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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 2022, August 10 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.

Cheryl
December, 31 2015 at 5:22 am

I have never been diagnosed, but I have all the symptoms of Bipolar. Reading these post is the first time I have ever felt understood and not alone with my shameful secret.

Matt
December, 27 2015 at 10:54 am

Another BP sufferer surfing the web to find some peace today. Today is my 43rd birthday and I've been in a mixed episode for a couple months or more. I've had episodes off and on since I was a teenager, just didn't know what was wrong with me. I was hospitalized 12 or 13 years ago several times before my diagnosis, after being prescribed SSRis. After that experience I was untreated for the next 10+ years. I started meds a month ago, and they've definitely helped bring me back in line. I guess I'm high functioning, I have a job and house, wife, etc, but I feel like a basketcase. I'm sure my coworkers have wondered why I'm very happy in the morning and hiding my face in the afternoon most days, as I quietly sob. Today I don't feel particularly bad, I just can't stop crying. I have a friend who says "never give up", and that one saying, and my accountability to her, may be what is keeping me from going down the rabbit hole to suicide.

nirmal
December, 23 2015 at 3:53 am

I am also suffering from bipolar disorder,from last six years and in a financial crunch having done the job in past.its quite difficult coping with others having an mba degree now worthless seek some financial help to start my own business so that i can work by my own.can any one help and guide me.

Kelly
December, 22 2015 at 6:49 am

Bipolar too

Mohammed B
December, 15 2015 at 3:47 am

I experienced the manic episode at my work environment three times. Two held unbelievable outcomes. I thought at that moment; the best way to underestand my illness is to write whatever crossing my mind. So i did, as i knew that it wont last.
And i knew for sure that after these ups I will face hill. All theses were in my mind during the last episode which made me very upset to lose it. The main factor which I totally forgot about, each time Manic episode appears, I Play a historical character at the end of that episode which I believed at that time it's not me but I have to pass the test infront of who I believed is testing me.
Psycosis gave me the ability to travel back in time to see those charachters.
When I collapsed and found myself totally depressed, I used to tell myself " this is not you" as if someone already took your body but unfortunately you have to watch.
Which brings more sorrow and pain.
I just smile, act inorder not to talk.
People usually can tell that. So I take a note in my head to remember.
And it was my mistake !
Last time I had the Manic eps, I told those at work" ok now you have to know that Im mentally ill" .
I was enjoying thier reaction, it gave me more power to show them my ability,
And I succeded but couldnt take it anymore.
I resigned.
When I submitted the letter, I was so confident and manic that after what I did,
I will work anywhere I like for a period to underestand more till a target date. Then, My chances could tell.

Laura
December, 9 2015 at 10:10 am

This is so spot on for my life. My therapist tells me I'm "high-functioning" as well. Yet when she says it, it's almost like she dismisses my illness. I'm "High-functioning" because if I wasn't, who would pay my bills, my rent, my doctors appointments and prescriptions, etc. I'm "High-functioning" because I'm obsessive compulsive and have to follow a routine otherwise it sends me into a chaos of mania.

Steve
October, 21 2015 at 8:40 am

I think Bipolar I and II should be renamed because it gives people the false perception that it's just spectrum and some people are a little worse than others, but I can say that full-blown mania is light years away from hypomania and it's not just more severe than hypomania...it's much different. Also, someone with bipolar II doesn't experience true mixed-episodes and those are the times when suicide is at the top of your mind and you don't just make gestures that occasionally end in death, like cutting or overdosing on prescription meds, but make serious attempts.

Kathryn
October, 18 2015 at 6:31 am

To be high functioning for me means to tell no one but my husband and dad. My daughter doesn't even know and just doesn't understand why I can work all day but leaves the house a total wreck. It isn't "Hoarders" bad or anything, I just. can't. do it. I don't have the energy and would rather sleep. Most of the time I am not depressed and I am just hypomanic which is super cause I get so much done, but then there are the other times...I just keep to myself then and remember how awful it would be for my family if I weren't here. Who would take care of them and love them as much as I do?
It's so hard having friends but not going out to hang with them. They send the invites. It's always open. I just can't seem to make it out the door. I just wish there were people around me who understood without labeling me "crazy". Where I live, people are scared of bi-polar for some reason. I don't know why.

Alice
October, 9 2015 at 5:12 pm

To be high functioning is REALLY exhausting, but I really didn't have any other choice but to fend for myself. I have no family support, friends stay at a distance and don't want to get involved, the federal government keeps denying me disability as if it's going to go away by magic, and I find myself suicidal a LOT. people don't realize that I am having to act normal so that they feel more comfortable, while I have to suffer behind closed doors. It's the price I pay for "fitting in" without actually fitting in because even my own family keeps me at a distance. I'm not invited to christmas, weddings, parties, and people are very uncomfortable with me around their kids. Try offering platitudes to someone like me who really doesn't have anything spectacular to live for. The only reason I don't jump is because I'm not an asshole.

Ellie
October, 1 2015 at 6:10 am

I so relate to everything written here. I was diagnosed at 23 after being hospitalized for a suicide attempt. Since then, I had trouble with work attendance at my last job, and despite disclosing my diagnosis and hospital stay to my boss they pressured me into resigning. I was able to, by the grace of God find another job shortly after and things were going great for the first five months- my meds had been figured out and I was finally doing all the things i needed to to be a "normal" person. However, I found out I'm pregnant and have been off my meds for approximately two months now. My husband has been amazing and supportive, but I'm so afraid i'm going to lose my job because of the depression I'm experiencing- being pregnant and having Bipolar Disorder is NOT easy!

Avolitionist
September, 11 2015 at 6:35 am

Natasha,
I can identify with so much of your writing here ... I was going to say I 'enjoyed' it but that is not the right word ... sometimes it's very difficult work to admit these things, or in turn, see the mirrored reflection in the words ...
While I am no longer suicidal (3 attempts between age 13-19) I still struggle with fast shifts - I go thru the process of complete avolition to high productivity about 4 to 6 times a year.
Recently, I discovered Asperger's syndrome ... within the first few chapters I realized a complete description of my entire life. (also tests confirmed my self-diagnosis)
Because of so much overwhelming info about my life, which would have answered so many questions my late mother had (she passed away 10 years prior to my discovery) I sank into a regretful, bitter depression. But then when I came out, I was very excited & felt freer bc I had answers for things - I no longer felt guilty, or could be made to feel guitly for LIKING to be alone a lot. I also became more tolerant of the people who think neurotyically (just about everyone. I also have a new understanding of my depressions - which are largely born of coping mechanisms. Like you, I 'act' around people all the time. It is not insincere - it is a form of forcing myself to model socially appropriate skills, such as smiling, eye-contact, listening - all of which do not cme natural to me, and including the actual thinking, planning, and DOING of my job. (I've been self-emloyeed for 30 years)
I became a Christian many years ago at 20. I learned very very early on that others in this faith do not allow themselves to be equipped with what is required to be helpful at all to depressed people. Also, I no one even.knew about Aspergershose days - so ... well, I was just a ent' cookie. When I was productive I was valued, so I maintained productivity. When I attempted to share personal struggle, I was told to just pray, or that I would have 'complete victory' if I prayed more ... or worse, I was scolded for allowing the enemy of my soul a weakness.
This highly adjusted way of dealing with a human is not Christ like, but I forgave, because I actually DID pray more, and developed a very personal relationship with God. Many depressions were spent in intense crying out to Him, something I could never do with any other person. Yet, I knew He heard, understood, & felt, and many prayers were answered and many depressions 'turned' and much sanity is restored - but because I am simply human, not immortal or a god, or even 'normal' minded, this activity is like shampoo ... wash, rinse, repeat.
lol
I do not go to doctors bc they can make you really sick.
I prefer herbal or natural remdies for everything..
Thanx for your forum Natasha.
I will be thinking of you and reading more here.

Liz
September, 1 2015 at 6:48 pm

I just came across this article and I feel like you sound exactly like me. This resonates so much (I am not diagnosed as Bipolar yet but feel strongly that I am type 2). Thank you for putting it out there, it helps so much to know that there are other people in the world that feel the same as I do.

Trish
August, 27 2015 at 12:07 pm

Please, after reading this if you don't know Jesus Christ as your creator God, then please put your faith in Him. Please read the Bible and understand why you are alive and for what purpose. The bible says "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11

ellana
August, 27 2015 at 6:13 am

Like im tired of everyone using mental illness as a scape goat everybody is a fine tuned individual. And the way you think is not a mistake. Even when your emotions and thoughts seem out of sorts it may just be a side affect of you. For instance I talk alot academically im gifted socially well I proboally overwhelm others I have blamed it on me being manic when in reality I was lonely sure I had people around but they were uneducated and not driven like me. I get around intelligent people and suddenly I don't feel so crazy. I think you need to take accountability for the way you are and do what makes you happy working the way you do is making a part of you feel suppressed. If meds help great but look into other reasons you feel how you feel and try not to label yourself even if you do suffer from those symptoms labeling it will make you feel like you are not a part of these negative behaviors its just illness well giving up and letting this illness take the heat for your lack of self control is not going to fix anything so stop generalizing yourself. You are a fine tuned individual and I hope you get well.

Elijah
August, 23 2015 at 2:33 pm

I'm impressed with how well this is written. I was recently diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I find it so difficult to explain to people exactly how it affects me. No one ever thinks I am struggling, and the biggest challenge is balancing my energy levels between work and my social life. By biggest challenge I mean impossible. If I don't give work everything I have to maintain myself, I crumble. Living in Vancouver is too expensive to be jobless. It runs in my family, though I am the only one considered high functioning. Thanks for writing this. Not only do I realize.the way I feel is "normal" based on the diagnosis, but now I can use this to explain it to people when I cannot find the words to do it myself.

lucy
August, 22 2015 at 4:31 pm

I have been suffering with rapid cycling bipolar for diagnosis 23 years ,I work as a nurse .I'm married to a wonderful man and have two great sons. But there are times where its easier not to talk to single soul.It not the nicest disease to have. Sometimes I say something that is just plain rude or meant ,and I drive people away.
Tonight my husband and I had a discussion about what this disease does to me ,versus what his folliclIitis does to him .I wasn't very nice to him and by stating they are different like apple and oranges ,one makes your mind dark and sad and the other just on the skin . Well I don't understand his problem. He doesn't have a clue about having your mind turn on you. I'm very sad that he is missing the big picture that I am trying to present him.

lila
August, 20 2015 at 4:23 am

Thank u! I have been researching bipolar 1 & 2 I was diagnosed 5 yrs ago but had suffered thru ups n downs since age 22. I am now 41. I always just thought.. hey Im emotional.. never understanding... what I was going thru. I had my own place held a job for 10 yrs. Moved held a job n learned a new trade for 7 yrs. I always spent my money on bills n necessities. I never fit it anywhere.. but i had good friendships that lasted.. I just dont understand how now I am falling apart.. I have always had an inner fight for what was good n bad.. I use to tell my dad that when i was really young. I have to fight so hard to do whats right. Its exhausting.. I never understood my need for sex n the guilt afterward.. i still fight that daily. ..Being a Christian is hard enough but to add the ups n downs.. its a bit much. Im saddened on how hard this is n how devastating it can b. For the ppl going thru it n family n friends..
finding support groups is very difficult. Being honest at church is difficulft . Being told just take ur meds without realizing how hard that is on ones mind n body. Sometimes it just feels so overwhelming that u just shut down..
Where do we begin to live.. ?? I have had good days n bad.. but in all of this is soo much..
needing help n asking for help has been a huge challenge for me.. falling apart n being so terrified to even breathe is so hard to come back from but God is good n u take it one day at a time...

lila
August, 15 2015 at 3:56 am

I need help. I want to talk to someone.. anyone that will understand that being bipolar 2 is hard. I am having a difficult time lately n need help.

Highfunctioning2
August, 10 2015 at 8:05 am

I am high functioning as well. It sucks. I appear fine but the reality it does suck the life out of me. What is worse is that I am a nurse. I am smart, organized and utilize my critical thinking at work...
Then I come home to pure chaos. I have all I can do to wash my scrubs for the next week. Intrapersonal relationships suffer. I can't explain how frustrating it is to explain that I need to follow my schedule. I need someone to accept me for me. That to be "normal" during the week takes every last bit of energy from soul. I barely have enough to keep myself together at home. Every night I cry myself to sleep. Wishing that it would just stop.

BipolarII
August, 4 2015 at 8:27 pm

my therapist and I have been working together for 3 years. I was misdiagnosed with major depression, panic disorder, insomnia, and PTSD. As time went on, we have come to a conclusion of bipolar II. I have taken DBT Dialectible Behavior Therapy twice, mindfulness meditations, and medication, as well as talk therapy.
Socially interacting is quite difficult for me, for I am not able to hide my symptoms to well any more. I am no longer working, I am no longer fostering children, I am no longer involved with children's lives as a mentor and a safe adult. I no longer design and sew for people as a living. I fill my days with fist assessing my moods and moving accordingly. I have regained 100lbs and I have not career. I live on disability and I am a 41 yr old living below the poverty line at 900 per month. i am living in low income housing and have aknowledged my bisexuality this year. I met and fell in love with the most amazing woman, when I told her I had a crush on her, she was gracious and let me down gently. The next time I saw this dynamic woman, was turning the other way whenever she saw me, that was painfully difficult, for I was admitting to liking her after she winked at me twice on one afternoon. To my dismay, it was harmless flrting, that I saw as total acceptance and a sign of love. Wrong! I went from this woman being a positive conversation that could have led to friendship, now it is awkward and unpleasant. Self help books tell you to surround yourself with positive people, but it doesnt say that these positive people may not want you around. I am a work in progress. I binge eat all the time, for I am in the downs more than I am up. When i am up, I am bored and have a burning desire to work or do another hobby project (repurposing furniture). I used to be high functioning, but now I am fighting suicide on a weekly basis.

Gayle
July, 29 2015 at 4:53 pm

I have had Bipolar 1 since I was diagnosed 22 years ago. I know both spectrums of the disease because I was suicidal at age 16 and again at 23 (That year I had a psychotic break - mania) and then a suicide attempt with a summer in hospitals. The following year a psychiatrist that happened to work at the private hospital where I was admitted had written a book on Bipolar Disorders. This story is very long, but I took mood stabilizers since that time and was able to work professionally full time for over 12 years and raise a daughter with my husband. After my brother died of cancer and my father was diagnosed with Alzheimers, I suddenly had a unexpected manic break at work. I was not hospitalized, but my Dr. was trying different medicines to stabilize me. That was between 2007 and 2012. Without going into detail, my marriage almost broke up while our daughter was attending college. I began to work part time in a non-professional field. Then I heard about the NAMI Family-to Family, free 12-week, class and my husband and daughter completed it. I began going to therapy more often and going to a weekly peer support group similar to DBSA. I also took the NAMI Peer-to Peer class, and recently took a WRAP class (Wellness Recovery Action Plan). I have a routine...I have a part time job, I care for my dog, and I facilitate the weekly support group. This summer I also added another fun volunteer job. My problem is not dealing with depressive episodes, but managing hypomanic (mild form of mania) Yes, my cognitive skills slightly diminish, I get hungry and gain a little weight, and am irritable...from my (PRN) extra medicines needed to get me to sleep more than 5 hours a night. I use my WRAP skills such as recognizing warning signs...(rapid thoughts and over-planning). I wake up very early in the morning and don't want to stay or go back to bed another hour or two. My Dr. is aware of this pattern and helps me track my medicine while I track my moods and behavior. I consider myself "high functioning" because people around me don't know of my illness unless I choose to tell them. I also have to work hard to manage my symptoms and it can be very tiring. There are many tools to help beside medication and therapy, such as mentioned in these posts. I highly recommend you by the WRAP workbook by Mary Ellen Copeland, PhD. Journal, do art, listen to music, yoga, meditation or mindfulness, get a massage or pedicure, simple gardening, ride a bike, take a walk, make a healthy meal, call a friend, etc. Do what makes you happy and healthy. Don't judge yourself against others and don't feel like you are alone either. Take care,
-Gayle

Mark
June, 30 2015 at 5:31 am

I read a few of the comments by other readers and I know exactly what your going through. Many of us are not perfect and some hide it better. I have seen people flat out deny the illness. Are we sick or just being taken advantage because we lack the skill sets to socially play the game. I say who cares what anyone thinks and they can have the job. They can go do the work. Focus on moving to a lower income area and reset your expectations level on a home and car. Save 10k buy a mobile home get a 1k car. Resolve your roof and transportation issues first. Do whatever makes you happy we only live once and we are all going to die. One more thing I think most people are mentally i'll due to the society we have built were just plum crazy over here in the USA.

Ann
June, 24 2015 at 5:26 pm

Hi SkyBlue,
I was diagnosed a year and a half ago with bipolar (not sure if is I or II). I don't do drugs, would never cheat on my husband, don't drink, exercise, am a good mom of 3 (my kids are all doing well in school etc), don't consider suicide an option ( I resolved never to entertain those thoughts and don't), am financially stable and have been a successful professional in the same career for 15 years. With my manic phases I have accomplished some amazing things. I took some major risks and frankly I didn't consider the possible consequences. Definitely manic, with all the characteristic signs, being really talkative, racing thoughts, increased energy, over exercising, losing lots of weight and feeling superhuman. One time, I didn't sleep more than 2hrs a night for four months. I've traveled the world, played competitive sports, have a rental property, done lots of charity, joined boards, created lots of unique artwork, written a bi-law for my municipality and lots more. Fortunately, despite my not having good insight during those periods, I enjoyed success with my creative endeavors and people were very grateful and benefited from my work. During my depressive months, I just sucked it up, as it were. I truly believe I'm dying when I'm down, it's actually funny how I believe it when I'm in that place. The pain is unexplainable and intense. I gain lots of weight because I am so tired and I binge eat. None the less, no one (not even my husband) could know how badly I am feeling when I'm depressed because I hide it convincingly well. I usually say I'm sick, overstressed at work or come up with some other acceptable excuse to get into bed and cry for a few hours a day. I am better now at reigning in the mania which helps avoid the depression, but I used to drag my sorry ass to whatever I had committed myself during a manic phase and did my best at work, home and in the community...Many days I felt like I actually had lead in my body...lifting myself out of bed was painful and an enormous chore. I love my job, so I just coped mentally by telling myself this is just the waiting time, "things will shift". I actually used to believe it was God's will. I thought God was wanting me to "wait" and that he would reveal my special purpose again soon lol (in retrospect I was having religious delusions). Anyhoo, people do think I'm crazy, but "good" crazy. I tried all the drugs out there over the past year and a half and frankly the side effects weren't worth the small improvements in clarity I felt. I did feel relieved by Risperidone, like the thoughts on loop in my brain were now under my control to be stopped or started at will. That is how I know I actually have bipolar. The drugs made me binge eat more and there were some other really nasty side effects as well.
What I am wondering is; are there other people coping with Bipolar like me? Are there others who never allowed it to interfere with their dreams and goals? Are there others who found the strength to cope during the depressions and harness the creative energy during the manias? I've always been into yoga, self help books, nature and anything that seems to give me a sens of peace and love. I did a lot of talk therapy in the past two years, have tried neurofeedback, had cognitive behavioral therapy and did a mindfulness training course. I have always understood that to give to others I've got to cope with my very deep emotions and that only I have the power to do that.
Ultimately, I am the one who is responsible for my thoughts and feelings. In my case, my desire to give to others outweighs my bipolar so I control it no matter how difficult and exhausting it is. I'm "high functioning" so I know there is such thing... Am I alone?

r
June, 15 2015 at 2:42 pm

Three years ago I had a melt down and ended up in hospital due in large part to how I was being treated by management. Shortly after I came back to work my newly appointed supervisor went on sick leave. Everyone said she wouldn't be back. I assumed she had quit or been fired. Rumor had it she'd lied on her application which grieved a lot of other people who'd applied for the job but because she was favoured by management she was hired anyway. Both she and her boss made my life a living hell by a constant barrage of various forms of harrassment. I was being bullied to take a buy out due to downsizing. Somehow by the grace of God I managed to survive all that. I even got some pretty decent yearly work assessments after she left. But today I found out that this woman may be coming back again and I feel sick to my stomach. This is the last year for the organization to balance the budget... I know there are laws against harrassment but how does a 'crazy' person protect themselves when management has an agenda, knows how to skirt the law and get away with it.

SkyBlue
June, 14 2015 at 6:32 pm

Hi Natasha, recently diagnosed bipolar 2 and currently trawling through the Internet researching what this means. Came across your blog and posts, this one resonated a lot. It made sense, it is something I have tried to describe to friends pre diagnosis for a long time not knowing why I feel this way. Funnily enough, at diagnosis when I asked about high functioning, I was told point blank there is no such thing. Good to see others experience it and glad you were able to put it into words. Thank you.

Jacqueline M
June, 11 2015 at 2:22 pm

My son we were told was high functioning, but military kicked him out last March and he took his own life last April with the 3 month's worth of antipsychotic drugs they handed him all at once, we are still recovering from our loss and Trauma, anyone who reads this Please Tell someone if you feel suicidal, it shatters many lives :(

jeanne
May, 26 2015 at 1:31 pm

That just anserred my question. I'm "high functioning" too. To add to it, I'm homeless. Because I'm high functioning, am not a drug addict, have no kids, and never been to jail no programs will help me. I lost everything when I had a nervous breakdown and the cruelty of a few saw it possible for me to not make it through the toughest time of my life. In addition to the job I lost last year, I ran my own grassroots production company. Now I have just that and having a project coming up I was doing very well once my life stabled out. But, once the lady who I was renting a room from decided last minute she wanted to rent that room to someone with a car, I have been bouncing like a ball from place to place an the instability is keeping me from focusing and my brain is awefully tired. It scares me because I have a show coming up soon and I am zapped of brain power. At first I believed I could get through this despite the lack of support from these programs. I do have friends who are doing their best to help. But now, my hope is slipping with my ability to function. I am even trying to get low level jobs so to lay off stress but I'm over qualified. Geez. But. I am beyond exhausted.

susan rivas
May, 18 2015 at 10:33 am

Well,,,now I'm jobless. Best thing really. I was not functioning well at all. And it was noticible to others. I lasted a whole 60 days. I went ahead and filed for total disability. My official diagnosis was made 10 years ago but I had problems way before then. Worst of all,,my short term memory has really gotten worse. In that 60 day period I was not able to remember a lot of my coworkers names or even place them with a face. Since there were less than 25 of us it did not fare well for me. And keeping track of patients and their names was a nightmare,,I also consistently misplaced important paperwork. I could no longer do it. My sister suggested that I file for disability prior to taking this job but I held off. Who wants to admit that at 50 years of age that I'm no longer able to be productive in the medical workforce. I sure didn't but I'm forced to. I'm going to retire my license and I just thank God that I didn't end up killing someone.

AeF11
May, 17 2015 at 11:20 pm

Sorry, second paragraph should read mania and not maniacs - Freudian slip.

AeF11
May, 17 2015 at 11:13 pm

I, like many others on this excellent thread, fall into the category of a high functioning Bipolar. I find it helpful reading all of your experiences with juggling life and this condition.
My story is similar to so many here: beautiful white productive maniacs in adolescence, which gradually have given way to black mixed episodes. As I get older (I'm 31 now), I don't seem to normalised to euthymia between mood episodes any more - this means I have to grit my teeth and get on with it during the working week and then spend the weekends curled up in bed. My productivity is also gradully leaving me.
I'm a poor imitation of the person I used to be. I breezed through college, studied Medicine at University and squeezed in an intercalated BSc in Clinical Sciences for which I got 1st Class honours. I'm currently doing an Academic Clinical Fellowship in Anaesthesia, Intensive care and Pharmacogenetics. I have been off work for 3 weeks now and spend most of my time in bed. I don't feel capable of doing anything anymore, it's like the bright light that once burned inside has been extinguished. I'm meant to be starting my PhD in August, which makes me laugh a little as a good day right now is one in which I can find a matching pair of clean socks. That's about it really, for those who are interested, I take Lithium 1200mg, Quetiapine 600mg, Sertraline 150mg.
Best of luck to all of you.

Andrea
May, 14 2015 at 2:57 pm

I am high functioning with bipolar disorder too. I used to be a teacher and I would spend the weekend recuperating. Now I am on disability, work part time, and lead a much more balanced life. My therapist explained that I am still high functioning because that just means I am able to live independently. Being high functioning with a mental illness is different from being high functioning without a mental illness. It seems like you don't have to do anything remarkable to be labeled high functioning, you just have to be able to fake being sane, like you said.

Mmom
May, 6 2015 at 1:25 pm

Age 53
Ditto Kari

susan rivas
May, 2 2015 at 5:10 pm

I have depressive bipolar 2 and at 50 years of age I can tell that i'm getting much worse. I held my first nursing job down for 24 years but the stress became too much and I resigned. I held my 2nd nursing job down for 7 years,,even though it was a plum job I ended up alienating a lot of my co-workers and went through several years of escalating verbal abuse until I finally had to report it to the higher ups and threaten a federal lawsuit to get it stopped. After that my days were numbered and they finally and very subtly got rid of me. I think they are still afraid of me filing a lawsuit and they should be. I have years of medical records detailing all of these events plus a supportive co-worker friend who witnessed at least 90 percent of this and backed up my original complaint with one of her own. I'm on my 3rd nursing job now and only part time at that,,it's all I can handle and I'm not doing well at all. The fact that I have some mental issues is very obvious to the people I work with,,they are nice about it but it's becoming a big problem. I've only worked 2 months at this new job and I'm afraid that I'm not going to last very long. I'm getting to the point that I can barely handle stress so I see my ability to work slowly coming to an end. A bipolar friend of mine warned me about 10 years ago that even with me being on medication that I would end up getting much worse. I blew him off but I now see how right he was and I'm very scared.

alex
April, 25 2015 at 6:51 pm

I literally cried read all of the comments. I had no idea there were more people like me. I always feel sooo alone with the issues. I never even considered that there was a larger issue when I was younger and made what seemed like rash decisions. Now I know why I wasn't able to finish college or hold down any job. Why some days I can clean my whole house and do all 5 loads of laundry i have been neglecting and others I can barely force myself out of bed. And why I have to constantly find reasons to not have to leave my home. Why I can be ok and then it angry the new. Minutes. It just feel good to know I am not the only one

sadie
April, 3 2015 at 8:44 pm

After reading a few more posts, I want to add a couple of things that I recently learned. Lamictal and Effexor have been life savers for me. After 20 some odd years hoping to get hit by a bus so the pain and exhaustion would end, I found some stability. I recently found out why Effexor is one of the most effective meds for bipolar. It targets three areas of the brain rather than just seratonin. Paxil, the antidepressant I was put on at one point, sent me into mania and destroyed an important relationship in my life and caused me terrible shame for years. If you have tried Lamictal and Effexor XR without success, you may be like me and have success only with brand names and not generic. They are incredibly expensive even with my insurance, but I live very frugally to make them a priority. The pharmaceutical company that makes Lamictal will work with you through your psychiatrist if you need help financially. With a recent ADHD diagnosis, my meds are certainly still a work in progress, but I am grateful to have found some that provided an improvement that gave me 10 better years than the previous 20. It is still a process and I don't know how I will be able to keep supporting myself.

sadie
April, 3 2015 at 8:12 pm

Thank you for your article, high-functioning bipolar. I gave my psychologist almost this exact description at my last appointment. If I choose to work and function as a "normal" person to pay my bills and keep benefits for my medications then that is all I can do. It is exhausting, there is nothing left emotionally or mentally. At a certain point I cannot keep it up and leave my job for something less stressful, but then I can't pay my bills. This time I took the short term disability offered by my company. Money is super tight, but I was reaching a dangerous point that was not worth the risk. The one constant that I have is my faith, during decades of pain, it has kept a small enough flicker of hope to keep me alive. Thank you for speaking of and helping those of us who struggle to connect or describe what life with bipolar feels like.

Charley
March, 22 2015 at 3:38 pm

I just googled type 2 bipolar and fatigue to see if I could find other people who were experiencing the same thing, and this article came up.
I cant believe how much your story sounds like mine - particularly the part about being too tired to do anything and not really having a life.
My family doesn't understand and I just thought it was because I am anti-social or strange, nothing to do with my bipolar.
Its really nice to read this and know that I am not a freak and this is 'normal' for us, so thank you.

M
March, 22 2015 at 7:44 am

what a great thread. thank you to all who have posted comments.
went to an ivy-league university and have a phd. currently a junior faculty member. just telling you that to check the "high functioning" box.
i had been diagnosed with unipolar depression since 1997. i was first diagnosed bipolar disorder in 2005. the reason i had gone to the psychiatrist for a reassessment in the first place was because of my mood swings. my boyfriend found them unbearable and I said i'd get another opinion. the doc dx'd bipolar. i tried lithium and hated it. I quit.
insert 10 years of struggle here. if i deliberately withheld my sleep medication i could easily induce mania which i could use to get my work done in graduate school. if i don't take something to sleep, i don't sleep. all of a sudden it is morning. time seems to contract, a day goes by in a blink. i love/d these times.
as i have gotten older though, these times have changed. they have gone from inspiration to agitation. the beginning is inspired, but it quickly morphs to agitation and an inability to focus.
i don't particularly like the term mania because it seems hyperbolic to me, but fine, whatever, mania... for lack of better language, my "manic" states have - in the context of work, anyway, lessened in inspiration and productivity -- and everything just seems like too much. I feel gloomy and hopeless and agitated and angry and on the verge of tears and ugh.
and ok, i'm leaving out many many parts of my adolescence and twenties when i engaged in substance abuse and promiscuity and risk-taking behavior - and fair enough - they say that bipolar people aren't particularly good at diagnosing themselves - and i totally get that because when i went back in this past fall for a second opinion and got diagnosed as bipolar 1 with mixed episodes, severe - i was dumbfounded at first.
Well, to be honest I'd go back and forth. I mean, it seems like when I'd have and upswing I'd feel fine - I'm not sick. but when I'd get depressed, I'm sick. I don't even know how often I'd go back and forth. I got a mood tracker for my iphone and used it for like 3 weeks before I completely lost interest. Seems like it varies. Sometimes days, sometimes weeks. Who really cares? Why does it matter? Does it really change anything?
i know that had been acting out of character for the last year and a half, had been doing some things that I will regret forever and that lightened my savings account significantly. if i weren't so profoundly paranoid that google could connect me to the content of this post i would actually write it here.
i am paranoid that people will be able to tell who i am and i've masked my identity because god forbid my colleagues find out i'm bipolar. (even though, really, no one cares. people are more absorbed with themselves. they aren't thinking about me at all.)
the stigma is too damning. so sad. i am told i should not feel ashamed of it - but i am ashamed of it. i am so ashamed of it. of the label, anyway. and maybe more. of seeming weak. of not having my act together. of not being able to function like i used to. of having needs. I hate needing other people. I have this sense that other people don't really want to be needed and that other people can really take only so much.
My job brings out the Worst in me, in some ways. It stresses me out. but it is such a "prestigious" job that some of my friends/colleagues are horrified when i say i am thinking of leaving academia. but i think i will leave. because the stress is making me so unhappy. and i feel like i have missed out on having a life.
Then i worry that this is just a rough patch and I should just see it through. But then I think - - maybe that's what I've been telling myself for the last 18 years and I just need to stop trying to prove myself to the point of misery.
and as i have gotten older i have gotten the sense that what really matters is relationships with other people. and time spent with them. I am really happy sitting around the table laughing with family or hanging out with friends. and i used to exercise and run and see sunlight and have (gasp) hobbies. and i am really miserable spending so much time alone.
sometimes i shut and lock my office door and just lay on the floor. like, won't-somebody-come-save-me lay-on-the-floor. like, remember-when we-used-to-take-naps-and-eat-cookies lay-on-the-floor. like, how-did-i-get-here? lay-on-the-floor (cue Talking Heads song).
i still feel like the job stress is the source of some of my instability - i think my life would be much better if i changed my lifestyle.
btw - tried lithium again, hated it. on topirimate - going well so far, hard to say.
like someone in a previous thread said, i wouldn't trade whatever is "wrong" with me for anything, even though i have been miserable at times. I'm really grateful for so much. really. But sometimes i do get selfish and self-righteous and I have little tantrums about why i'm not thinner and i feel pissy about how much of my hair fell out when i took lithium again and i don't like the wrinkles showing up on my face as i age, but i know how unbecoming that is, and that it is far better to say things like: I'm grateful for so much.
and even though the "label" is something I don't share with people and something that I am ashamed of. I'm only ashamed of it because other people are stupid and judgmental. it is really great reading comments from you guys and sharing with you guys.

Claire
March, 18 2015 at 4:11 am

Natasha's story is such a relief. I too have high functioning bi-polar 1 which I was diagnosed with at age 24 and rediagnosed this year at the age of 48. (I decided after the early diagnosis that the psychiatrists had no clue what they were talking about and lithium made me feel funny). I too have left a trail of quit jobs and half finished degrees which has led to a feeling of pointlessness. I really thought I was the only person that did this.... then I thought maybe I'd just google "quitting jobs and bipolar" and hey, there's a whole world of us!
I tried hard to disappear into the wallpaper in many jobs, my favourite work being a typist in a typing pool, or a night shift typist. Something where I could work, go home, and have some of myself left at the end. I always managed to get "promoted" though, I am simply not the sort of person that can disappear - Apart from being 6 foot, I think bipolar leaks out even when you have your best game face on, and people know you are different. They just can't put their finger on it and end up being slightly fascinated.
I have just quit my latest job working as the secretary for a criminal lawyer. All was going well. I love the work. He knew my problems, he accommodated me to the point where it caused rumblings of discontent amongst other employees, but eventually my days were numbered. As described by Natasha my weekends were a mess. They were long, a Friday to a Monday, but they were completely ruined. It felt like some kind of Wylie Coyote cartoon - Monday to Thursday I would run around trying to keep the steam escaping from all these little cracks in my facade, by Friday I was miserable but kept going with the energy still from the week, by Saturday..... BOOM! sobbing, grumpy paralysed with depression. Sunday, basket case. My family all suffered.
My psychiatrist, GP and psychologist have all very gently hinted over time that although I might like my job that my job does not like me. I am an artist and photographer when I feel up to it, and their gentle hints that perhaps I could make just as good a living from that didn't go down well with me, because my inability to start let alone finish anything is a major problem. Physically I am a mess. Working and keeping it all together left no time for exercise. I have put on 20 kgs in 2 years and my knees and ankles feel every kilo.
We can't really afford for me not to work but health trumps wealth every time.
Thank you all. I don't feel as alone as when I started typing those words into Google.

Mrs lonely
March, 16 2015 at 10:45 am

Reading this honestly saved me tonight, I've spent my whole life 'suffering' this way. I am 25 years old and got my first full time job 6 1/2 years ago straight out of education, I have reached a point where I have had so much time off sick that I am beginning to wonder if I can continue working, I know I am making myself ill.
The continued faking is exhausting, I do not have the words to explain to those close to me(those who know) how I feel, so I keep it all locked away.
I don't want to give up yet I do not know an employer who will put up with my sick time, I went for 4 years without a sick day but I am certain that after the non stop faking and forcing myself, my body has given up as I have caught every nasty virus and infection going. I honestly couldn't make up the amount of times I've been ill.
Not to mention that I have suffered with migraines all my life, and the medication I am on has gradually made them worse, I had a psychiatrist until I was 18 who helped me greatly but now I rely on going to my local doctors surgery and I feel completely misunderstood, I think perhaps being young I come across as dramatic and lazy.
I don't know where I am going at the moment, I don't know if I'll make it but at least reading this for the time being I feel at last I can relate to something.

Dr Know
March, 8 2015 at 5:11 am

richard,
If you hear voices, your correct diagnoses would more likely be schizoaffective disorder. Meds never cure or solve the problems that MI brings people....meds are only a tool of many that must be used when they offer more benefits than costs.
I'm an extremely high functional BPer and used to struggle for years on how to live a fake "normal life. I gave up on that....switched to being a mental health professional working directly with all MI types and find that my spirit thrives on helping others deal with their symptoms. Most my co-workers talk about how terribly stressful the job is. I find it to be the least stressful thing I have ever done, including being unemployed. IDK, "maybe it takes one to know one."
MI is still a hidden secret that is tried to be forgotten in our society and one thing I try to do with my patients is to help them fully embrace they have MI and to self advocate every way possible. Having MI is no different than having any other disease....except the extreme discrimination that our society practices. There is no shame in having MI, the repeating cycle of symptoms, treatment, and remission is just like any other disease....and most diseases do create chaos in the lives of those it effects. MI is filled with stories of unfilled potential waiting to happen when those with MI embrace it, deal with it, and use it to soar. "Healers are Spiritual Warriors who have found the courage to defeat ... the depths of their deepest fears, like a Phoenix rising from the ashes."

Bec
March, 4 2015 at 1:09 am

I hear what everyone is saying. I was diagnosed only two years ago after struggling for two decades. I work full time and spend most of my time trying to work out the social rules so I can conform. I got chipped by my boss the other day for my negative body language in the staff room. I am struggling to get to work, do my job and not stuff it up and she has no idea how hurtful her comment was. I don't have enough energy or resilience for work, family, the community and let alone me. I would be ostracised if work knew I had bi polar so hiding it is my second full time job. So much for high functioning!

dARLENE
February, 16 2015 at 10:07 pm

I am in tears. Thank you for writing this. I am so glad I found this! I have been diagnosed with type 2 bipolar disorder. In fact, I was diagnosed over a year ago, yet I did not want to believe the diagnosis because it didn't seem to "fit" with the more traditional thoughts of what bipolar is.
Yet you perfectly described everything I have been feeling and going through. Thank You.

Bob
February, 14 2015 at 5:40 pm

Richard, I think you are on to something as far as "dancing with words". Bipolar 1 can be just as much a gift as it is an illness. Its worth working through the medications as this will help eventually as helps to prevent things getting worse as you get older. Litium is good as there is new evidence it helps to protect the parts of the brain that bipolar 1 may damage. It has some big side effects and you must look after yourself to prevent kidney and throid damage but it has a great track record and doesnt dumb you down like other meds...ask your doc bout it if you havent tried it.
Bipolar 1 is hard, its hard to keep fit both phyically and mentally. You learn after a while (if you work to stay in control) it is truly a blessing and maby we are an evolving part of humanity as we are capable of things normal ppl couldnt even comprehend. I try to explain my condition to others and fight the stigma and yes most of the time this just depressez me but the thing is I look at it like we are dyslexic and without the right tools we struggle. Without a bipolar teacher its hard, with english (laungauge) being our main form of communication its hard, trying to slow down (and sometimes speedup) during a conversation is hard when in our heads we can be 5 subjects ahead of that that is being spoken. I have faith that one day we as a group will support eachother better and truly show the world that we are not so much ill just different and need the right tools to help i.e education, medication, council, exercize and healthy eating and most importantly support from fellow bipolars as they are the only ones that can truely understand that your not just being lazy or have had too much coffee lol.
We are 1-5% of the population (depending on which study you read) so WE ARE NOT ALONE EVER! Its time we spent more time helping others with our condition rather then comparing ourselfs to the 95-99% of...well boring ppl (you know jts true). Im happy even when im depressed and suicidal because like the buddists say "sorrow follows happiness and happiness follows sorrow" and I dont judge myself by socities standards anymore; I have no iPhone, no house, a shitty car (that i love), and a job about 50% of the time but Im happy and try to stay peacefull as much as possible and withdraw to my cave only when i must. I have been diagnosed over 10 years ago and it has felt like 100 years but i wouldn't change a thing and if you would i question if you have bipolar.

richard
February, 10 2015 at 5:38 pm

Hi i am tied, also tired, i want to die and be alone. I personally dont like to give definition to ny feelings i live without them but interacting with other people and having them judge me all the time is what kills me. Im not very good with anyone else anymore. My parents think im fine. I was having episodes more often and more severe about a year ago so i seeked out treatment talked with a therapist and went into a hospital. The psychiatrist there prescribed me depakote but after researching others who were medicated i threw the bottle away. Id almost rather go through the cycles if anyone else has felt the same way or wants to steer me away from this id like your input. I dont even think i had a diagnosis i just from research am fairly sure that i have bipolar my guess is type 1, my aunt was bipolar a bad case she died outside homeless in a dumpster. About two years ago i was hearing voices and thought someone was calling my name i searched around and noone was there, this while in the airforce so i didnt tell anyone fearing a bad discharge. I had no energy to do anything id stay in bed during pt risking trouble and skip marching i was pretty good at breaking the rules. Then i had a full blown attack at my ex gfs house last year i was pacing around breathing heavy and i thought i could understand this perception like noone else and it was degenerative the whole thing. I was the answer i knew everything communication wasnt there though. I was seeing my thoughts played out and hearing things thst i knew were going to be said and the meaning i just basically knew myself that this is useless i cant explain.. anyway after that i didnt attribute it to any mental illness i was pretty hard footed in belief that theres no such thing as depression.. i dont know what i am getting at i guess im dancing with words here..

Bb
February, 5 2015 at 8:49 pm

In my 50th year, 26 years since being diagnosed bipolar, I'm still functioning in this world, determined to be me, unmediated, and free.
Life is simple
Life is free
when we simply learn to be.
It's not so simple though, is it?
The highs and lows
with hypomanic periods of seeming stability.
Which me am I?
I am all three!
Thankfully, I am not a chemically-dulled shell.
One Psychiatrist early on told my wife, "Our goal is to keep him working", as if I am a machine with no other purpose
or aspirations.
Truthfully though, I relate to Natasha Tracy. It is challenge enough to work each day. I'm often "alone", even when I appear with others. I retreat within to calm my mind or I blend into the scene like a chameleon.
I used to feel lost in this world
until I spent extended time alone.
In "aloneness", one is found.
I cherish time to be
a beautiful amalgamation.
Me, myself, and I
One man, three "me's",
indivisible
with liberty and justice for all.
Bless you all

Barb T.
January, 27 2015 at 3:49 pm

Wow I appreciate this article so much. I have biploar 2 and you nailed the feelings...I am probably going to get a big job soon and I feel like a victim of my own high-functioning (lol). I want to curl up in the fetal position forever when I think about having to be normal in a new high stress job.
EVERYTHING is an effort...how I look, how I speak, my demeanor...I mean how am I supposed to keep up?? :(
Thanks for your articles they help.

Sherry
December, 28 2014 at 2:58 pm

I have, like most people who are posting, been diagnosed with "high functioning bipolar I" personally I was on medication for about 10 years, and I thought it was only for depression and anxiety. 3 years ago I discover I was diagnosed as bipolar I. I always knew there was something off about me, and I always felt the necessity to hide it from anyone I work with, as well as people that I scocialize with, I know that with all of my research I have been struggling since I have been a preteen.
I started working as soon as high school finished, I learned a trade, then I got married and found an office job. I am happily divorced now, however there have been many other jobs since working with a large department store in management for 8 years. As many of you have mentioned what sucks the life out of you, and creates an unstable reliability towards work, is the effort involved to act "normal" 24-7.
It is a balancing act, and a fine art. At one point in time I was hospitalized for a month, they changed my medication. The year and a half that followed I simply do not remember, however I was told I slept the whole time. I temporarily moved in with my mom to get back on my feet. I then searched for a job I could manage. Currently I am off all medication for almost 2 years now, and I work steadily 4 days per week.
It is going to be a constant battle for all who experience bipolar, especially more so the "high functioning" as clearly more is expected of us, and inevitably we are labelled as being "lazy" if we do not deliver. It is encouraging to me that many others are still winning the fight against the ups and downs, the constant energy and concentration required to stay focused and live productive lives. Don't expect perfection, and do not be too discouraged if you need to change jobs for your sanity.
Thanks for listening!

HARISH G. BHATIA
December, 24 2014 at 3:51 pm

how to come out from stress?

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