Disclosing Bipolar Disorder to HR

This post is intended for anyone who has considered reporting their mental illness to the HR group.  I’ve worked at four different companies and have disclosed my Bipolar Disorder to three.  All of these companies were 200-1000 employees, worked in the software sector, and had fully staffed Human Resources (HR) departments.  My experience could differ from other people in the same position, but each time I made the decision to disclose my issues because the alternative was to quit or get fired if my working conditions didn’t change.

My Bipolar-positive status is a documented fact within the HR organizations at three technology companies.  Even though all three companies worked in the technology sector and had a similar organizational structure, the way they handled my disclosure differed greatly. 

One company essentially hunted down every senior person harassing me and forced them to lighten up.  That worked fine for me and it didn’t even get in the way of me getting promoted a month later.

Another went by the book.  They guided me through the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) process and pretty much did nothing to address the behavior of people within the organization or the work that I was expected to complete.  You can read more about that here.

The last one gave me homework with a signature line at the bottom.  I was supposed to tell them what I needed to solve my issue, sign off at the bottom, and wait for them to fire me or give me boring work or lock me in a broom closet for 8 hours a day with one of those ball in a cup toys to keep me occupied.

  • Identify your disability or limitation.
    • Bipolar Disorder Type I is my limiting disability.
  • Explain how your disability impairs or limits your ability to perform assigned job duties
    • I experience frequent Manic episodes that heighten my irritability and paranoia.  This can lead me to lashing out at friends, family, co-workers, and clients.  To prevent these negative consequences, I take heavy doses of sedatives which knock me out, give me a hangover every morning, ruin my short term memory, and make my hands shake to the point where coffee spills on my nice dress shirts.
  • Expected duration of the Disability
    • Life without parole.
  • What specific accommodations are you requesting, if known?
    • Not having to pretend like it’s okay when someone acts like an asshole just because they are a client.  If that’s not acceptable, how about not working with clients like that?
  • If you are not sure what accommodation is needed, do you have any suggestions about what options we can explore?
    • It would also be nice to work part time so I could figure out a more sustainable income for someone with my “limitation.”
  • Has a health care professional recommended a specific accommodation? 
    • Dr. Innocuous usually just recommends that I take more Lithium and Olanzapine.
  • Is your accommodation request time sensitive?
    • Nah. My Bipolar isn’t going anywhere.
  • If you are requesting a specific accommodation, how will that accommodation assist you to perform your job?
    • It will allow me to work hard without being harassed by people who probably have undiagnosed mental conditions.
  • Have you had any accommodations in the past for this same limitation?
    • With FMLA I was able to play Grand Theft Auto 5 and nap while on the Olanzapine instead of trying to type with my shaky hands and remember what someone told me 5 seconds before.

I let Bipolar Disorder ruin my sales career

I’ve worked full time jobs ever since I graduated college.  At each job, it was only a matter of time before the waves of Mania and Depression started to impact my performance.  I disclosed my condition to HR at the past two of three jobs.  At my most recent job, telling HR about Bipolar Disorder saved me from getting fired.

From August 2015 to August 2018, I worked at a software company, Generic Name, in the northwest suburbs outside of Chicago, IL.  The company had nice work balance and most of my coworkers were easy to deal with.  I worked as a Sales Development Representative (SDR), which is basically a glorified telemarketer.

In October of 2016, I was fortunate enough to earn the unique opportunity to be the fixer for the top salesperson at the company.  Let’s call him Rainmaker.  Now, Rainmaker was in an impossible situation.  He was involuntarily selected to serve as the designated account manager to the highest paying client.  It was essentially two full-time jobs.  In addition, he was expected to hit a $3 million quota on his other accounts.  Since he couldn’t reasonably work three jobs, he asked the CEO for help.  The idea was to utilize my boss, Mr. Overpromise, as his fixer and move management of the Sales Development team to someone else within the organization.  Mr. Overpromise had aspirations for his team that did not include giving up control, so he offered the fixer role to me.

As Rainmaker’s go-to resource, I would be paid an extra $10,000 per quarter and would be responsible for prospecting, setting up meetings, coordinating internal sales operations, creating marketing documents, and any other odd job that Rainmaker needed.  One time, he was trying to quit smoking and was weening himself off with Virginia tobacco pods for the Juul e-cigarette.  While visiting the HQ, he ran out of that flavor and had to spend two more days at HQ before returning to his home on the East Coast.  That flavor was sold out at every gas station near HQ and Rainmaker hated all the other flavors.  In a manifestation of internal desire to please him, I called every gas station I could to find him the flavor.  I called more than 15 stores before finally finding a gas station 40 minutes from my house that carried the right flavor.  He hugged me the next day when I handed him the pack.  That was the best thing I ever did for him.

Working with Rainmaker was the greatest job I ever had.  I learned the hidden art of sales from a true grandmaster and in the process earned his respect and his friendship.  If you’ve ever seen Kill Bill, I was Uma Thurman to his long bearded Chinese killing machine.  He was tough on me and he always pushed me harder than I believed I could handle, but I was guaranteed to become an unbeatable salesperson if I stuck with him. 

Too bad my psychiatrist, Dr. Innocuous, decided it was time to experiment with my medication at around the same time.  We both agreed that I was ready to give up the Lithium to prevent kidney failure 10-20 years down the line.  We incrementally eliminated the Lithium from my daily dose and introduced an anticonvulstant, Oxcarbazepine(Trileptal). Oxcarbazepine performed a similar functional to Lamotrigine (Lamictal) so Dr. Innocuous decided to remove that as well.  Using the Lithium and Lamotrigine combination kept my manic episodes down to four per year. Oxcarbazepine did not.

I tried hard to make the Oxcarbazepine work, but like any failed relationship it just got worse the longer I lived in denial.  My new reality consisted of a manic episode every 2-4 weeks and an almost constant reliance on the anti-psychotic, Olanzapine (Zyprexa).  This meant heavy sedation, weight gain, and an inability to enunciate my thoughts.  Even with Olanzapine, I drifted in and out of manic delusions of grandeur and depressive self-doubt.  Off Olanzapine and on the manic train, I was setting up meetings with the top accounts and making Rainmaker proud.  I was also snapping at coworkers and trying to manipulate HR in the war against one particular irritating teammate.  On Olanzapine or in a depressive state, I found it hard to even pick up the phone to call on decision-makers at one of Rainmaker’s accounts.  The manic hurricanes and depressive drowning brought me back to my high school struggle with anger, apathy, delusions and despair.  I wanted out of sales even though I loved working with Rainmaker.  Sometimes I believe I sabotaged this opportunity because my subconscious wanted to set me free from the dangerous storm I was weathering.

Mr. Overpromise and his superior, Captain Crazy, were conspiring with the soon to be former Head of Sales, Colonel Failure, to pull me off Rainmaker detail and give me a broader role as the team lead for a soon to be formed prospecting team.  I pretended to be happy about this because I would be paid even more money and have a fancier title.  However, deep down I knew my reason for accepting this position was that I was scared I would eventually disappoint Rainmaker since my manic stages progressively worsened.  

However, I respected Rainmaker enough that I believed he deserved to know about the conspiracy.  I told Mr. Overpromise over Skype chat that I wanted to tell Rainmaker and he gave his consent for some reason.  When I told Rainmaker, an unstoppable chain reaction set off.  Rainmaker angrily told his boss, 800 lb Gorilla, who then confronted Captain Crazy.  Captain Crazy lied and said no such thing was discussed.  Mr. Overpromise corroborated this lie.  I sent Rainmaker my Skype conversation with Mr. Overpromise which proved my version of the truth.  Captain Crazy doubled down and called a meeting with HR and Colonel Failure to determine what to about me.  They were not able to fire me because I had disclosed my condition two months earlier, warned HR and Mr. Overpromise of what I’m capable of when Manic, and explained the medicine shift due to the risk of kidney failure.  I also was a documented user of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  Terminating my employment was a guaranteed way to attract a salivating employment attorney.  I told HR what could happen and they soon witnessed first hand how a Manic person can cause mayhem within an organization and how hard it would be to fire that person if the condition was previously disclosed. 

Rainmaker was already on the brink of quitting due to the unrealistic expectations assigned to him.  Even though he made nearly one million dollars in commission since my efforts allowed him to focus on closing a huge deal and blowing his quota out of the water, he was still considering leaving if something didn’t change.  My role as his fixer was the only thing keeping him on board.  Once he learned that Captain Crazy and Colonel Failure were conspiring against me, he went straight to the CEO, El Jefe, and demanded that he read the “riot act” to the dumb-ass duo and put an end to the attack on me.  The target on my back disappeared, but Rainmaker still used their treatment of me as the catalyst for his resignation.  Internally, I blamed myself for his departure and how I sabotaged this opportunity. I still torture myself with wondering what would have happened if I was stable on Lithium and Lamotrigine.  Maybe Rainmaker would have stayed.  Maybe El Jefe would have shot down this initiative to pull me away from Rainmaker without me having to tell Rainmaker first.  Maybe Captain Crazy wouldn’t have been demoted from Vice President of inside sales back to Vice President of one small sales team.  Maybe Colonel Failure wouldn’t have been fired.  Maybe Mr. Overpromise wouldn’t have lost me.  Maybe I would have found my purpose as a salesperson and made enough money to let Kelly stay at home.  Maybe I wouldn’t have transferred to an unfulfilling career in Data Analytics.  When I die, the Universe will allow me to explore all the “maybes” and “What Ifs” in my life.  All I know now is that I threw away something good and I take responsibility for letting my illness drop a nuke on the sales organization at Generic Name.  


Rainmaker came back to Generic Name a year later to run his own team.  He’s one of the few non-HR, non-family individuals I’ve told about my Bipolar Disorder and how it sows doubt in my everyday life.  He genuinely appreciated that I shared the condition along with my worries and doubts that define my mood fluctuations.  He assured me that I’m stronger than I think I am and urged me not to let my self-imposed fear hold me back from the great things he knows I’m capable of.  Now I know why he’s so good at sales.  He takes people who are scared of the unknown and he gives them hope.