Bipolar Disorder and My 2020

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It's the end of a very confusing year for me.

Short of it is, it's been the most successful year of my career, but it has wreaked havoc on my mental health.

Trigger warning

I go into a lot of detail about how bipolar disorder affects my day to day life

A bit of background.

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I tweeted this just when I was diagnosed with Bipolar 2 disorder after like 10 years of trying to figure out what was wrong with me.

I was optimistic, with a good treatment plan, I'd be stable enough to do more with my life.

Things got really good. I had a great routine, was sober, my productivity at work went through the roof, my relationships improved, I was exercising.

For once, I was stable!

After 6 months, I had the confidence to do more and started looking for the next step of my career.

In Feb, I got offered an opportunity to co-found an interesting fintech with a uni buddy of mine who'd "secured" some funding. I'd take a modest salary (still better than Andela 😂), build the MVP and shoot for Y-Combinator towards the end of the year. I jumped at it fast!

Covid at this point was only an outbreak in China. But as I finished up at Andela towards the end of March, shit hit the fan all around the world. The same day I cleared with Andela, the funding got pulled and the startup was dead before it even started.

And I had no savings 🥶

I had the option of going back to Andela. I loved my engagement at Shipwell and I was optimistic they'd take me back

I took a bet on myself instead, gave myself the opportunity to grow 🚀

I, fortunately, had ~3 months of runway from my final dues, yay for unused leave days 😅

This was about the time the lockdowns started. And boy had I underestimated how difficult things were going to become!

I applied to like 50 jobs, got back on Upwork and bid on close to 100 listings and NOTHING was coming up 😭

My routine fell apart, I wasn't exercising coz the gyms were closed, I had this low-grade, constant anxiety. I was keeping up with my meds but I started drinking again to take the edge off. I wasn't seeing my therapist since I didn't have medical insurance and couldn't afford it.

Fast-forward to mid-April. I'd make the May rent but I'd not make it through the month.

Good things started happening

I met my girlfriend! A Quickbooks integration contract perfect for me showed up on Upwork, and I got it. I even bid half of what they'd offered 😂

soap-bx.com were a 1-year-old US startup in the process of building their version 1. They were a perfect fit for me. I wanted a longer-term arrangement with them so I considered this an extended interview and gave it EVERYTHING!!

End-May, I finished the contract. They loved my work and offered me a full-time contractor position 🥳

The completed contract paid $250, it wasn't enough to make it through June.

But, they offered to pay for the first month in advance! And it was ~3x my Andela pay 🤯

Same week, I also got an offer from TwigaFoods to join the team building out their payments system.

I really wanted to work for a Kenyan company, and with Mpesa. Plus Twiga ran microservices.

They too were a great fit and I'd learn A LOT even if the pay wasn't as nice.

Two fantastic opportunities with different merits.

Then mental illness showed its ugly head.

A pinch of low self-esteem & belief, a splash of survivor's guilt and a sprinkle of anxiety...

It triggered the WORST depression episode since I started treatment 😔

I had a decision to make. Pick one or both? If I pick one, which one?

Now, depression and decision making do not go hand in hand folks 😂

My mum, Muniu, the late Baba Muthoni and my girlfriend came in clutch and helped.

I took both jobs!

Twiga - 9am-5pm Soapbox - 5pm - 1am

The first payment from Soapbox came through...

... did much-needed grocery shopping, had some takeout that I'd missed so much... a lot of booze... moved to a new house... new jobs...

... triggered a HUGE hypo-manic episode!

My mood swung to the other side literally overnight

Unlike depression, mania is difficult for me to identify because it's how my self-image of how 'stable and thriving' looks and feels.

My mind is INCREDIBLY sharp I can focus and work like a robot My confidence and creativity are at 3000% I only need 2 hours of sleep ... for weeks!

Mania helped A LOT with juggling the simultaneous onboarding at both Twiga and Soapbox.

But, it establishes unreasonable expectations for me.

Fortunately, I learnt from my previous jobs to inform both my very supportive managers of my bipolar quirks

I'd completed a year of treatment in Aug and got off my mood stabilizers.

Tbh, if that psychiatrist appointment hadn't happened while still manic, I'd have opted to stay on them, but I thought I was fine now and couldn't remember the depression (mania comes with memory loss)

After 6 weeks of crushing it at both jobs, I started feeling tired, struggled to get work done for a few days...

.... then 1 morning I couldn't get out of bed.

I couldn't answer my phone or respond to texts/slack. I was unreachable from everyone, including both jobs, for days...

It took the Twiga HR calling my mum (emergency contact), her coming from Eldoret to my house and finding me in a very sorry state.

I officially took a week off from both.

I, fortunately, got out of depression and got back to work

Literally 2 days in, I could feel my anxiety going through the roof

It finally became clear that working 16 hour days was far from sustainable for me.

At the end of September, 4 months in, I left Twiga because it was the more stressful of the two jobs.

Problem solved, right?

😂 of course not!

Since then, I've had episode after episode. But they've been pretty tame, mostly thanks to therapy and my support system

The last manic one had me start a new business 😁 (follow ShootersShopKe)

I was in a pretty bad depression all of last week and just came out of it.

I'm back to work today. I'll stay hopeful the challenges of my mental illness are outweighed by the quality of my work.

It's also clear I still have a lot more self-work to do. And that's alright.

No work of art is ever complete, right?

All in all, this year is a win. A hard-fought win at that.

I'm still alive I showed up ~70% of the time I took a bet on and trusted myself I learnt to choose my well being over anything else I am kinder to and more accepting of myself

All in the backdrop of a pandemic 🙏🏾

This was originally a thread on my Twitter. I tweet a lot about my mental health journey and building stuff, be sure to follow!

Cover photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash

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