Posted by: hypomanic | April 23, 2018

Career glass ceilings for bipolar – Why I struggle to land a job



I’m bipolar. There, I said it. That’s the reason I’m struggling to find a job. Whose fault is this? Does it land squarely on my shoulders? Or is it other people’s perception of what bipolar means to them? Without doubt there’s something wrong with me, right?

It is hard to be on the end of a typical human response that appropriates blame to me in this scenario. We don’t know the full details, we simply don’t have time to investigate so we make a snap judgement that whatever the story was, I am guilty. 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 what about conscious bias? Deliberate discrimination based upon avoiding a perceived problem causer. Judge, jury and executioner. All done in a split second in someone’s mind.

During a job enquiry the recruiter is looking for ammunition to fail someone’s application. Their job is to cut down the amount of candidates so they are looking for their ‘reason’ for putting a candidate in the rejects pile. So why on earth would I put broadly in plain sight at the top of 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 of a hiring process 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 look just like you. I don’t really suffer any symptoms, I just suffer other people’s prejudice and stigma. The bipolar ‘secret’ is not secret at all, in fact it follows you around in hearsay and gossip.

When you do tell others 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 haven’t hurt a soul. I don’t have a criminal record. In fact, I was discharged from psychiatric care in 2016. Read all about it ->

I cannot own the story of my bipolar because it always happens behind my back. Writing a blog piece is my way to attempt 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 the duplicity in modern HR. I send you a clean and professional CV/resume. You invite me to interview for a job I can clearly do on paper. You love my portfolio and you invite me to meet up. 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. It’s game over for me.

At times it certainly feels like the majority want to avoid me 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 our imaginations – planted there by media perception. It becomes my problem. I didn’t ask for it. I just got ill when I was 23 years old at University. I pay for that downfall back then. I doesn’t feel fair. It isn’t.

I just need people to stop writing me off before we’ve even got started. Please, please 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. Although I’ve witnessed a few!

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 because of an unnecessary judgement about a condition I live with and have managed quietly at home since 1996.

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 a generalisation with fear as it’s foundation.

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 each and every employment I have ever 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 levelling the playing field and owning my career narrative. I just need someone to give me a chance.

There is a 60 second video book trailer available to watch at hypomanic.co.uk
Or watch a YouTube version of the Hypomanic video book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hkQbVibNH0o
To follow me on Twitter: @victorjkennedy

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