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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.

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.


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.

Author: Natasha Tracy

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308 thoughts on ““High-Functioning” Bipolar Disorder”

  1. Perfect! I am not working now, other than my own fledgling crochet business, but this perfectly describes how I felt when I was. But even now, just being out & around other people is exhausting.

    I don’t go out much, keep to myself most of the time because when I do out it takes all I have to put on that mask & play normal like somebody who wasn’t just thinking in the shower I’d rather stay home & kill myself than go do this – & seriously thinking about.

  2. Thank you I have never seen “high functioning” bipolar mentioned before.
    That is what I am, I do go out with friends but can hardly wait to get home.
    I have cancelled events because I COULD not go to them.
    Thank you for relating this to us.
    I also would like to sleep for a long time.

    Have a great day – and get some sleep.
    yvonne Ares

  3. Thank you. I needed this today. I say this as I sit with a bottle of pills and a razor debating my fate, should I stay or should I go. It’s the beginning of a spiral and I don’t like what’s happening so far. No one would ever suspect that I have bipolar, I have a “normal” life, but that doesn’t stop bipolar from taking the upper hand sometimes. When these spirals start, I never know if it will be my last. Guess I just had to get that out. Thanks for listening.

  4. You expressed this so well…it’s something I try to explain to my friends and family all the time, but they don’t get it. I’m going to share this with them as you explain it much better than I do!

  5. It can be so very lonely living that way. I have been in a place where I am not funtioning well enough to even work. It is a luxury I am afforded by a supportive boyfriend. I feared jail, death or suicide when we met. That particular kind of loneliness is a hard feeling to capture-the pain that comes from protecting our loved ones from our lameness. I hear you, Sister.

    I would love to know more about your schedule in particular and how you overcame working through depressions and controlling your actions during hypomania. You have more output that most crazy people I know, myself, included. I am stuck in a wierd limbo and I am sure it is text-book some kind of something or other. I have been in and out of bed for years now. any from the hip advice?


  6. Hi Yvonne,

    The term “high-functioning” actually comes from how some people describe some people with autism, I just kind of stole it for my own uses. We writers are like that.

    I do identify with _not_being_able_ to go out even when theoretically I wanted to. It’s an odd kind of, oddness.

    Sleep for us all, say I.

    – Natasha

  7. Hi Diva,

    I’ve been where you are. You are right, it’s a spiral. I know I’m not saying anything you don’t know, but you have to step off the spiral. That spiral feeds on itself.

    Put the pills and the razor blade away. Stick them in the freezer or on the balcony or in a watering can, doesn’t matter. Just some place where there’s a barrier between you and them.

    And then call someone. Or write. Or go out. Or read. Or watch TV. Or do whatever it is that you do.

    I know that by posting that comment you’re stronger than the spiral. I hope it helps a little.

    – Natasha

  8. Hi Kate,

    Well thank-you. Sometimes it takes someone else to express what we’re feeling. I’m glad it helped.

    – Natasha

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