Guilt When Bipolar Interferes with Work

June 16, 2015 Natasha Tracy

I have major guilt when my bipolar interferes with work. I have this thing where I think that bipolar is just an excuse for laziness and that if I was a just a better person bipolar wouldn’t interfere with my work. Even though I know this isn’t true, it seems to be the only thing I think about when bipolar rears its ugly head and deleteriously affects my work.

Recently, Bipolar Interfered with Work

As I wrote last week, I have been in a depression following a hypomania and I consider this depression to be worse than my average depression. I feel like I have slept/rested, literally weeks, of my life away. My brain just feels like it exploded and now it’s trying, painfully, slowly, to put itself back together.

And this bipolar brain explosion has affected my work. Don’t get me wrong, I have done everything I can do to try and keep up and make deadlines and do all the snazzy things I’m supposed to do. But in spite of all of that, I have to admit that bipolar has interfered with my work and I feel guilty about it.

Guilt Over Missed Deadlines Because of Bipolar

Bipolar episodes can interfere with work but when bipolar interferes with work, do you feel guilty? What do you do with guilt from bipolar interfering with work.I missed a recent deadline for a set of articles and I was really beside myself with guilt. Honestly, I knew this client would understand – this client is great that way – but I was beating myself up something fierce. I basically told the client – while trying not to cry on the phone – that I knew my performance had lapsed, that I knew that wasn’t acceptable and that I was working to get back to normal as soon as possible. And I apologized, profusely.

Should There Be Guilt When Bipolar Interferes with Work?

My client, did understand, as I anticipated, but then said something even better. My client said that if I had had a heart attack, I wouldn’t be apologizing and there is no need to apologize for a bipolar episode either. Being sick happens to people. It happens to everyone, in fact. This illness of mine just happens to be a mental illness. Which, while I admit this is the same, doesn’t feel the same.

I think the issue in my brain is that I’m essentially always sick. Bipolar here, now and forever. I will never not be bipolar and so I will stand on a precipice of an episode every day for the rest of my life. It feels so unfair to ask an employer to withstand the uncertainty and frequently illness associated with that. I sort of feel bad, guilty, for my clients that way.

No Guilt Over Work Interfered With By Bipolar

I know this is me being hard on myself. I get it. I’m like that. I’m a person that feels guilty about not being perfect. It’s just sort of part of my DNA.

That said, seeing as my client gave me a couple of days of slack there’s no reason why I shouldn’t too. I really have been working to get back on track the best way I know how and while that isn’t particularly good enough or fast enough, it is what it is. Bipolar can’t be rushed.

So, upon reflection, I see that this guilt is really a part of the self-stigma that many of us feel about our bipolar disorder. It’s part of the way mental illness isn’t treated like any other illness. It’s part of the internalized “lesser than” feelings that many of us feel. See that, then, means that I can stand up to it. While I’m sure I’ll still feel guilty and continue to apologize, I will also try to give myself a break. That will aid in recovery, too.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2015, June 16). Guilt When Bipolar Interferes with Work, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 20 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

June, 17 2015 at 12:38 pm

It sounds like you have a very understanding client but unfortunately people who are understanding about bipolar disorder can be few and far between. It's difficult to overcome the self-stigma when the messages you get from those in your workplace are lacking in understanding and empathy. I've had managers look at me like I've just told them the dog ate my homework when I've said I'm being hospitalised. If I am fortunate enough to have a period of sustained wellness I feel like my standing within the company I work for comes crashing down when I do then need to take time off. After years of prejudice and being passed over for promotion I've gotten past my guilt on the not so healthy thought that I just don't feel I owe these jerks anything.

June, 18 2015 at 1:09 pm

Reading this, I thought you were reading my mind. I not only feel the 'laziness guilt' about work, but also about working out. I always feel like I have to come up with a 'legitimate' excuse other than this disorder that I have to live with. I haven't told anyone at work about my condition b/c of my fear of stigma. So, it's like hiding a part of myself away, constantly worrying that the truth will surface one day. Especially during hypomanic &/or depressive episodes.
I think that it is a hard pill to swallow for someone who's been taught or told that when there's something wrong you should be able to go fix it. Particularly if you aren't used to having someone there to help you & you have to fend for yourself. But, there is no fixing bipolar. There is adjusting, adapting, coping & managing; no fixing.
Thank you so much for sharing. It's not just me!

June, 18 2015 at 2:08 pm

Love this post! I work my butt off when I'm well and if I'm hypomanic I might win employee of the month. But I can't help but feel guilty when the depression throws me off my game and I'm working as hard as I'm able and barely hanging on by a thread. My resultion is to go easy on myself, and make it up when I'm well again.

June, 18 2015 at 4:04 pm

I was recently fired from my job. I was a teacher for 18 years. I was told I was "disorganized." My comment, "Really? Have you met me? I'm ADHD and bipolar!" I had asked for accommodations for years and did not receive them. And my union and school district did not protect me according to the law - and to be honest, I didn't know that I should have been protected. All I knew was that there had to be some law there to protect me. My students were given IEP's or 504 plans. How could they (union and district) not get that I had difficulties too? Do they not get that that given students wilt disabilities less problems isn't truly a design to help benefit kids with needs? People don't get that we are NOT lazy, or that we don't make excuses, sometimes it is difficult to think and process information - that my mind is designed differently. I was told I didn't use the same template when writing my lesson plans each week - and that that was cause for dismissal. But really, this was through years of struggles that were compounded due to my workplaces inability to recognize that if they would have positively approached this, the stress that built up overtime (including a mental breakdown two years ago and a suicide attempt a year ago), this would not have happened. I was a good teacher. In fact, I was Teacher of the Year in our district four years ago and I was a favorite of the kids (I taught grades 6-7-8). For those of you that struggle at work, contact Americans With Disabilities and find out what your rights are. Please don't go through what I did.

June, 18 2015 at 7:00 pm

I can totally understand that, I have a constant since of guilt if I don't do things perfectly. I feel really guilt if I have to miss work or go home early why a mental health issue flares up. I will periodically have episodes of delusional thinking that lead me into states of panic. I had one not to long ago, where the coffee stand mixed up my order and gave me caffeinated coffee instead of decaf. (and this was the day before) And it sent me to a high but one that was filled with delusional thinking that every one could see inside me and that they saw I was a horrible person and thus every one and everything was out to get me. Which of course caused me to panic at dealing with the public (and working retail that is my job to deal with the public) Now I had felt this way before I was to leave for work yet I felt guilty at the though of calling in because it would mean that they would be short handed, so I went to work. Of course things got progressively worse, yet I kept telling my manage everything was fine and tried to do everything he had on my to do list. It was not until after I had been on brake and opened up to a coworker about how I was feeling that, and they wound up telling my boss how bad a state that I was in, that he suggested he call someone in early and that I could go home when they got there. Even then I felt guilty for even doing that, and I kept apologizing for having to leave early.

June, 18 2015 at 11:45 pm

As a workaholic it's doubly difficult to call in sick but when bipolar rears it's ugly head I truly have no choice. I know from experience that things will only get worse if I don't take a mental health day off to look after myself. The guilt and fear that often ensues especially when we are short staffed can be almost as bad as being sick. It makes me feel so incompetent especially since my boss and some of my co workers have seen me at my worst before. I know my boss still worrys about me getting sick again and whether or not he can truly count on me to be there. I try to tell myself over and over again that whether I am physically ill or mentally ill makes no difference but then I find myself lying to my supvr anyway that I have a physical illness when in fact it's a bipolar issue because of the stigma that's associated with it. Most "normal" people think that we bipolars (or anyone else suffering from a mental illness for that matter) should be able to just suck it up because they can. They just don't seem to understand and it makes me feel inferior because I jcan't do it some days when I'm feeling particularly ill no matter how hard I try. Sometimes it helps to take "holidays" around the same time every year (like in the fall and winter) when I know my bipolar depression tends to get worse or when I anticipate a particularly busy or stressful period at work. Excessive stress often precipitates an episode. It all boils down to the fact that no job is worth ruining your health over... But of course that is easier said than done when you owe a lot of money and you have bills to pay and other responsibilities. I already have a mental illness... I don't want to become homeless (my biggest fear) as well because i know it will leave me even more vulnerable and subject to all types of abuse

June, 23 2015 at 3:22 pm

Does anyone else have problems Keeping jobs? I tend to get manic sometimes at work, start thinking that I know best and their rules are dumb. I lose passion for the job and just, "slack-off?"

July, 9 2015 at 6:21 am

If I could only work...Been a very long time.. Cycling every day doesn't cut it.

July, 9 2015 at 3:44 pm

Recently my bipolar mania affected my work. I have a coworker who has yelled at me almost every day for the past 6 years for no reason - she just yells at me every chance she gets. I announced that I found another job and gave my one month's notice. She came and yelled at me after that and I lost it. I whipped her with my yardstick, threw my plant at her, and poured tea over her head. Now I have a one month vacation before my new job starts. Luckily, she decided not to press charges.

July, 9 2015 at 6:20 pm

I'm not clear how your actions were necessarily a result of bipolar disorder. Kinda sounds like you are normally a little on the passive aggressive side to begin with to have allowed your coworkers abuse to go on for as long as it did? Although I don't wanna condone what you did I do believe anybody would probably snap over time if they had to put up with your co-workers abuse day in a day out. Him/her contantly yelling at you like that is a form of harrassment and no one should have to put up with that nonsense. I hope things work out better for you in your new job

July, 14 2015 at 9:30 pm

I just Lost yet again ANOTHER like to blame the illness but I can't help but think what if it wasn't? Could I have done something different...worked harder...not freaked out on my co workers or acted like a complete paranoid weirdo. I don't think anybody around me (which isn't many people because I push everyone away) understands at all how I feel and what I experience daily. I feel like I'm on a downward spiral again and I don't like it. Now I'm under pressure to find a new job fast before my mother kicks me out and I can't even afford to go see the Dr and get new meds now that i have no insurance or money. I been cutting myself again and all the little voices and noises in my head have returned. I almost lost my bf because I would try to keep him trapped in the house with me. I refuse to leave and go places. Being around people I don't know gives me anxiety attacks. Feels good to be able to vent to people who understand and wont judge me though. I find your blogs very knowledgeable and refreshing. Makes me want to print them out and force my mom and bf to read them and say "SEEE! I TOLD you just telling me to cheer up isn't going to make it happen" haha

July, 15 2015 at 3:42 pm

I can't keep jobs. I usually find a job when I am hypomania then the stress kicks in and I plunge into depression.

September, 10 2015 at 11:13 pm

I finally came out of the mental illness closet and requested accomodations at work. I asked to be placed somewhere quiet and alone. I'm a secretary. I went to my psychiatrist for a diagnosis and recommendation, printed out the recommendations from JAN and indirectly threatened to sue and they gave me what I needed. Don't give up. This is like being a suffragette. We are people too. A slight modification to help an excellent employee to continue to be excellent is reasonable and fair. I will never give up fighting for my rights. My son has autism. I fight for what he needs and I will fight for what I need too. Employers get pieces of our lives. We deserve fair treatment in return. It s ridiculous that the minute you walk into work you enter a dictatorship. Don't give up. Use your mania to fight and your depression to show them how bad it is. I joke with my family that if "regular" people had to live inside me with my chemicals, they'd be crazier than I am!!!

October, 20 2016 at 8:46 pm

I really recognise what Amy says. I work in higher education and the students have a dedicated disability office which determines what accommodations are needed for students to have an equivalent 'educational experience' to students without disabilities. Although there can be some exceptions in departments putting those accommodations in place the general rule is that if staff don't, and don't have a legitimate reason, individual members of staff are in breach of the law, along with the university.
But there is nothing even remotely like that for employees and staff with disabilities have a long uphill struggle to even get accommodations that would be free to implement and take 30 secs to put in place. Culture of disrespect and indifference.
A few years ago I experienced an episode of depression that lasted around 18 months and severely affected my attention and memory. I ended up just battening down the hatches and scraping through doing what was required of me, and no more. Strangely enough, from my CV you wouldn't guess that this was going on. I worked out that it was better to concentrate on the tasks that I had to do earlier in the day and go for quality rather than quantity. A lot of the time I would finish at lunchtime. But, looking back, I was actually working very efficiently - especially compared to now! So, my plan is that when depression hits again I will batten down the hatches, concentrate on fulfilling my core duties, not volunteer for extras, and it is better that I spend 3 or 4 hours focusing on a task than spending 8 or 9 hours being distracted and accomplishing nothing.

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