Planning your career for bipolar

Reposted from other blog from 11-05-15 (advice is fairly UK-centric) and is a bit assumptive as it presumes you’re in a place medically where you can have some sort of career.  Good advice if you’re there though.

So no one told you life was gonna be this way….

Traditional careers advice tends to assume you have a bunch of skills geared up towards some job you have trained for, then it tells you “hey, you can do that job you trained for.” The other purpose of traditional careers advice is to get you into a training program.

If you’ve got bipolar, you need to plan a bit differently. If there’s one benefit to having the right diagnosis, it’s knowing how you need to plan work around it.

If you’ve gone down the academic route at school/uni and now want to get a job that’s not volunteering, you will need to take a different angle towards getting a job, because all that education funding has gone to “apprenticeships” which are generally only open to 16-24 year olds. And you only get one student loan, not that they tell you that when they’re trying to push you into any old Higher Education course to make the school’s “leavers destinations” look good. This can be extremely stressful, and if you don’t want to get stuck waiting tables, waiting for your life to start, you need to come up with a new way of planning your career.

Here’s my opinion: Skills can be learned once you know what job you want. Experience can be gained. Working out what categories of job to get is the first step.

I don’t know if it’s just me or if it’s lots of people with bipolar but I’ve managed to get into a cycle of getting a job, keeping it for somewhere between 6 weeks and 6 months, then losing my job due to mental health reasons, then finding a new job, keeping it for somewhere between 6 weeks and 6 months, then losing my job again. There’s been a couple of exceptions, jobs I kept for longer, but this is the general pattern.

To be honest I always thought it was what rapid cycling meant. But it isn’t.

After the last failed attempt at teaching science to high school kids again for 3 months this year, I decided that I needed to make a longer term game plan where I could be stably unstable. A term I really liked was “bipolar IN order rather than bipolar in DISorder.” A really important part of that for me is finding gainful employment that fits around the ups and the downs, but which isn’t just a meaningless name-badge job. I can get those in my sleep. I have a collection of name badges to rival the characters on Wayne’s World. And access cards. I assume they’re all deactivated. I keep them in my keepsakes bag.

Mostly I really want a career, it’s all I’ve ever wanted in life, only there are so many choices and I want to do ALL OF THEM! I will do a post on my full work history at some point because I want to review certain jobs in terms of their suitability for bipolar, because some jobs are FAR more appropriate than others. Obviously it’s down to you to decide if that fits with your specific skillset, interests etc.

So I came up with, rather than a specific job, a set of categories of jobs that need to be fulfilled:

1. A job for when I’ve got loads of energy:

Examples: Ice skater, archaeologist, gardener, construction, car mechanic, plumber.

2. A job for when I need to just turn up (preferably in a uniform so I don’t have to make a decision) and follow a process:

Examples: Shop assistant, receptionist, admin, secretarial (low end), pharmacy dispenser, data entry, delivery/dispatch/courier, taxi driver.

3. A job for when I’m bursting with ideas:

Examples: Writer, journalist, jewellery maker, interior designer, garden designer, business manager.

4. A job for when I’m unable to be around people e.g. due to anxiety:

Examples: Freelance journalist, jewellery maker, ????? (when it’s really bad, the extent of my anxiety makes it impossible to leave the house, but also impossible to see people, so I need to work out what PAID jobs I could maybe do during this time. People have suggested benefits, but if you can’t leave the house, you can’t sign on, but I’m never like this for long enough to qualify for disability and I don’t want to anyway).

As you can see, I need to train for more than one job and rotate between those jobs once I’m trained.  There’s something a careers adviser will never tell you.  If they did, I wouldn’t have taken twelve years of my working life to get to this point.  I need to emphasize that if you’re not at a point where you’re able to work, this isn’t the time to do this.

I would say finding what categories you need your jobs to fulfil, and working backwards, is the most important thing to boost your chances of finding some sort of gainful employment that meets your needs, and the better a job meets your needs, the better chance you will have of keeping it. Getting the skills should really be towards the end of the decision making process, not the beginning, otherwise you’re just flailing around learning stuff when you don’t know if a job will be satisfying or even whether you’ll still be able to face turning up in two months’ time.  Done that a lot.

I’d love to hear how other people have done it because I feel like this was the big missing piece of the puzzle as to why my working life was so pointless until they started investigating my mental state! Also your experiences can really help others stuck in this same rut.  Are you working (I’m not at the moment)? How do you approach career planning to accommodate bipolar disorder? How have you planned your career or how you are going to plan it?  Share in the comments if you’d like to!


Author: MsAdventure

I am a twentysomething travel, photography and beauty blogger who occasionally writes about other topics. Within travel, I tend to write mostly about Europe because all the other travel bloggers seem to write about South East Asia. As a writer, I have written articles that are published in Offbeat Bride and on Buzzfeed, and as a photographer, I have taken photographs that are published in local and national news outlets in the UK. I have a blog at

4 thoughts on “Planning your career for bipolar”

  1. I bounced around from job to job, then my last job i was there 6 years and only didnt get fired (for poor attendance) bc i was really skilled at it. But then my mental health issues got too big and i had to quit after two hospitalizations and now im a new less stress job. I just use a lot of coping skills but generally i get in trouble bc i miss work a lot… Still trying to figure out how not to miss work

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    1. Yeah that’s why I’ve not even considered applying for jobs between March and last week. I started applying again because I thought I need to get myself out there, and so I’m going for a part time retail job at the moment although I’d like more out of a career, just because I need to get a routine going. I’m not even considering going back to teaching in high schools and I don’t think I ever will, every time I do I just break myself again.

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