You’ll Never Work in This Town Again!

October 7, 2008 by Michelle

I have always been more manic than depressed. Since childhood I remember my daily flights of ideas. I always had “projects”… ideas for books, movie scripts, rearranging my bedroom furniture. I would relive conversations I had with friends in my head, but in fast forward. I thought it was normal. I was lively, voted the “most outgoing senior girl” of my high school class. If there was a club, I was either in it, started it, or was the president of it. In college I would take a full load of classes and hold down three jobs without breaking a sweat. It was who I was. It was my personality… a part of me. There was never a moment where I wasn’t thinking or dreaming up another new idea, project, or business venture.

In my pre-teen years it started with track. Then the piano. Then the violin. The cello. The clarinet. The saxophone. Then tennis. Then basketball. Then softball. I was the editor of my high school newspaper and community journalism. I became involved in theater getting most of the leads of all the plays. I didn’t want to just excel, but I had a grandiose notion that I would become famous. During my downtime I manically wrote in my journal. I would write my own scripts, make my own movies and my own documentaries. I couldn’t get enough. If I wasn’t the best at what I did, I would quit and move to my next big thing.

Needless to say, the word overachiever was planted on my forehead. I didn’t stop when I went to college. I was in the school government; I was obsessed with getting into law school to become a prosecutor. I would incessantly buy and read true crime books, interned with private investigators, worked with the county prosecutor, and went on “ride-alongs” with the police department.

I never remember being tired until I completed my first year of law school. I wasn’t interested anymore. It was all hype and too much money. I wasn’t the best in my class, yet I wasn’t the worst; however, I felt that I needed to move on and become a “career woman.”

Then a bomb dropped on me. Right on my brain. I couldn’t get out of bed. I cried all the time. I was lazy. What was wrong with me? This was not the person I knew. I knew there was something wrong, but I blamed it on other things such as my marriage, my family, the friends I hung out with. I bounced between mania and depression at a rapid pace. I became irritable and started to withdraw. I turned to cocaine and alcohol to help keep me at the level that I wanted to be at. That funny, manic, high spirited, wild and hard working person I always knew. It nearly destroyed me. After 14 years and a psychotic suicide attempt I found out I was bipolar.

I thought since I finally knew what was wrong with me, was on medication and going to “dual diagnosis” group therapy I would regain the life I once worked so hard for. Except it didn’t. It got worse.

My resume started turning into a book. Keep it to one page? Blah! No one has a one page resume anymore! Next thing I knew my resume was nearly three pages long. All great jobs, great references, yet something was wrong. I got fired for the first time. I worked at a high stress patent and trademark law firm as a patent prosecution paralegal for nearly three years. I performed at a very high level. I would come in at 7:00 a.m. and work through lunch, never stopping. My boss was so impressed with my level of performance and everyone around me found me bright, funny, beautiful, and full of promise.

Then came the boom that knocked me off the ship.

I was functioning at such a manic level for long periods of time and out of nowhere I would crash. It felt like I was having a cocaine crash, except I wasn’t doing drugs anymore. After having an amazing month of work, I couldn’t get out of bed for days at a time. I called in sick all the time. At lunch instead of socializing, I would isolate myself by either retreating to the parking garage and sleeping in my car, or I would shut my office door and sleep under my desk. I was crying all the time, yet nothing outright seemed to be wrong to explain how low I was feeling. The next thing I know I had to take two medical leaves of absences within six months. The human resources department found out that I had bipolar disorder and when I returned from my second leave of absence I was fired.

“We just don’t think you are happy here.” I was fired, yet they were willing to give me a severance and a good reference.

Over a two-year period, I had four different jobs in the legal field and I was fired from all of them. Not for my lack of experience, or quality of work, but because I would function at a manic pace and then crash and call in sick days at a time. Somehow, through my insurance records, the human resources people always found out that I was bipolar and when I would return from my darkness, I was fired yet again.

From September 2006, through February 2008, I was fired from five jobs. After I was fired from the first job, I immediately gained employment with another law firm that knew of my stellar reputation and contacts. That job lasted three months. After that job, I worked with a temporary legal service and worked with another law firm where I was also fired for calling in sick. I had to start re-writing my resume to make it look as though I had just “taken some time off” and that the reason why I left my previous employer was due to my own unhappiness with the actual position – not the fact that they were unhappy with my frequent absences and irritability.

My third legal position seemed very promising. It was for a reputable law firm working as a paralegal doing work in business law, something that was new to me. I have always been excited to try new things, so my first few months were good. I soaked up the new atmosphere, the new people, and the new legal content. However, after nearly six months, I was fired again. While they gave me no real reason, they offered me unemployment compensation and severance pay. By this time I knew that my bipolar condition was the reason I was getting let go from all these jobs. I had suddenly become “undependable” and my self-esteem, along with my happiness, went from confident to non-existent. While I searched for another job, my resume turned into a book. I started drinking heavily because I was not only bored, but I felt that my life was going nowhere and I had no control over what was happening to me.

Then I got the call for an interview for the job of my dreams. My interview was a breeze. Anyone with bipolar who is manic can manage to make everyone at an interview immediately fall in love with them. I promised them the world. I also promised to myself that this time would be different. I would stop drinking and hanging out with undesirable people and get my life back together. My dream job lasted only three months. However, this time I was fired for BEING bipolar, not because I had done anything wrong.

I started my job as a paralegal for a personal injury law firm. Not some “Dewey Cheatum and Howe” type of firm – a reputable personal injury firm where I felt that I could help make a difference in someone’s life who was truly injured. My immediate boss, an associate attorney who was pegged as “hard to work with,” embraced me, and we worked together wonderfully. My mania kicked in and my production level went into overdrive. Needless to say, the attorney I worked with who was “hard to work with” was great to work with, and we accomplished and settled many cases. It was winter time and I was having a hard time in my personal life, as I always do during the holiday season. However, this time I was fired for being a “liability” – not because of my absences regarding my bipolar disorder.

I am a single mom. I have an old 1995 Geo Prism with bad tires. It was a horrid winter season. Every day, it seemed my son was sick, my car was running badly, or my tires were flat. I had no one to help me, but I did my best to get to work no matter what. I knew that this was the job of a century, and I was determined not to screw it up.

I technically did not lose much time during my tenure at this firm. When my son was ill, my ex and I worked together – I would keep him half of the day so I would not lose a full day of work. When my car broke, I found a way to get to work. When my tires blew, I got the car fixed on my own time. However, it was a small firm and when I first started and filled out my Anthem insurance application, I had to fill in the dreaded “pre-existing condition” section. I knew that the office manager would be inputting my information directly into Anthem’s website and she would see my illness. Instead of keeping mute, I confronted her and told her that my health status would not cause a problem. She uncomfortably shrugged me off and said, “Well, I don’t know much about that stuff.”

In February, 2008, after a long month of manic work product (much to the happiness of my immediate attorney) I crashed. I came into work and felt like crawling under my desk. I knew I was about to hit the wall, and I tried my hardest to fend it off, but it was unstoppable. By noon, I asked the owner of the firm if I had accrued any sick time, because I was just “not feeling myself.” He had absolutely no problem with me going home and told me to “get well.” When I got home, I immediately hit my bed and did not wake up until the next morning when I realized that my crash was going to take more time to recover from. I wasn’t worried about my work status, because I had accrued sick time and had only missed the previous half day. I spent that entire day in a bipolar coma and managed to get up the following morning well enough to work.

When I got to my desk, the office manager called me into her office. I immediately knew something was wrong, but I had no idea they were going to fire me. Evidently, the owner of the firm had called me a “psycho bitch” behind my back and said I was a liability to the firm. The attorney I worked with was so upset, she nearly got fired for putting her butt on the line to help me keep my job. The office manager said to me, “You can’t just call in sick because you are stressed out.” to which I replied, “I wasn’t stressed out!”

I cried and begged to speak with the owner. I even gave her the phone number of my psychiatrist, so they knew it was health-related and not out of laziness or that I was playing hooky. It didn’t matter. Their minds were already made up. I was labeled a “liability” and was sent packing. Three months later, my boss left the firm knowing that they had pushed me out purposely and had discriminated against me. The fact that she saw through them and knew I had done nothing wrong made me feel better, but it didn’t change the fact that my resume was now literally the size of the bible.

“You are finished in this town.”

There is no way that one can walk away from four jobs in two years and get another job in the same field. Everyone knows everyone, and everyone talks. I knew I was finished. All the hard work, all my blood, sweat, and tears meant nothing. I was finished.

Even though I have a son, suicide entered my mind again. What kind of mother could I be if I couldn’t even hold down a steady job? No one was going to hire me in this city again with the resume I had. There wasn’t a possibility of starting a new career in a new field when my entire background was in law. I couldn’t afford to not work and go back to school. I couldn’t afford a pay cut. I felt destitute and completely screwed. I wanted to die. Until I found out that I was eligible to apply for social security disability.

After four months of no income, constant panic attacks, agoraphobia, the loss of any self-respect or self-esteem I had left in my bones, I was accepted by the state as “disabled” for bipolar disorder and “unable to work.”

Having bipolar has made me feel useless, scared, alone, and misunderstood. I finally gathered all my strength and courage to contact an attorney to file suit against my former employer and I am following through with it. I want him to know what he did was wrong. I want him to know what he did to me was unacceptable. I want him to know that he can’t get away with this. I hope I’m right. And I hope the law will be on my side.


  1. Hi, Your situation moved me. I am bipolar as well and a single mother. I honestly have some questions as I can’t believe what I have read. Between each job, had you had a chance to get stabilized on medication so that you could avoid the manic episodes? Did you think of ways to avoid situations that trigger manic episodes? Change is always a trigger for me. I had a nervous breakdown at work and went on a leave of absense back in 2003. When I came back to work, they put me in a non client facing role , not what I wanted, but I came back armed with a reasonable accomodation request and an FMLA protection request. My breakdown was brought on because I, like you was a super achiever and so my above and beyond was no longer seen by management as above and beyond and became the expectation and so I would feel I had to go above and beyond to be recongnized and so on and so on until I finally broke. I now work from home and work 8 hours per day so if I do get a little manic, noone will see it, I take rest breaks as needed and do not give in to the temptation to take on additional projects to get recognition. I have my bursts of energy, but when I do, I use that energy on something other than work, like working on my house, cleaning, or exercising. I was protected because I had been at my job 12 months. I have now been there 9 years. If you can hold it together for 12 months, I know it sounds odd to say, but lay low, just pace yourself, don’t try to be that super star, you will be eligible for FMLA and protection under the ADA. Those companies would not have been able to fire you for being “BIPOLAR’. You are not defined by what you do. I too, believed this once. My heart goes out to you and I feel your pain. Best wishes to you ..

  2. Michelle–

    Thank you for the kind words. Yes, I had been on meds since I was diagnosed in 2001. I always took them religiously. My problem is that I’m a “rapid cycler”, so I would be manic and do great work, and then I’d hit “rock bottom” and call in sick. None of my employers understood that, nor did they want to. All they care(d) about was “the bottom line”.

    Right now I WISH I was manic because I have had NO motivation to do ANYTHING, even though I am working from home. Just doing my laundry is like pulling teeth. At least when I am manic, I am productive, but for the last two months I’ve been nothing but a useless waste of human space.

    Thanks so much for responding. It really does feel good that someone out there read my story and cares. Best to you as well.

  3. Michelle (and Michelle),
    Your story really hits home for me. I am 35, a mom, and work full-time. I was a complete overachiever all through childhood until I became pregnant in college and dropped out. My first episode happened as a teenager, but I was not diagnosed until I was 30. I have had 3 major episodes since that time. Right now I am on so many meds that I feel like a pariah when I go to the pharmacy. My doctor has changed them a million times and I finally feel like they are working. They just make me so tired!

    My last episode was in September. I left work (after getting things in order), took all my personal items with me, and intended to never return. I had only been there 3 months. After 3 weeks of being out, we were already struggling financially and I needed to go back. I was 3 days away from getting company paid disability when I went out! That was a difference of $500 a week for me. I did go back part-time at first and told my boss about my illness. He was very understanding, but he added the caveat “we’ll see how it goes.” Everyone wondered why I was out, thought I’d quit, and three month after my return, I still have told no one. There is no one there I trust. I hate my job. I am bored, isolated, and unstimulated. Yet my boss will not give me any more job responsibilities. I applied for another position at work, but I was not even interviewed, I am sure due to being bp. I have no proof, but I give you a lot of credit for pursuing your discrimination case. When you have bp, it is so much harder to stand up for yourself during the dark times.

    When I had my last episode I was so depressed that I couldn’t even do the dishes or make my bed. I understand how you feel, but you are not a waste of space. You are just feeling worthless and down. My therapist told me to go for a walk every day with the dog. Even just for 5 minutes. I didn’t want to, but I tried it and it did help. Not much…but I got some fresh air! People don’t understand that you don’t even want to go outside or talk to others or function.

    My biggest challenges are people who tell me “just get over it” and my husband, who is a substance abuse and mental health counselor. He constantly “monitors” my mood- manic or depressed- and criticizes me. Whenever I have issues at work he tells me to quit my job and file for social security. That encourages me to stick it out. I think I have 6 jobs on my resume right now, and that is not all of them. I have a 2nd interview next week for yet another job. It’s closer to home, more money, and less isolating than the job I have now. Will I tell them about my illness? No way. I

  4. Dear Michelle,I was moved by your story.
    Obviously I am a lucky person living in a tiny european country (Slovenia)where workers are a bit more protected by legislation. Just beeing bipolar is usually not a ground for being sacked. But something other occured me: you being a lawyer could help a lot in mental health advocacy issues. Beeing a person with mental problems is (here and there, I presume) ‘comorbid’ with not beeing enough literate about your rights and opportunities – so having someone who can read laws and regulations would make a dfference. I am not familiar with support groups and financing the non-governmental sector in the US – but maybe it is worth a try! Good luck to you!

  5. Dear Michelle,
    I too was approved for social security. I have a Master’s degree in social work. I am so bored and feel so useless. I can’t seem to find the right meds.

    Good luck with your lawsuit it will bring attention to the bipolar stigma of they love us when we work like maniacs but disapprove when depression sucks every piece of energy we have.


  6. Michelle-

    Your story definitely hit home for me. I haven’t been diagnosed as bipolar, but I honestly think I am with more depression than mania. All this time I’ve thought those ideas and nitpicking were just me. But now I’m pretty convinced that I must be. I am agoraphobic and just found out. I knew something was wrong but I thought it was my depression. My agoraphobia has become severe after being bullied and harassed by my previous boss on a daily basis for 4 1/2 years. Telling me I’m incompetent, stupid, ugly, fat, etc. on a daily basis. That’s when my fibromyalgia symptoms started. I ended up having to transfer to another city with the same company. That didn’t work. From the time I walked in the door here I’ve been bullied by a handful of co-workers and some supervisors too because I’ve had to take so much time off. It wasn’t until I moved here that I was diagnosed with both my fibromyalgia and agoraphobia. They don’t understand my condition so all they can do is be nasty. I’ve been waiting 8 months for them to approve telework. My doctor has already provided them with documentation that I cannot leave my house because of my agoraphobia. And today I receive a notice that my FMLA is used up. So this means right now I am AWOL and they’re setting up to fire me. Tell me, how is this not discrimination? If they had approved my telework when requested in August I would still have FMLA, leave balances, etc. They’re ignoring them like they never existed.

  7. Hey Michelle!!

    I do hope this may find its way to your eyes. For my story is very much the same as yours. I just got out of bed looking for answers, with nowhere to turn but Google.

    But unlike you; I am not bipolar. Yet, I was diagnosed with bipolar in February of 2006…. And later found out that I had a thyroid issue and low B-12. So I was taken off of the Depakote, Abilify, Zyprexa, and Wellbutrin. And placed on Levoxyl, B-12 shoots, along with a good diet and exercise.

    Much like you I was always was an over achiever. I built my own house by the time I was eighteen, started my own business at twenty. When I was self-employed I had all these great ideas and inventions which some are in use today. But I never saw a dime from it. I gave other companies the ideas because I didn’t have the money to back it.

    January 27th of 2006 my world came to a crash. I was sent to the E.R. I had no idea of what was going on with me. My resting heart rate was 188 beats per min and I was blacking out. I went thru a series of test. And all the E.R. could come up with was that I was bipolar. No one bothered to find out the type of stress I was under.

    In 2005 my house was basically falling to the ground(built in 1957). In my Business, I already started seeing the pressure that was placed on the economy. I had a hard time finding work to keep all my employees working. I had gone almost the entire year with minimal sleep. I worked long hours each day and then relentlessly each night on bid preparations and book work in an attempt
    to keep the business running.

    Then Bang!! Bipolar… could the news be any worse. Oh yes, my business partner was sleeping with my book keeper. And I had to let them both go. Now no work was coming in, the bills stacking up and bill collectors calling. By this point I was so stressed out.

    Since, I have been fired from one job because I was so tired from the meds, I couldn’t stay awake. I told the company, that I worked for what happened and I would be unable to be in certain work environments because I get dizzy and tired from the meds. But what do they do? They give me a huge job to run, put me in roof trusses to work. And then fire me because I can’t do it.

    I haven’t been on any meds over three years. I have been currently trying to get hired at the PD. But they will not hire me because of the meds I was on in the past for bipolar. None of the doctors will write the PD saying that they misdiagnosed me. Even though I have blood work results showing I had hypothyroidism. And the hypothyroidism has been proved to make people very tired.

    I am currently thinking of contacting an attorney. To go after the medical doctors and the company that fired me. If I don’t get this job at the PD because of the bipolar misdiagnosis. I have had a hard time finding work since because of being told I have bipolar and it showing up when ever a company calls anthem. I wish I would have never used any insurance.

    Would you have any suggestions??

  8. Michelle,

    I was diognosed with Bi-Polar when I was 33…I like you was a go getter….working 50 to 60 hours a week….taking care of friends and family…I worked at the same job for 6 years then I decided it was time for a change (this was in 2005) All was going well at the new job…then Bam!!! Something was wrong….I started having Panic Attacks…felt like everyone around me was out to get me…It got to the point where I was afraid to leave the house…this happened in August of 2005 by November 2005 I was so out of it my family put me in the hospital, where I spent 2 months…completly out of my mind. January 2006 came around and so did I, but every year since around August( the month of my first episode) I seem to have another. The panic attacks start, the fear of leaving the house. I have been on many different medications, but at one point I lost my insurance and was unable to afford my medication. Talk about a yo-yo…I was up I was down….binge drinking like a fish, went through a divorce after 15 years. Life was not fun. Changed jobs, every year or so, this was so unlike me. I have journel upon journel of the times I fall, and have yet to go back and read what I wrote, wondering if any of it will make sense.I have been back and forth to the doctors having test upon test ran, Thyroid, Low Iron, I have been to the Gynocoligist thinking I might be Peri-menopausal, but nothing is wrong all checks out fine. I am now back on medication that I can afford, even though I still donnot have insurance and I am in therapy and staring to go through my journels with my theripist. It’s just good to know that there are other normal, sane people out there who struggle with this illness. thank you so much for sharing your story.


  9. Hello Michelle,

    Loved the story and laughed as I read…
    I can’t identify in many ways. I don’t and never have used alcohol, never used drugs and so I feel like something of an anomaly in the bipolar world. I was diagnosed at age 34 after having spent 9 years exclusively at home with two young children. It was the lack of varied activity in my life that led to a psychotic break. Too much mundaneness can exacerbate the underlying symptoms and lead to manifestation of a “nervous breakdown”. Anyway, while I’m not glad that these experiences mucked up the works for you, I am grateful you made your story public. Thanks. Every little bit of awareness helps.

  10. Hi Michelle,

    Thanks for posting your story. I was just diagnosed as bipolar 2… at the moment I’m still kind of in shock and denial, although I always knew there was something more complex to my illness than just depression and anxiety. I guess it makes sense now because I too have the overachiever in me, and I go on whims, and then I don’t want to get out of bed. (I’m on an “up” right now if you can’t tell!). Its nice to know I’m not alone.

  11. As I sat reading your blog, I was just elated because I could totally see myself in your experiences. I would sleep under my desk at work everyday. Did it for years. Used my FMLA to the max every year and short term and long term disability to get by. I was diagnosed with BP rapid cycling or BP one is what they call it. When I am manic, I try to clean, make frozen meals, make my calls, file paperwork for disability etc. Then I crash. I wake up on any given morning and I feel like I have a heavy, wet blanket smothering me. Holding me down. Absolutely nothing interests me. I can’t stand people. I just sleep till the cows come home then the cows leave again. I have furious bouts of anger. Talk to myself. I can’t remember how to do some of the simplest things. I don’t remember what I go into a room to do. And anytime I have to make a call, fill out a form or make even a simple grocery list, it is like I have to climb a mountain. When all I want to do sometimes is jump off it. At first, the expense of co-pays and meds were daunting. Even with great insurance. I had been with a very large corporation and the benefits were good. But I could not afford it. Then I remembered I was a veteran. I went to the VA and they took me on and are helping me with my medical issues and therapy. I am trying different meds but still no real success. I have applied for VA DIsabiity as I was diagnosed with PTSD also. Right now I am trying to get LTD with a policy I had and they are asking so many questions and want way too much information. It scares me but what choice or rights do I have. They want treatment notes with all the personal therapy sessions and that angers me. I dont know who these people are that will see my info but it angers me that I have to give them anything. I have a doctor who says I am ill with a certain disorder and that should be all they need to know. Very angry about this and feel I have no rights and my privacy will be violated because I dont want to end up homeless and hungry. I am alone, never married and no children. I am moving shortly to be near family soon. I have no one here and on my own. Just me and my disorder.

  12. Michelle,

    Thank you for this thread, it means a lot to know that someone out there has gone through all that and still been able to pull herself up. Getting that lawyer was the best thing to do, no matter what way it goes. You stood up. I have a similar story, and am still attempting to pull up and out of it.

    I am working again after a stint of disability, did not come off because I was ready. Everyone just really likes to eat….I am trying to pick through all the comments for advice.

    I am sure I caught – keep your head low and try not to show out too much, do not tell my employer my diagnosis, and make sure you stay for the full year to ensure my rights.

    If anyone has other advice I am paying attention.


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