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

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.

August, 21 2013 at 3:50 pm

Im exhausted at the moment, and very depressed. But i wanted to say thank you for this article. I feel the same way, was high functioning at all costs. Today i snapped. I had already upped my therapy to early intervention, as i felt myself skipping away. But the place was not taking me seriously because i was high functioning. And also because of a bad back injury since april, its getting soooo hard to fight for myself and even there get the help i need. I wish it wasnt so hard. Then today, i could not do any of it any longer. I have been forcing myself to keep going at all costs. I have to make a decision. Im scared. Im so used to being "ok" and functioning. I see my therapist for a half hour tomorrow,then finally (been there since 13th) get to talk to the apn. If med change helps, ill be happy. If not, for the first time in a long time, maybe inpatient. But i have an appt with the surgeon on sept 4th. Ahah trying to take care of back and mental health at same time is sooo hard. Just want to go to work, pretend all i have to, and go home. That to me although so hard, kept me healthier mentally.

Kris Magnusson
August, 21 2013 at 9:07 pm

I really appreciated this article. People who see me work think, Wow, how can he do all that stuff every day? He's smart! They don't know that after a day on the job I sleep for 4 hours on the couch until I can manage to drag myself to the refrigerator to get a microwave dinner and pop it in the nuker and even eat the Goddamned thing. Then I sit in my recliner and zone out and watch movies and listen to the stereo and maybe talk to a bipolar friend about being bipolar and high functioning. After I've bugged my neighbors enough, I take a Seroquel for sleep and do it all over again the next day.
Some days I can't even drag myself to my computer lab. I just stay in bed and sleep the day away and pretend I've done a day's work when I fill out my daily report. I don't LIKE to do that, but I've learned some survival mechanisms to keep my job and please my boss and still deal with bipolar.
I just came off of a 7-week leave. I worked 320 hours in 2 months on a serious deadline and got burned out and got in a motorcycle wreck to boot. I came back, not because I was ready, but because I burned through my savings in 7 weeks. I'm doing my best to hang in there, but I fear it may not be enough. The worry of having to leave Wine Country and move in with my mom in Utah if I lose my job is enough to keep me moving forward, but is the pace fast enough? I hope so. I value my freedom and my perks of living here.
So the high-functioning bipolar person isn't a myth, but there's more to it than meets the public eye. I'm so happy you brought this up and shared your experience.

August, 21 2013 at 9:56 pm

As someone who resigned from a dream job, just to try and fix myself, and immediately went into a manic episode (my first)
Then after recovery got a great little stepping stone job, resigned from that, and went into manic episdoe,
I say DON'T QUIT YOUR JOB, whatever you do. The whole thing you've got going on there is obviously really important to you.
Hang in there, you will make it.

Marie Blanch
September, 21 2013 at 3:29 am

Hi, thanks for this. I have been diagnosed quite late (55, now 57) and the revelations it has brought are huge. I have been a successful journalist for 30 years, but never quite seemed to get to where others thought I should (family members) and was criticised for that. While my daughter was at preschool and other mothers went for coffee and shopped, I went home and stared at the wall until it was time to go back and pick her up. I have now been made redundant twice and retrained in an industry where I will work parttime and study ... I still seem driven to be at the top of tree, even though I probably won't get there. but hey, despite some seriously deep depressions, addictions (3 rehab admissions) and the loss of my marriage (menopausal maniac) I am still here ... fighting every day. Stay strong.

Maggie Hill
October, 13 2013 at 6:56 pm

What an impact that your blog entry has had...thank you. I have felt so frustrated as I have been off of work for going on five years, and now am ready to return to work, but have no job to return to! I have a University Degree, have been an Educational Assistant and finished Teacher's College here in Canada but did not graduate due to a math course requirement that turned into a full blown phobia inciting my second setback since initial diagnoses, and my first year of marriage...I am angry that I have five years of emptiness of my resume and can't account for it. If I had cancer, I could talk about it in an interview, or in a cover letter, but bi-polar disorder??? I completely understand the entries that I have read previous to mine. Friends just don't get it, and are not willing sometimes to stick around. They get tired of asking and getting told 'no'. I have also fallen through the cracks of Canada's available resources for people with 'disabilities'. Luckily we have those but I am not 'disabled' enough to qualify. Just trying to believe and keep treading water. Thanks everyone.

October, 14 2013 at 6:01 am

Work does help, or at least it can. My bipolar diagnosis and real break happened over the course of an entire year to 1 1/2 years after wrongfully losing my job.
I know it's not the case for many people, but my job, my life's work, did define me. It's how I chose to define myself. I was, and always will be, a teacher. Although I know I can do just about whatever I might want, teaching and working with children is what I love.
That is one reason why work can help. The other is that it provides a tremendous STRUCTURE.
Let me say it again, STRUCTURE.
Notably, an EXTERNAL structure.
And do not fool yourself or let anyone else fool you: STRUCTURE is extremely important for anyone, but most ESPECIALLY for anyone living with a mental illness . . . even if it's well-managed. It's this routine that Natasha talks about, either here in this posting or a different one I read at some point. It's CRUCIAL.
And having an EXTERNAL structure is oodles easier than than trying to establish and maintain your own little structure, especially if you're in a current episode though also if you're not.
Work provides this. It gives you that framework, a foundation, to fight through your depression, to organize and give priority to your mania or hypomania, or to your adhd . . . structure that keeps you engaged in real time with real people.
Of course work can also be too demanding, and that's where the balance comes into play. However, here in the United States, you can and should request little accomodations to make your work life a little easier, so that it doesn't completely overwhelm you. If you're not so sure about disclosing, the good news is you don't have to disclose the exact nature of your disability or even that you have a "diability" needing an "accomodation." Depending on your work, there should be policies for you to follow if such a need arises. However, even if there aren't, all you have to do is go to whom your immediate supervisor is and say the following things:
(schedule a meeting, if needed and the time is inopportune)
1. What it is that is posing the greatest difficulty for you
2. Why--you have a chronic medical condition that flares up every now and then (or however you want to put it, but make it clear that it's not a completely temporary thing)
3. What you need from your supervisor, and don't be stuck on just one thing. This should prompt a discussion about what kinds of things could help, so if you have more than one idea, it's good to voice them to demonstrate that you have some flexibility.
**Always take good notes, if not while you're talking, then afterwards. Make note of the date, time, what was said in as specific wording as possible. Do be aware your employer can ask for verification, but also know that there is a LIMIT to what they can ask. The best thing to do is to look it up--EEOC's site for guidelines regarding ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act. (From there you can also find several links to ideas for accomodations).**
Since I lost my job, it's been about two years and I am definitely more stable. I managed to get on disability (for the time being; not a long term thing in my mind, necessarily). I've been hospitalized seven times, twice involuntarily, and it all happened over roughly seven months, lasting an accumulated total of two monthss. This explosion into full-fledged bipolar disorder, caused by the loss of my job and the nature by which it happened, has taken a serious toll of my life . . . in what I'm able to manage stress wise, what I'm able to even do on a day to day basis. But I am determined to continue getting my life back. Will look the same as before? No. Will I be able to work full-time again teaching? I don't know. Not now. Will I be able to do SOMEthing (workwise, that I want to do)? Yes. I don't know how long it'll take to get there though. And I don't actually care about the time, as long as I'm working on it every day in some way or another.
So my advice, if I were to give any--keep working, but put the tools in place that you need to be successful.

October, 14 2013 at 6:35 pm

What a reassuring article this was! I've been operating on all cylinders for many years, having broken down once for an extended period of time during the "dark years" of my bipolar illness. The depression was stifling. The anger and helplessness were debilitating. It took me 5 years to overcome that little setback. It involved several hospital stays, short term disability from work on numerous occasions, and a couple of stints of moving back in with the parents.
I'd finally broken through this crippling fog back in 2009. I was getting healthy. I was feeling like myself again and I was happier than I'd been in years. I had pulled back from the regular therapy visits. There were no more classes on dialectal

October, 14 2013 at 6:40 pm

training. I felt I had climbed the mountain and reached its pinnacle. I was relieved.
Fast forward to 2013. I'm still holding down the same job, spending my days functioning normally while at work and with friends, for the most part. Where everything comes unraveled is after work, on weekends and those times when I'm not "on". The guise of pretending is at rest and I can be myself. I fall apart. I clean up the mess on the floor that is me once I walk through the door of my home. I spend my two days off a week licking my wounds, nurturing that scared kid in me and trying to find a way to decompress before Monday comes and I have to pretend again. I thought I was the only one who did this. This is what "normal" is like for me. I didn't know any different. I thought that I was the only one who felt so utterly exhausted after work. Now I know...I'm different and so are many other people.
Thank you for this article. It helps to know that I'm not alone.

November, 3 2013 at 12:20 pm

Thank you so, so much for this article. I'm fairly recently diagnosed, 22 and in grad school and working. I've noticed that phenomenon lately (this week/weekend has been the worst depressive episode in recent memory). I'm thankful to know I'm not alone in that sense, but discouraged to see that it isn't a thing that gets better. I already feel like I'm too tired to deal with this diagnosis. I don't know if you still monitor the comments here, but I wanted to ask if that's a worthwhile way of life in your opinion. I'd imagine it's different for everyone, but for me, the energy spent (not just at work, but in trying to deal with suicidality, etc. and just moving through the world) is getting to be too much for any sort of joy or meaning I get out of life. It isn't worth it.

November, 3 2013 at 3:57 pm

Hi Courtney,
It doesn't have to be this way forever. Consider the hard work you are doing now to be an investment in your future. The joy will return, just keep trying and don't accept second best in your treatment.

November, 19 2013 at 4:06 pm

Thanks for sharing that piece of your life Natasha. That meant a lot to me because it seems like a more personal view of you.

November, 23 2013 at 4:38 pm

I am glad to here there are others that have to pretend and then fall apart. That is so true of this illness. I am a nurse. I have been reduced to having to work night shift because I just can't deal with the stress of the daily routines such as doctors orders, med pass, dealing with families, doing lengthy admissions and a host of other things. I have missed work to the point of almost pointing out for the last two years. I do share my Bipolar with friends at work and outside of work. The hard thing is while people are sympathetic they really just don't understand what it's really like. They don't understand why I sleep so much and why I don't want to interact. My nurse practitioner really wants my to apply for disability benefits but I am the bread winner in the family....more added stress!!! I am so glad I read this Natasha.

Sarah Ryan
December, 11 2013 at 5:44 pm

While I respect that each case of bipolar is unique, I am quite sorry that you experience such fatigue and still call this "high-functioning". There are treatment options for fatigue. I hope people strive for a full and complete life, meaning socializing as well as work. Perhaps it's simply not possible, but I hope the message is out there to at least try!

December, 13 2013 at 3:58 pm

I am 25, with a Bachelor's degree and I was just diagnosed Bipolar last week. I knew something was wrong since I was a teenager with eating disorders and full blown major depression with psychotic features my first year of college. Somehow I managed to hide all my symptoms and the only ones that know of my inner turmoil are my immediate family. While they are very supportive and understanding, it is hard for me and my self esteem to accept that my normal is crazy. I wish every second that I hadn't been born like this, that I had another chronic disease less shameful. I am currently on Lithium and a week of zyprexa to bring me down from the mania, but I don't know how to deal with the fact that im gonna have to take an antipsychotic for the rest of my life.

December, 14 2013 at 12:59 am

Maria - one day at a time. Anything is possible in the future.

Natasha Tracy
December, 14 2013 at 7:15 am

Hi Maria,
When I first started taking medication I couldn't fathom taking an antipsychotic for one day let alone for years. But I got over that fear and came to realize that one single day is manageable. I can choose to wake up in the morning and take my antipsychotic that day. And tomorrow will take care of itself.
It's not so much about doing something "for the rest of your life" as much as it is about making good decisions every day of your life. If that means taking a pill every day for better health, then that's what it means.
Tomorrow will take care of itself.
- Natasha Tracy

January, 20 2014 at 12:20 pm

Thank you for sharing. What you said is the most accurate I have heard yet.

January, 23 2014 at 2:00 pm

I have never really realized there were high functioning people with the bipolar disorder. I've been in groups...but never with someone who was "high functioning". I have been told I was years after I was diagnosed. I thought I was just fooling the Dr.'s even though I have told them everything I have done and feeling. I felt like I was not having a hard time like others...I've seen many Dr.'s half say I'm a fighter, blah...have to. The last Dr I'd been to told me he didn't th8nk I was bipolar at all. That was exciting. Maybe I am normal and everyone struggles like I do. I think he was wrong. Now, I don't have insurance, two toddlers and a beautiful home..with people giving me a hard time about not working full time. How am I to explain...

Diani Meyer
January, 24 2014 at 3:22 pm

I have bipolar I. I just began (under treated) treatment in 2012. Last year I finally started to get the treatment from my tdoc and pdoc that I need.
I know how it feels to lose your weekend due to exhaustion and depression. Your post shed light on why I feel that way starting Friday night. So I stopped working so hard. I turned into a type B person and I'm learning to have a life.
I've read one of your posts about how you sometimes feel like you want to slit your wrist while working. I can't imagine feeling that way. Are you working too much? What's your support system like? What's your self care like?
I think it's insane to feel the way you do all the time. Maybe we're just different people, but can you make a therapeutic change in your life so you won't feel so bad on the weekends? Feeling suicidal as much as you do? Falling to pieces on the weekends? When I get of work on Friday, I am spent. But I have ice cream to come down with. I spend the weekend lying on the couch watching movies. I may hang out with a friend. Taking long walks, etc. But I don't feel like I'm falling to pieces.
You have all these wonderful blogs but it seems like you are constantly going through hell. I don't get it.

January, 27 2014 at 1:43 pm

Great article. I work with individuals with developmental disabilites and think of them in terms of "higher functioning" but never thought to apply it to bipolar. I would then classify myself as a higher functioning bipolar. Work is good for me. It gives me focus that helps slow down my brain and keep away the negative thoughts. But, like you, I am exhausted and evenings and weekends are spent trying to re-energize. No going out with husband or friends. No time spent doing fun things. I just hibernate. But thank you for putting this whole experience into words.

January, 27 2014 at 11:24 pm

Pffff, thank you.
We need more days in the week, more hours in the day.
So we can work and keep while keeping the brain in the right place, rest a lot and have some time left for social or lovelife.
Take care

Regina Downing
February, 13 2014 at 3:58 am

Thank you for this topic. I'm in crisis at work after a year of being unstable on my meds. I work for the feds and got in through a special hiring authority for the disabled. Things were great the first 3 years, but I spent the next 5 begging for more work and feeling more and more useless and powerless. Those built-up feelings along with my meds not working, have brought me to a crisis. Although I have the option of making a six-figure salary indefinitely, my sanity might require I take my chances and retire on disability, which will threaten my future financial health. I feel like a victim of this disease and of prejudice. I don't know how to have a role in this society anymore. It scares me and it hurts.

February, 13 2014 at 5:38 am

Oh ghods... I get this. I work a high pressure job and it's killing me. I function...for months at a time...then I crash, and I crash hard.
It takes me months to remember how to get up in the morning, eat, dress, take care of myself again... breathe.
I know I have to find a job that affords me more balance because this pattern is getting worse as I get older.
Career to career to career... I'm exhausted.
Faking it, takes so much effort.
I can put the mask on... be the social butterfly, charm the world, run the meeting, ....appear capable, but don't let people in my house because I can't do my dishes.
I am so blessed with friends who get it. They often bring me meals, or open my door and let themselves in to make sure I'm not staring catatonic at a wall all weekend. They help me get up and go for walks.
But I know my colleagues don't get it. They see the capable me. They don't see the dead inside me. so, tired.
Anyway. Thanks for finding words that I haven't found.

February, 13 2014 at 11:46 am

Ok this site is unsetteling or at least just incompatant in my perspective. I say this bc I am a 24 year old female diagnosed with Bipolar disorder at 14 and have taken almost every kind of medication available over a nine year period of time with med combos and a long standing vigilance in CBT. I took my medication religiously and properly. Basically any scenario as far as care including inpatient/outpatient at multiple Psychiatric hospitals. I can honestly say that I have suffered as much then as I do now, the only exception being is that I'm completely unmedicated no Pharmaceuticals no street drugs for a year. I'm basically looking for a compatant formula to study on how to live well and be unmedicated if there is one, bc medications thus far do not work sufficient enough to still progress and evolve as a human being, the side effects stop the true meaning of life. Yet accnolagment of this illness is imparitive and I am happy people can feel better at least more connected by this site, unfortunately I know it doesn't have to be this pathetic, use Bipolar as a gift but understand this gift is as capable as a car wreck of killing you. Help find a way to balance without any drugs, possible? I'm not insulting just wanting another way and wanting to see others with this tedious illness in brain chemistry to have different avenues for treatment that doesn't become stifling.

February, 21 2014 at 1:13 pm

It sounds all well and good to pay your own rent, but what about quality of life? Atm, I'm in a day program and on disability. My goal is to pay my portion of the rent(instead of my dad[guilt!]), have a social life, and do something meaningful, be that a job or volunteering.
I've done the run-myself-into-the-ground thing. All it got me was losing my job and a nice stay at a psychiatric facility. I can't have a life like that again.
Maybe someday I'll be stronger, but illness has shown me that what other people see as a good life - job, house, car, kids- isn't realistic for me.
Maybe I'll be on disability forever, I don't know...but given the choice, I wouldn't do what you do. I'd break. I hope that it is a good life for you. I love your blog.

March, 1 2014 at 9:54 pm

Hi Natasha,
Im a 46 year old single father-of-four (youngest is six). I was diagnosed in my thirties as Rapid-Cycling BPD with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy on both sides of the brain.
I think I'm in trouble.
It's been years since I was hospitalized (many, many times) and I've been taking Tegratol, Neurontin, Seroquil and Lithium for over a decade, but haven't seen a doctor in a long time. I've just moved to a new city after living for ten years in the same house.
I'm reading that many people "pretend" to be normal and how exhausting it is keeping the truth from everyone. I think today that I am one of the people I've been working so hard to fool. And I've been very good at it. But I'm starting to notice that I'm getting reclusive, drinking, not showering, not brushing my teeth, not exercising - not doing much of anything.
It requires all my energy and willpower to fetch and carry kids to school, feed them, pack lunches and so on. The older kids have started cleaning the house (they're not very good at it - ha ha). The more I withdraw, the angrier everyone around me is getting (not the kids). They keep giving me useful advice and action lists. Each new task they try to force me to perform to sort out my life makes me increasingly suicidal and hopeless. I'm noticing behaviours emerging that I haven't seen for years (none of them good).
I feel like I'm sinking. Like my mind is slipping away out of my grasp. When I try to hold on, I just get so tired - can't keep my eyelids open or lift my arms. And as I get more tired, I sleep less. I keep fighting not to sleep at night and I'm getting fewer hours of rest.
I keep wishing someone would rescue me but I don't want anyone taking control of me. So I don't let anyone help.
I'm not sure how long I can keep this up but I'm scared it may never end.

Marcia Reynolds
March, 18 2014 at 3:14 pm

I lost my job one year ago. Honestly it was unjustified. My supervisor wrote me up for any and all concerns or issues I brought up to her. My supervisor found out that I had a mental illness(bipolar) because she looked up the saint I was wearing on my necklace. St. Dymphna, patron saint of mental illness. I am sure she was proud of herself for solving this mystery. Since being let go from my job, I have had two more jobs but I've been unsuccessful in doing them. I have been frightened because I have a masters degree and work has always been my salvation. I have had to move home and am living with my sister. It is okay. Lot's of good family here. I had been away from home on my own for 35 years. Although I have had some very lonely times. Due to mania, I have spent my only inheritance and I have no savings. I am in the process of building myself up again like working in a fulfilling part time or full time job. I am very anxious about finding the perfect long term job and ever having money again. I am building my self confidence by doing some part time, low wage work. I was hospitalized for the first and hopefully last time in 2008, when Anna Nicole died. First diagnosis of bipolar at the age of 52. I am now 58. I feel sad about being mentally ill, life is very hard as I have early morning anxiety and of course no medical insurance (that's one reason I do not want to get hospitalized). I have been reading people's blogs all day and it helps!

March, 26 2014 at 3:23 pm

Thank you for putting this article up. At least I know that there are more of us out there who are struggling to get by and face our demons, day in and day out. My bipolar episodes are getting worse as I grow older (I will be 30 this year). It started when I was 18. I thought it was just the extreme exam stress getting to me and until now, I still have problems handling stressful situations at work and in life. I have gone through several job changes but none of my superiors are aware of my condition because I hide my afflictions very well from friends, boyfriends, workmates, the bosses, the people I meet on the job. I have been in several abusive, possessive and unhealthy relationships, with the last one being the most devastating due to my ex and my best friend's betrayal and cheating behind my back. My life is constantly surrounded by dramas and tragedies of some sort. Same scenes but different people, every single time. Most of my friends, ex-bfs and colleagues can't accept that I can be weak, broken and small on most days. Even my parents think that my condition is burdensome. They have very little patience with me. I have major childhood,trust and self-hate issues that I have to battle on daily basis when they surface up. My depressive episodes leave me like an empty shell; i can barely function. I sometimes give up eating and washing myself for days. Cigarettes get me through the day. I have put my body through much abuse. I have taken all sort of psychiatric meds and the professionals kept on increasing my dosage till I could barely function at work and in daily activities. My mind became so dull and i was always tired with no energy left. So I quit my meds and tried to change my diet and lifestyle. When I do have energy, i have to battle my rage issues, sometimes with devastating results. I fly off the handle at the slightest things with my parents and ex-partners. I have an overly-suspicious mind and low self-esteem. If I don't work off the excess angst and energy at the gym till I am exhausted, then I will be extremely fidgety and irritable. I constantly hurt myself whenever I get angry at myself or when I fight with my loved ones. I am starting to run out of excuse to explain my scratches, cuts and bitemarks on my arms, hands and digits whenever my friends and co-workers ask me how I got those scars/wounds. The self-inflicted wounds are usually caused by my mental anguish, depression, rage or just the need to feel alive. I've had head traumas and a broken rib in the past due to self-injury. I have major issues with my mum, since I was a small girl, I was constantly seeking her approval. The first time I tried to kill myself, was around age 10. There were times when I felt particularly murderous towards her whenever she threatened or taunt me, mentally and physically. Till today, I still feel suicidal. It's something that I have to talk myself out of on a daily basis. I also put myself in dangerous situations just to feel alive. I used to get into fights in schools, to the point of drawing blood and injuring others. Despite all of that, I was pretty good in my studies, right up to graduating from college. I have a highly dysfunctional relationship with men and view on love and relationships. I have been cheated on, have cheated and had affairs with both men and women. I am really on the fence about my sexual orientation.
I currently like this job I am in because it's both creative and analytical, appealing to my changeable personality and I am trying my best to hold on to it and make small changes, one day at a time. It's not going to be easy, but it's either do or die, fight or flight.

March, 27 2014 at 3:38 pm


April, 6 2014 at 10:29 pm

Wow, your post just described my entire 20's & 30's, sadly I am now 40.

Jo Humphreys
April, 14 2014 at 7:35 am

I had to give up work for that very reason 13 years ago, I have suffered with bipolar disorder for 25 years. By the time I was 25 I had 3 children under 5 and was working full time in a job I despised with people I couldnt relate to at all and was struggling so bad I was always wondering why I couldnt cope as well as other women in my position were. My son was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome at 3 years old and I just felt like I was on a rollercoaster I couldn't get as both my husband and myself needed to work to pay the mortgage. Finally in 2002,my body told me enough was enough and I had a complete breakdown to the point that I was in so much physical pain that I thought I was dying of a terminal illness, and actually hoped I was at that time being so depressed and worn out with life. I attempted suicide a year later after not being able to leave the house or function at all for that whole year and finally I started receiving more help than just being sent away with anti-depressants by my GP. However, I was only diagnosed with bipolar disorder 3 years ago and have since been put on medication and become stable. I have started drawing again and hopefully will be able to make a career out of it. I finally feel like i am living not just existing.

April, 28 2014 at 10:43 am

Thank you Natasha-I swear you are my twin. I definitely do alot during the week, with my full time job but come the weekend, the bed is my best friend. Friends ask me to do things, and sometimes I just can't so I say I am sick, not feeling well etc. Honestly they are not excuses it is the truth. The truth sucks though! Thank you for everything you do and for letting us all know we are definitely not alone!

May, 10 2014 at 2:31 pm

Wow, I feel differently about where my level of bipolar sits after reading all the comments. I am grateful I have never had to miss work or get so low that I wanted to end it all because of bipolar. I was diagnosed 3 years ago and just coming down from my second episode of mania. I gained weight on lithium so I've been unmediated for the past 2 years. I wanted to learn more about other peoples experience with bipolar because this episode took me by surprise and scared me. It wasn't as bad or damaging as my first episode but this one had no trigger-came out of the blue. I have read that bipolar gets worse if left untreated but the subjects in the study had debilitating bipolar to start with including inpatient stays in hospitals etc. I hope there is a low ceiling on how severe my bipolar gets. I guess I'll just try my best to watch out for signs of worsening and continue to do the risk/benefit analysis on seeking treatment. Good luck to us all in our pursuits of happiness with the additional bipolar balancing burden.

May, 13 2014 at 3:44 am

I have really had my eyes opened by this post and all the comments that have followed. I have been bipolar for over 15 years, although I was misdiagnosed in my early 20s and I left the country during a manic episode caused by antidepressants.
I have had many jobs in my life and my last job, as a teacher and tutor I lost because of a long destructive manic episode. I loved my job and I would give anything to go back and do it again, but since that episode and various stays in hospital I have woken up a different person. I cannot fake it anymore and I used to be so, so good at it.
I have three children, two of them have autism and ADHD. I live with them and my mother in her house and it takes all of my time and energy to get up every morning and make sure they are washed dressed and fed and taken to school. When they are at school I try to focus my mind and get all the chores done, but this is a huge, huge effort. However, my meds have been reduced and I'm starting to get to grips with it. I'm applying for home based voluntary work and hoping that I will be able to get my 'fake' persona back. I was very productive when faking it, but I worry I won't be able to support my children in what they need if I put all my energies into work.
One step at a time I hope to get myself together and become a productive member of society again. Something that eats away at me every day. I spent so long in education and gaining experience and I feel that it is totally wasted and that people are disappointed that I haven't made more of myself.
Thank you again for posting this very honest article.

May, 14 2014 at 11:41 am

I found myself getting only part time work in lower skilled jobs after I got fired from a sales and marketing job when I went off meds. Even then, I went manic, left my job one day and started traveling around the state having a delusional episode. I ended up in jail. After I returned, I decided not to work anymore and my only income now is disability. I will never own a house, my dad died and left me an older car that runs, and a friend gave me a bedroom in his house for minimal rent. I am grateful. Each day I count my blessings. My children and grandchildren are all nearby and I have repaired broken relationships with my sisters. I shop at Walmart, buy food at Aldi and Medicare pays my doctor and pharmacy costs. I do feel unproductive, but am writing a book about my experience with bipolar disorder. Life is what you make it. My faith in God gets me through. I feel some days that I have let this disorder get the best of me, but I can't fight it anymore. Some days I call it surrender; that just sounds a little better. Doesn't it?

May, 21 2014 at 1:21 pm

Hi. I'm a 30 biology teacher with bipolar I and ADHD. My father, his sisters, his father, and his paternal grandmother all have/had bipolar disorder. My sister has bipolar I with schizotypal tendencies and ADHD. So needless to say it runs in my family.
I come from an old school Italian family that doesn't put much creedance into mental illness. Growing up was difficult because my father was verbally abusive. When I think of memories of my childhood, they playback as if they all occurred on dreary, rainy days. Even as early as five years old is a time filled with anxiety about school or going to a party and having to fit in.
I never realized I wasn't typical and that my family was extremely dysfunctional. Anytime we went out to eat once my sister was in her teens, she and my father would get into loud and embarrassing fights in the restaurant. These fights spilled over into the house.
I am six years older than my sister and our relationship has been rocky. She is vain, confrontational, manipulative, and not to mention a pathological liar. I was always quiet and timid because of my anxiety and depression, but that changed when I was in college, at around 20 years old. My sister and I would out with different guys, go to parties, and stay up most of the night. This is when signs of my bipolar reared their ugly head. My sister has always been a rebel. She started drinking, smoking, and having sex at 14 years old. This was the first time I experienced a manic episode. My sister was usually manic, with periods of depression; she was always paranoid (when I say paranoid, I mean she refused to spit out her gum because "they" might take her DNA). So both of us being manic meant excessive partying, smoking pot for hours on end, and drinking til we were numb. My personality was totally different, I became rebellious, flirtatious, and promiscuous. My sister and I were on a pleasure bender, and after about three months of sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, and drowning ourselves in alcohol and weed, I crashed.
This was the first time I saw a psychologist. He misdiagnosed me as depressed with acute anxiety. After five years of taking the wrong meds and feeling numb, I went back to smoking and drinking. This eventually caught up with me about three years ago. I was working as a tenured biology teacher; so I was getting by at work. Then, at the beginning of the school year I developed intense social anxiety. I sought treatment, was properly diagnosed, and after two months of intense therapy and weekly psychiatrist visits, I was able to return to work. Talking about everything I have been through, including rape and molestation helped, which is surprising because I am not a big talker. Therapy helps me decompress and it's cathartic.
Do I feel better yes? Do I feel normal? No. I struggle to make sure I do not exceed my 10 sick days at work. With increasing demands and deadlines, I find work more and more difficult.
I live at home with my mother, sister, father, and husband (who is bipolar and collecting SSDI). My father, sister and I all were diagnosed and began treatment within the past three years. My mother and I are the only ones who work. My sister is unemployed, and my father collects SSDI.
Over the past few months, I keep checking teacher retirement information. Working is so hard and I'm always tired. Keeping my temper in check at work and at home is a challenge, but I have to grin and bear it.
The plus is my husband is a good man, and he makes me happy. We both monitor eachother's moods and avoid overspending. I am in charge of all of our medications, insurance information, and his SSDI information. This is more responsibility that wears me out. The thing that keeps me going is helping my mother. She is drowning in a sea of bipolar people, and my father has made her life unnecessarily hard by cheating on her and piling on the debt. So if nothing else, I will be successful for the love of my mother and husband. I have always found doing difficult things a lot more manageable if I do them for the good of my mom because I don't care about myself enough to motivate me.
I'm not sure if any of what I have said means anything, but it's nice to know we're not alone.

June, 7 2014 at 5:03 pm

Thank you thank you Natasha and everyone else so I don't feel so alone. I am exhausted and have a hard time returning calls. When I get a little hypomanic I socialize like crazy and develop friendships. I'm able to maintain them for the short while I can be semi-normal, whatever that is. Then I am totally unable to show up for events even though I say I'm going, when the time approaches I am so exhausted I can't move, and call off. I have had occasional days where I can't quite crying and have to call in sick. Other days I function so poorly at work I think it's amazing I can keep this job, but I've been employed for 30 years and previously was relatively successful. Now I feel like I'm on the brink at work, have such a hard time concentrating and remembering what I'm doing or should be doing. Started Adderall a month ago which helps a little in the morning but come afternoon I still can hardly function, think straight. Sometimes my mind is so muddled I'm afraid to drive home. I recently have been listening to podcasts from DBSA (Depression Bipolar Support Alliance) and was amazed to hear that recovery is possible and I shouldn't settle for being symptomatic. But my psychiatrist recently told me he doesn't know what more he can do for me. So sad and disheartening. whew. I so relate to Marion. I can do things for my dad, get out of the house and take him on a little outing, but can't do that for myself.

June, 7 2014 at 5:08 pm

Sarah Ryan, if you still read this, what treatment options for fatigue are you talking about? thanks

June, 24 2014 at 4:41 pm

I'm a little offended by this post. I'm bipolar 2, and if you're crazy, I most certainly am not. I have occasional depressions and periods of a little bit happier mood. I have a mood disorder, which I understand and am in treatment for. Calling yourself crazy just encourages the stigma. Crazy people don't even realise they're crazy.

July, 5 2014 at 5:00 am

Thank you for this article.
I too function, almost over function during the week. I love my job and live for the routine of the week
Weekends arrive and I am exhausted but have a racing brain and feel desperately lonely as my friends don't like close and my husband doesn't really chat to me... So I sit up, the hypomania starts to surface and I mull away in my own annoying little brain.
I am not sure quite how to balance this, whether my relationship is the problem or whether this will just work itself out... I am only 3monthd diagnosed. I feel like I functioned much better before I knew and everyone started watching me.. Well my husband really... I welcome the medication and the therapy, I want to manage it. But being treated like a child when I am the breadwinner and very successful is killing me.
Anyway, I am going off track, but I am comforted to know I am not alone :-)

July, 16 2014 at 2:49 am

ive been biopolar for as long as i remember.
two years ago i wanted to leave this world
i shot myself.
its dificult coping with life and work.
it feels like everyday a part of me is gone.
im having nightmares i cry and scream,but i cant remember anything

July, 17 2014 at 3:27 pm

Interesting Read

July, 18 2014 at 5:32 am

I agree with Ethan: we have to consider quality of life.Yes, I technically could push myself to work full time, but I would end up crashing, losing or quitting my job, and worse off than ever. As of now I work part time(VERY part time), go to a day program part of the week, and do some volunteering. I have a decent life with reasonable happiness. I may not have the house, the job, or the other goodies, but I do have things I enjoy, meaningful things to do, and people I care for, including a partner who loves me, and two sweet kitties. And that's not bad.

Kelli Anderson
July, 18 2014 at 12:36 pm

I wanted to tell you thank you so much for this article. i can't even put into words how it made me feel. i think if i said that you got into my head and put into words what I've wanted to say to people for so long, but somehow it felt so inadequate, and like such....a cop-out...that I've never been brave enough to do it....well, that's what I'd say to you. I'm sitting here with tears running down my cheeks because i don't even know you and yet i feel a bond with you because you get it. you KNOW that feeling inside me that makes me feel broken. that thing that makes me feel like a freak and a liar and lazy and one that's not mentally ill could ever get it. my sister recently said to me, "Kelli you need to snap out of it and get off the couch and go back to living your life the way you used to. You're way to intelligent and you're wasting it." She went on further to say that she wanted me to know she loved me but someone needed to say this to me and it was just going to have to be her. I can't tell you how her words, in a text i might add, crushed me. i love her SO much. and i miss her SO much. but i can't forgive her for those things she said. it hurt me to my core. so, thank you. thank you so much for putting into words what I've never been able to. i feel not only a sense of relief that it's not just me, but also a sense of camaraderie that maybe there are others out there that i could talk with. I used to say, 'it's exhausting just to BE'. But again, you put it in words so eloquently. I just had to thank you. So THANK YOU! I will be following your blog from this point forward.

July, 25 2014 at 6:03 am

Thank you so much for putting this into words. I feel this way week in an week out.

July, 26 2014 at 7:07 pm

What a precise explanation of my life for the past years. The functioning bipolar lets that 'survival instinct' get into gear to go to work during the week to pay the bills and then gets all depressed on the weekends because time is precious, people are tough to deal with, and you are tired from the pretension that you must exhibit to function. And the current economic/employment situation doesn't make that situation any easier. I spend 6 hours a week just commuting to/from work and work about 50 hours a week. And that is just so I can afford to get that one item in a month that I need because it broke/disappeared/hasn't been fixed in years. My job is truly wonderful and I like my coworkers - but it feels like a sacrifice that I must make to exist and not a comfortable choice wherein I am easily working and vacationing every other month (I have not taken a day off in nearly two years!). And I run a computer programming business geared towards 3D CG on the side (which suffered immensely in the economic downturn). I think that we must equate the rise in the mentions of bipolar disorder with current events which exacerbate our precarious positions. I have been putting on the mask for several years and trying to cope with my condition in a work-related social situation for years now. It is not an easy task. Of late, the specter of giving up and ending this perverse game have been overwhelmingly looming in my mind. Hamlet and all of that. Is the game worth playing if you are losing that badly? (will not quote W.S. since we all know the soliloquy)

July, 26 2014 at 7:29 pm

Ethan S.: It is something about balance. And it is about initiative. I do deeply realize that these two are extremely difficult to achieve with this illness (and it depends upon the depth and condition thereof). It can be achieved. While I am definitely BPD Type I, I am also a highly functioning autistic with some exceptional level of intelligence - otherwise, I could not have run my own business writing computer software in C++ for 3D CG. So, my predicament is complex. Yours is complex. Simplify the complexity and focus on it. As i said in my previous post, the instinctive drive that keeps me alive is the only thing that drives me to achieve the 'goals' that keep me alive. It may seem antithetical, but focusing on some project or goal or achievement distracts from the depressive state for which BPD is well known. It is sort of a bad solution of using the hypomania to ignore the depression. Not an ideal solution but a constructive one that has helped me cope thus far.

August, 5 2014 at 10:06 am

I am at work and I look at people and say to myself if only they knew the person that is handling multi-million deals. The person who is making sure that everything balances. I actually found this link because I just took my second set of meds for the day and I am just depressed as hell. Its kinda nice to know that others experience the same thing that I do, but the downside to that is that I am feeling good because others out there are as "crazy" as I am. I am not a fan of the term "crazy", yes I know I have a mental disorder and faking normal as become a skill that I have mastered at least in the public eye, because once my apartment door closes behind me when I get home I shatter into a thousand pieces. I cry for no reason, its just tiring pretending to be normal. Sometimes the facade I wear fools even me. The part that really sucks is that my apartment door stays closed from Friday evening to Monday morning. I just don't trust myself to interact with other people on the weekend because I am in my own world that time, I have never had to fake normal on the weekend. People actually thinks that I act like I am better than them because everytime I am invited to an event that takes place outside of my work time, you can be guaranteed that I will be rejecting that invitation. I just want to know what real normalcy is once without faking it. Sigh....

August, 18 2014 at 7:12 pm

I also have bipolar I and considered high functioning, graduate degree from reputable school. I try to structure my free time like I do my workday or I find myself sleeping my life away. I know exactly what many of you experience on weekends, feeling too exhausted to accept social invites, staring hopelessly at a week's worth of cleaning and dishes and laundry overdue, rarely entertaining because it means having to expend more energy hiding my mess. I feel relieved to know I'm not the only "successful" crazy out there, makes me feel a little less inadequate. I know some feel offended by saying crazy but sometimes joking about my illness makes me feel sane if that makes any sense! Thank you all for sharing.

There Too
August, 23 2014 at 2:21 pm

I have this bookmarked. Read it often and have shared it with certain loved ones who don't understand me. I could have written it. I'm adored at work for my wit, charm, vitality and output. I have to be a leader of the sane and responsible to moody management (and I hear all the irony in my calling them so). And, by the grace of God, I do it. Until I can't. Thankfully, I am perceived so well, I can leave midday on a bipolar darkened day and they assume I'm out working some new great project when I'm curled in fetal position in bed. In those moments, I'm afraid they will call while my brain is telling me I need to die and flooding me with terror.
Dating? My family thinks I must be in the closet. Outside of some manic bad decisions, I can't focus on more than work sleep eat repeat and do not break down...

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