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High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder

January 17, 2011 Natasha Tracy

I have 'high-functioning' bipolar disorder so people think I'm not mentally ill. But the ability to function in public comes at the price of private pain.

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

I have 'high-functioning' bipolar disorder so people think I'm not mentally ill. But the ability to function in public comes at the price of private pain.

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.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, January 17). High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, April 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/01/high-functioning-bipolar-disorder



Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

Sarah
October, 9 2012 at 11:10 pm

My normally supportive family member got upset at me this morning. I broke the towel rail in the bathroom by leaning on it. Stupid, huh? Well, I was daydreaming and the towel rail was a convenient support for drying my toes. So he had to fix it for the tenth time this month. Perfectly understandable he was annoyed.
He doesn't know, nobody knows how upset I am because he was upset at me. I can rationalise it in my mind, I know that he doesn't think I'm stupid. But it's triggered bad memories of the past, like the time my boss shouted at me. All day my emotions have been going back and forth and I've been on the verge of tears. Nobody knows. I've functioned all day.
I'm holding onto reality by a thin thin thread...
Curse this bipolar!!

Bibiana
October, 13 2012 at 5:30 am

This article was so sad. I truly understand, because I am also "high functioning ", but somewhat less so than the author. I cannot work full-time, and am doing a part-time job with a job coach -supported employment. People don't get why I don't work full-time, and why I tire easily. Just because I look nice, have friends, and have a couple of hobbies doesn't mean I am 100%! They don't realize how hard I have to work at wellness -or how far I 've come.

Michael Hullett
October, 19 2012 at 5:26 am

I know that pretending to be healthy is an integral part of remaining stable. It shouldn't be, but it is.
When I was first diagnosed, I tried being honest, and it was an unmitigated disaster. Even people who truly care about you have such a difficult time understanding this illness, and most of the people we're around aren't the ones who truly care.
You don't get to be ill, and still function. Those are the rules. If you have a brain based illness, and you don't look and act like you need perpetual care and control, then there's nothing really wrong with you.
Those of us who live with Bipolar illness know how ridiculous that belief is, but it exists nonetheless.
The time I look forward to the most these days is every other Friday night, when my wife goes to visit with her mother. That night, I get to sit with a large glass of wine, and be me for a night. I get to let it out. The next day, I start the play all over again. If I didn't, I would lose my pretend world, and I would die.
Those of us

chance
November, 27 2012 at 2:30 pm

This made me sad, because it rings so true.
I am a "high-functioning" bipolar too. I am fortunate to be a well paid advertising writer, freelance after many years as a creative director in an insanely demanding corporate job. It's astounding to me that I'm even alive at this point.
Managing terrible depressions is hell enough; fitting it in around deadlines is heroic, though it certainly doesn't look that way. I am a practiced liar. All sick days and vacation time are spent fighting demons - not the most restorative way to take time off - but I lie to coworkers about my "free" time. I have worked through flu, lyme disease, pneumonia -- because my precious sick/vacation time had to be preserved for the real problem of being a crazy person.
And yet I am a lucky one; 15 years ago in a hospital I was told I should go on disability and live in a halfway house. Basically I was told that's the best I could hope for. It's a terrible thing to tell an ambitious type, mentally ill or not. Would I have had a better life had I taken the advice? I doubt it. At least in the struggle to maintain some sense of "normalcy" and drive toward success I have some creature comforts, a 401k, a supportive and loving husband. But the tiredness is monumental - then and what seems always. It's a frantic existence and I doubt it will ever be anything else. This is success.

lonelycowboy
December, 31 2012 at 4:28 am

thanks for the article. i can relate so much as well. i had my epic break-down about 3 years ago. i'm grateful to say i'm in a much better place now. but i just have this gnawing feeling inside that is like "yeah, i'm doing much better, working, living on my own, etc, but i still feel weak and vulnerable to my bipolar symptoms." i hate feeling like i have to fake it to make it. i just want to be. what helps is to recognize that looking back things do gradually get better (with bumps in the road), if i take my meds regularly, communicate with others who understand me and my bipolar, and generally attend to the basics of normal life (eating, sleeping, staying somewhat organized, etc.). while i still have big dreams for myself, i try to keep my expectations in line.
thank you again for sharing. it helps me.

sweetp
January, 3 2013 at 6:20 am

Natasha,
Thank you for publishing this statement. I can so relate, and am so relieved that I am not the only one. I too work as a night shift nurse for 12 hours a shift. I too, put away my crazy up on the shelf as I walk into the hospital. I am able to serve and care for others with complete compassion for those that are suffering, alone in a hospital bed. It is the ONLY thing that I do right in my life is to nurse. It gives me stability, and sanity, otherwise when I'm off Im a wreckless, hopeless being. I spend 12-15 hours in bed on my days off. I am not able to do the basics of life like: Fix food, walk my dog, take a shower. Thank God I have a partner that does these things for me. I am embarressed to say that I am unable right now. I am so depressed, I know I need to quit smoking, eat healthy, EXCERCISE, walk my dog, listen to music, garden. These are the things that would make me happy, but for now I can only think about them, I physically cannot act upon them and it frustrates and angers me beyond belief.
I feel like such a lazyass, but I do get up and work 12 hours taking care of patients. I give my all, and have nothing left. I have such fatigue its scaring me. I'm so tired of being in bed, because of my meds (seroquel) I have gained 65 pounds, I have hypothyroidism and Lymes disease, which adds to the baseline problem of my depressive bipolar state. I am so unhappy, and overwhelmed. My doctor says it will take time to reach a therapeutic state and to hold on. I am relying on seroquel to break my bipolar beast right now. Thank you for the assurance that I am not the only one with no energy to carry on. I'm at the point where I am fighting for my life to improve in quality, happiness, and peace.
Pam

Kim
January, 7 2013 at 12:25 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. I have always felt the same way. I work full time and am exhausted everyday just to maintain and sustain being functional. To me, it is integral that I can be productive. But it is so taxing at the same time. I feel completely unworthy if I am unproductive. It is a double edge sword. There is no one in my close circle of friends who is bipolar or even suffers from depression so it is hard to try to convey just how difficult it really is to keep this up. People say, "No one is normal," but they don't get the spontaneous moodiness and mental distortions of everydayness that I experience. There is my immediate, innate reaction, and then there is my medicated, subdued response. This is a continual, minute-by-minute process everyday. So, thank you again for sharing your experience here. It has helped me more than I can say.

ryanjones
January, 8 2013 at 7:20 pm

Thank you Natasha. You are very brave and spot on. I have friends that I tell them I am bipolar and they say they understand, but they dont,just like the rest of my family. I was not going to say this but ive had a glass of wine or three. Like most people afflicted with this disorder we self medicate to calm the gerbils in our head. Alcohol is instumental in this process. I don't want to drink but i hate antipsychotics. Have you ever been put on pills and if so did you like the end result? Because I was and I felt like a zombie. Give me manic 20 days out of a month and 10 days of sevier depression over pills and ill take my bipolar anyday.

sandymc31466
January, 23 2013 at 10:34 am

Natasha, I so relate to you. My bipolar has been untreated for most of my life. I am 46 and have finally surrendered to my diagnosis. I am exhausted. I can't keep up the "act" of being normal anymore. I have always worked and have been working for the same man for five years now. I am a perfectionist so for the past five years my work performance reviews have been exceptional. After two failed marriage I am finally in a healthy relationship with my husband of 8 years. All of our kids are grown and I have dubbed 2013 as the year to take care of "sandy". I am beginning my meds today. I have a good psychiatrist and an excellent therapist now. I just want you to know that I relate to you. Living "normal" is exhausting!

Brizzy
January, 26 2013 at 2:08 pm

I fear I might be bipolar and I am losing my life. I am 26. I literally have done next to nothing in 4 years. I have multiple addictions that have subsided and stabilized but I continue to struggle with sexual compulsivity. I literally wave up and down all fucking day and I'm tired of it. I've tried to get help and I usually am diagnosed as depressed and then put on medications that result in psychosis. I used to have so much ambition, pride, and zest for life and I have nothing now accept a really bad life hangover and a lot of fantasies.

Sarah
January, 26 2013 at 3:05 pm

Hi Brizzy,
I hear you mate. You're in the middle of hell right now, and you've lost so much.
You're on the right track though. You've worked on your addictions. You admit your mental health problems, something that is very hard to do but necessary if you are to improve. You've sought help, and you're keeping on seeking help until you find the right help.
Hang in there! You've shown amazing strength in the face of adversity. Believe it or not there is something to look forward to in this life. The right help is out there.

Myan
January, 28 2013 at 8:07 am

ryanjones -
I feel that same way...colors are brighter, I feel so clear and alive...until the crash comes, at the end of my depression, with the shaking and crying and babbling and hopefully I've remembered to put away the knives this time. Then I think that the blue haze I live in with pills just might be worth it. At least, that's been my choice so far. We all have to make that choice. I'm hoping there will be better options soon.

Maya V.
January, 28 2013 at 10:40 pm

Thanks Natasha,
You wrote this 2 years ago and it still is so helpful. In the middle of the night I'm browsing posts because I am so upset and with reason. I have bipolar, I used to be on disability, but could not survive on the "mercy money". I have to work 50 hours a week to be able to afford my life. I used to be on 5 medications, but they raised my blood pressure so high I figured I will drop dead within a few years. I also did not have health insurance at the time and could not afford medications, So I quit them all. While I am exhausted, I can sleep on my own and not in an Ambien induced stupor for one good thing, However, I am constantly low on energy to the point of collapse. My workplace is extremely stressful, but I deal with it, as well, or better than "normal" people do. Some had been saying for a good while now I looked exhausted. But here is a new one for me: "You look stoned"-I was told yesterday. STONED???? I never used drugs, I despise drugs; I don't even drink alcohol. I am sick and am trying to function in a society that has no tolerance for mental illness. I can't even have a reasonable relationship because I have no energy to maintain one. I can't even make myself go out once a week to a trivia game because I need every ounce of my energy to exist; and guess what, my friends are resentful because of it. ("Try to make it next time" -they say) They "understand" but they do not. Now that I'm told I "look stoned" I will have to get back on medications before I get fired.
You are damned if you do, you are damned if you don't, Just how much more can one human being aspire to do? I am so angry.
Thanks guys, for listening.

Natalie
February, 7 2013 at 5:46 am

Wow... is all I can say. Two years or four or maybe six or eight or ten years of little episodes of high bursts of energy that I used to be able to attribute to the end of the semester, the impending project deadlines and the self-imposed deadlines to be productive, used to leave me feeling completely empty at the end of the day. Lying on the floor, the bed, wrapped up in whatever I was wearing, I had slept in, skipping showers, skipping meals and losing track of days at a time. The energy it took to function in school/work/home so that no one would see the crazy just kept increasing, until the recovery time it took to build myself back was insurmountable. As a freelancer, I could hide out in the lack of a regular schedule, but now with a 9-5, its increasingly difficult. And as a result of the transparency and accountability, as well as a boss that has openly commented derisively on the mental health status of a previous employee, its all I can do to just get through the week to the safety of my bed on the weekends. And my relationship is a similar rollercoaster of mood swings and behaviour that was just unexplainable before.
Thank you for this eloquent and honest description of your circumstances, in a way that brings me comfort to begin the next part of my journey.

Sheryl Nelson
February, 7 2013 at 4:27 pm

I run around all week and Friday night I crash till Monday. The weekend is me in bed, barely eating and feeling like life is passing me by. Acting normal only helps when I don't get or stupid people make me angry.

Betty Farnsworth
February, 14 2013 at 8:57 am

This is a problem for me. When I've attended group therapy, most are lower functioning people. They admire my knowledge about mental illness. I search for someone that understands how it is to pretend all day. I'm glad they like me but they can't understand that underneath I am a wreck too.

Penny
February, 15 2013 at 2:51 pm

It takes a tremendous amount of energy to be high functioning. I think the ones who suffer the most are family when we come home "wrecks" at the end of the day. It is very hard to be "normal" and keep up the facade.

Mary
February, 21 2013 at 3:48 pm

So glad to have found this site. I was messing around on the computer trying to "prepare" for my psychiatrist appointment early tomorrow morning. I hold a full-time job as a licensed psychologist. I have never been hospitalized for anything...I have been trying to figure out how I can do this and still get other things done. I gained 70 pounds on Zyprexa but it wasn't until I withdrew from it that I began to "feel" like I was mentally ill. I developed a TD from the Zyprexa withdrawing-incessant "humming." It sucks. I have been rather crazy lately- on lithium now. Had to raise it two weeks ago. I feel so vulnerable. I'm not manic and I'm not depressed. But at the same time, I'm not well or "normal."

Sara
February, 28 2013 at 5:50 pm

Natasha, thank you so much for this article. I was beginning to think that I couldn't find the words that describe my life, but you took them out of my mouth. Thank you. I was recently diagnosed with bipolar II, or bipolar depression. I was relieved by the clear examination of my condition, but I am also not sure what the future holds. I can completely relate when you talk about not having enough energy to just be normal. I wake up some days and feel the vigor to go the gym, run my errands, go to work and make lots of money, pay my bills, etc. But it scares me how quickly that low sneaks up on me and I crash. I don't leave my house, except for fast food, those days. I stay in my sweats. I watch TV all day and don't bother to shower or brush my teeth. And then I have to go make money at my job and I can barely muster up the strength to put baby powder in my dirty hair. I understand completely where you're coming from. Hopefully, there's a light at the end of the tunnel for all those suffering from bipolar disorder. Thanks again for your post and good luck!

Steph
March, 5 2013 at 5:46 am

Thank you for this. I have a great meds cocktail and am pretty high-functioning. I'm so used to living my "normal life" that I don't even notice I'm doing it anymore. Except that when I get home at night, my brain shuts down. Every weekend, I want to sleep all the time and my mood takes a nosedive. When my baby goes down for his nap, I collapse too. A break from my "get up and get the baby to day care and go to work" routine leaves my brain confused. I hate it because I feel like I miss out on life, but it's the best I can do.

Delaney
March, 13 2013 at 8:15 pm

It's 1:00 AM, and once again I find myself reading old posts and trying to make some sense out of my bipolar life. I am what people would call "high functioning, but it comes at a very big price. I should have never had kids....
I feel so sad right now about my latest outburst with my daughters. I'm on the verge of a hypomanic episode and agitation is severe. Things that should not bother me are making me scream like a demon.
I had a bad depressive episode in December and January, and since the fog lifted I have felt really well and had a lot of energy. That is a good things when it comes to work, but a very bad thing at home.
My 14-year old daughter told me recently that she likes me better when I'm depressed because I am nicer.
I could go on and on. Also, I have a business and I have made some big mistakes recently which makes me question if I really am high functioning enough to maintain it.

aulpn
March, 19 2013 at 8:55 pm

When I finally told my family, all nurses, that I was DX with Bipolar. They claimed to always support me, but when I told them, I was pushed out of the family and ostercized. Grandpa told me Both Mom and also Grandma had it. I put the pieces together, their medications and actins. Grandpa was right! Now it is only my husband and I, and He and my friends, doctor are my support team! I can make it, I have meds and a NEW family I choose! I live my life like any other high functioning person! I just hate those peoople who say they 'have a touch of Bipolar! Thanks friends!

Christina Rose
March, 20 2013 at 3:45 pm

Hey.
I found your post intriguing. I resonated with it, as about 2.5 years ago, I was in your exact same position... had lost my job years prior to deteriorating mental illness, Bipolar, fluctuating over time from low-high functioning Bipolar and I really just felt that was how my life was going to be. High functioning was just as high as you described it. I wished it would have meant more.
Somehow, I beat the odds. I am still in awe of all of the events leading to my wellness. Wellness! And I am actually functioning back in my job in the health care profession. I have my life back. I know that my "recovery" is rare, but because of my journey, I truly believe that recovery is possible, beyond what we believe of ourselves. I treasure life, health and wellness, and everything under the sun that I am capable of doing because of where I have been and how everything had been taken from me.
I still have to maintain my health. I have to set a lot of boundaries, and I do have limitations, to keep my stress at a reasonable state. I have to take my medications each day. And slowly, I get to decrease them.
Anyway, thank you for your honesty and insight and for sharing it with others. It is so valuable!!
~Christina Rose xo

Linda Ann
March, 21 2013 at 5:26 am

I am very much like this. I pour all of my energy into college classes, helping take care of my niece, my aunt, and other family affairs. By the weekend I am finished. My bedtime is somewhere between 9 and 10. I am 22 and the energy I have left at the end of the day is just enough for me to eat dinner and climb into bed. Bipolar does suck the life out of you. It really does.

michael
March, 29 2013 at 10:07 am

I identify so much with the crashing on the weekend posts. I get home 5PM and I just crash till 10PM. Then I can't sleep Friday night. Actually its Friday 4PM now. I need to make sure I stay up tonight.
But when I stay up to a normal hour I can't sleep so easy.
I need to avoid get depressed about this.
All the best
Yitzy

Angie
April, 2 2013 at 8:46 am

Thank you for this post. I am interested in starting a group for "high functioning" individuals with mental illness. I have bipolar type I, but I would like to keep it broader. Like some of you have said, everytime I find a group, and everytime I go inpatient, I find myself immersed with a population significantly lower functioning that am I. This is a serious gap in the mental health community; there is no place for people who "fake it til we make it" to find others who live similar lives. If anyone knows of any such initiative, please let me know. If not, please let me know if you would be interested in looking into this with me. You may contact me at amarielanger@gmail.com
Best,
Angie

Miranda
April, 7 2013 at 6:15 pm

I know all about the lying. I've made up illnesses to cover for absences, and my college days were a sea of lies (Especially when I got my master's). I couldn't tell my prof that I had spent the entire day before staring at my computer trying to work, intermittently distracted composing my suicide note, and contemplating ways that I could hide that it was suicide, nor could I explain that in my manic perfectionism I had spent 4 hours on my introduction, so I ran out of time to get the paper done on time. I manufactured so many car problem stories, illnesses, family emergencies, and so on. The sad part was, I really was a hard worker...just crazy. My work never lost points, but my late submissions did. Now, I'm a high school math teacher. Pretending to be calm, cool, and collected takes everything out of me. It's so hard for me to keep organized, and it seems I have to work more hours than anyone, because of my disorganized thinking - everything just takes me longer. A couple of years ago, I told my principal and those that asked in my department that I was severely anemic, because my depression was making me late occasionally. When I finally wound up in the psych ward for a week, I said it was for tests, because the docs weren't sure what was causing it. I really should do more research so I can make up a better cover story if/when it comes up again. But a bipolar teacher would scare people. They'd have visions of "teacher goes crazy and shoots up school" or something. Now comes the scary part, please feel free to give me any advice you can. I really want to end it all. I feel like I work round the clock. Even when I'm not working, I'm stressed about the fact that I can never be good enough. I'm tired of the media, parents, administrators, and general public blaming me (teachers in general) for things that I can't control. When I have tried ten different ways to encourage, explain, differentiate, coax, lead and anything else you can think of to get kids to learn, and they won't bring a pencil to school, or do an assignment, it's still my fault. I'm a bipolar, perfectionistic, dichotomous thinker. I can never succeed at this job, because scores of kids will fail each year no matter what I do. Then my principal asks what I'm going to do differently next semester so more kids pass. Like I'm not doing everything I can, researching, trying new things. It's never-ending failure. Add to that the fact that I'm not qualified to do anything else, my kids are grown, my husband deserves the chance to find someone who can be happy with him, not bring him down. I hate my life, and don't know that I've ever truly been happy. I've always felt like I'm just faking my way through - hell, I am just faking my way through. I've tried all kinds and combinations of anti-depressants and mood stabilizers, gained 40 pounds on them, and hated them. They didn't make me happy, I just existed. I don't know what to do. I feel so alone, and hopeless. Sorry to ramble on so long, but I don't know what to do. I know I have to wait until June, because if I ended it now, there's no way my students wouldn't find out - assuming I can't hide the fact that it's suicide, but I could quietly pass away over the summer, and all they'd know is that I didn't come back next year. My family would be sad initially, but I think it would be better for my husband in the long run. I know people will all tell me not to, but I can't be fixed. I've seen shrinks on and off for 15 years. They can't fix me or my life.

Natasha Tracy
April, 11 2013 at 5:54 pm

Hi Miranda,
First off, it's important that you know you're not alone. I know it probably feels very lonely - I get that, I really do - but you're not alone. I'm standing with you, and so are so many others with similar struggles.
I understand your battle with work. It sounds very difficult. I know what it's like to be a perfectionist and I'm sure it's very difficult seeing kids fail but not everything is your fault, and clearly you know that, even if the people around you aren't clear on it.
The first thing that strikes me about your comment is that you seem very overwhelmed by all of this. And I understand that, life can be very overwhelming. What I would suggest is getting some therapy from someone who specializes in bipolar disorder. You need someone with whom you can be open and honest. You need someone you don't feel you have to hide from. You need someone to help you work through these difficult times and emotions. They can help you. Really.
And please know that while I think it's completely reasonable to feel suicidal - that's your illness talking. That's the overwhelmedness talking. That's not you. That you wanting a life with less pain. Which is completely understandable.
And you can get there. I know you said that you have seen "shrinks off and on for 15 years" but maybe that hasn't been the best tactic. Maybe a better way of handling it is to get one doctor who specializes in treating hard-to-treat cases of bipolar disorder and working with him. I have spent _years_ of my life being treatment-resistant but believe me when I tell you - every time, something, eventually, works. I know it can feel endless and I know it feels like you can't be "fixed" but treatment is possible. It always is. I know that because not only are medication combinations almost endless but there are other options like ECT, VNS, rTMS, and so on. You do not have to live like this and you certainly don't have to die like this.
Things can get better. Things will get better. But you need to reach out to make it so. Please find yourself a quality doctor and therapist and be open about your struggles. It's very, very hard, I know, but it's worth it. Those kids of yours (biological and at school) need you to live. You touch more people than you can possibly imagine.
- Natasha

steven
April, 12 2013 at 2:14 pm

Miranda,
I hope you read this. How long you have been teaching? I am a secondary science educator and have taught for 12 years in an inner city high school. I have lived through the things you mentioned in your post about pencils and failing students. I have even provided pencils to students to use, only to have them break it into several pieces and then say it was an accident. To make it worse, they then they ask for another pencil and state that "if you don't, then it be your fault that I couldn't do my work". The whole concept of the "no child left behind" legislation made all teachers the scapegoats if a student did not pass their course. I believe in the statement that "you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink". With NCLB teachers are forced to trick the "horse" to open its mouth and splash some water in. I have felt what you have gone through and after making it till June I gave in... I am very glad that I did not succeed and that after 4 weeks of being in the hospital I was diagnosed BP2 and am now in the treatment of an excellent therapist and psychiatrist. I had to take a one-year leave of absence. Check to see if your school district will let you do this. A year off from teaching and getting help for my illness enabled me to understand and accept what it means to be a bipolar educator. I returned with a renewed vigor and passion that I had not had since my first teaching year. I was once again bright eyed and eager to help the next generation of students successful in learning.
I also know the deep-seated fear of having my administrators, fellow teachers and possibly students or parents finding out about my mental illness. Getting a better handle on how to maintain and cope with the mood swings seems like an impossible task (like grading 100 tests in one plan period) but it can be done. Look into taking a year off (leave of absence or sabbatical) to try things like those suggested above by Natasha. You still have over six weeks until your self-imposed deadline. Remember you stated that you are a "perfectionist"; so take the time to make your therapy and maintenance of your illness perfect.
Remember that perfect may not mean that you get all the questions right on the chapter 4 math test, but that you understand the process and therefore had the opportunity to get it perfect. Perfect may have been the target, but process and success is the true goal. After all, what is the difference between a 90 or 100? Both are still an A in the realm of education and ultimately the world.

laith
April, 17 2013 at 2:03 pm

I find this article offensive, as well as some of the comments.
As someone diagnosed with bipolar type 1, I am medicated and I live alone. I refuse to allow the belief that most of you have, which is being bipolar makes you unhealthy or crazy.
The fact of the matter is that bipolar disorder is just the same as being diabetic. How? You have to watch what you eat while on whatever psychiatric medication you may be on, and you have to change your lifestyle in general. This means limiting alcohol and making friends with people who understand you and are not a trigger to bad habits.
Being crazy or unhealthy has nothing to do with being bipolar/ or diabetic. You can be a perfectly.non crazy person with the disorder and still be healthy.
Get the medication you need and stick to it like a person with diabetes sticks to their glucofage or insulin. But please, do not let bipolar define who you are, and most definitley dont use it as an excuse. If you go off your meds and have a manic episode thats your fault, not the disorder.
Blaming our short comings on the disorder is wrong. If you know you have the disorder, then you should know it will never go away. So dont think for a second that you will be fine without your medication, go off of it and say to yourself the disorder is ruining my life.
Chose to live a better life, better habits, better friends, better lifestyle.
One last thing being crazy is NOT the same as being bipolar. Its just a mood disorder. As a bipolar community we need to get on top of our emotions, whether it means being medicated or cutting out drugs and alcohol.
Live long and prosper my community,
Cause you only get one life. Dont spend it blaming stuff on something THAT IS MANAGABLE.
PEACE OUT
(drops mic and walks off stage)

Bibiana
April, 23 2013 at 2:21 pm

Hello again,family! I wanted to put my 2 cents in again. I feel that it is so important for us to love ourselves, and to feel good about whatever we can accomplish,no matter how small it seems. We need to dwell on our improvements instead of beating ourselves up. I may not be a great success to some people ,but I enjoy my life, and it is a life with so much more quality than it was before. Thanks to meds,therapy, and my rehab center I have parttime work that I love and where I am valued. I have a happy love relationship.I have good friends, and I am able to socialize and have fun.I am in a beautiful concert choir. I am the organist in my church ,and have also found love ,spirituality,and family there. My life is so rich. This may not seem like much, but I have come a long way. Have courage,everyone. My love to all of you.

Susan
April, 25 2013 at 3:15 am

Thanks so much for this post. It has really helped me to realise that I'm not alone.
Currently in a mixed state, which I find scary and my Dr. is adjusting my meds.Upped my seroquel so living in a fog. Very hard to function. So my daily goals are:
1. Put on happy face, make sure I appear engaged and functioning at breakfast with my family. As soon as they are out the door I collapse.
2. Shower on a daily basis.
3. Make my bed.
4. Be a good mother after my kids get out from school. ie. talk to them, sound interested make sure there is good food for dinner, but it's fequently take out.
If I can manage these things on a daily basis, I am happy. The weekends are hard though as everyone is around and I have to try to act "normal" for around 50 hours straight, so I actually look forward to the start of the work week when I can take off the mask.

Sarah
April, 26 2013 at 1:09 am

Went to my outpatient clinic today and nodded at my case manager before sitting in a chair to see the doc. My case manager had another patient with her. She was middle aged, oddly dressed, and yelling at the receptionist that the clinic had made her late for church. For some time. In times gone past I would have stayed well out of her way (crazy lady!). But this time, as I sat and listened to her, I felt a certain empathy. I could imagine her fear and trepidation of walking into church late - not from the parish, but from within her own mind - memories of the past perhaps, scolding her, putting her down. And above all, it wasn't HER fault she was late for church. It was the doctor who made her late. SHE wasn't that kind of person... so she fought, and fought against the suggestion that she was somehow wrong, lower, BAD.
If the receptionist had understood, and provided reassurance... if only... it would have made a difference not only to her day but to the rest of the week, and perhaps every time the inner demon comes to attack her.
As long as she remains alone, the bipolar takes hold, the medications become less effective, the therapists can do no more... shall we write off this creative and lovely lady?

Bibiana
April, 28 2013 at 2:53 pm

So often people with bipolar are written off, like the lady described in the post above. It is hard to get sympathy or attract friends when you look or act odd to the general population.It is tragic that so many of us have been ignored or abused when we so badly needed compassion and support. I can identify with this. I lost so many opportunities because of my varying moods and behaviors. I am very blessed to now be a member of a wonderful clubhouse that is dedicated to helping the mentally ill. Through the loving staff there I gained confidence, learned how to conduct myself, and gained supported employment. I am still bipolar, and still have bad days. But loving support makes such a difference. I hope that lovely lady finds that somewhere.

Bibiana
April, 28 2013 at 3:02 pm

Miranda, I hope you are doing well. I have sometimes had thoughts like yours, that my loved ones would be better off without me. Please try to remember that this is your illness talking. It is NOT the truth. My love to all of you.

Trisha
May, 1 2013 at 11:56 am

Thank you so much for writing this. I have not been diagnosed, but I've been trying to read as much as I can to see if my problems are simply depression or possibly bipolar. I found myself thinking that if I were bipolar I would not be able to hold down a job, pay bills, etc, even though trying to manage all those normal everyday things leaves me feeling like my brain is floating in pieces inside my skull, and it takes everything I have to hold those pieces together. Every little stress, disappointment, or failure breaks off another piece, and I'm running out of fingers to hold them.
As some others have said, I have days where I have the energy to get everything done and feel like I can conquer the world. I reach out to others in those times and make plans and feel kind of normal. To me, this doesn't seem "manic", but it kind of is for someone like me. Because when I sink back down, I have to cancel all those plans and stay in the safety of my apartment, where I can just sleep or disappear into netflix (someone else's reality for a while). What people have said in these comments about lying and making excuses for calling in to work hit so hard. I've never admitted to anyone that that's been my problem in the past, and as much as I don't want to admit it, it's still a problem in my new job.
Natasha, I want to thank you for your comment to the lady who was contemplating suicide - that though it seems perfectly reasonable, it's the illness talking. For weeks, I've been fighting with myself over the decision, planning what will be done with my remains, who will be in charge of handling everything, how I can keep my family away from the process so that even after I'm dead I can have some safety from them, what I could write to comfort my best friend who has made me promise several times that I will never kill myself, reminding myself to look into a living will in case my attempt isn't super successful - because if I do it, I mean it. I've been here before, but I think the difference this time is that I felt I didn't want help. I just see a lifetime of more of the same - trying to fit in and be normal when my mind is constantly fighting itself over whether to be happy or depressed. Anyway, your comment encouraged me to at least try to get help and see if things can be a little better.
It's so strange. I just recently graduated college and just a few days ago passed my board certification exam. These are huge accomplishments, and you'd think I'd be on top of the world. But I'm too busy trying to keep my sh** together.
Anyway, thanks again.

Dawn
June, 5 2013 at 9:31 pm

Response to laith:
I think your post is unfair as you are being hostile to the people who are responding to this blog, you ignore their suffering, which is cruel.
This is our 'safe place' to talk about things that are difficult for us as individuals, as real people living our ordinary lives. We're not saying these things to our families, our work colleagues or anywhere else. We're not demanding anything -- we're simply expressing ourselves.
Bipolar is a devastating illness. The big thing is -- being diabetic can garner you support as people understand an illness whose symptoms are visible to them, and measurable by things such as blood tests. Bipolar, being a mental illness, is invisible and makes people really scared. There is a huge denial going on everywhere around us. It is frustrating, infuriating and especially discouraging.
It is a huge help to me to see that other people are exhausted at the end of their work days. I find myself falling asleep on my bed at 5pm with my glasses still on. It's so frustrating to not be able to support my teenagers after school. These posts help me to see that, with BP2, this is just how it is -- this is the crap side of the illness. It's not my fault. I deal with it as best I can. I'm surviving, and sometimes thriving.

Rita
June, 12 2013 at 10:18 am

I just love this article. When my crazy falls off the shelf, I come back and read it for a reality check.I work fulltime and volunteer it an animal shelter. Life gets overwhelming and in the last few weeks I have missed several days of work. I am back working today and feel pretty good. I will go home and sleep 12hrs, get up and do it again. But now I don't feel so alone. Thank you Natasha

Bibiana
June, 16 2013 at 9:47 pm

Hello again, family. This article has drawn me back again. I cannot judge anyone or their circumstances, but I hope the lady who wrote this article finds some sort of help and support. As I said, I am no judge or authority for anyone else, but I have been in those circumstances, and to me that is not a healthy life. Barely hanging on all day, collapsing and zoning out when you get home, and having no time to see friends or cultivate an interest for me is NO life- especially if you have bipolar disorder.

Julia
June, 18 2013 at 6:12 pm

Good post Dawn. I too wanted to post something in response. I agree with you that comparing bipolar disorder to diabetes is completely unfair. They're not even remotely in the same category as severity and interruption to one's life. Pick bipolar disorder and some form of cancer. Chronic conditions that have much more of an affect on someone's life than diabetes. Diabetes is a "big" disease too, pun intended, and it is a big interruption into one's life--but it's also a completely preventable disease. Cancer and bipolar disorder are not completely preventable, and they both end in death at a much higher rate than diabetes in itself.

bipolar & busy
June, 29 2013 at 8:22 am

GREAT ARTICLE & even greater feedback. I am working on a book about the experiences of individuals who are bipolar... One of which is me.
If you would like to share your story with the world (not a paid gig) in an anonymous way (name changed) please email your story to: localwritersbookfair@gmail.com.
I just ask that you share your age, sex, and state. There is no word minimum and maximum and you can use previously posted responses as well.
Thanks.
Natasha: You are truly an inspiration to others like me with bipolar. I can absolutely relate to your high functioning life.

KJ
July, 4 2013 at 6:54 am

I'm 41 and yesterday a doctor told me I might be bipolar. I have severe depression and major somnolence disorder. I don't remember a time in my life when I wasn't horribly sad. I have wanted to die since I was about 9 years old. I have been on meds for 20 years but have always felt like I'm holding on by a thin thread. I do not have manic episodes, just varying degrees of depression. I am a successful scientist, mother if two wonderful teens, in a healthy and loving relationship, almost have my home paid for, have no debt other than my mortgage, have more in my 401K than I need, but I'm still sad. The doc is switching my meds. Hopefully I can find some relief. I cried when I was told I might be bipolar. I know next to nothing about it. I am a very responsible person so I didn't think I could have it. I can so relate to the tiredness and having no energy once behind closed doors. My life is a charade.

the apologist
July, 16 2013 at 12:17 pm

I'm overwhelmed by this site and all the information and personal stories in it. The fact that this comments thread is still going after 2 years is a phenomenon I have never seen since blogs began.
For now, all I can say is thank you so much for this site which I have been looking for so long. I finally thought to google "high-functioning bipolar."
I'm so overwhelmed by this thread, to read people talk about "acting" to get through the day. You begin to believe no one could possibly understand since everyone around you doesn't get it, can't handle it, can't be bothered, or all of the above.

the apologist
July, 16 2013 at 12:20 pm

I fear being happy b/c to me, happiness = mania = the time when I do the really crazy things.

KP
July, 22 2013 at 7:49 pm

I was just informed today that I am a "high functioning bi-polar". I also have ADHD, Dyslexia, dyscalculia ,OCD and PTSD!! What the hell am I suppose do do with all this??? They want to load me up with meds. I was just accepted into a VERY hard to get into college program. This will be an intense few years. I just don't want to think I am all these things!! How could I have made it to 40 without knowing all this. I can't seem to stop crying. I'm trying to joke about it, but im scared!

KP
July, 22 2013 at 7:51 pm

SQUIRREL! (Sorry, lame attempt at humor!)

Vern
August, 3 2013 at 3:52 pm

Thanks for all those people who shared their stories in this blog. My wife and I have six children and the oldest one is bipolar (22-1/2) it has been absolute hell from the time he was about 7yrs old until 18yrs. We didn't know what it was at first and I was very un-sympathetic with my son who always misbehaved on purpose.(so I thought) Thank God we finally found a good doctor that was able to help. My wife and I have learned a lot and I still have a lot more to learn. For those who don't have bipolar or live with someone that has it, they will never know the anguish of what a person with bipolar goes through just to exist each day. No matter how hard it has been for us we still love our son just as much as the other children. We send our sincere sympathy to all those who suffer from this hidden illness. It's know different then having cancer or any other illness. Just because a person has bipolar doesn't mean they don't deserve respect. For all those person that face this extra challenge each day...may God grant you the strength to face each day and to help you to overcome each hurdle. We pray for all of you!
V&A

Katherine
August, 3 2013 at 11:51 pm

Thank you everyone for all of your brutally honest comments.
I was told I might be bipolar by my psychotherapist. However, my biggest problem is being the sole caregiver to a mother with Alzheimers who is in an assistant living facility. Over the past 1.5 years I have had to move into her very hoarded home and go from scratch to fix it up, everything seems to be crumbling because of finances.To top things off i still have 2 years of a masters internship( Almost all the course work is done with all A's.) I have to work 8-4:30 Wed& Thursday and 1 class & probably would have been okay but the
stress of my mother has totally overwhelmed me( 5:44 am and up all night but thank god it is the weekend). I am job hunting but am having a hard time finding anything. I want to finish school but the fear is crippling and I have to get it together soon! I would have graduated this year but had to quit for a while to help with mom. My racing thoughts have left me exhausted yet I still cannot sleep, what a mess.
Katherine

amack00
August, 13 2013 at 1:09 pm

Great entry. Everyone is supporting the same theory with their own version. I have to agree. I do my high-functioning routine and then once I am in the house I breathe a sigh of relief and am done until the routine begins again. I am grateful that my pre-teen daughter has adapted to my routine and is self-sufficient. I had always thought that my routine was due to a lack of motivation and laziness. Thanks for the information.

Jacqueline
August, 14 2013 at 4:14 pm

Greetings,
I have never posted anything on the Internet, but I must now, to thank the readers and writers here for making me feel not alone.
Your writings have helped me, not only as an individual, but also as a professional educator struggling with being "on" all day and worrying about how to hide my self-appraised "unfit" status to deserve the profession and extreme exhaustion at other times.
Thank You All

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