Mental Health Day = Medical Leave
When It’s More than a Day of Rest
I’m currently on a brief medical leave from my day job because I just can’t cope. I’m trying to avoid a complete breakdown. Having bipolar affects multiple aspects of life, and maintaining a job is one of them. I just can’t seem to complete all the necessary tasks…at work or at home. My energy and mental capacity dwindles throughout day. I’ve received emails at work telling me where I’m slipping; however, I’m slipping more than they realize. I awaken at 4:45am and leave by 6:10 to avoid monstrous traffic, and I’m home again before 5:00. Then, I have more work to do, of course, because a teacher’s job isn’t just during school hours. School hours are for teaching and meetings, yet by noon I begin to struggle. After typical work hours, it’s time for more parent contact, lesson plans, grading, and ancillary paperwork. And, lesson plans are not just a lesson plan a day… it’s four lesson plans per day due to the types of classes I teach; that’s twenty lesson plans per week.
Where I’m coming up short…the crucial after-hours work. It’s this work that is the most important, yet it’s during the time of day when I’m at my worst. I’m physically and mentally exhausted; it’s truly debilitating in every sense of the word. Continuing at less than half capacity is nearly impossible. My energy is zapped. Once home, it’s not just continuing schoolwork. It’s making sure my son has done his homework, it’s small chores, it’s dinnertime; and I’m near tears because I know even with the schoolwork I am capable of doing, I will not finish it all. It’s a futile situation. Then, I make an effort to retire to bed early enough in hopes of getting the amount of sleep I need in order to function the next day. Sometimes that happens; sometimes it doesn’t. When my alarm goes off again at 4:45am, I fight the tears in order to push through to ready myself for work yet again. Due to time constraints, I’m not fully recuperating mentally and physically from day to day.
Weekend Relief…there’s a bit.
Even on weekends, I miss out. Usually, I take most of Saturday attempting to recuperate mentally and physically from the workweek; hardly anything else is accomplished. My husband and child have weekends out and about…movies, mall, dinner with relatives, friends…enjoying life. For me, it’s a constant mountain of must-do’s. Teacher tasks. Laundry to wash, fold, iron, and put away. Cleaning (even though I have a tremendous amount of help at home). If I do push myself to interact with the outside world, my mind is constantly thinking of what I “should” be doing for work and home because I’ve yet to catch up; the guilt is overwhelming. It’s difficult to fully enjoy an activity not deemed essential. Something’s gotta give one way or the other, and I most often choose to do tasks for work and for home. It’s a dismal way to live.
Bipolar and Unemployment
“Bipolar disorder is associated with high rates of unemployment and job-related difficulties. A survey by the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association showed that approximately 60% of individuals with bipolar disorder [are] unemployed, even among patients with college degrees.” I fight daily to not be in that 60%, but I often fear I will be…and not by my choice. Most jobs don’t offer the flexibility needed for those with bipolar. “A study… show[s] that a diagnosis of bipolar disorder [is] associated with a 7-fold likelihood of missing work because of illness.” Even before my official diagnosis, I’ve had numerous academic years where I’ve taken more sick days than allotted by my employer. This results in paycheck deductions and most likely judgment by employers and other colleagues. Two different years I took nine weeks off, using FMLA. This time, I’m hoping a week plus sporadic mental health days will do the trick. Time will tell.
Planning Around the Effects of Mental Illness
Life for me, battling mental illness, is taxing. Even when I start the day with being optimistic regarding what I plan to accomplish, that hope often vanishes before the day is half spent. I honestly can only handle a couple tasks a day…no matter how little time they take. Sometimes just one task, depending upon what it is. It was only a couple weeks ago when I heard someone refer to herself as a “spoonie”. I had no idea what that meant, so I turned to my trusty friend Google. Google introduced me to Christine Miserandino who wrote “The Spoon Theory”. It focuses on the fact that a big “difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to.” I, too, must force myself to make choices and think about things differently due to how mental illness affects me. “It’s hard… I hate feeling left out, having to choose to stay home, or to not get things done that I want to.” I’ve missed out on many events in life, both big and small, because I mentally or physically can’t manage. And, right now, I’m missing out on earning a living.
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Originally published at lifesodaily.com on October 31, 2017.