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Apparently a lot of people with bipolar disorder change jobs more frequently than the average bear. For some bipolars, it’s hard to keep a job due to the illness. For others, the illness makes it hard to stick with one thing, or only one thing. The reasons can include impulsivity, mood swings (and negative consequences thereof), toxic situations due to stigma, the consequences of extended leaves for hospitalization, and of course, being fired just because you’re a bit nuts – illegal, but it’s hard to prove that’s the reason you’re being let go.

Job hopping is extremely stressful. It’s listed right up there on the list of stressful life events with losing family members, marriage, and divorce. Major stresses like that tend to be hard on people with mental illness as well. Not that it’s not hard on everyone, but some of us just don’t handle it as well as the rest of the population.

My job history is as varied and inconsistent as anyone with bipolar disorder. Not as bad as some, to be sure. In college I had a particularly crazy work history, since I had up to 3 or 4 jobs at a time and switched them often during the worst of my mania. I always blamed it on the fact that there was no good work in the area; practically everything was minimum wage and only a few hours were available. The truth was that I got bored, needed more money to keep up with manic spending, and was very impulsive. In the space of 4 years, my jobs included:

  • Cook/back of house at family restaurant
  • Dorm info desk operator
  • Computer lab assistant
  • Life drawing (nude) model
  • Grocery clerk
  • Phone-answerer and doorknob-disinfecter
  • “Sandwich artist”
  • Barmaid

It got better after that, but the record is still sketchy. Most of my jobs lasted about a year or two, even in professional positions. I worked for three nonprofits in the space of five years and then a boutique tech company for another two. The longest I’ve kept any full-time job is 2.5 years. It’s a little embarrassing. I’d just get bored and mentally check out. I knew it was a problem, but I couldn’t figure out what to do about it, so I just kept job hopping.

A new day dawning for my career, in New Mexico.

Until now. I’ve spent the last five years as a PhD student, which means part-time employment as a graduate/teaching/research assistant. Technically every year is a different job, but in reality, it’s all just academic work. If I were starting a faculty job next, the work I’ve done over the last five years would be fairly representative of what I’d do for the next five. Although academic work is not quite as structured as most jobs, it’s still a bounded set of duties and tasks. They’re varied and cyclical, which sounds about right for me. There’s a ton of work-related travel, which I really enjoy.

One of the reasons I went into academia was that I got sick of being bored all the time. I figure that as a researcher, if I’m bored, that’s my fault and I have the power to change it. I like that notion. So my future career plans promise much more job stability than I’ve had in the past. I’m really excited about that, because it means I’ll finally have a job that can keep me engaged and make me feel like it’s worthwhile.

After graduation, I’m changing jobs again. My upcoming position is a postdoc, which is in fact a concession to bipolar, but it’s a perfectly respectable next step. After that, I’ll move on to a faculty position or another research job. In either case, I’ll be doing the kind of work that I love. I’m a little nervous about making a big transition in work again, but I will be working with great people on stuff that I really care about. Other than getting adjusted, I think it will be a great job for me.

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