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Sunday, February 5, 2012

Stigmatize This!

I was recently terminated (fired) from a long-term job I had with the Federal Government.  I was an environmental engineer, working full time, enjoying a mostly successful and somewhat fulfilling 17 yearlong career doing research and technology development engineering.

I was making a decent living with enough money to buy a house, own three cars, and maintain my single lifestyle.

I won't go into the details since we are appealing the decision to terminate, but my bipolar symptoms and urge to self medicate with alcohol combined to make my behavior and actions at work more than problematic.  Ultimately they pulled my security clearance, which is mandatory to posses for my position.

Without the clearance I could not perform my job duties and assignments.  You see, where I worked a security clearance is needed to login and operate computer system.  Since we do 90 percent of our work on computers and the internet, I was now unable to access my computer to do my work.

My main grief with the disciplinary actions is the necessity to hide my illness.  Because of this I couldn't get any support from management because they claim they weren't aware of my bipolar illness and how it can adversely impact work performance.

I was careful to conceal my bipolar manic and depressive symptoms throughout my career.  This wasn't easy with full blown manic episodes in 1997 and 2002.  I feared if the wrong person knew I was chronically ill from bipolar symptoms, then management could find out, and then my chances of promotion would be lowered.  Shit, I was stigmatized.

So every time symptoms arose that adversely affected my performance or behavior I could not give a reasonable explanation of what was going on.  Why did I yell at my supervisor in her office?  Maybe because I was experiencing severe agitation in a hypomanic state.  Made sense to me but not to everyone else.

It was the black sheep phenomenon.  I was the black sheep that didn't fit into the fold.  I experienced extreme judgments from my sometimes inappropriate or occasional bizarre behavior.  I always felt as if I didn't fully belong to my group of coworkers.  It was a deep sense of not belonging spread out over many years.

Anyway, I'm living on unemployment and some savings I had built up.  I have been working to keep expenses down.

So now I'm facing having to find a new career or another job in my field to support myself.  I've thought of all kinds of careers but nothing has jumped out at me.  Earlier last year I was enrolled in a seminary school but quickly determined that wasn't for me.

I suppose I should look at all this as an opportunity for personal and professional growth.  Maybe losing my job is a blessing in disguise.  Perhaps the silver lining is more fulfillment from a new career or livelihood that's just around the corner.

It is often said that as one door closes another opens.  Well, being in a state of bipolar depression for over a year now I don't even see doors or windows.  In fact I don't see or experience much at all.  I feel stranded in a dark room without the wherewithal to get out!

So, what is the moral of this story?   Should I have revealed that I had bipolar disorder to management and risked the stigma and other repercussions?  Should I have traded an explanation for my behavior with the knowledge of my disorder throughout my career?

I don't know what I should have done or what I should be doing now.  It's kinda a bummer.  But I do know one thing I'd like to do.  I'd love to confront my former employers and tell them:



  1. I am so proud of you, Jeff. None of us can even imagine being in your shoes. Being able to read about some of the feelings (or lack of feeling) you go through gives us a glimpse. And I thank you for that. I know it's not easy to talk face to face about this, it's not easy for you to talk or for us to know what if anything to say. You have chosen to give us some insight through your blog which I think is helping all of us!

    1. I'm not computer/blog literate. didn't know how to sign my name. it's Mary, Jeff! here I go again. begin anonymous!

    2. Hi - Thanks! I agree. This sort of stuff doesn't come across well in conversation often.