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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 23 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.

alex
July, 23 2016 at 9:15 pm

me to

Kim
July, 24 2016 at 2:36 pm

I have the same issue. I do my best to keep everything together and working but those 5 days of keeping control is exhausting. Like you im always tired. I cant go to bed early even if i only got 4 hrs of sleep the following night. I may only sleep the most is 6 hrs a night. Most of those hours im just laying there. I have to say this we are not "crazy". We should never think of ourselves in that way.

Ellen
August, 28 2016 at 8:27 am

Hi Natasha,
I realize you posted this a while ago, but this was my exact experience for most of my adult life. Recently, I had a few changes in my life and was more down than usual, and the doctors decided to put me on medication. I am not sure about this, as usually I am 'high functioning'. Have you had a similar experience? Do you think it is possible to be medication free?

Thrown Under The Bus
September, 10 2016 at 1:37 am

When I first started working for the Federal goverment years ago it didn't take me long to find the job and I certainly didn't need a post secondary education to get it. But my how times have changed and the people in it
Three years ago more than half of my employment peers lost their job due to downsizing. I was extremely grateful at the time that I was not one of them
It was also 3 years ago that I received my bipolar diagnosis after I landed myself in hospital after a particularly rough ride of it. I was under so much stress at the time, both personal and professional. Despite feverish attempts to find appropriate help my world continued to crumble. It was my 3rd breakdown in 15 years and by far my worst. My employer didn't really care. They were aggressively trying everything within their power to break me so I'd voluntarily leave.
Most of the clerks I work with now are young part time or term employees who are grossly over qualified and usually quite eager to please by taking on extra work in the desperate hope of securing a full time permanent position.
As my mental illness began to level out this year I started to see some light at the end of the tunnel. My employer had recently gifted me with a nice watch for 35 years of service along with a framed certificate of "appreciation" for these years of service. It was signed by our Prime Minister (Justin Trudeau - His mother Margaret also has bipolar disorder) and with only one year away from conceivably retiring on a full pension I felt extremely hopeful and optimistic about the future.
With my energy level improving I also started looking for a part time job to supplement my income in order to hopefully pay off my debt sooner and boost my meagre retirement savings. Then last month BAM!!! before I could even secure a part time job I was unexpectantly blindsided by two coworkers who unfairly threw me under the bus to save their own ass at five minutes to closing. One was a term employee (highly favored by management) that was supposed to relieve me during the last half hour of the day so I could balance on time (I'm primarily a cashier). Unfortunately for me she didn't show up until it was far too late to made any difference. And although the other employee had handed me their clients paperwork in a timely fashion to process they had neglected to tell me the client was still there waiting. When it was finally brought to my attention I was certain there would not be enough time left to take in payment and process their paperwork before the end of day. I truly had no other choice than to ask the client to come back the following day. I was still struggling to balance on my own so another person could run their report before closing. Without processing that client I still didn't finish balancing until after my shift. Sometimes, but not often, it just takes a little longer than usual to finish up and this happened to be one of those days
Unfortunately because I had turned this client away (only FIVE measly minutes before closing!!!) I am now facing anywhere from a warning letter on my file to 10 days leave without pay. I have never faced anything like this before in my entire working career. I was completely shocked
Loosing pay at the end of the month will severely affect my ability to make next month's rent and afford the necessary transportation to get to and from work, not to mention all my other bills that will fall into arrears because of it. This also comes at a time when my security clearance is up for renewal. Our clearance is renewed every 5 years. It's only been in the last 3 years that the renewal process requires a credit check so I'm not really sure what to expect. Could I possibly lose my job as a result of this one incident and how easily would it be to find another one without a good reference at my age, with my limited education and mental health background.
All of this this has got me totally stressed out! I feel like I've just been thrown under the bus or rather hit by a bus
As a perfectionistic workaholic who rarely takes even takes a break it really hurts to know when I've done my absolute best, given it all, that it still was not good enough. Translation: I am not good enough. I'm just a worthless piece of shit. I mean why even bother to try anymore? What good does it do me anyway?
This Labour Day long weekend was spent sick in bed with a cold from being so run down, deeply depressed and completely cynical about people and life in general
When I got home from work during the week I went straight to bed. I didn't care about a thing. It just hurt too much to allow my thought process go there

Janet
September, 22 2016 at 2:14 am

I helped a recently widowed relative for a few months. She is able to get her daily needs meet with deliveries and goes out with cabs. She knows I haven't been sleeping right and that I have bipolar, yet persisted in pestering me to do more for her. Our relationship is a one way street. We are not close. I can no longer accommodate someone who makes me so agitated.

DominicB
December, 3 2016 at 10:29 am

Thanks for this. I knew it already but, like many important things in my life, it got lost. 'BiPolar' is my full time occupation, and everything else comes second, or third, or fourth. You know the drill. Much respect. Dominic

Laura
February, 7 2017 at 2:11 am

Excellent article Tracy. I too am considered "high-functioning ". It takes such great strength to brave the outside world yet I do it with a smile on my face. Unfortunately, at this point of my bipolar disorder, I am unable to work at my career. However! I'm very productive! I'm the one who does all the shopping, pays the bills, maintains the home, and ensures everyone in the family's needs are met. I agree whole heartedly that at the end of each day, after dinner cleanup, I'm totally spent. If I've pushed myself too hard with a larger task I will crash after. If I'm over stimulated from a social gathering, after I crash. People, other than my family, NEVER see that side of me. I only go out on "good" days so Joe Public sees me as "normal:.

Mark
March, 1 2017 at 9:33 pm

I can work but I can seem to find time or energy to take care of myself or personal stuff! I can't seem to move forward or to make any progress

Silvia Granger
April, 12 2017 at 6:30 pm

Yes I am a High-Functioning Bipolar too. Often I feel excactly how you described it. The worst part thought is when you at work and the utter stress gets to you and you break done and listening to people's comments that you have to stop being so sentimental or takes things not so personal. [modreated] It is unbelievable how glueless and inconsiderate some people are. Just wished they could walk for one day in our shoes, I believe they would not survive the week. Yes it is also a very lonely world out there when you just barely able to breath. Yes the medication work for a little bit but the edges are still there and one day they won't work at all anymore. It is a very vicious cycle and the older you get the worst will still to come. Once it hits menopause then everything will spiral even more out of control. All I got left is my family, my meds and my dear therapist ( without her I would be already dead)! But it gives me hope to know I am not crazy just not functioning quite right and especially I am not alone! I thank you from my heart for writing this article, I could not describe it any better!

Angela
June, 1 2017 at 8:47 pm

Jesus, I feel like I just read a biography about my life. I spend all my energy just trying to keep the "crazy" tucked away that it leaves me exhausted and numb more often than not. I'm so high-functioning that I can fool most people, and sometimes that just feels fraudulent. But the alternative is that I wouldn't be socially acceptable.

Nancy p
June, 4 2017 at 10:56 pm

I am 70 years old and been high functioning most of my life. Looking back I can see the consequences of faking it and being successful through the pain. After 20 years in a great and successful career, I couldn't hold it together for a new manipulative boss. I just tried harder and was fired. I have repeated that pattern in other situations. Let the driven hypo make me look energetic and too get her only to fail when anxiety and depression marched in. High functioning can be confusing to partners and kids. You want to protect them from unloving and sensitivities that comes with depression. So you fake it and when those close to you find out , I feel I am not normal and never will be good enough

Teresa Cosme Lopes
June, 6 2017 at 8:51 pm

I cannot agree more with this text. Besides in denial, after being hypo what it's left are some little pieces to pull back again. I do not have social life because it triggers unexpected hypo, and after producing for 3 people I Just feel extremely tired that I have to lay down in bed. On meds and weekly CBT....:(. Thanks for your article.

Brenna
July, 12 2017 at 12:09 pm

I was diagnosed BPI at 20, right smack in the middle of university. If anything explains just where I was, after being awake for three days without taking my
Contacts out, they were basically glued to my corneas. Hurricane Floyd was about to hit us, and I hadn't gotten any message or email aimed at commuters , though my friends who lived on campus had been warned. So, completely manic, unable to see, I was going to drive 30 miles in a hurricane so I could Lois Lane my school newspaper and get the story. My poor, dear, frightened younger brother didn't have a license, but he wouldn't let me go alone. So, I drove along cackling at the storm while my brother yelled directions to avoid flying tree branches and get me back in one lane. I wrote the story, changed the school policy and was the first student at my school to win a first place editorial AP award. This is how I see it now, as an adult facing my own cognitive impairments and the recognition that I'll ever get that back. There's a quiet grief that comes to all of us eventually, I think. Not talking crisis or even an episode, but an understanding of all the pieces we've lost along the way, either in episode or not. I'll never get it back, but my life is controlled, disciplined and defiant. There's no other choice, really.

Jose
August, 31 2017 at 2:35 pm

Hi Natasha, I'm also bipolar and also a writer. I don't think I write as much as you. I think the most I've written in one day is 2500, 3000 words, probably followed by a day of rest (I write essays for college students :P) . Fortunately I work online, at home, that makes things possible. I also want to be entirely functional, but its hard in terms of having to be in -the zone- managing side effects, dosing, etc. Great post!

April
September, 9 2017 at 4:11 pm

Wow, this is me. I was diagnosed with depression years ago, and just thought it was brought on by stress. Recently I was diagnosed as being bipolar after a suicide attempt. It came as a shock to everyone. This article is definatley me. I look back and see the mania now and the depressive episodes. I function as I should at work but I go home and just collapse.

Emma
September, 11 2017 at 7:41 pm

Wonderful!

Emma
September, 11 2017 at 7:44 pm

Wonderful!
I just hope that you can add some details on how to be high- functioning. I loved the web and I hope that I can write articles like this one with you. Is there a way?
Thanks a lot.

Grace Parsons
November, 5 2017 at 3:38 am

I am one of those extremely emotional females taking everything that's said or happens as a catastrophic event, leading to many many tears. Of course it's my thoughts that brings all this on. My biggest issue is with my 20 year old son who is living with me at the present time. He wants to be in his own place. He told me yesterday that he can't forget about things that happened while he was growing up; and looking back, neither can I.

Vicki
November, 9 2017 at 2:39 am

This is so relatable and I am thankful that it was written. We all need support, even if we don't feel like going out and getting it, just knowing that we can read about it in our pajamas helps immensely.

Judi Johnson
December, 13 2017 at 4:10 pm

My husband is high functioning but refuses to believe he has bipolar disorder. Even though he was diagnosed 35 years ago, recently a new doctor said he's not bipolar because he's been able to keep a job all these years. I'm so frustrated! My husband lives in hypomania-land and likes it there. I don't know what to do. At this point, I'm inclined to let him crash. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Rick B
December, 18 2017 at 9:24 am

What do you do if you have been misdiagnosed as being bipolar? I am highly intelligent and functioning. After finding out last year that I have type 2 diabetes or had high blood sugar. NOBODY explained what my blood sugar levels should be and since they did not I refused insulin. Law enforcement threatened my wife with incarceration for not properly caring for me if she didn't sign the Baker's Act paperwork. They held me 8 days to cover up what law enforcement improperly did. Now I have a "diagnosis" of being bipolar. No signs, no symptoms and in NO way affected as you all have been. How do you get this totally removed? Any suggestions would be appreciated.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Vanessa
September, 4 2019 at 12:37 am

How can the diagnosis harm you? I did not agree in 2015 that I was high functioning bipolar and went to a neurologist who agreed this was adult add and put me on adderrall. It changed my life. A diagnosis does not mean the end?

Beth
January, 9 2018 at 4:40 am

Oh my. This is so on target. Living just sucks the live right out of me. Just to fake it through the week. Thank you for putting into words.

viv
January, 28 2018 at 2:08 am

Wow! so good to see written down what has been going on in my brain. i can "function" but it takes every ounce of my energy and leaves me depleted. I cant do any more, see any future possibilities other than getting htrough this day. thanks natasha for being brave enough to speak our truths.

Richard
February, 17 2018 at 3:54 pm

As i’m Reading this I am awe struck! I’m seeing a brain that literally is this web of electrical misfiring with no grey matter, just one big net of electrical circuitry that lights up randomly and has no decision. I have an associate that fits Natasha’s words to a Perfect fit. My heart sinks fathoms and wish I knew how to fix! One thing I do know is when the medicine is on board-I see a person who is able to move through the day high functioning with excellent business results. She can not afford the medicine and as a result fighting for her life beyond what is considered normal. I ask myself , Does President Trump know and understand or even care? Someone has got to be made aware of this gross travesty!! When one does not have the means to provide for their health and well- being, that is not acceptable in my heart and makes me venomously angry. As we know having a constant level in one’s system is key and one must have the assurance that they WILL HAVE medicines to do and keep that in place so they can be ALL THEY WANT. Surely there is in this United States of Americathe ability to Provide the Needed Medicines!!!

Cindy
March, 11 2018 at 1:56 pm

So true. I keep saying I don't feel like "me" anymore and from reading the comments I understand now that I am going through the motions just to get through each and every day. It takes a lot of work to manage my bipolar brain as I always say. I know how I feel inside but really couldn't pinpoint why I felt in a flat robotic state with no spike up or down with my emotions. I keep wishing for myself back but I have to weigh the consequences of not taking meds or managing this illness. Thanks everyone for your insight.

Ktp
April, 25 2018 at 12:16 pm

I know exactly how you feel because I do the same everyday and the minute I clock out it’s like I’m clocking out every last bit of energy I had to muster to get through the day to be as normal as I can to people in order to keep my job which I love and pay my bills. So your not alone ! Sometimes I wonder how I was even able to drive home.

Bluefirefly
May, 13 2018 at 7:14 pm

"High Functioning Bipolar?" Personally, I was living with the "I'm just fine" part. I had a job in IT. Operations Management. I rocked my job. The Queen of troubleshooting anything on any network. Throw it at me. But then, there was that one psychotic manic episode that just did me in. I think it burned my brain. Up until then, I was also so high functioning that I didn't really believe I was bipolar at all. I could do every day. A belief that stopped me from taking any medication or seeing a doctor, because I just didn't believe it to be true. Or maybe it even went away. No one educated me as to what bipolar really was. Shame on the medical community. Now I no longer have my job of 23+ years and I'm on disability. I hate this "new" life.

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