Beating Back Bipolar and the Flu

February 4, 2014 Natasha Tracy

I’m sick. I’ve been sick for five days. I’ve been sick and really annoyed about being sick for five days. Writers do not get paid for sick days. (And speakers have to cancel talks. Darn it.)

And while I’ve said before that it's unfair that people with bipolar disorder should have to go through normal annoyances like colds and flus, it seems that the universe begs to differ with me on that one. And so some kind of virus I have gotten.

But I think that bipolar interacts with your average bug and you average bug interacts with bipolar disorder, so how do you deal with that?

Colds, Flus and Bipolar Depression

When I’m really depressed I am exhausted. When I’m really sick I’m also exhausted. It seems to me, then, that my brain gets confused and thinks the flu/cold-type-exhaustion is really depression-exhaustion. And thus my depression gets worse. I don’t know if this is just me, but I suspect that conflation is seen elsewhere too. The brain, for all its brilliance, gets confused sometimes.

Plus you may find that feeling down just, plain, old makes you feel down.

Colds, Flus and Side Effects

Having a cold or the flu also seems to make my side effects worse. There’s an increase in things like dizziness and nausea when you have a cold or the flu which is normal, but it compounds what it already there thanks to the meds.

Advice for Bipolar Disorder and the Flu or a Cold

Bipolar interacts with the flu and the flu interacts with bipolar disorder so how do you cope with bipolar and the flu together? Breaking Bipolar blog.I do have some general advice for people with bipolar disorder that are also suffering from a cold or the flu.

The number one thing (and I learned this the hard way) is this:

1. Do not take anything for your illness unless you check with your doctor first.

And really, I would suggest not taking anything at all. This is because the last time I took your average, over-the-counter, cough medication, I became psychotic. Now, your response will vary and it really depends what medications you’re on, but seriously, think twice about just how crazy you want to get. You may have to just suffer with the symptoms of the cold or flu because it’s far better than risking the alternative.

2. Use your cognitive behavioral therapy skills to defeat the depression/exhaustion confusion.

If you understand that being under the weather is going to make you feel more depressed, then just use your logic to remind yourself of that. Remind yourself that, for all intents and purposes, you’re artificially depressed. And remind yourself that, unlike some other depressions, this one will pass quickly and leave you along with the virus.

3. Do not drink alcohol.

Not drinking alcohol is an all-around piece of advice that should always be followed but it warrants mentioning here as some people feel that, somehow, alcohol will make them feel better. That’s just silly, and it has the real possibility of making your bipolar worse and you unstable.

4. Rest up.

Finally, rest up. I realize this may seem obvious, but in my experience, rest is more important to people with bipolar disorder than your average bear. I also know that some people feel really bad about laying on the couch and “doing nothing.” But, of course, you’re not doing nothing. In fact, you’re working very hard. You’re working very hard beating off the little nasties inside of you. That’s no small feat.

And don’t forget to give yourself a break. Colds and flus knock everyone down for a while and that’s okay. I know most of us scramble like mad to try to keep our health and so this might feel like a failure. But it’s not. It’s just us being normal.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at the Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2014, February 4). Beating Back Bipolar and the Flu, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 25 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.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

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

July, 22 2022 at 10:32 pm

I had a cold/flu for 3 looooong weeks. I know you’re not suppose to go off your meds w/o telling your Dr but I went off them anyway so that I could take Otrivin and BREATH again and Benylin (with Psuedoephedrine) so I could get a good nights rest w/o COUGHING ALL NIGHT. Sleep was more important than taking the meds and worrying about the drug interactions. My cold is over now and I am back on my regular bipolar meds

October, 9 2018 at 2:00 pm

I just had the flu and although I was on the up I spent 2 days extremely unstable and emotional. Complete dysphoria. Was just talking to a friend and he raised a very good point that due to not eating a lot and drinking so much water it was likely that my meds weren't being absorbed anywhere near their normal levels. I think that probably set me off as I was fine whilst taking painkillers and stuff. I'll remember to use hydration salts next time to take it in properly!

October, 10 2015 at 6:19 am

Thanks for this useful insight! My dearest colleague - who is also my mentor in many ways- struggles with bipolar disorder. He hasn't told me about it, I figured it out from his writings. He's currently at home with a flu and I am trying to cover all of our work while he's off so that he finds everything ok when he returns. I am also inserting "get well","take care" etc. notes in the updates I send him on a daily basis about our current projects (at his request) because I want him not to worry. I need to understand how he feels, as he is very important to me as a person and coping with BP is already stressful, he's doing a great job. That's why reading your posts is very helpful to me in many ways, even if I am an outsider.Thanks again!

Laura Gehrke
February, 7 2014 at 4:23 am

Although I hate the flu, it is a diversion of my bipolar, it is a physical illness, andII'm able to focus on healing my body. I of course would prefer never to get the flu, and to not be living with bipolar, but such is life. Hope all are feeling good today.

February, 6 2014 at 2:13 am

I hope you feel better today, thanks for your website.

Living a new life
February, 5 2014 at 2:54 pm

Glad you're feeling better.
regarding the person who commented before me, it probably wasn't flu if they were only in bed for 2 days from what I've ever read about flu. When I had flu one time as an adult, I was in bed for a week. I could get up maybe 2 hours a day and that was pushing it.
The alcohol issue is one of my pet peeves. There is no ALWAYS with alcohol and bipolar. There are plenty of people with bipolar who can drink alcohol socially and psychiatrists' opinions are divided. I remember asking a psychiatrist if I could have a glass of wine at dinner, and he rolled his eyes and snorted and said that of COURSE I could have a glass of wine with my spouse and that a lot of the labeling on pill bottles is drug companies covering their butts. He was my doc when I was inpatient at a university hospital. In fact, all the psychiatrists I have ever had except for one said that occasional alcohol use is fine, because I had no history of abuse. I've probably had 6 to 8 psychiatrists by now over the past 20 years.
In any case, the reason it peeves me isn't the advice itself. I am fed up with the mental health system itself acting like I'm a criminal for having a glass of wine a few times a month (maybe 5 or 6 glasses total, many months I have none). For some it is a depression trigger for others not. I kept detailed track of symptoms, drugs, alcohol, what upset me during the day and so on, and alcohol was irrelevant (and so were the medications I was given!) I'd just cycle along, according to the seasons and I have years of that type of data recorded and graphed it all out. Some people have substance abuse problems, others not. When I had a social worker, the forms I had to fill out made it sound like ANY alcohol use was major league substance abuse (that's how the questions were worded), and it was insulting and paternalistic.

February, 5 2014 at 7:56 am

A couple of things: when I'm sick with the flu, I seem to have it longer and with more severity than most folks. Last year I had the flu for 6 weeks; the time before, for 3 weeks. "Normal" people seem to be able to stay at home for 2 days and then come back to work, while I wasn't even thinking of moving from bed even after 7 days.
I have the same problem with OTC cold & flu meds. I can take Coricidin, but after about 5 days you feel like you're on a meth high while still being sick. (My friend told me that my side-effects sounded like a meth high, I have no personal experience).
So, any studies out there about this? (E.g., Longer, more severe illnesses and weird side-effects with OTC drugs.)

Gary Ledbetter
February, 5 2014 at 7:22 am

I was just sick and your word are wise. Logic had it that I've felt better before so I'll feel better again.

Leave a reply