Few things rob you of your security, confidence, peace, and faith in the world, quite like mental illness. There are the insidious ways a mental health condition slowly undermines every aspect of yourself from within, and then there’s the blunt force trauma of your diagnosis. I’ve been living with a bipolar diagnosis for almost fifteen years now.

It’s been a long, tough road to where I am today, and there were significant personal challenges along the way. But the professional ones were equally as tough. I underwent a bipolar career shift not long after my diagnosis when it became clear that my current career as an archaeologist – something I was incredibly passionate about and invested in – was not conducive to my mental health. 

I had to find a way of working that worked with my neurodiversity. I’m proud to say I successfully transitioned into the world of entrepreneurship and built a successful business and career as a writer, SEO and content expert.

Existing in the world of business with a mental health condition presents significant challenges, and I wanted to share my story in the hope it would help those struggling to work or build their careers as a neurodiverse individual.

Early Warning Signs

It should have been obvious to anyone with half a brain that I was struggling from my tweens. There were warning signs before this; I never quite fit anywhere. Kids at school found me weird. I was overly sensitive and a little paranoid, but I was also a kid 🤷‍♀️ Show me a child that doesn’t feel all of that at some point. I’ll show you a set of perfectly well-adjusted parents who never made a mistake and live in a town of saints with angelic children who were never mean, cruel, or judgemental.

Such places do not exist, and honestly, they would be disturbingly Stepford and unlivable if they did. 

Teenagers are another story. They have hormones; they go through a lot, and they’re unpredictable, volatile, and overly emotional. Even so, there are degrees, and it was evident by the time I hit fourteen that the degree I struggled with was abnormal. I was frequently depressed, and bulimic, had a boyfriend twice my age, was getting bullied at school and often went out drinking and doing the usual teenage nonsense.

But to an impressive degree. Doctors took one look at me and decided I had depression, stuffed me full of antidepressants, and then grew very confused when that made everything worse. At University, a counsellor who had no business even trying to diagnose me told me I had borderline personality disorder. But it wasn’t until I was studying for my PhD that I was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

And a baby grand piano landed on my head.

You’re told several things when you’re diagnosed with a condition like rapid cycling bipolar disorder, most of which are unimaginably unhelpful. They tell you there’s no cure. Factually correct, but incomplete. 

They don’t explain that you don’t need a cure because there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with you; your brain works differently than most people’s, and you must learn to accommodate that. 

They tell you you’ll need to take powerful medication for the rest of your life, then list the myriad side effects (which are hideous), and follow it up by saying you’ll also have to get regular blood tests to ensure all those meds don’t fuck up your liver and kidneys. 

They don’t tell you there are other options; you don’t have to take the medication, and even if you choose to, you can later choose not to. They tell you you’ll need therapy. Lots and lots of therapy. But they don’t tell you that through therapy and doing the work required to understand the atypical way your brain works, you can learn to function just as well as (albeit slightly differently to) everyone else. 

They advise you on the benefits you can receive to compensate for the fact you’ll never be able to hold down a job. They don’t tell you that there’s zero reason you can do perfectly well at a job; you need to find one that suits the way your brain works instead of trying to shoehorn it into a role designed for all the people who think in the typical way.

The Career Challenges Of Neurodiversity

When I look back on what I was and wasn’t told when I was first diagnosed, I get so angry I could spit fire. This is why I talk about it now: to put more information out there, other viewpoints, so that newly diagnosed people have different information to find while endlessly searching for answers. It was 2010/2011 when I was looking, and there was fuck all to be found. The only options seemed to be to take the meds or continue spiralling into an ever-deepening pit of hell.

I went with option two for a while, as my then-fiance strongly discouraged me from taking any medication or doing anything that might have improved my mental state. He correctly deduced that if I’d been in sound mind, I’d never have been with him, and he didn’t want me getting better and leaving.

As it happened, I got so sick of him that I left first and went about getting better after the fact. The elephant in the room for me at this time, however, wasn’t the meds I was taking or the colossal amount of weight I very rapidly gained as a result. It was my career.

The end of my career.

I took Archaeology and Ancient History at A Level, intending to become an archaeologist and have a life of adventure and wonder in the manner of Indiana Jones and Daniel Jackson (from Stargate if you’re unfamiliar). An undergrad degree in the same subjects led to a Masters degree in Celtic Archaeology.

I published two papers, spent a summer working on digs in Austria, got a job as a site assistant and worked on PhD applications. I secured a scholarship and went back to University to study for a PhD in gender dynamics in Iron Age Britain.

More papers were in the works, and I lectured part-time while studying. I fully intended to go on to write books, teach during term time, and excavate cool stuff the rest of the year. 

That was my plan. My career trajectory. Mapped out when I was fifteen and relentlessly pursued for years despite growing mental health issues, a great deal of drama, and long periods of struggling to function at all. 

In other words, I’d had to fight for it. Every step of the way, I’d fought tooth and nail to do what I wanted. To make it to lectures despite crippling anxiety and a brain that (unbeknown to me at the time) kept hallucinating, making it very tough to keep a grasp on reality. I had to study for exams and complete coursework while my mind unravelled, and I often struggled to get out of bed. In the third year of my undergraduate studies, I lost five stones in just over two months. I stopped eating. I’d have one takeout pizza a week (which I usually didn’t keep down), and that was it. 

So when I say I’d fought for it. I had. 

It hadn’t been easy or pleasant.

Yet suddenly, I faced an inevitable conclusion: I could no longer pursue that career path.

To this day, my greatest regret is that I never finished my PhD. I still pick it up and look at it sometimes, wondering if I could, if I tried, if I should… My problem then was that my unravelling had occurred entirely within the university setting, and being in that environment was no longer possible. Not if I wanted to get better. Or, honestly, if I wanted not to get any worse.

Unemployment, Meds And Self-Advocacy

And so I found myself on the dole, applying for jobs I was massively overqualified for, and nobody wanted to hire me. I couldn’t get anything and was grateful because I wasn’t convinced I could cope even if I did.

I was on medication by this point, and anyone who has ever taken mood stabilisers and antipsychotics will know that physically functioning like a regular human being is not possible while you’re on them. After taking my evening dose, I slept for 12 hours solid. Minimum.

There was nothing I could do to avoid that; it wasn’t laziness or a lack of desire to be awake. It was a physical shutdown of my brain I couldn’t prevent. Mother went through a phase of valiantly trying to wake me at a ‘reasonable time’ in the morning, forcing me out of bed and into doing stuff because she thought it would help. But I wasn’t sleeping because I was depressed.

I was sedated.


You try explaining to an employer that you’d love a job, but you’re not going to be able to come into work until at least mid-day, and you’ll have to be home by six so you can take your early evening meds after which you’ll be good for nothing.

I’d lost my career because I could no longer cope with the environment it required to be in.

And I had zero career prospects because I wasn’t functioning well enough to hold down a job, even if I could convince someone to hire me. Which I couldn’t.

In the years that followed, I would spend a great deal of time in therapy: some group therapy, some one-to-one. And I highly recommend it, over and above any other form of coping with bipolar disorder (or any mental health condition). But of the many things I learned during therapy, perhaps the most blinding commonality among the diverse people I met, with their various mental health concerns and forms of neurodiversity, was the lack of a career.

The lack of employment of any kind.

So many of those I know with bipolar and other similarly severe conditions lost the jobs they had when they became ill. They were fired. They were laid off for their behaviour, inconsistency, or the amount of time they had to take off. Or they quit because they couldn’t cope.

So many were struggling to find work they could manage while managing their mental health. 

And so many more were finding that even if there was work they believed they could manage, no employers were willing to accommodate their needs and allow them to work in a way that worked for them.

Coming up on fifteen years later, there has been some progress in the world of work. Our collective understanding of mental illness and neurodiversity, as a society, has improved to the point where it isn’t quite so tough for people to find gainful employment. But I am not deluded enough to believe it has become easy for anyone.

Adapting Myself To Work And Work To Me

I spent several years working as head of marketing at a digital agency in the run-up to and during the COVID era, and in that time, I found my employers to be incredibly supportive of my need to work my way. They didn’t force me to conform to regular hours; I rocked up at whatever time I arrived, and that was fine. Unless I had a meeting, and generally, those were arranged for after 10 am purposefully. They knew I did a great job while I was there, and if my brain needed to take a couple of extra hours to get started in the morning, who cares?

But I wasn’t the only employee they had who had health concerns. Some were mental, some were physical, and over and again, I watched as team members failed to do the job they were hired to do, not because there was a lack of understanding and support from higher up, but because they did not know how they needed to work in order manage their condition and do their job.

Employers can’t accommodate needs you can’t articulate.

So, for a bipolar bear (or anyone else with a mental health condition or neurodiversity), the myriad challenges one faces when trying to be gainfully employed are ridiculous.

You have your own mind working against you. The physical side effects of any medication you may be taking. The sheer time required to attend the various appointments, treatments, and therapy sessions. The need to work during the specific hours of the day when you’re alert and capable, which frequently do not conform to the 9-5 grind and, worse, aren’t even consistent from one day to the next.

You have the stigma attached to your condition, the quandary of whether to divulge or hide it, and whether employers will be understanding or penalise you for it. On top of that, you must know what kind of work will work for you and how to approach it in a way that will allow you to do it to the best of your ability.

Is it any wonder so many remain unemployed for long periods, struggle to hold a job for more than short stints, or never return to employment at all after a severe mental health crisis?

The Bipolar Career Shift: Freelancing And Working For Myself

My predicament in 2011 was no different. By 2012, I’d already become utterly disillusioned with the job-hunting process and felt the possibility of ever having a job was impossible. The attitudes of the people who were supposed to help didn’t help. The job centre was full of judgmental arseholes who took one look at me and decided I must be lazy and good for nothing. They were confounded to learn I had multiple degrees. They were perplexed when they discovered that my issue was that nobody wanted to hire me because they knew full well I’d be bored shitless. I would only stick around briefly before moving on to something better, leaving them searching for someone new again.

My skills also weren’t that transferable. I’d spent most of my life at University, and while I could research, study and teach to my heart’s content, or take a look at an aerial photo of a field and tell you exactly where the walls of an ancient structure used to be, I didn’t have much else. 

I could research. I could write.

And that is precisely what I ended up doing. The job centre’s first and only genuinely helpful action was showing me a website that offered writing work as gigs. The pay was shit, I mean shockingly shit, like £3/1K words, but it was a thing I could do in exchange for money that didn’t involve solicitation. Better yet, it was a thing I could do from my mother’s house (where I was currently forced to stay because of having no work and the aforementioned ex-fiance leaving me in a ton of debt).

That led me to search for other ways to make money online, and a friend I knew through an online fiction writing forum suggested editing and proofreading work. This I could do. I was already writing fiction as a hobby and had written to a very high standard in an academic setting. I knew what writing was supposed to look like; I could fix other people’s writing. I took some online training, kept doing the shit-paying writing gigs, and started looking into how to set up my own business as a freelancer.

Playing To My Strengths

I will never know why it didn’t occur to me right off the bat that I could write as a freelancer. I was already doing it. Part of it was a sense of disbelief at the thought that I could, as the memes kept insisting, turn my passion into my paycheque. 

That couldn’t be a thing. I couldn’t spend my time doing something I loved and get paid for it.

At least, not paid enough to live on. At that point, I was about £30K in debt with no hope of even renting a house, let alone buying one. So whatever I did, I needed it to earn me money. A lot of money. And relatively quickly because, honestly, living with my mother was a mental health crisis all of its own.  

So, I set up my first business. It was called The Bookshine Bandit (don’t ask me why; I can’t remember what possessed me to name it that), and it offered editing and proofreading services. I liked drawing and design and offered illustration and cover design services (although I was not qualified to do so). I did anything people might pay me to do, from creating bespoke signatures that looked like handwriting to social media posts to brand illustrations, map designs for fantasy novels, and book illustrations.

It worked. Kind of. I started earning money occasionally, but finding clients was problematic. So I started researching entrepreneurship, marketing and such-like, took several courses (some good, some terrible), and eventually discovered a concept called Content Marketing, which allowed me to market myself by doing nothing but write.


This I was good at. This I could happily do all day every day. Something clicked, and I went from a measly and very unpredictable income to a steady income, to entrepreneurial friends I’d met through courses and online groups asking me to write their content for them, to gaining retainer clients who wanted me to write their content regularly, to paying off my debts and moving out into a house of my own, buying a new car, and finally coming to my senses, rebranding, and launching The Write Copy Girl.

A freelance writing business in which I spent all my time doing the thing I love best: writing. That business pulls in six figures on a good year; all I have to do is write. I do it in my own time, in my own way. I’ve been off bipolar medication for some years now and managing my condition through self-awareness and various strategies learned in years of therapy.

As mentioned, I had a regular job at one point. I returned to work for myself and launched Rebel Wolf, primarily as a way of helping people who are in the same position I used to be in to get to the position I’m in now: self-sufficiency as a successful entrepreneur and business owner.

Mental Health, Neurodiversity And Work: Perspectives

The doctors were quite correct; there’s no cure for bipolar. There were, however, quite wrong in their assertion that I’d have to stay on medication indefinitely; it was a necessary crutch I needed for a while as I recovered from the worst of things, but it did not – in the long run – facilitate me learning to manage my condition and create the life I wanted. Being medicated was like living in a fog; I barely felt the world or saw the world, and I certainly couldn’t experience the world properly. I wasn’t myself. But that was – from the psychiatrist’s perspective at least – the whole point.

There are two ways of viewing mental illness, and I’ve found they are typified by the approaches of the two types of professionals who deal with them: psychiatrists and psychologists. One will pump you full of medication in an attempt to make your brain work like everyone else’s (a massively over-simplified description, but essentially true). The other will help you understand how your brain works enough that you can manage the problematic consequences of those differences. 

One teaches you that there’s a problem with you. One that you, yourself, cannot control, and you must, therefore, maintain it through external means. The other teaches you that while you may have different responses, reactions, and feelings to ‘most’ people in certain situations, that doesn’t mean anything is ‘wrong’ with you. Instead, it means you must be more mindful of how you react and what situations you place yourself in. Be more observant of your feelings, emotions, moods and reactions to recognise when something is causing a problem and address it. Remove yourself from the situation. Explain to those around you what you need to avoid the negative consequences of your brain’s neurodivergent responses. 


I love that word. Neurodivergent. It really wasn’t a thing when I was first diagnosed, but it so beautifully encapsulates those who have different neurological processes than ‘the norm’, the neurotypical.

It’s a label, but not one that paints us as sick people, as lost causes, as problems to be solved or damaged goods to be fixed.

We think differently.

And that’s okay. As long as we’re aware of that fact and find a way to accommodate the differences, we can still lead happy, fulfilling lives and, yes, have careers. 

I do not want to minimise the struggle of those with mental illnesses, of those who are neurodivergent here. I am not trying to say it’s easy, that we can ‘snap out of it’, that there is any choice in how our brains function or any way we can, magically, be ‘normal’.

I’m painfully aware that for many, no avenues allow them to do the career they want or have the job they want. In some cases, that’s down to restrictions in the career – I was in Air Cadets as a teen, and many suggested I pursue a career in the Air Force before my illness was known. I never wanted to, but I wouldn’t be allowed if I had. They wouldn’t let me join, knowing I have bipolar. I’m pretty sure if it was discovered I had bipolar after I’d already joined, I would be dismissed. 

Some careers won’t allow people with specific conditions in. I’m sure they have their reasons, and I don’t know enough about it to comment. But the one thing I discovered during my bipolar career shift is that just because you find yourself incapable of the career you always dreamed of doesn’t mean you can’t find a new dream that you can fulfil.

There are a few factors that play into this:

Wibbly-Wobbling Timey Wimey Stuff 

You will have times of day, days in the week, and times of year when it simply doesn’t suit you to try and be productive. To try and do specific tasks or be in certain situations. Being aware of what these times are, planning your work around these times, and creating enough flexibility to accommodate unexpected times that crop up is critical. 

For example, I don’t have fixed working hours. I don’t force myself to sit at my keyboard by a specific time in the morning and write until a particular time in the afternoon. I work when I feel like it. This infuriates many people around me (mainly my OH and mother) who constantly encourage me to get to work at 9 am or at least try to start a bit earlier. 


It doesn’t suit me. It doesn’t help my productivity. It causes me stress and anxiety and makes me less productive. Learn your times and find ways to accommodate them. And learn when to take advice and when to put a distance between family members who are (intentionally or otherwise) unsupportive of your business.  

Likewise, there are days when I need not to work. I’ll sit down and start but find my mind wandering, my anxiety ratcheting up with every stroke of the keyboard, and it taking me hours and hours to complete a simple thing. On days like this, I do something else. And I don’t beat myself up for having done it. Finding ways to manage your workload so you have that flexibility without negative consequences is also critical. You need to be able to take a day occasionally without the sky falling.

There are also specific times of year when I KNOW my mood is going to be problematic. Winter is a bitch. High summer is my best time. Knowing how you’re likely to feel and be during certain times of year allows you to plan and book holidays when you can enjoy them. Book time off when you will need to focus on self-care. Whether you’re working for someone else or yourself, ensure there is an understanding between you and those you interact with (be it managers, bosses, coworkers, clients, whatever), that there’s a reason you’re not going to be available during certain times.

When I was still at the marketing agency, I asked to switch to a four-day week, explained why, and was given permission to do so. Don’t assume that what you need won’t be possible. I didn’t deal well with a five-day workweek. Wednesdays being a day on which I could do whatever I wanted meant I was only ever in the office two days in a row.

That was far more manageable for me. It prevented me from reaching a point where I was struggling rather than allowing the struggle to build up and having to deal with it. And I was far more productive on the four days I worked, with that day off in the middle, than I’d ever been over five days.

Time is a funny thing. Working more hours doesn’t always mean being more productive.


What are you comfortable doing? What are you not comfortable doing?

Knowing and enforcing your boundaries is critical as you work and in your personal life. For example, certain people give me the ick. I’ll have a chat with a prospective client or receive an email enquiry about doing work for someone, and I’ll get an instant, gut reaction of 🤢

I learned to trust that ick

There has never been a time I’ve agreed to work with someone who gave me that feeling I haven’t regretted. They proved unpleasant, unprofessional, aggressive, flakey, didn’t pay, or were just plain rude. I now trust the ick implicitly and politely decline to work with anyone who gives it to me. 

You don’t need to be rude; you can say you don’t currently have the capacity for their needs, but you can put them in touch with someone else. This doesn’t just apply to the self-employed either; again, when I was working at the agency, there was the odd client I went to my boss over and said, I’d appreciate it if you could avoid putting me on this account. I have an issue working with this person; it makes me uncomfortable. 

If I’d done it regularly over trivial things, I doubt they’d have put up with it for long, but it happened once, perhaps twice, in the four years I was there, and it wasn’t an issue. Not all employers or managers are inclined or in a position to always say yes to this request. They should be. In any situation, you should be able to reasonably state that you are made uncomfortable by a particular person and request they avoid putting you with that person.

It’s actually in the best interests of everyone for you to enforce these boundaries and avoid having to work with people who, for whatever reason, make you uncomfortable. Maybe you don’t like them personally; perhaps something about them triggers you; maybe what you’d need to do to complete the job is not something you’re willing to put yourself through, whatever. 

You have the right to remove yourself from the situation.

I was once fired for having the audacity to report a supervisor for manhandling me in a van one lunchtime. I (naively) assumed he would be fired for such behaviour. He was not. Moreover, I was expected to continue working with him. When I complained about this, I was ignored. I was fired when my work degenerated due to being on-site with him daily.

This is not okay. This is not a scenario that I should have accepted. But I didn’t know any better (I was 23). Now I know better.

On another occasion, a client asked me to write a personal review of their product after using it myself. The product in question was a butt plug. I declined! On that occasion, there was no issue; I wrote the piece differently, and we continued working together without issue. On other occasions, however, I have found myself sacking clients to maintain my boundaries and the integrity of my working space.

Boundaries are a good thing. Whether emotional, physical, practical, or otherwise, boundaries are yours to choose, and you have a right to enforce them. One of the reasons I love working for myself is that it makes this possible on my terms, without question.

I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. I make the choice—end of. As accommodating as the marketing agency was, I left mainly because I did not like it being decided by other people what I would and would not do, or how I would do it.

Say It Your Way

How we communicate has far more impact on our day-to-day lives and state of mind than we realise. I hate phone calls. Hate them. The number of people I willingly speak to on the phone is two. That’s it. And I often ignore calls from one of them if I’m not in the mood. Phone calls make me exceptionally anxious. I’m usually okay with video calls, so that is what I do: video call clients rather than use phones. I use email or WhatsApp rather than anything requiring me to talk to them verbally.

My whole business is set up in a way that facilitates this. I don’t tell people I don’t like calls or ask them not to call me. I make email and video communication the easiest way to contact me and ensure if I’m contacting them, that’s how I do it. I rarely get stuck on a verbal phone call!

Being forced to communicate in a way that stresses you, makes you anxious, or in any way negatively affects you is draining. You might put up with it and do it because you feel you have to. You might flat-out avoid it, causing issues with people finding you lacking in the communication department. If you sit down and consider how, when, and where you are comfortable communicating and then set yourself up to communicate in that specific way, you remove a huge load you didn’t even know you were carrying.

The thing is, expectations are the most significant issue when it comes to communication. When you clearly set people’s expectations and stick to your boundaries where communication is concerned, everyone knows what to expect. If you decide you’re only available to communicate via email and set this as a clear expectation that is agreed upon, people won’t get pissed off with you when you don’t answer the phone. If you decide you will check your email only once per day, at a specific time, and answer everything in that time, people will become accustomed to the fact that they won’t get a reply until that time block rolls around again. 

Shifting Careers When You’re Diagnosed With Bipolar Disorder

While the transition period after my diagnosis was one of the toughest experiences of my life, the bipolar career shift can be a positive experience that sets up the rest of your life. Even if you’re leaving behind a career you love, or have worked years to progress in, a diagnosis does not need to be the end of your professional life, or ability to have a job. 

So often, I speak to friends or meet new people through therapy groups and support forums who are struggling because they are unemployed or in a job that is detrimental to their mental health. They feel trapped, unable to speak up for themselves for fear of losing their job. Unable to find work for fear of being unsupported, judged, or rejected due to their unique needs.

It doesn’t need to be this way. I firmly believe that mental illness – or neurodiversity as I prefer to view my own situation these days – is not a barrier to self-sufficiency, gainful employment, successful careers, or leading a fulfilling life in which you achieve your goals and attain your dreams.

Does it take work? Sure, a ton of it, and much more than the neurotypical usually has to put in to get to the same place. Unfair? Absofuckinglutely. But at the end of the day, achieving a successful career is a hard slog for anyone. The fact it’s tougher and more complex for the neurodivergent sucks, but it’s no different for anyone with atypical considerations. Single parents have to put in a lot more work to get to the same point and learn to work in a way that works around their other responsibilities. 

Similarly, individuals recovering from chronic illnesses or dealing with physical disabilities must navigate their work environments and tasks with additional layers of planning and accommodation. Veterans transitioning back into civilian work life often face unique challenges in translating their military skills to the civilian job market and coping with the psychological aftermath of service. Even people relocating from different cultural or socio-economic backgrounds face hurdles in adapting to new work cultures and expectations. Each of these scenarios requires a tailored approach, resilience, and, often, a redefinition of traditional career paths to align with personal circumstances and strengths.

Your career doesn’t have to end with your diagnosis. Take the time to understand your condition, yourself, and your needs. Adapt the way you work to suit the way your brain works. And if that means shifting careers, go for it; a change, they say, is better than a break.

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