The Wall Street Journal
"Looking back, Ms. Switz says she had signs of hypomania—racing thoughts and unusual energy—even as a teenager. But it wasn’t until her final year at Harvard Business School, in 1999, when she tried to jump into the Charles River thinking she could walk on water, that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
She left the hospital after a few weeks with a stack of prescriptions, the name of a psychiatrist and little other support, she says. Within a few months, she had graduated and was working for McKinsey & Co. in Washington, D.C.
There, too, she drove herself relentlessly—especially when she was told her performance had slipped and she was given three months to turn it around. She did—but at a cost. “Hypomania can make you really productive—but for me, it’s mixed with irritability and impatience,” she says.
She never told McKinsey about her bipolar diagnosis—nor did she tell GE Capital, where she went to work as a strategy manager in 2002, after getting married and moving to the New York City area. But the stress of a wedding, a new job and a big project landed her in a psychiatric hospital again a few months later. She told GE she had a thyroid condition and worked straight through the suicidal depression that followed. “I couldn’t take the subway because I was afraid I might jump,” she says.
In April 2006, she left GE to work for nonprofits involved in global development, and gradually started opening up about her condition. She learned to identify what triggered her manic episodes—including missing sleep—and asked employers if she could limit traveling.
Her former bosses say Ms. Switz, now 44, was valuable enough that making accommodations for her was worth it. “She was so strong and capable that when she was in the field, she made a real difference,” says Ed Bland, former COO of Unitus, a nonprofit where Ms. Switz managed consultants assisting microfinancing companies in Africa, India and Southeast Asia.
“She was such a stellar performer, it was never an issue,” recalls Jennifer Potter, former CEO of the Initiative for Global Development, where Ms. Switz also worked.
Now, she works part time at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Ms. Switz also runs a consulting firm, in addition to the Stability Network. She sticks to a strict regimen to keep her symptoms under control, including taking medications, working set hours, exercising, spending time with her young son and getting to bed by 8:30 p.m. “I want to get a lot done, but the stakes are very high if I push too hard,” she says."
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