My Quest for Employment: Moving Beyond Bipolar Disorder

I usually thought I was late. Back in April 2011, I was a 23-year old Economics fresh graduate from U.P. Diliman wanting to make a mark in the world. But I was also struggling with the thought that many of the young people like me believe we can change the world by finding a job.

Most of us had great needs and we saw our jobs as the means for us to reach for our dreams and provide for our families. Thus, there was indeed something special about “finding the right job”.

Passion, grit, or resilience, whatever the secret ingredient may be, there was some restlessness in me. I thought I graduated too late so I have to catch that “train of success,” whatever that was.

I got my first job at the U.P. School of Economics as a Research Assistant for a USAID project. After just a few weeks in the job, I found myself struggling with some life issues already: How will I budget my time and money? How will I get by with some personal challenges? What is my plan?

With all my naiveté, I thought that the technical skills I learned from college could already push me through the hard days and nights. But then, struggling with mania and depression (as I was diagnosed to have Bipolar Disorder) and having some financial struggles too, I usually found myself trying to catch some breath to survive.

Living away from my family and usually having to rely only on my own finances, including my medications, was not easy. There were indeed days when I was faced with the hard truth that I really lacked the skills I needed. Worse, I was usually battling with perfectionism, expecting that “I should always be okay.”

But, still having some encouragement from friends, churchmates, teachers, and family, I tried to give myself some space and some doubt – maybe, I can succeed too. So, I had a talk with our manager and I shared that I wanted to take a chance to fail from my own decisions.

So, I fired myself. I resigned after two and a half months in my first job and decided to look for my purpose shamelessly and quite messily (or sometimes shamefully too).

First, I committed to not be ashamed of my struggles and thoughts anymore. I thought that if I would have secrets about my identity, it will be too hard to face future challenges — much harder than keeping a large part of me as a secret. Thus, I came out in Facebook and publicly shared to my friends that I had Bipolar Disorder.

Also, though usually in an unacceptable “too passionate” manner, I also shamelessly shared my views on relevant social issues in social media, including Mental Health. Yes, it gained various reactions, both the supportive and abrasive ones. It was a tough and painful experience which taught me a lot of lessons. But at least, now I can present myself with a little bit of authenticity.

To learn further, I also risked going to graduate school with not enough money in the bank but with a scholarship offer. Using up all my faith to plead to God, somehow I finished the coursework on time by 2013.

Since then, employment to me had been crazy, both in a good and bad way. While trying to learn by being in graduate school, I went from one job to another, sometimes taking part-time jobs as a tutor, graduate assistant, or research assistant. Sometimes, it did not matter to me how small the job or task was as long as I gained experience on research or office work. I tried encoding, compiling papers, testing computer programs, photocopying, answering the phone, or manning the computer laboratory.

There was a time I served as a substitute teacher for Social Science Statistics graduate class and the other times as a high school math or graduate statistics tutor. Usually, as a raket scientist, I also took small data management and analysis jobs too.

Finally, a chance to have a break came when my professors gave me a chance to serve as a technical staff for the K to 12 Transition Budget Research Team headed by the Commission on Higher Education (CHEd). There I saw how some government officials and school administrators work. I also saw how top scholars do research or how labor leaders advocate. I sat in the same room with them as they discussed the future of higher education.

Then, when my engagement with CHEd ended, another opportunity came. I took my chance to work for Save the Children, an international non-government organization, and got accepted to do research and apply learnings to a project that aims to help disadvantaged youth have jobs.

Focus Group Discussions with Out-of-School Youth for Save the Children at Bulacan.
Focus Group Discussions with Out-of-School Youth for Save the Children at Bulacan.    

There, I got my first chance to work with foreign technical advisors and colleagues. I also learned further how soft skills like creativity, critical thinking, communication skills, or social skills are very relevant in the workplace, even in highly technical or mechanical jobs.

Now, around six years after graduating from college, I had to stop having full-time work again to finish my Master’s thesis. But, am I more miserable than I was back when I started? I am back at being a raket scientist but I can certainly say that my hopes are as high as outer space.

Yes, there are still those moments I still see myself lost in the thoughts about what the future can bring. But the world is somehow different now. Some people listened to us who have mood challenges and they have become more open and respectful to us.

With small victories, I had also been entrusted to handle bigger and bigger research projects. From being an assistant, I then managed an assistant, until I oversaw a team of assistants, enumerators, and encoders to ultimately complete a full research project.

The best part was when I experienced being sent to Sri Lanka to represent the Philippine team of our organization at a ten-day research workshop/conference. There, I met development research teams from various countries and had some meaningful moments of learning with and from them.

My first international conference with Save the Children International staff at Mt. Lavinia, Sri Lanka (December 2016).
My first international conference with Save the Children International staff at Mt. Lavinia, Sri Lanka (December 2016).

At the core, I believe what made these happiness happen was the time I spent with my church community, friends, and family all these years. Volunteerism and fellowship at church gave me an opportunity to develop a heart for service, remembering that God indeed is at the center of everything.

Play time with Victory Church friends
Play time with Victory Church friends

Family has also provided the understanding and emotional support that strengthened me. And most importantly, friends were always there to make it sure I would not ever want to fail or else a lot of teasing will come! This is aside from the great mentoring I received from the more senior friends I had, of course.

I have learned that we just have to be patient with the little things God would let us experience – from the small annoyances and boring tasks to the simple yet memorable joys. There is also much grace, peace, and beauty in the world worth appreciating. Now that I just turned 30 last Christmas day, I believe I am still not late. I might need to speed up but we can be happy even amidst the craziness of being so uncertain about what sweet moments will come. Because in God’s plan, sweet moments certainly come.

Let each year be like a time capsule full memories we would always cherish. To a better 2018!

[Entry 256, The SubSelfie Blog]

About the Author:

Sheena Kristine Cases.

Sheena Kristine M. Cases, 30 y.o., is currently a Research Assistant for a PhD student at Harvard University and a freelance researcher. She is also an M.A. Demography candidate at the University of the Philippines Population Institute and a volunteer for Mood Warriors and Phoenixes Bipolar Disorder Advocacy Philippines and Victory church. During her free time, she loves to doodle and journal about battles worth winning.

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