“I am thinking about becoming a consultant with a direct sales company. I love to be around people and I think it would be a good fit for me. However, I know my family and friends are going to give me the, “Are you having an episode again? You know you can’t do that.” I don’t expect to become rich, just extra money for me. Any suggestions on how to deal with those comments?”

292072_concentrationIt saddens me that your family and friends would have such a response to your possible career choice. I don’t know your history and from where your friends and family are drawing their lack of confidence in your abilities, but certainly you should not let their attitude dissuade you. It’s hard enough dealing with the effects of bipolar disorder; you should not have to deal with insecurities and self-doubt inflicted on you by others. Mental illness packs a huge ego punch. It’s important that your family and friends treat your recovery with respect. Even if you fail, you need to know that you’ll always have the chance to try again. They need to know this too.

Do your friends and family know that people living successfully with bipolar disorder are often the movers and the shakers of the world? They are our CEOs, our writers, our actors, our artists, our musicians, our entrepreneurs. As the father in my novel Where Are the Cocoa Puffs? says to his ill daughter, “— the good side of manic depressive illness — has been the source of innumerable additions of beauty to this world, including you. You’re a beautiful addition to this world.” The world would be so much duller if not for those people who tiptoe on the edge of madness.

Perhaps you should suggest that they read Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and The Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison. Jamison does a great job chronicling the biological foundations of bipolar disorder and how the illness affected the lives of some of the world’s greatest artists including Byron, Van Gogh, Schumann and Woolf.

A diagnosis of mental illness is not a death sentence to success, not in your career, in your relationships, or in life. Recovery is much more common than many would have you believe. For every person who has succumbed to the illness through suicide, there are innumerable people who have overcome the difficulties of living with mental illness. If more people, including your friends and family, understood this, recovery would not seem nearly as insurmountable.

I applaud you for your efforts. Please don’t allow others to thwart your aspirations. If your family and friends do indeed react as you predicted, I’d suggest you ignore them. Smile and thank them for their concern. Tell them that you have survived bipolar disorder and having done so proves you strong enough to try just about anything. Once you receive your first paycheck, invite them all out for a celebratory pizza or something—but make them spring for dessert!

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