I’m bipolar. There, I said it. That’s the reason I’m drawing job seekers allowance. So, where’s your mind just travelled to in terms of a conclusion based upon what I just disclosed? Do you feel there might be some sort of blame to be appropriated here? Like, whose fault is the bipolar and what must have my lifestyle and attitude to risk have been like in the past to have contracted such a terrible mental illness. Without doubt there’s something wrong with me, right?
It is a typical human response to appropriate blame in this scenario. In recruitment circles it is known as Unconscious Bias and it isn’t just about mental illness. Unconscious bias is appropriated to women, mothers and ethnic minorities but very rarely does it affect middle-class white males – especially in the advertising industry, who regularly recite from their pulpit about the benefits to organisations of diversity and neuro-diversity to the assembled adland congregation. It’s always easy to say from the top down with your financial security intact.
During a job enquiry the recruiter is looking for ammunition to fail my application. They must cut down the amount of candidates so they are looking for their ‘reason’ for putting me in the rejects pile. So why on earth would I put in my CV that I am bipolar? Wouldn’t you expect to hit a brick wall constantly with ‘please give me a job, I am bipolar’ written across the application or resume? So in that scenario it’s got nothing to do with unconscious bias. This is conscious and lucid segregation so I’m sorry but I’m not going to confess my mental illness at this stage thank you very much. I’m sure you can understand and appreciate my reasons.
I’ve tried keeping it a secret from colleagues and employers. Nobody knows I’m bipolar. You cannot tell on the surface. I don’t really suffer any symptoms, I just suffer other people’s prejudice and stigma. Because when you do tell them, you risk a lifetime of misrepresentation and stereotypes, bullying, special treatment and above all, a career glass ceiling. I’m the black sheep nobody wants to be associated with. This sorry situation has transpired to make me isolated from major parts of my industry. And I’ve done nothing wrong to anyone.
I cannot own the story because it always happens behind my back. Writing a blog piece is my way to own the narrative because in the normal context of things I never get the chance to say this because I’m in the reject pile and out on my ear. The is about duplicity. I send you a clean and professional CV/resume. You invite me to interview me for a job. You love my portfolio and we meet. Then you check out my references. Then you find out from someone from my past that I’m bipolar and the red warning light goes on.
The majority want to avoid based on what? Gossip and hearsay or a perceived threat of violence from a crazed mental health sufferer holding a weapon in some dark, fucked up recess of your imagination. That’s your problem. It’s not my problem.
Stop writing me off before we even get started. Before you judge. Stop and think. Don’t write people off. Give them a chance. I’m a peaceful family man with a solid marriage having raised two wonderful children. That’s it. There’s no skeletons in my closet. I’m not a misogynist or a bully. I haven’t caused a single corporate embarrassment in a 20 year career in advertising but I’ve seen quite a few and there’s no flies on them!
Think about the effect you might be having on someone else (and their family) by choosing to react a certain way about this. I am ultimately threatened with losing my home and ending up on benefits because of an unnecessary judgement about a condition I live with and have managed since 1996 – a whole 22 years without harming a single soul.
Put yourself in my shoes. Could you put up with this level of marginalisation and questioning? Could you survive it? What if the roles were reversed and I was judging you simply for your biology being different to mine and I’m not even a doctor. What is my hypothesis of you based upon? Medical records? I’m not an expert. I’m not a psychiatrist so what right do I have to cast judgement? This is purely based upon gossip and fear.
You can trust me. You will not need to babysit me or hold my hand for simple tasks. In fact, if you read my references then you will find that not a single one raises any issue of bipolar or that my mood swings had caused irreparable damage to any colleagues whatsoever. They will not talk about that because a) it has never happened and b) I have a a personal integrity and professionalism towards the previous employment I have had. And that is all that is relevant in an application. How professional was I? How good was my work? Was I a nice person to have around and work with?
This issue is one of many negatives to being bipolar, but there are also many positives. It’s made me stronger. I’ve felt more things, more deeply; had more experiences, more intensely; loved more, been more loved; laughed more often for having cried more often. It’s a sign that you’re a fighter – every day is about survival. It also gives you more empathy, caring, loyalty and makes you more conscientious – all very positive skills which employers want and can give you a boost in your career.
You are not responsible for your illness. It happened to you. You are, however, responsible for your recovery. So I am forced to fight for every concession and this article is my way of fighting back and owning my career narrative. I just need someone to give me a chance.
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This post first appeared on Victor J Kennedy's Hypomanic Weblog | Just Another, please read the originial post: here