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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.

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, Low- or High-Functioning, 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.

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar Burble, Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

309 thoughts on “High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder”

  1. Yes I am a High-Functioning Bipolar too. Often I feel excactly how you described it. The worst part thought is when you at work and the utter stress gets to you and you break done and listening to people’s comments that you have to stop being so sentimental or takes things not so personal. [modreated] It is unbelievable how glueless and inconsiderate some people are. Just wished they could walk for one day in our shoes, I believe they would not survive the week. Yes it is also a very lonely world out there when you just barely able to breath. Yes the medication work for a little bit but the edges are still there and one day they won’t work at all anymore. It is a very vicious cycle and the older you get the worst will still to come. Once it hits menopause then everything will spiral even more out of control. All I got left is my family, my meds and my dear therapist ( without her I would be already dead)! But it gives me hope to know I am not crazy just not functioning quite right and especially I am not alone! I thank you from my heart for writing this article, I could not describe it any better!

  2. I can work but I can seem to find time or energy to take care of myself or personal stuff! I can’t seem to move forward or to make any progress

  3. Excellent article Tracy. I too am considered “high-functioning “. It takes such great strength to brave the outside world yet I do it with a smile on my face. Unfortunately, at this point of my bipolar disorder, I am unable to work at my career. However! I’m very productive! I’m the one who does all the shopping, pays the bills, maintains the home, and ensures everyone in the family’s needs are met. I agree whole heartedly that at the end of each day, after dinner cleanup, I’m totally spent. If I’ve pushed myself too hard with a larger task I will crash after. If I’m over stimulated from a social gathering, after I crash. People, other than my family, NEVER see that side of me. I only go out on “good” days so Joe Public sees me as “normal:.

  4. Thanks for this. I knew it already but, like many important things in my life, it got lost. ‘BiPolar’ is my full time occupation, and everything else comes second, or third, or fourth. You know the drill. Much respect. Dominic

  5. I helped a recently widowed relative for a few months. She is able to get her daily needs meet with deliveries and goes out with cabs. She knows I haven’t been sleeping right and that I have bipolar, yet persisted in pestering me to do more for her. Our relationship is a one way street. We are not close. I can no longer accommodate someone who makes me so agitated.

  6. When I first started working for the Federal goverment years ago it didn’t take me long to find the job and I certainly didn’t need a post secondary education to get it. But my how times have changed and the people in it

    Three years ago more than half of my employment peers lost their job due to downsizing. I was extremely grateful at the time that I was not one of them

    It was also 3 years ago that I received my bipolar diagnosis after I landed myself in hospital after a particularly rough ride of it. I was under so much stress at the time, both personal and professional. Despite feverish attempts to find appropriate help my world continued to crumble. It was my 3rd breakdown in 15 years and by far my worst. My employer didn’t really care. They were aggressively trying everything within their power to break me so I’d voluntarily leave.

    Most of the clerks I work with now are young part time or term employees who are grossly over qualified and usually quite eager to please by taking on extra work in the desperate hope of securing a full time permanent position.

    As my mental illness began to level out this year I started to see some light at the end of the tunnel. My employer had recently gifted me with a nice watch for 35 years of service along with a framed certificate of “appreciation” for these years of service. It was signed by our Prime Minister (Justin Trudeau – His mother Margaret also has bipolar disorder) and with only one year away from conceivably retiring on a full pension I felt extremely hopeful and optimistic about the future.

    With my energy level improving I also started looking for a part time job to supplement my income in order to hopefully pay off my debt sooner and boost my meagre retirement savings. Then last month BAM!!! before I could even secure a part time job I was unexpectantly blindsided by two coworkers who unfairly threw me under the bus to save their own ass at five minutes to closing. One was a term employee (highly favored by management) that was supposed to relieve me during the last half hour of the day so I could balance on time (I’m primarily a cashier). Unfortunately for me she didn’t show up until it was far too late to made any difference. And although the other employee had handed me their clients paperwork in a timely fashion to process they had neglected to tell me the client was still there waiting. When it was finally brought to my attention I was certain there would not be enough time left to take in payment and process their paperwork before the end of day. I truly had no other choice than to ask the client to come back the following day. I was still struggling to balance on my own so another person could run their report before closing. Without processing that client I still didn’t finish balancing until after my shift. Sometimes, but not often, it just takes a little longer than usual to finish up and this happened to be one of those days

    Unfortunately because I had turned this client away (only FIVE measly minutes before closing!!!) I am now facing anywhere from a warning letter on my file to 10 days leave without pay. I have never faced anything like this before in my entire working career. I was completely shocked

    Loosing pay at the end of the month will severely affect my ability to make next month’s rent and afford the necessary transportation to get to and from work, not to mention all my other bills that will fall into arrears because of it. This also comes at a time when my security clearance is up for renewal. Our clearance is renewed every 5 years. It’s only been in the last 3 years that the renewal process requires a credit check so I’m not really sure what to expect. Could I possibly lose my job as a result of this one incident and how easily would it be to find another one without a good reference at my age, with my limited education and mental health background.

    All of this this has got me totally stressed out! I feel like I’ve just been thrown under the bus or rather hit by a bus

    As a perfectionistic workaholic who rarely takes even takes a break it really hurts to know when I’ve done my absolute best, given it all, that it still was not good enough. Translation: I am not good enough. I’m just a worthless piece of shit. I mean why even bother to try anymore? What good does it do me anyway?

    This Labour Day long weekend was spent sick in bed with a cold from being so run down, deeply depressed and completely cynical about people and life in general

    When I got home from work during the week I went straight to bed. I didn’t care about a thing. It just hurt too much to allow my thought process go there

  7. Hi Natasha,

    I realize you posted this a while ago, but this was my exact experience for most of my adult life. Recently, I had a few changes in my life and was more down than usual, and the doctors decided to put me on medication. I am not sure about this, as usually I am ‘high functioning’. Have you had a similar experience? Do you think it is possible to be medication free?

  8. I have the same issue. I do my best to keep everything together and working but those 5 days of keeping control is exhausting. Like you im always tired. I cant go to bed early even if i only got 4 hrs of sleep the following night. I may only sleep the most is 6 hrs a night. Most of those hours im just laying there. I have to say this we are not “crazy”. We should never think of ourselves in that way.

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