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'When I am up I am very up': Life with bipolar disorder

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat

Editor's note: The subject of this story asked to be identified by first name only. This piece is a part of a series of stories in celebration of National Disability Employment Awareness Month.

Workforce Solutions Texoma Executive Director Janie Bates addresses the crowd at a check presentation in March 2018 for the Advanced Manufacturing Program. Workforce Solutions is endeavoring this month to bring attention to the value disabled workers can bring to the workplace as a part of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. (Herald Democrat)

Throughout his life, Michael has experienced highs and lows. At times, he would feel a sense of euphoria that would keep him up for one to two days. Other times, he would experience the opposite with crushing lows. For him, this is life with a bipolar disorder.

Throughout the month of October, the U.S. Department of Labor, Texas Workforce Commission and other groups will be recognizing National Disability Employment Awareness Month and highlight the achievements of workers with disabilities. While some disabilities may be obvious to the naked eye, others, including mental health issues, aren’t as visible.

The term bipolar, also known as manic depression, refers to a spectrum of mental health disorders characterized by periods of depression and periods of elevated mood or euphoria that can last for days or weeks at a time.

“I have been diagnosed with bipolar (disorder), and if I am being honest, when I look back at my work history I can see how it has affected my work,” Michael said in an interview with the Herald Democrat. “At the same time, I don’t look at it from a daily basis and think of myself just as bipolar.”

Michael said when he was at his highest he would stay up for days at a time. At his lowest, he battled depression and suicidal ideation.

“When I am up I am very up, when I am down I am very down,” Michael said. “It isn’t necessarily bad cycling, but for me a bad day, or a good day for that matter, might look exaggerated to my coworkers.”

Throughout his nearly 40 years of life, Michael has worked many jobs ranging from food service, to warehouse work, retail and most recently manufacturing. Around August, Michael took a job with one of Sherman’s manufacturing employers.

Michael said he never stuck with one job more than a few years before his mental health issues led to him to leave. Despite this, he noted that he has never been fired from a job. Still, the disorder showed itself in his conflict resolution, and reaction to not meeting personal goals.

“I have a serious pattern of getting three years into a job and my tolerance for things that would roll off my back in the first year would be gone,” he said.

It was about five years ago that Michael was diagnosed with bipolar disorder II. Bipolar II is differentiated from other forms of the disorder as individuals suffering from it do not display full cases of mania. This can make the disorder difficult to diagnose.

Michael discovered more about the disorder and how it affects him while a part of the Texas Substance Abuse Felony Punishment program, often referred to as “Safe P”.

“When I was there, I was given a lot of critical thinking skills. Basically, when you go in there they totally assess the way you think about things and how you process things. So now, it has given me some tools to look back on my life in hindsight and say, ‘This is not normal, how you process things. Nothing about this is normal.’ “

A parking spot for a disabled person sits outside Workforce Solutions Texoma in Sherman. In honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Workforce Solutionsin recent years has held events aimed at increasing awareness of the skills and abilities that disabled workers have to offer. [Herald Democrat]

Among these skills was the ability to recognize his mood and understand that it isn’t the situation that is necessarily creating his emotions.

“The problem is not my job. The problem is not my coworkers,” he said. “There is a very good chance that my problem is how I am processing what is happening. I had to build the habit of checking in on myself and assessing how I am taking things and processing things.”