Looking after your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical.
I’ve never been the best at doing either. I’m the kind of person that will just suffer in silence and get on with things, and part of what helped me do that was work. So, when it came to the point where it was work that was causing the problem, I had to make the difficult decision to quit.
A bit of background; I was diagnosed with Bipolar in 2008. After years of going up and down between manic and depressive episodes and all the problems that came with it, I decided to finally go to someone for help. After months of doctor and psychiatric appointments, I finally got a diagnosis.
In a small way, finally putting a name to what I was going through helped, but there was still a lot of work to be done.
With a diagnosis, it was time to get medicated. I never wanted to have to take anything just to function, and it was a struggle for me to get it into my head that it was something that I’d have to do. So at first, when the first type of medication did nothing but make me throw up, it was tempting to give up. After a few different kinds of meds, I finally found one that not only helped my moods but also helped me gain weight -something that I’d struggled with in the past and was always stupidly underweight.
Now on medication, that made me a little more stable, I was going to regular psychiatrist appointments and was finally getting in control of my brain.
The next few years were difficult, that’s an understatement, sometimes it was pure hell. But I got through it, usually by getting on with things and working. In this time, I’d been on other medications when things got hard, been to God knows how many doctors and psych appointments, but the one stable thing in my life was my job.
I’d previously worked at a cinema, but when I got an offer to work in IT -something that I actually wanted to do- I jumped at the chance. I was at the same company for 10 years through good and hell times, up and down moods, alone and in relationships.
IT was what I did, it was what I enjoyed, and it was the one stable thing in my life. I was able to turn off my brain when I turned on a computer and focus on the job. Most people at work didn’t know what was happening beneath my grumpy exterior, I didn’t really want them to know. Bipolar was still something that I was coming to terms with myself, so having to explain to other people was just something that I couldn’t deal with. A select few people knew, but that was it.
As time went on, I continued to go up and down. At times I tried to harm myself, or I wanted to stop taking my meds, but I got through it with the help of some close friends. Those close to me that I actually saw how they cared about me when I didn’t.
When the company that I worked at closed its doors, I was left without a job for a few months. I enjoyed having a few months to myself, to write (this is when I self-published Creatures), play games, watch movies and generally relax. By now, I was also with Alex, someone who I felt complete with. She also has Bipolar, so we helped each other through. But, after a few months of doing my own thing, I started to feel like I needed to get back into work. I missed the one thing that had helped me through the most challenging times of my life.
I got the chance to work with a company that I had worked with at my previous job, and who I had wanted to work for for a while. I was happy that I finally got a job there, and everything seemed to be getting better.
But, as with most things in my life, the good didn’t last. I had been at the company for a few months when my brain – for no good reason – started to rebel. I began to feel down and really started to struggle to do what I was supposed to do at work.
The job involved fixing computers, this wasn’t the issue. The problem was that I had to talk to people on the phone – something that I’m not great at – and this slowly started to take its toll on me. Along with this, the travel was also getting harder, especially when some days it could take me an hour maybe two to get home at night. I tried not to let this get to me, but it was eroding me from within.
Eventually, it got to the point where I had to admit to myself that I needed a break and despite really not wanting to, I had to take some time off sick. As soon as I decided this, it was almost as if my brain decided to open the flood gates, and I had an extremely nasty depressive episode.
During these few months, I was going to appointments here there and everywhere, changing meds, and trying to relax and recharge, but it was a long slow struggle.
After going back to work when I thought I was ready, things just didn’t feel the same. I was supported by a few great people there, but some weren’t so great. Those people, it wasn’t like they didn’t seem to know how to deal with my issues when I needed help, it was almost as if I was the problem and they couldn’t be arsed with me, which just made things harder.
I struggled through another few months, some days easier than others. But eventually, I ended up off sick again. This time I wasn’t off as long as the first and managed to get back sooner, but things still weren’t right. By this time I’d been going to work, coming home and sleeping. I couldn’t function at night because I was exhausted from the day and travelling to and from the office.
I spent a few months trying to figure out where the problem was. I slowly narrowed things down, but changing things in my life until I was pretty much down to the travelling and the job itself.
When things in the world went tits up, and Covid-19 made its appearance, we started to work from home. For a time, working this way and not having to travel made a real difference to my moods, and I began to feel better. I felt like I’d finally found where the problem was, and I was making some progress in getting in control of my life again.
This, unfortunately, didn’t last. As time went on, I started to go downhill again. I spent a bit of time trying to stick it out, telling myself that the feeling wouldn’t last and I would feel better soon. But when that didn’t happen, I had to look at other solutions.
After discussing it all with Alex, and giving myself a period to work things out, I decided it would be the best thing for my mental health to leave my job. This decision was tough because work had been the one constant thing that had helped me through my worst times, so now, realising that it was work that was causing the problem was difficult.
One day, I rang my manager, explained how I was feeling and that I was handing in my notice. After hanging up this call, I immediately felt a release of pressure inside.
The next month was hard, and I couldn’t help but second guess my decision, but I always came around to the inevitable conclusion that it was the best course of action.
So, that brings us to now. I have been out of the job for around 6 months and – not counting the pain from my torn labrum and everything that goes along with it – I’ve never felt better.
I’ve got into a new routine with my writing, was finally able to release The Next Stage, and work on other projects. Of course, there have still been difficult times, but I dread to think how I would have been now had I stayed in the job. I have a feeling it would have gone downhill rapidly, and I just wasn’t prepared to put myself, or Alex, through that.
I’m now able to write full time, do things around the house and not be constantly knackered at night wanting to just go to bed. I felt like I’d finally made progress in getting myself to how I had been before.
Bipolar is something I have to live with for the rest of my life. So there are always going to be the ups and downs, but it’s about minimising these and being a bit more in control of what I can to make that happen.
As difficult as things are at times, when people ask me if I would get rid of the Bipolar if I could, I still say no. I am not this disorder, but it’s a part of me and has shaped some of my life. I don’t know who I would be if I got rid of it and became a “normal” person – whatever that means. There are things in my life that I wish I had never been through, of course, there are, but they’ve happened, and I got through them to still be here today.
There is always the possibility of manic or depressive moods hanging over my head, but I don’t focus on it. Now being happy in my life, and actually wanting to be here, gives me more reason to fight back and get through the worst times.
If you’re struggling, I hope you read this and realise that things can get better. Even if, like I used to be, you don’t feel like you have anything to live for, things can change, and as cliché as it is; things can get better.
I have been alone in life sometimes for years, but I’m still here and still fighting.