Mental Health Blogs

“High-Functioning” Bipolar Disorder

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.

High-Functioning Bipolar

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 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.

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Low-Functioning Weekends

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.

Energy is Finite, Bipolar 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

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.

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.

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.

This entry was posted in Being Crazy, Coping, Depression, How Others See Bipolar, Impact of Bipolar, Understanding Mental Illness and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

219 Responses to “High-Functioning” Bipolar Disorder

  1. Kristy says:

    I have “high functioning” bipolar and only recently could I admit it can be seriously disabling. I have gone to university but due to a fractured work history and discrimination I have little self esteem left and I am considering a job in a sheltered workshop to make ends meet. Ninety percent of the time I have more energy then others, but I don’t handle mornings well. One of the hardest parts of what I go through is people thinking I should get a job when I can’t.
    Today I am crashing I am too tired to do what I want to do. I feel I have to work so hard just to cope. I am tired.

  2. Jeni says:

    I also have been to university and have high functioning bi-polar; i do nothing more than take care of my child as a stay at home mom. I cannot manage the stress of anything else, including a normal social life or getting a job. I search job listings all the time when I am feeling good, but when I take steps to obtain the job, I am overwhelmed by the demands and unable to account for the lost years and poor work history/referrals. I am incredibly lonely and feel so inadequate. When people ask what I do, I have to say silly things like “i’m a kept woman!” or “The dog is just like a baby and so I have to be around for her!” My husband both claims I “would never be able to make it on my own if he didn’t support me” and also that I “am totally lazy because I don’t do enough around the house or for the family”. Sometimes he is supportive, though. I cannot be friends with hardly anyone as I cannot reciprocate in the normal way of birthday lunches or helping with their kids and I cannot be friends with other depressed types because my husband does not support any relationship with “abnormal” people. I am very lonely, but obviously dependent. We make too much money for any help from public services, but my husband won’t pay for therapy or doctor visits (giant deductible). I am very defeated and unable to connect with the world. Thanks for letting me post.

  3. Free Spirit says:

    Hi I too am very high functioning. I have bipolar and it seems the older I get the more I struggle. For the past 10 years atleast my work history is very unstable. According to others I can not keep a job and I’m a quitter. I laugh nowadays because if only they knew??? Which they do but I show no signs or I’m educated and intelligent or I lead a pretty sane normal life according to them. Or as my ex put it it’s all in my head and I’m just lazy. Well he is right about its all in my head but the laziness part, far from it. That’s the problem. Whether I take meds or not I tend to run k ‘re o the energetic, super woman, mom etc, side. And everyone loves me especially when I work. So in turn that is what is expected of me on a daily basis. So when I crash that’s when I’m TOLD, what’s wrong w you, you are late or not keeping up or as my last job put it, ” I am unable to fullfill my job duties and either resign or I was being let go. The first during allh my years of working was I told this.Well it’s about time I Said. I’ve asked for help I let it be known but some how it has to get to me being in a Crisis StaTe for people to hear my words only because they can see it see, I’ve lost 20 pounds, dark circles under eyes, etc. This is my life . And I’m burnt. I’m back w no job, no home, my boys live w there dad now. All because I’m so high functioning according to all that before I look bad or lose something , no one listens nor believes me. SOS . What part of I’m not doing so well or I’m burnt I need some help in any way,don’t people understand. I even tell them how they can help. I’m detailed in my explanations and still I’m on my own w myself putting back the pieces of my puzzle. I’m not a victim nor do I have pitty parties. Well they don’t last very long.So when I stay away because I feel they are doing me more harm then good,I’m considered selfish, and there is simething wrong w me. It’s come to this w me, love me and support me or get out of my face.plain and simple. I figure as long as I stay true to me and can still love others and be kind open minded and compassionate than I’m as human as human can be.My apologies, I went off on a tangent. One more thing. I can not seem to get any financial assistance like sdi, or ssi or ssdi because their reasons are, I have gone to school and obtained a degree,I have a history of working since age 16 and when I saw their psychiatrist and was asked to remember sequences and who the president is , well what the hell does that have anything to do With any of this. This meaning I struggle at keeping a job due to this mental illness.in school I was always seeing a counselor and my grades were so erratic my counselor even said it makes sense and it is a symptom of bipolar .thanks to the grace of God and perserverance and my boys, is how I got my degree. And trust me myself and all involved went through he’ll during that time, be caused I struggled so much. My life now, I’m 41 is lifeless . After all these years I’m finally burnt and tore up from the floor up, all because I function at a higher level than society perceives one with a mental illness should function at. And mind you this includes my family and certain friends. Thanks for letting me share and God bless.

  4. Katy says:

    I am also considered “high functioning” and I can relate with almost every post here. I am sitting at work right now crying. I have already broken down twice earlier today. I can barely sit at my desk and stare at my computer hoping that nobody notices. I don’t want to socialize or small talk. I don’t want to be here anymore. I have to work because I am a single mom and don’t get any child support either. My daughter is 17, but I still try to hide my depression from her too. I’m also trying to go to school for Esthetics and would love to be able to switch over to that. I love the healing I feel when I am giving a facial or body treatment to someone in a calming atmosphere, but there is no way I can switch jobs even when I done with school for a while because I wont make enough money as an esthetician to pay my bills. I feel I’m barely hanging on and with any little thing my world will come crashing down. It is nice to know that there are others like me. I don’t see anyway around my current situation but I also can’t see doing this day in and day out and making it. I’m so stuck.

  5. Kari says:

    What a feeling when I read this fantastic blog! I am you, only trending in the wrong direction. As a younger woman I enjoyed long periods of hypomania (shorter periods of depression) which allowed me to complete two undergraduate and two graduate degrees. I was successful at work, despite not truly enjoying the job.

    I am now 56 years old and since 50, life has just seems to have become more difficult. Stress, suicidal ideation, fatigue, questioning the why (why me, why not go now, why do I stay…), spending weekends like a hermit, sitting with my dogs, playing meaningless games on my iPad, eating whatever is in the house (cooking? as if) and then returning to work on Monday, feeling exhausted and bracing myself for another week.

    Sick time is gone, my attendance this past year has been spotty, and I don’t know how much longer I can continue.

    I’m interested in hearing from others who remember “better times” and/or those who feel their symptoms and ability to deal with life is lessening with age.

    Thank you, thank you for letting me put a name to my disorder – I still deny I have B/P Disorder II. How could I have accomplished so much if I was sick? Now I know – it’s not BP DO II, it’s HF BP DO!

    Kudos for your work challenging beliefs such as…those with B/P DO don’t take their meds, they’re Ca-ha-razy, and they’ve all done time in an acute psych facility. Okay, so I did take that one ambulance ride, but talked my way out of a 5150 (California Code for involuntary commitment)!

  6. Jeanette says:

    It is so refreshing to see that there are more people out there like me – High functioning … I never though of it that way – it is so exhausting and I don’t believe the people who know that i have bipolar disorder believe it because I do put on a happy face – i am a great pretender… I think its is part of the disease. I never want my children to remember a mom who could not function due to the disease.
    However – I feel like I am losing my battle lately – it is the first time that I have felt so helpless… I am tired – tired of the fight… I feel like I can’t do it anymore – I just want to sleep , I just want to stay in bed… I still get up and go…. so I still have some fight in me… I am thankful to find your page and your blog so I can follow and see what others are going thru….

  7. Rebecca says:

    Hi all,

    I am high functioning as well. I am desperately trying to find out what that really means, if anyone else is high functioning.

    I study at the moment, and my psychology part is making me look at bipolar, its affects on human development from childhood to adulthood (not a lot of studies I am finding)so if anyone knows where to look…

    I have been diagnosed for ten years now. I am medicated and saw a psychologist for many years. I don’t drink or take drugs. I am now a mother, student, and wife. I do agree that being aware of “acting normal” can be tiring, but I find I can participate in all facets of society. I have “normal” friends, go on play dates, have bbqs as well as look after a house, pay a mortgage and have my family duties. I cant wait to return to work. My work history has been a bit all over the place. I guess Bipolar I will do that, but I have found the older I get (I am 35) and the more I understand the illness and myself, I am happy and content. I have a great husband who loves me and tells me I am too smart for him lol. I don’t have episodes anymore. I can sometimes have a small anxiety attack or feel a little “down” but that’s it and it doesn’t last past a day.

    I hate the stigma still attached to bipolar. Not everyone knows what I have. I guess my only real downer is trying to find others like me, and to keep reminding my poor self esteem that I can continue to achieve. My son is my world and he has made me a better person, and I find my symptoms are even less thanks to him.

    Sorry I am dribbling, just the first time I have ever shared. Bec

  8. Aria says:

    Yes, yes, yes! I’m also high functioning (BP I, diagnosed in 2001), and I work full time as the primary bread winner for my family. When I’m euthymic or mildly hypomanic, work and school are a breeze, but any swing to the blue side means the “act as if” game starts. It’s exhausting. Hiding in plain sight, hoping no one catches you out…there’s a constant undercurrent of fear in every functional bipolar, I think. How long can I keep this up? Control my sleep, control my stress and control my diet on top of meds? No matter how well things are going, or how well you plan, how long before the rug is pulled out from under you again? Thank God, I have long term friends who know about me…my best friend snuck a Reese’s pieces sundae (my favorite) into the psych ward when I was hospitalized the first time. A support system is crucial. Just like controlling you sleep is a speed bump for mania, having people you can be social with when you’re down can be such a relief.

  9. Jessica says:

    Im a high functioning bi polar person as well along with adhd.
    But, it has gotten worse. Im in law school work and have a family. But all of that seems to be too much at one time. I sometimes just want to sleep all day. Am severely fatigued many times or want to cry for no reason. Bipolar disorder seems to be kicking my ass at times. How do you bounce from the crappy feeling it makes people feel????

  10. Renita says:

    My psychiatrist tells me I am high functioning even though I have bipolar 1 disorder. I’m amazed that I have been able to hang on to my job for over 30 years. Before I was on medication I could process massive amounts of work. My employer was so pleased that they’d give me more work to do. That was okay with me because I was a workaholic. I’d also go on wild spending sprees during manic episodes then panic when I sunk into a depressive state because I’d be worried about how I was going to pay my bills. I’d have such a hard time staying on top of things at work, I’d worry about getting fired. I would have to double my efforts and stay late, sometimes very very very late to get my work done. It could get physically & emotionally exhausting at times & I was difficult to be around. I also struggled with an eating disorder. My work assessments were either very very good or very very bad. Since I’ve been on medication my life has improved drastically. I am so grateful for the help I received but my life is still far from perfect. If I don’t eat right, exercise and allow enough time for proper rest I have no energy for a life outside of work. It’s hard to be that disciplined all the time. It takes a lot of extra energy just to stay motivated and sometimes I just don’t have it in me.

  11. Leslie says:

    Thank you all so much for the posts! It’s so encouraging that my struggle is not totally unique.

    I badly want to work FT, but feel scared of again battling constant, unrealistic demands, or feeling too sensitive to handle social situations that suppose.

    But I’m building my tool box to handle this disease: giving thanks, accomplishing small projects, earning income, asking for help, acknowledging bp as real and finding (or reading about) others who are successfully fighting bp, too.

    May we overcome

  12. Liz says:

    I identify so completely with the exasperation and desperation expressed by so many here. I no longer work full-time because I averaged 18 mos-2 years for my career employment as well. It was as if my external energy only lasted that long. I have a college degree and “could” be doing so much better financially, professionaly, and socially. I am 38 and the “coulds” are what get to me the most right now.

  13. Starlafur says:

    Thank you so much for this and all your other posts. I read them all the time and they keep me grounded to the truth of the matter. Mostly people around me have no idea what I struggle with except my counselor and of course my MD. It can be very alienating. Your courage to be out there in such a public way is what I hope to have one day. Off line I am pretty out about it but not online. Point is I an glad I stumbled over your twitter feed, emails and blogs.
    I even decided to go to grad school to be an MSW because I wanted to help people like me. Maybe I just wanted to help me?
    My family goes on and on about how high functioning I am and how much better I have gotten. It is all I can do not to outline that I am just a helluva lot better at hiding it. Also, I have strategies for coping that I adhere to. I take meds and I make sure I sleep. I take time for myself. With these protocols in place, sometimes I still curl up on the bathroom floor when no one is home and cry. Nice to know I am not the only one. Cheers!

  14. sherry says:

    I note a common cry in all BP high-achievers who have written in: I’M TIRED!

    I used to be known for my enthusiasm & cheerfulness (during my frequent hypomanic moods) but after 23 years of a professional career (& 2 degrees), I cannot manage more than 2-3 nights out a week and by 7 p.m. I’m longing for TV and bed with my 2 cats. (BBBC is miles better than US crap!). I do enjoy singing lessons, choir and a band, but rarely find the energy to attend concerts. My family all live abroad and travelling to see them is getting out of my comfort zone. An added stressor is that my mother has dementia and insults me when I visit her. I think BPs are less able to withstand negative remarks than “normal” people. She persistently ignored my diagnosis, which makes me less able to take hers into account…

    But I still enjoy beauty and nature and friends. I have a project that is dormant for the time being: writing a memoir of my BP, creative, well-known late father. But I lack the discipline after the meds, the pre-diabetes diet, making sure I get enough sleep, housework etc. Excuses, excuses! Nathalie is a big inspiration.

  15. marie says:

    Hi, What a relief to hear I am not alone, I work in mental health and been diagnosed aytypical bipolar and spent many years trying to hide and cope, and right now am really struggling with hypomania trying to break thru – I wish I could be as honest about BP as I am about my diabetes but there is still that “look” or changed responses when they find out that just kills my esteem, Thanks to all helping me feel less alone,

  16. Nutty in NJ says:

    Hi,

    Due to family grief and on-going issues with a husband who suffers from ED, impotency, aggression, anger-management and then some, he will pick fights with me due to his problems and issues. Making a long story short, with extenuating situation, as his not wanting to cut the chord and have our 37 yr. old son and 33 yr old daughter, finally move out on their own long overdue, he continues a close knit relationship and the three are a weir symbiotic trio, all gang up and are antagonistic towards me for years now.
    After one of many bouts with my husband starting an argument and it leading to domestic violence on his part, I called a crisis management team a half hour from my home. I was of course upset and crying when I spoke to a rep, as the person I had spoken to there regularly was not available. My daughter, who gets involved on my husband’s behalf, as does my son, happy with their dad treating and enabling them like babies, constantly,
    grabbed my cell phone out of my hand. She and my husband proceeded to go into her room, and speak to the crisis mgmt rep, giving her their false, bogus interpretation of what really occurred. My husband, due to my leaving him papers on his computer explaining my care by a nurse practitioner and clinical social worker, in anger came up to my computer, to grab it, try to break it along with part of my desk. This is when I started to cry and proceeded to call crisis mgmt. Sorry the story is a bit out of order. The end result was, crisis mgmt called the local police who suggested I go to the local hospital to talk to someone from their psych dept. I did so, but was forced at this point, through no fault of my own, to stay there for a few days for evaluation.
    Upon speaking to the intake psychiatrist the next morning, he said” I see you are bi-polar”, I replied by stating, I was never diagnosed with that, and would hope that he as the dr. treating me at that facility would make his own diagnosis.
    I provided both him and the social worker I met with while there a few days with the phone numbers and contacts of the psych. nurse practitioner and clinical social worker I have been seeing for the last 20 months, to get their diagnosis. I did tell the doctor I was being treated for depression, due to a sad failed marriage, with a husband I am still stuck living with due to financial constraints. I believe I was misdiagnosed by this Dr. as his findings were in haste and not based on my history I gave him in great detail. I was given Tegritol for Bi-polar disorder. What it did do in the course of the 5 days I took it is, made me sleep half the day away, when awake made me nauseous, dizzy, foggy and totally out of it. I stopped taking it as the side affects were totally adverse, and there were no redeeming affects for me, as I believe as do my nurse practitioner, who speaks to a psychiatrist about my case regularly as well as my clinical social worker, that I do not have bi-polar disorder! So here I was with the only upside to my story being, I got to spend 4-5 nice, tranquil, peaceful days with people who were suffering from various mental illnesses, but whose staff and they were all kind, caring, nice compassionate and all unlike my family I am sadly relegated to stay with, until I can now save to move out on my own, as all monies went into my household. More long story there too long and dreadful to continue with. I have been out of work after losing my job 3 years ago. I did some temporary work, but have still been unable to find full time work. I had to take early social security benefits to help myself and family. My 33 year old daughter was only a pt English adjunct professor at a local college for a few years, working only 6-7 hours per week with menial salary accordingly. My son quit a good lucrative job with a top accounting firm,because after 13 yrs of college hopping and only one 4 year degree he “did not like the job” My husband, the sick sad enabler allowed him to quit, while on credit card borrowing and no money at all, he went into a business from home with my son, selling sports cards, memorabilia, records antiques etc. Sadly, with no money for continued inventory after less than 3 years this past May, the business was defunct due to lack of cash flow to put it mildly.
    Needless to say, our financial situation is in complete turmoil and fiasco. Now my daughter finally got a full time lucrative job, my son, who is fussy, is waiting on the “right job” with no room for waiting due to our dire financial circumstances! My husband and”kids” take all anger etc. out on me and I am the personal punching bag for all!My car was repossessed so I do not even have the ability to keep going on job interviews as I was without any transportation, and I am not near any public transportation either. I am now trying hard to work from home on my computer, as I am limited to a pt job and pt income at best due to getting my early social security benefits this past June to help me and family all around! You can see how grateful they all are! total lack of respect, degrading demeaning, etc. to top it all off, my husband has been suffering with ed and impotency issues since March 2005 and sleeps on a couch to avoid his medical, emotional psychological issues and overdue need for HIM TO GET HELP AS BADLY NEEDED! THIS IS ALL TOO TRUE AS I COULD NOT MAKE THIS UP NOR WOULD I WASTE ANYONE’S TIME DOING SO!!I just wanted to weigh in on how I was misdiagnosed with bi-polar, sadly, and right now, do not have medical coverage and limited ability to get to needed doctors as necessary. So I am unable to get a proper diagnosis, from a dr. other then that intake dr. who sees several patients only on a transient temporary basis, without real thought to curing them on a permanent and continuing basis, but rather just doing a very temporary job with them, as my stay there and everyone else is a week at most. Now you have my tale of woe, and why not to let yourself, get diagnosed wrongfully by an uncaring, temp. Dr.

  17. Sharon says:

    It is sadly true It does get worse with age. Just as any physiological disease worsens with age. I have been diagnosed with rapid cycling bipolar for the past 22 years. But I know I have been bipolar since I was at least 14 yrs old. I am not 56. And my husband and 2 boys used me as a punching bag. Of course. Most people take the easiest route. And here I am over here. Loonie Tunes. Just waiting for some action. So I got too much action and left. That was only due to the fact that I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, herniated discs, some kind of degenerating disc disease. etc. And you know what. I was actually one of those characters in the movies. You know, the family member who gets ill and then her “loving” family abandons her. And after I baked pies at 2 a.m. before work for them. But now they have no one to dump their toxic waste on now that I have left. It’s just me and my dog and I should have split a long time ago. All the best to those who are still figuring things out.

  18. Robinn G says:

    I’m high-functioning bipolar 2. I’m always depressed, to varying degrees. I love to work full time but can barely manage part time work. I’ve always said that whenever I work, I have 2 jobs: pretending to be normal and the job itself. I tried to go back to work full time after being on Social Security Disability for 6 years. I managed doing it for 4 years; the last 2 years were horribly difficult and when they laid me off, it was a relief. I went back to full SSDI. I have the same problem even with working 20 or fewer hours per week! I’m barely managing it but need the money for my medication, my cell phone, and a few other things. At my current job, I am now self-sabotaging, almost hoping they’ll fire me because the stress is getting worse and worse.

    Thanks for letting me vent! I didn’t know that other people had this problem too!!

  19. Lynn says:

    This article is spot on and the author, as well as all the commenters could be me. I worked very hard for many years and I was fried – I am fried. I am on disability now,but whoah, what a shock to have to live on less money. I can do it and will. I just can’t keep up the pretense of being normal. Being around others (even my husband) sucks the life out of me. It is interesting to note how many of us are high functioning bi-polars and the best vehicle for us to connect is through this blog. Thank goodness we have the strentgh to connect through our computer and words. It eases some of the loneliness we experience. We are not lazy – we have a mental illness – though others forget, we cannot.

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