If you know anything about call center work, you would know it is probably the worst place to work for someone living with bipolar disorder. As an employee who is not in a management position, your day consists of answering back-to-back phone calls, many from angry customers. If you add to that the stress of upselling the company’s products, it can quickly become a nightmare.
I have worked in call centers for over 10 years now, and it certainly hasn’t been easy. There are days when I have to muscle through with crushing depression and still sound cheerful on the phone, as well as hypomanic days when I vacillate between extreme cheerfulness and intense irritability. I have cried in the bathroom multiple times, and there are days when I simply can’t do it anymore, and plead illness to leave early or to take a break. None of my coworkers know about my illness, especially since there is still some stigma around mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder. It’s even still used as an insult, with people carelessly flinging around statements like, “Oh she’s being bipolar again!” or “My boss is so bipolar. He keeps changing his mind.”
However, over the years I have found a way to not only survive, but to thrive in my environment. Some may ask, “Why don’t you just find another job?” Well, the truth is, not many other jobs that I would be qualified for would pay the same rate I make at my job. The current cost of living has become the number one reason I remain in this line of work. But it isn’t all bad. In order to remain healthy and employed, I have learned ways to cope with a stressful job as someone with bipolar disorder.
1. Practice mindfulness and meditation to cope with a stressful job as someone with bipolar disorder.
The first is simply mindfulness. I cannot understate the power of taking a moment and focusing on my breath. Clearing your mind can be challenging, but if you try something like concentrating on your breathing, it can work wonders. I will normally do what is called “square breathing.” I close my eyes, breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, then exhale to a count of four. In, hold, and then out again. After only a few breaths, I can feel my entire body begin to relax, and a sense of peace washes over me.
My next coping mechanism is pretty similar, and involves meditation. When my brain is bouncing around like a ping pong ball, I find a guided meditation on YouTube or a meditation app and close my eyes. Cue the deep breathing I mentioned earlier, and then just let the guided meditation take over. Don’t beat yourself up if you find your mind still wandering. It’s a process, and even if you can only do it for 15 seconds, that’s a win! Gradually build up to longer sessions, and try not to let yourself get frustrated.
2. Find a mentor who understands how to manage mental health at work.
Another thing that helps me stay grounded when dealing with lots of work stress is reaching out to someone who can be a mentor. Mine ended up being my first supervisor with my current company. She had a way of turning the negative into a positive. When I would have a bad sales day, she would remind me that you should expect to receive at least ten “no’s” before getting a yes, and would actually have me set a goal to get as many people to say “no” as possible. It worked wonders. I’m not going to say that it completely changed my mood, but it helped enough to keep going.
3. Keep a gratitude journal that can help you get through bipolar depressive episodes.
My first supervisor has had a successful career and swears that the key to it all is journaling about the life you want and trying to keep a positive mindset. I began developing this habit nightly, and I would sit down and begin writing about everything I am grateful for, and then everything I wanted. I didn’t place any limits on what I wrote about, and even in the midst of a depressive episode, I could feel my mood beginning to lift. If you are familiar with the Law of Attraction, you may have heard of this technique. Writing about your dream life as if it is in the present can be extremely uplifting. I would write to my heart’s content, and then when I had a bad call or lost a sale, I would take a glance at my journal and see all of the things in my life I am grateful for, as well as the things I am working on in order to live my dream life.
4. Take a walk or stretch break during a busy or stressful workday.
Another thing that might seem obvious is to get out and take a walk, especially if you work from home. During a depressive state, it may seem impossible to get off the couch, or do anything outside the office. Make a goal of just putting your shoes on. That in itself can be a win! If you feel like it, take another step and just stand outside for 5 minutes. The more you do this, the easier it gets. I went from not being able to leave my apartment to taking regular walks on a daily basis, and it has done wonders for my mental health.
I should add that none of this is meant to replace regular visits with your doctor and taking your prescribed medications daily. A therapist who specializes in bipolar disorder is also essential to maintaining stability with your mental health. However, there are things you can do, like I listed above, that can help you be successful even if you have a stressful job. I have done it, and I know you can too.