High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder
Sometimes people don’t believe I’m particularly sick. They meet me, I look fine, I interact, I charm, I wit and all seems, if not normal, at least something reasonably normal adjacent.
And that’s fine. It’s by design. Being a high-functioning mentally ill person, I can’t really afford to run around with my hair on fire. But faking normalcy, happiness and pleasure is a tricky and very expensive bit of business.
Being a “high-functioning” bipolar doesn’t really have a definition, per se. The term indicates that I’m not in a mental hospital, and I do things like live on my own, pay rent, work and whatnot. I would suggest that being “high-functioning” seems to indicate that I can fake not being a crazy person.
High-Functioning Bipolar Weekdays...
It’s really important that I be able to put my bipolar on the shelf. I have to be able to put the crazy away so that I can talk to people, engage in business, produce technical documentation, write articles and so on. I wrote about 12,000 words last week for clients. You can’t do that if you’re pondering where on your wrist the best place to slice is.
...Followed by Low-Functioning Bipolar Weekends
The trouble is, using all my control, sanity and energy during the week to try and produce enough work to pay my rent then leaves me with a really large deficit when I’m not working. I’m crazy. Remember? Not normal? I’m just faking the normal. And faking normal requires more effort than you can possibly imagine.
So then, as soon as I’m not working, I break into a thousand pieces all over the tiles on my kitchen floor.
Sure, you go out Friday night with friends. My Friday night is usually spent fairly catatonic trying desperately not to get suicidal.
Bipolar, High-Functioning Or Low, Is Exhausting
As I see it, everyone has a similar tank of energy. We expend that energy in lots of ways. We run after kids, we go to the office, we jump out of planes. All fine uses of energy. Me, on the other hand, I spend a massive amount of energy just trying to keep my brain in one place. I have almost no energy, or brain left, outside of that.
I Give Up a Life to Survive
I do know wonderful people and I do adore them. But that doesn’t overcome the inertia of having every drop of energy sucked from me so I can pay rent. So all the appearance of my functioning is paid for by utter decimation and exhaustion the rest of the time. I don’t have energy or brain space left to read, see friends, date or do pretty much anything else. The last thing I want to do is leave the house. I want to sleep. Forever. And ever.
Bipolar Sucks the Life You Don’t See
I’m the least fun person in the world. I work. I sleep. I have a schedule. I keep that schedule. I’m tired. I make excuses not to go out. I’m sort of the lamest person ever.
But that’s the mental illness sucking the life out of my ears. I want to go out. I want to see my friends. I want to do something fun. I want to have a drink with you after work. I just can’t. I’m too tired.
So yes. I’m capable. I’m talented. I work hard. I produce stuff. Yay me. But the price I pay for that is not being able to be anything else.
Tracy, N. (2011, January 17). High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, February 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/01/high-functioning-bipolar-disorder
Author: Natasha Tracy
Perfect! I am not working now, other than my own fledgling crochet business, but this perfectly describes how I felt when I was. But even now, just being out & around other people is exhausting.
I don't go out much, keep to myself most of the time because when I do out it takes all I have to put on that mask & play normal like somebody who wasn't just thinking in the shower I'd rather stay home & kill myself than go do this - & seriously thinking about.
Thank you I have never seen "high functioning" bipolar mentioned before.
That is what I am, I do go out with friends but can hardly wait to get home.
I have cancelled events because I COULD not go to them.
Thank you for relating this to us.
I also would like to sleep for a long time.
Have a great day - and get some sleep.
Thank you. I needed this today. I say this as I sit with a bottle of pills and a razor debating my fate, should I stay or should I go. It's the beginning of a spiral and I don't like what's happening so far. No one would ever suspect that I have bipolar, I have a "normal" life, but that doesn't stop bipolar from taking the upper hand sometimes. When these spirals start, I never know if it will be my last. Guess I just had to get that out. Thanks for listening.
You expressed this so well...it's something I try to explain to my friends and family all the time, but they don't get it. I'm going to share this with them as you explain it much better than I do!
It can be so very lonely living that way. I have been in a place where I am not funtioning well enough to even work. It is a luxury I am afforded by a supportive boyfriend. I feared jail, death or suicide when we met. That particular kind of loneliness is a hard feeling to capture-the pain that comes from protecting our loved ones from our lameness. I hear you, Sister.
I would love to know more about your schedule in particular and how you overcame working through depressions and controlling your actions during hypomania. You have more output that most crazy people I know, myself, included. I am stuck in a wierd limbo and I am sure it is text-book some kind of something or other. I have been in and out of bed for years now. any from the hip advice?
Yup, sounds familiar.
The term "high-functioning" actually comes from how some people describe some people with autism, I just kind of stole it for my own uses. We writers are like that.
I do identify with _not_being_able_ to go out even when theoretically I wanted to. It's an odd kind of, oddness.
Sleep for us all, say I.
I've been where you are. You are right, it's a spiral. I know I'm not saying anything you don't know, but you have to step off the spiral. That spiral feeds on itself.
Put the pills and the razor blade away. Stick them in the freezer or on the balcony or in a watering can, doesn't matter. Just some place where there's a barrier between you and them.
And then call someone. Or write. Or go out. Or read. Or watch TV. Or do whatever it is that you do.
I know that by posting that comment you're stronger than the spiral. I hope it helps a little.
I am not Bi-Polar, but they have attempted to label me as such. ADHD can cause false manic positives. :(
I was wondering if you have heard of "the Spoon Theory"? I feel it is very relevant for everyone who has to be ON for the world and has a less than ideal life behind the scenes...
Well thank-you. Sometimes it takes someone else to express what we're feeling. I'm glad it helped.
If I had a secret, I'd give it to you but I don't think I have one.
The thing about me, and I'm not suggesting this for anyone else, is that I'm very stubborn and hard on myself. I'm driven to perform. Period. I don't let myself off the hook. I'm not happy (so to speak) if I'm not producing something of quality.
Type A personality, I guess. I've always been driven.
And I do manage to, many times, successfully separate my mind from my brain. ie, I separate Natasha from the disease. And as egotistical as I know this sounds, part of that is my intellect. It's pretty highly trained in this area. Again, I've always been an intellectual. It's my "safe place".
But that's not to suggest that those are the tools for anyone else. It's just me. And keep in mind, it's not like I have 100% success.
You questions are good though and I think I'll devote a post to it and see if I can really answer some of your questions. Not this week though as I've already had a request for Thursday's post :)
Nothing works all the time hon. In spite of what I said, be kind to yourself. You deserve it. Just work a little every day. You'll get there.
I am a stay-at-home Dad. I have mixed results out in the workforce. I think I function well because my kids are happy and I live in a happy house. With that said I could not do what I do without the support system I have in place.
thank you thank you thank you. You put into words what I have been trying to think out loud for decades.
Thank-you, Natasha. You Rock!
Why would anyone use the word "crazy" to identify who we are. We are NOT crazy. We have an illness that does not define who we are. It is no different than having cancer or diabetes. It is treatable.
As far as high functioning I think most of you missed the point including the author. High functioning means that not only can you work but that you can carry on after that without all the drama you have described. Or not working and not having all the drama you have described.
I am highly educated, can produce to a certain extent, but am disabled by the disease I live with; Bipolar. There are "tools" to help us keep on functioning at a higher level. One for example, is exercise. All research indicates there is noting but positive in so many ways that come out of this...increased endorphins and other chemicals to help us keep balance. In terms of negative thinking, I say to myself..."Stop terrorizing myself with my own thoughts, think of pleasant things instead." If I tell you not to think of a pink zebra, what are you going to think about? A pink zebra. So I use distraction and change my thoughts to the color blue in my case. YOu can use whatever you like.
High functioning is not about working. It is about functioning at a high level most everyday in a way that people without Bipolar function.
I had never heard of the Spoon Theory before but it's gosh-darn brilliant. A must-read. Thanks so much for posting that link. I may have to steal that idea some time.
Thanks so much for the post Natasha. My mom has bipolar and this helps me understand what she goes through every day. Loved the spoon theory someone else posted, that is truly a must read for everyone. I also have a child with autism and this applies to her to, thank you both for helping me better understand the people I love.
A happy home life contributes greatly to how well we cope with anything, including disease. A support system is critical, every health care provider would agree on that one.
A pat on the back to you for managing an illness and being a Dad. One or the other is hard enough.
Thanks. I'm glad it helps. You definitely aren't alone in those feelings.
Well, I do like to rock...
I was hoping someone could help me out in going about getting help for bipolar disorder. I am finally admitting I am bipolar....just hard to admit that I couldn't cope with my mood swings by myself. I am still learning about this disease. I do not have any insurance. Is their a number I could call to get me started on this process of getting help for myself? I would appreciate any point in any direction to help me. Thank you for your time and help!
Congratulations on choosing to seek help. You can now start the journey to getting better.
The first thing you need to do is get a proper diagnosis from a doctor. I know it's tempting to self-diagnose, but if you do that you might make an error that could impact the success of your treatment.
Here is a link to the resources page here on HealthyPlace. There are lots of agencies and numbers and one of them should be able to point you in the right direction.
Drop by any time and let everyone know how you're doing, if you like. Good luck.
I really appreciate your posting and can relate. I have two daughters one who has been diagnosed as bipolar and one who I suspect may be, but with bipolar II without mania but scary irritation and anger. I also have experienced one manic episode brought on by Oxycontin given to me when I had a fractured jaw, and otherwise have suffered from a major depressive episode for the last 3 1/2 years.
People also look at me and think I'm normal and not depresed. I definately want to sleep all the time. I feel out of energy after having to be on at work or if I go to a family event. I too make excuses not to go out on the weekend and even though I often want to go to a movie myself on the weekend, I can't summon the energy. Everything is a supreme effort.
Thanks for sharing and letting us kow we aren't alone.
I guess I consider myself as a high functioning human being who has bipolar disorder. It is important to learn to live with it not exist in it, it is not who you are just what you have. Three years ago I could not leave my house, could not work and drank alcohal all day. I finally went to treatment and got a social worker who helped pay for my health needs and got me in touch with therapists etc. Now I am finishing college, working as a rock climbing instructor at the college and doing a feasibility study as an internship. I love my life! I eat right and get lots of exercise. I stop through out the day to descalate by playing the piano, crocheting etc. I allow myself one day a week to hibernate and not deal with people. I still have days I dont want to join the rest of the world but I push myself to do so and just by doing that my mood improves as so does the day.
I guess my point is, is that you can have a great life and have bipolar disorder. It takes a lot of work but it is a battle you can win! I still deal with it everyday but it doesnt take the same amount of energy it used to. And yes about once a month I have a meltdown but it lasts only a day instead of two-three weeks.
Keep up the fight, it does not happen over night or exclusively from a pill bottle, good counseling is a must. And remember you are worth it.
I let my mom read this and I think it helped her understand how hard it is for me. We work together and she has a very strong work ethic. I think she gets frustrated if I'm not "doing my best". I think this showed her that it's not that I'm lazy, I'm just tired and worn out. When I get home at night I crash and I barely get out of bed on the weekends. Making a life for yourself with bipolar is like pushing a boulder up hill, everyday!
Thanks for being my voice.
If there's one thing I know it's that we're not alone. Glad I could help remind you.
I think people approach the disease differently and identify with it differently. When I say I'm bipolar it's not suggesting that I am the disease, it's simply the use of the English language. I've written about this a lot.
It's great you've found stability and happiness. It's what many people search for. Absolutely, many people have great lives with bipolar disorder. And many people don't.
Hi Shy Shy,
One of the greatest compliments I can receive as a writer is what you have said: you have showed my writing to someone else because it expresses how you feel and it helps someone hear your voice. So thank-you.
It can be hard to get the people around us to recognize what we're going through and what it takes to live our lives, but some people will understand. I hope you got a step closer with your mom.
I guess my point was to never give up. It is so hard to learn to live with this illness that many do give up and it makes me sad. I remember being physically and mentally exhausted all the time. I just want everyone to know that it is possible to lead a happy, fulfilled life.
This is the first time I have been involved in these internet site posting and discussion sites. It is important to hear others stories and ways that they cope and live with the illness. I am greatful to all of you who are will to share your experiences.
I am so glad I was shown this. It describes me so well. I'm basically a hermit outside of work. All I can think about at work is how I want to be at home in bed. I'm constantly canceling appointments because I can't face going out after being exhausted making it through work. I've tried to explain it to people, but they don't understand why I can't just force myself. I tell them that I use up all my energy being at work and there just isn't anymore left for anything else. It's comforting to hear that I'm not alone in this. I've been feeling like a freak for years. Thank you.
Yes, there are always things to fight for. No, I don't want people giving up either.
Thank-you for sharing your experience.
You are not a freak. You're dealing with a very difficult disease in the best way you know how. You probably don't know any mentally ill people in your position in real life (I know I don't). So it's hard to understand that you're part of a really big group. A huge dysfunctional family, if you will.
I'm glad I could help remind you that you're not alone.
My husband gave me a great insight in saying that I was "always going for being & giving at the "10" level.Why not be satisfied with being a "5"?" Giving a little less, so I have more for me, for more satisfaction & more joy in my life. Now I am going for be satisfied with being and giving a "7"
Your comments remind me of me paddling up the river and pushing to hard. Like the untruth that what I give at work isn't enough. So I have to give more than healthily can.
We live with this disease, we do not have to be controlled by it.
The part about falling to pieces when not working is perfect. And I can relate to many of those friday nights. I honestly don't think I've ever read something that made more sense to me. Thanks for writing, you help more than you know.
It's all about how the disease affects you and your situation. I don't have the luxury of giving a 7. And I don't have the luxury of a day without illness. Not at the moment.
Without all that pushing I can't pay rent. Just a little thing. That I have to take care of. I don't have any backup.
Certainly I can appreciate your situation, but I also appreciate all the people out there that have to give a 10 just to get out of bed in the morning.
"I honestly don’t think I’ve ever read something that made more sense to me."
Thank-you, that's an extraordinary compliment.
Glad I could help.
I totally agree with you, I was just released from the hospital and diagnosed as bipolar. I created an online blog to gain support and help from others. I look foreword to hearing from you.
Congratulations on reaching out. That's a great first step in getting the support system you need.
Hi, I can fully relate to the working 'thing'. I'm self-employed, so I must no matter what get myself out the door to pay for the rent and all other bills. I'm presently seeking help in determining if I truly have Bi polar. I fit most of the criteria, but I'm also finally dealing with all the sexual, physical and emotional indiscretions suffered from a toddler and adult. It would seem my social worker thinks all I need is therapy, but I want a full blown assessment regarding the bi-polar, and will not settle for less. I hate medications, I don't do drugs, and I am not addicted to alcohol. I have wine on occasions, but that is all. Have others had to battle to get a proper diagnosis? I also have a blog where I share my experiences on a almost daily basis. If you care to read please do. Would really like some input if possible. Thank you for listening.
I am also a high functioning Bipolar II (except not today!). Because I am so good at faking "normal", people who don't know me well, when they catch me doing or saying something "peculiar", they just think I'm a little wierd (I like to think of myself at those times as eccentric). Or worse, they think it is a sign that I'm not a nice person (thoughtless, gouche, rude, insulting, selfish, egotistic, loud, boring, fill-in-the-blank). When I'm hypo-manic, I can be any or all of those things. But that isn't who I am. I've lost a lifetime friend of 32 years because of this misconception. Either she never really understood, even after all those years, or she just got tired of dealing with my disease. Either way, it was one of the things that Bipolar stole from me. Not the only thing, or even the greatest thing, but a biggie, nonetheless.
I like how you described the fatigue that so often plagues those battling mental illness. The energy and stress of trying to appear normal in public is indeed tiring and stressful. So is trying to deal with the ups and downs of this terrible disease. And STRESS is a major trigger to relapse, isn't it? Circles within circles. Sometimes, like for the past month, I'm so tired almost all the time, even though I rarely go out. I have been cycling between depression and hypomania, sometimes several times in a single day! My mind spins and tumbles like a rock polishing machine, and my synapses get all tangled up and frazzled and buzzing in my head. I fight the negative voice that tells me lies that feel like the truth, and I can't hold on to any thought for very long. It's like I'm sitting on a spinning merry-go-round, hanging on for dear life as it revolves faster and faster, hanging on for dear life so i don't get thrown off and go flying into space. So I pull into myself, and grab a book, or sit at the computer and try to focus my mind on just one task (reading) or turn on the TV or watch a movie, because that helps me slow my mind down and drown out the rush of multiple thoughts (most of them negative) that threaten to overwhelm me. My husband, forgetting my illness, gently ribs me about being lazy and urges me to get out and get some exercise or go see a friend. He forgets that when I'm like that, trying to appear normal in public is beyond my ability; even moving out of my chair is almost beyond my strength at those times. At least I have come to the point where I no longer berate MYSELF for my inertia, or for any other symptom of my Bipolar illness. I have learned to allow myself the time and space I need to unwind and take care of myself. So eventually I can be there for him, and for my college-age son, and for my friends. Once I am able to be there for myself.
Many people battle for a proper diagnosis, but one thing that I can tell you is that a qualified therapist can generally do a proper diagnosis. Not a "counselor" but a psychotherapist who's licensed can generally make a good assessment and suggest further involvement with a psychiatrist.
You have to understand that if a psychiatrist diagnoses you with bipolar, they likely will just give you drugs. If you want to go, go ahead, but if a psychotherapist can manage your needs, you might consider starting there first.
(But you are correct, you do need a proper diagnosis from a licensed professional. Anything else is really a guess.)
This sounds _so_ familiar:
"My mind spins and tumbles like a rock polishing machine, and my synapses get all tangled up and frazzled and buzzing in my head... It’s like I’m sitting on a spinning merry-go-round, hanging on for dear life as it revolves faster and faster, hanging on for dear life so i don’t get thrown off and go flying into space."
Yup, sounds like bipolar to me.
Sounds like you have a coping strategy worked out though. Your husband may not always support it but at least you know what you need.
Thank you. Thank you so, so much for writing this. It almost feels as though I wrote this myself, and completely forgot I wrote it. I am only 19 and I remember the day I finally admitted to my mother that all the laughing, dancing around, and everything else I did was just acting. No one even knew what I was actually going through. When something was supposed to be funny, I laughed. Because that's what you're supposed to do, right?
I thought I was boring, I thought I was a loser because I wanted to stay home. I always made excuses when I got invited places. And I admit, I still do it. When I get invited somewhere, just thinking about it makes me feel tired. It's completely exhausting. Physically, emotionally, mentally exhausting. For so long I've been feeling as if I am falling....
Reading this just makes me want to cry. It feels good to read that someone else feels the same way I do. I've never been able to relate to someone quite like this before.
So again, thank you.
Most of this is familiar enough to me to make me cry. The lack of energy and the need for temporary numbness quells the tears. I keep thinking that if I just take a short nap, or go to bed earlier, then maybe, I can get done what needs to be done, later. There was a movie or catch phrase ( I don't recall at this moment which) years ago that even as a child I could relate to it. "Stop the world, I want to get off". Another favorite was a sitcom where one of the characters could freeze frame everyone else while they could still do whatever they wanted, or needed, to do. My fantasy wasn't to pose the others in awkward positions or humiliate them in anyway. No, it was time; where I could take a nap, get caught up, finish my work, anything or everything, and then snap my fingers and the world would spin again or the frame would unfreeze. Such glorious freedom.
You see, by nature, I am an extrovert. I hate that I want to just curl up and sleep. I hate that I want everyone and everything to just give me some peace. I don't want permanent peace and quiet, away from society, family and friends. I want the ability. When I am having a bad day, of up and down, panic and stress, anger and frustration, is it so much to want to hide behind my door, even if it just the bedroom door, with no interruptions, no emergency from an ill parent, hospital,school, no fear for my bipolar eldest to end up on the" happy farm" again, no PTSD breakdown from a spouse who can only project his secret demons onto me, no worries that my teenager, diagnosed with this same, lovely family curse, goes out on one of his destructive anger rampages? This he does because he refuses therapy, medication and even the diagnosis. He tells everyone it is ADD because that is socially acceptable to his peers and their high school. This is not. The ever running question in the back of my head of how long I can stave off these same devastating affects from reaching my other younger children.
So everyday, I drag myself out of bed, put on the mask, the "fake it 'til you make it attitude and pretend that I am the stable one. Little do they know how close I've come. Sometimes I am jealous of those who can hospitalize themselves. Even of those who can say " I can't deal with this, you need to do it for me." I can lie in bed and pray that my sleep will be never ending, or that I might have that temporary reprieve. Maybe a real night of sleep. Where my dreams don't torment me or make me work out solutions for problems unresolved during t he day, where one eye does not have to be open, one ear does not need to listen
Then in some manic high, I agree to take on more work for my community. It is amazing what things one may do for others so quickly, so simply, that is horribly debilitating when applied to myself.
I want to crawl under a rock when I consider all the projects around my own house that I have started when I've been on highly motivated, can do upswing. Once interrupted, it could be months, possibly years until I can pick it up again.The task becomes so daunting, it becomes an elephant sitting on my chest. His trumpeting call to action, outdone by the stifling crush of the weight of something undone.
When I read this as I write it, it sounds more sleep deprived or stress induced. Trust me when I say, this is a mask that is somewhat acceptable upon occasion to share. Just remember, no one really wants to know the truth beneath it all.
There are more of us then people think. It is just no one talks about it out of fear of rejection.
Yes just to maintain some amount of normalcy is so draining. I often wonder if it is what I choose to eat or if I am just doing too much.
Amazing article Natasha (apologies for not seeing it sooner).
I'm in the early stages of recovery from an episode, my first with this employer and have been looking for information that wouldn't scare the b'Jesus out of them.
Will be scouring your postings me thinks.
Oh, don't apologize. The internet is awash in archived-possible-useful-information.
I'm glad I could help.
Bi polar is genetic,it runs thru a family like a wildfire , if you have it there is almost a 100 per cent chance that your children have it in one form or another. Raising them without being hospitalized for life ( is a great accomplishment all by itself ( I raised four). You don't have the luxury of going crazy , you you have to get them thru to the end and it doesn't end at 18 . I have been on medication since 14. If you have depression for more than six weeks run, do not walk to your psychiatrist and do the diagonosis thing,get help, you cannot do it alone.I am sixty two now and looking forward to dying of natural causes
I have the same problem. I have cyclothymia which is bipolar "lite", so since I'm not all over the place with mania people don't often take it seriously