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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.

Gary
March, 27 2014 at 3:38 pm

Amen.

Melanie
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.

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!
Marcia

Peter
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.

EthanS
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.

Courtney
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.

Rebecca
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.

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.

Irene
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

Jan
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.

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.

meg
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...

alex
January, 20 2014 at 12:20 pm

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

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

Sarah
December, 14 2013 at 12:59 am

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

Maria
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.

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!

ANN
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.

Legina
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.

Sarah
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.

Courtney
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.

Jamie
October, 14 2013 at 6:40 pm

(cont)
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.

Jamie
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

Julia
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.

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.

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.

Sarah
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.

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.

elisa
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.

Jacqueline
August, 14 2013 at 4:14 pm

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

amack00
August, 13 2013 at 1:09 pm

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

Katherine
August, 3 2013 at 11:51 pm

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

Vern
August, 3 2013 at 3:52 pm

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

KP
July, 22 2013 at 7:51 pm

SQUIRREL! (Sorry, lame attempt at humor!)

KP
July, 22 2013 at 7:49 pm

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

the apologist
July, 16 2013 at 12:20 pm

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

the apologist
July, 16 2013 at 12:17 pm

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

KJ
July, 4 2013 at 6:54 am

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

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

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

Julia
June, 18 2013 at 6:12 pm

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

Bibiana
June, 16 2013 at 9:47 pm

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

Rita
June, 12 2013 at 10:18 am

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

Dawn
June, 5 2013 at 9:31 pm

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

Trisha
May, 1 2013 at 11:56 am

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

Bibiana
April, 28 2013 at 3:02 pm

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

Bibiana
April, 28 2013 at 2:53 pm

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

Sarah
April, 26 2013 at 1:09 am

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

Susan
April, 25 2013 at 3:15 am

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

Bibiana
April, 23 2013 at 2:21 pm

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

laith
April, 17 2013 at 2:03 pm

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

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