Q: I have a few serious problems that interfere with me getting a job, and I would like to know how to present myself to a company. I am in my 40s, single and intelligent, but suffer from bipolar disorder and anxiety. I've held several professional jobs over the years, but they caused so much stress for me I either lost or had to leave the jobs. I've been living with my mother since then.
I know I need to return to the workforce to help my mother pay expenses, and I think I am ready to seek part-time employment. Currently, I volunteer at a women's center and write freelance articles. I know from my past work performance that I'm responsible and accountable, but I am fearful of stress causing serious problems for me again.
To complicate matters, I was arrested in the past for shoplifting and placed on probation, and my record is soon to be expunged. I am still concerned, though, people might find out and I don't know how to handle it if I am asked. I am also worried about explaining my several year gap of unemployment after having a solid record of professional jobs. How do I explain all of this?
A: Bipolar disorder, formerly called "manic depressive illness" is "an affective disorder characterized by periods of mania alternating with periods of depression, usually interspersed with relatively long intervals of normal mood," according to Dictionary.com. Worrying is going to be your biggest problem because it may foil your attempts at offering logical and reasonable explanations if you get interviews. It sounds like part of your worry is caused by the shame you carry from having bipolar disorder. The disorder and the experiences it creates for you are not your fault, and the educated public understands this.
To help you along the way, a psychotherapist and a career coach would be a positive investment in yourself. Both professionals would serve different purposes: A psychotherapist or psychologist has a background in psychological disorders and can offer ongoing counseling sessions to help you discover triggers for your high level of anxiety and what may be an overly active level of worries, real and imagined.
A career coach (a short-term expense) would guide you on developing your resume, using a format to best highlight past jobs, accomplishments, and employment dates and breaks. He or she would also guide you through job searches, methods of social and business networking to create and renew contact with bosses and co-workers. It's important for you to know, not guess, how bosses will respond to reference calls from potential employers.
Each state has different laws as to what a company can reveal about you. Large companies typically offer employment dates only. Some companies will answer the question of whether it would hire you again. The reality might be frightening for you, but assuming references will all be negative is harmful to your confidence and will hurt your ability to sell yourself in an interview.
When a record is expunged, it is removed from your history so no future employer will know about it. It will obviously still live in your mind if you allow it, and that's where working with a therapist is crucial to your emotional healing and ability to move forward with a positive attitude.
While shoplifting is a crime, this one-time event was likely due to being emotionally unstable at that time and perhaps in a heightened bipolar episode. Forgive yourself. It won't be a positive memory when you reflect on your life, but it's not manslaughter or murder where your action brought great harm to a person and his or her entire family and group of friends. No one can undo that kind of pain caused by such a crime, even when the family of the victim forgives the guilty party.
If you want the greatest benefit from each of the professionals you see, share your career coaching experience with your psychotherapist so he or she sees the whole picture when counseling you. Hopefully, your psychotherapist works with or under a psychiatrist so you are able to receive drug therapy in addition to your counseling. People can live successful lives with bipolar disorder when they are open to receiving the full treatment required. There is no shame to an illness, and it sounds like you are accepting full responsibility for its effects on your life.
You can email all questions to life and workplace coach LindseyNovak@yahoo.com and visit her Website at LindseyParkerNovak.com. She welcomes and answers all emails.