bottles of wine going around—I often end up drinking at least one glass, even knowing that it could set off a hypomanic or depressive episode. The constant balancing act of managing my illness and keeping people from knowing about it creates its own stress, further compounding the issue.

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Category(s):Bipolar, Workplace Issues

Source material from The Atlantic