I have bipolar disorder. I’m lucky that I’ve found the right cocktail of antidepressants and mood stabilizers that work for me. Of course, like everyone with this illness, I struggle, and I’m not immune to having episodes. But because I take my meds every day, and I practice self-care by getting enough sleep, eating healthy, exercising and avoiding triggers when possible, I’m generally stable and high-functioning.
I need to pay bills, and I require health insurance to cover medications and doctor visits. I’m not on disability, so I have to work. Like many people with bipolar disorder, I experience challenges in many aspects of my life, including my career. I have to pay close attention to my day-to-day routine, so it’s imperative that I work in a job that fits my needs.
I’m a freelance graphic designer in the film industry. I only work when a movie is filming, and when the show’s over, so is my job. I have two or more jobs every year, with brand new bosses, and new movie crews every time. Each job is different. Even within my jobs, every day is different. This instability can be dangerous for someone with bipolar disorder, because we need predictable routines to stay healthy.
So, how do I keep myself stable while still pursuing my dreams? I’ve found 10 indicators that I’m working on the right job for me. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Having a Creative Career
Like many people with bipolar disorder, I’m a creative person. I’m just not happy when I’m not creating something—whether it’s art or writing. I purposefully pursued a career field that allows me to use my right brain (coincidentally, I’m also left-handed) and design graphics for a living. I’m really lucky I get to do what I love. This is crucial, because it encourages me to get up in the morning with a smile on my face.
2. Being Challenged
I earned a B.F.A. in graphic design, so I’m formally trained. Inevitably though, projects often come up that require me to learn something new. Whether it’s because technology is always changing, or just because every movie is different, I often find myself watching tutorials and challenging myself to reach beyond my existing skill set. I feel stimulated and energized in my jobs, and that keeps my mind active and engaged, which is instrumental in keeping me healthy.
3. Managing Stress
I’ve been working in my field for over 13 years. Lots of graphic designers move up to the positions of art director or production designer. The thing about those higher-level jobs is they come with a lot more stress. The art director has to manage the art department budget, and the production designer is responsible for the look of the entire movie. I often joke (though it’s true) that as a graphic designer, “I just make pretty pictures.” I don’t have to take on a huge amount of responsibility, and I’m only accountable for myself and my work. My career is stressful and deadline-driven enough. I plan to stay right where I am until I retire, because I’ve got just the right amount of creativity and stimulation in my daily work life, without the added stress that comes with upper management-level responsibilities.
4. Working With Positive People
There’s nothing worse than a hostile work environment. I’m not saying I haven’t run across my fair share of difficult people at work, but generally the people in the movie business are there because they want to be. I can’t tell you how many times, in my old corporate career, I heard co-workers complaining about hating their jobs, how they were only there for the paycheck, and they couldn’t wait for the weekend. That kind of negativity is toxic. It brings everyone down. For the most part, I’ve had the pleasure of working with people in the film industry who chose their careers because they’re passionate about working together to make a movie. That positivity is contagious, and I’m delighted to be surrounded by people who genuinely believe in what they’re doing.
5. Working Remotely
Because I have a high-pressure job, sometimes my days can be a bit too stimulating. My mania has been triggered in the past by being around the frenzied flurry of people on the movie set. Even though I’m in the office (separated from the set itself) that intense anxiety often spills over to the whole crew. For the last year or so, I’ve chosen to work remotely. This gives me the peace and quiet I require to stay balanced, and it ensures I stay in recovery.
6. Enjoying Variability
I worked at a large telecom company for six years before switching careers to work in the film industry. The monotony was killing my soul, so I left. I couldn’t stand waking up knowing I’d be doing the same thing day in and day out. The tedium and lack of stimulation triggered my depression. Because every job in my current career is different, and every day is different, I’m always experiencing something new. That gives me a sense of excitement, and I feel I always have something invigorating to look forward to.
7. Having Health Insurance
I freelanced as a non-movie graphic designer for several years before I entered the film industry, and I was on a self-pay HMO. Needless to say, my old plan didn’t cover a lot of things I needed, including my mood stabilizer pills. They also didn’t pay for my psychiatrist or my talk therapist. Health insurance is an absolute necessity for me, because I have bipolar disorder. Fortunately, although I work seasonal jobs, I’m in the local film union, so I have health insurance that stays with me whether I’m employed or not.
8. Saving for Retirement
I have big plans for when I retire. I’m vegan, and I care about animal rights, so my dream is to volunteer helping animals full-time once I’m finished with my career. Just like my health insurance, my retirement is covered by my film union. I simply pay 3% of every paycheck to the union, and they divvy it up between my health plan and my annuity. Because of that, I feel confident that I can retire comfortably and continue to focus on doing things that make me happy. This sense of security helps keep me anchored.
9. Taking Breaks
I work when a movie is shooting, and then when it wraps, I’m unemployed. Because I’m laid off due to no fault of my own, I qualify for and take advantage of unemployment income benefits. This helps tide me over until the next show, and it also allows me to take months off in between jobs. The ability to rest in between projects helps keep me healthy, and it’s one of the main reasons I chose my career field. I could probably work more, but I try to keep a few months every year for myself. It means less money, but my sanity is priceless. No matter how crazy a movie set gets, I always know there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Even if I have a tough job or a bad boss, I always know it’s temporary. This is huge for me. Knowing that every show has a half-life, and I can take a breather when it’s done, gives me a sense of calm that keeps me steady.
10. Being Rewarded
I’ve worked very hard to get where I am, and I’m incredibly lucky that I’ve also been rewarded for it. I’ve earned two Emmy nominations, an Art Director’s Guild award, and I’ve been written up in several articles for my movie graphics. Even before I worked in the film industry, I was featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered” for my Get Out the Vote poster design, and I’ve had the same poster published in a college art school textbook. I’ve even had my work displayed in art museums throughout the world. I’ve gained a sense of real pride in my craft. Because of this, I know I’m achieving goals that satisfy my inherent desire for creative accomplishment, and that’s truly gratifying.
Because I chose to follow my dreams, while also setting healthy limits for myself, I’m content, stable, and mentally healthy. It’s taken me years of practice to gain this wisdom. I’ve found a balance between achieving my goals and staying in recovery, without triggering either my mania or depression. I may have bipolar disorder, but with the right knowledge and tools, I’m able to live my best life.