Bipolar Steals Brain Cycles

February 23, 2011 Natasha Tracy

My brain is a finite resource. Well, the grey, gooey thing in the skull is finite for everyone. But my brain’s ability to think reasonably is a finite resource. When I write it thinks, thinks, thinks, and then there is a dramatic thud.

My brain then stops thinking.

My Intellect is my Value

As it happens, I have to think for a living. What I do is write. What writing requires is thinking. Fast fingers and thinking. And coffee.

So I think pretty much all day long. It’s not that other people aren’t thinking, they are, but I’m producing a whole lot of thoughts and then have to write them down in a coherent fashion. It’s sort of a special kind of thinking. And as I do it from my guest room; there aren’t any water-cooler chats or board meetings to break up the day. It’s pretty much just wake, coffee, think.

And I’m pretty good at it. I’m a decent thinker and a decent writer. My fingers are fast and I make sure there is coffee.

But the thing that I know, that other people don’t, is that at some point my brain will hit a wall. I want to say a metaphorical wall, but it feels like a really real wall.

GOV057Bipolar Makes My Intellect Disappear

Unlike your average folks who can cram all night for an exam, or stay up late finishing that annual report, I know that my brain won’t last that long. No matter how hard I push, and I push pretty darn hard, there is a moment in the day when not another thought exists in my head.

It’s the oddest thing, and it never used to happen to me, but literally, I can’t think another thing. I look at the computer and I know how it works but for the life of me I have no idea what I think. I do not comprehend what I’m reading. The commas all appear to be in the wrong places. But then I can’t remember where the right places are. And then I can’t remember why I’m using a comma in the first place. Meaningless commas.

I Can’t Make my Brain Reappear

At that point I know I have to stop. At that point I’m so worn and so tired that there is nothing left but reality TV watching. I don’t have the neurons left to do things like cook or clean or phone a friend. I go from eloquent turns of phrase to semi-conscious grunting.

Bipolar: My Brain is Off, or My Brain is On

To the best of my knowledge, once my brain turns itself off, the only thing to do is to wait for it to turn itself back on. I have to sit there. And wait. And rest. And wait. And just hope that tomorrow morning the neurons will fire again.

I’m not really sure why this happens. I know I used to be able to think consistently like other people. But now, no. My only thought is that the bipolar takes up space in my brain. It takes up thought cycles. It overruns neurons. When I’m not paying attention, when I’m proofing content, when I’m writing articles, the bipolar cycles in the background. Stealing little parts of my brain that I’ll need later, but that I won’t have.

It shocks me that bipolar can steal thoughts without my noticing. But I’m pretty sure that’s what’s happening.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2011, February 23). Bipolar Steals Brain Cycles, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, March 2 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

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

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

January, 9 2016 at 7:15 am

Take a break and have a Kitkat ;)
Seriously, If your brain stops working, immediately get up and do something else. Best is to do some exercise. Natasha If you're home all day, the best you can do is hop on the ellipse trainer, or do some leg lifts, or squats. It helps to pump fresh blood to your system, thus your brain refreshens. Drink some water, and sit back.
Don't think about anything while doing it, your brain will solve its problems on its own. And its much more efficient than flushing your brain with the crap on the TV.
For those of you who doesn't work at home and do intellectual work, get up aswell and go to the terrace, breathe some fresh air, just move your body a little bit like you used to in gym class in elementary school. Think about the offices in Japan, they do it collectively all the time.
If you are stressed out you can close your eyes and take three deep breaths.
Last but no least: Stay hydrated! It also helps to concentrate! Dont drink too much coffee its not good for your stomach and it only gives you a power burst, will be worse in an hour. Best is fresh/mineral water or you can make a tee if you like.
Take care!
( a young bipolar ;)

March, 13 2015 at 5:26 pm

I feel like this every day now. I compare my brain to a safe on day lock. By a certain hour every day it's like a switch has been flipped and It becomes more difficult to do anything requiring much thought or effort. Its as if my creative thought processes have become harder to access because they've, all been locked away for the next day. I think some of this may be due to medication and some due to sheer exhaustion. I get tired much sooner now than I ever used to

June, 29 2011 at 6:06 pm

This happened to me recently for the first time, and when trying to talk with a client on the phone; I was a whimpering simpering idiot, fortunatly the man has a bipolar daughter and kicked in paternal on me, and told me to take a two week rest on the projtct.

March, 22 2011 at 6:51 pm

I, too, share a natural rhthym toward rapid-cycling hypomanias. This last event happened to be pleasurable, as I spent time with my mom, my daughter, and supportive friends. Not so much a worrisome surfeit of energy but one of expansive intent, as I happened not to sleep at night, but I was able to apply some heightened awareness in filming my daughter's Ballet performance for the local PBS station. Not just another "96-hour burn" on the hamster wheel; I have a fine product to show for it. It was with some relief that I "crashed" last night and today, a time to gather rest and re-charge my batteries. I am beginning to accept these cycles, even take advantage of them in terms of creativity. With experience, I am learning to take advantage of such surges and not worry about the more "down" periods; it follows that "what goes up...."
I allow myself to BE. The apathy and anhedonia is melting with the snow; I feel like the bear that emerges from hibernation and slides down snowy slopes with obvious joy.

Dr Musli Ferati
March, 1 2011 at 4:52 am

The most preferable definition of mental well-being, by me as psychiatrist, is the ability to be a functional person in biopsychosocial dimension. All other correlations on mental health are profoundly subjective and relatively accurate. That is to say every mentally health person has psychological problems and difficulties. Your self impression on bipolar disorder , even original, isn't prevailing opinion in current psychiatry. In a word, that scarred present a deficient approach in mentally health Service. As we have seen, You Ms Tracy writing, speaking and actively contribute in HealthyPlace web Association. Indeed this make You useful person. In other side it should make You, also a happy and successful member of the above mention community. These three parameters are sufficient to compensate your psychic illness and to continued your philanthropic mission, such is your intellectual as well professional engagement. Don't give up!

February, 28 2011 at 1:31 am

Hi Natasha,
thanks for comments on my last comment,not well at the moment haven't been for awhile have court trials due child abuse and I have a cival action against the state government all of which I have been dealing with for 6 years, my daughter has been absolutely cruel to me my mother and sister died last year, people piss me off and I can't deal with it.Have nothing to do with any family and not one of my friends realise how fucked up Bipolar 1 is. Have been diagnosed for 5 years and not any meds or cbt make me feel any better, I'm trying to finish an Visual Arts degree,I have gained an excessive amount of weight and I'm 41, so tomorrow with my weight age and bipolar I have to be creative and my brain says no don't want to cope with it I don't want to go, but it's the only thing I do for me but I'd rather stay home with my animals, I've really had enough, it's going to take allot for me to go tomorrow.Everything feels like pain.

February, 25 2011 at 1:14 pm

Interestingly, the brain collapse I'm familiar with tends to come in more of the overstimulated hypomania form. Like when I've been on the computer later than I should, and I start to wind up and up, like a rat who can't stop hitting the lever. And at some point, my thoughts just don't make a lot of sense to me anymore. I also have brain freeze during depression, and I've felt like my brain was absolutely fried following psychosis, but what you describe sounds separate from an episode.
So this is actually unfamiliar to me, but it sounds really awful...much worse than "writer's block." :( I'm wondering if it's a common side effect of meds? I've never been on meds, so maybe that's why? (Many meds cause long-term cognitive decline, so it's worth looking into.)

February, 24 2011 at 8:44 am

I personally hate this when it happens at work. Because I have to stay happy and cheerful and pretend I can be productive. Especially given that this is most frequent for me in depressives, when I am really spending immense resources to appear happy and cheerful (never mind my brain actually pretending it can work).

February, 24 2011 at 8:17 am

This is so true!

February, 24 2011 at 5:20 am

I understand!

February, 23 2011 at 10:31 pm

Hi Natasha.
Thanks for this post. I was diagnosed with Bipolar I disorder way back 2005, but I have been suffering from the disease since college. So you could imagine how I'd struggle with my academics. I did have high marks, though; but there are times wherein I could not think straight. Then I'd feel I just want to dissipate into thin air. People could not understand me and its difficult here in my country because there aren't many local resources pertaining to psychiatric illnesses.
This post is very timely; since now, as a graduate student of Literature, I am required to read a lot: one novelette, three or four equally-lengthy literary criticism essays and about five short stories (which are not in themselves short in the most literal sense of the word). Not to mention critical expositions plus short stories that I have to write. Talk about the pressure. I'd come to a point wherein I could not think anymore. Then I'd have the bipolar fits in between 'em all. I don't get to finish a semester every year so now I'm thinking of shifting to Linguistics (where there aren't many readings that require me to critique heavy literary stuff).
This article of yours summarises my experiences a lot, so thank you SO MUCH. I have recently started blogging on my own regarding how I battle bipolar disorder on an almost day-to-day to basis and I guess doing so helps me to get a hang of myself. At least.

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