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
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, High-Functioning Or Low, 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.
Tracy, N. (2011, January 17). High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/breakingbipolar/2011/01/high-functioning-bipolar-disorder
Author: Natasha Tracy
I have written on this topic on my personal blog. It is not associated with HealthyPlace. You can find it here: https://natashatracy.com/mental-illness-issues/person-mental-illness-accept-illness/
You may find that helpful.
- Natasha Tracy
I just hope that you can add some details on how to be high- functioning. I loved the web and I hope that I can write articles like this one with you. Is there a way?
Thanks a lot.
Contacts out, they were basically glued to my corneas. Hurricane Floyd was about to hit us, and I hadn't gotten any message or email aimed at commuters , though my friends who lived on campus had been warned. So, completely manic, unable to see, I was going to drive 30 miles in a hurricane so I could Lois Lane my school newspaper and get the story. My poor, dear, frightened younger brother didn't have a license, but he wouldn't let me go alone. So, I drove along cackling at the storm while my brother yelled directions to avoid flying tree branches and get me back in one lane. I wrote the story, changed the school policy and was the first student at my school to win a first place editorial AP award. This is how I see it now, as an adult facing my own cognitive impairments and the recognition that I'll ever get that back. There's a quiet grief that comes to all of us eventually, I think. Not talking crisis or even an episode, but an understanding of all the pieces we've lost along the way, either in episode or not. I'll never get it back, but my life is controlled, disciplined and defiant. There's no other choice, really.
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
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?
However, she uses drugs of a "recreational" type and I feel that behavior is making everything worse and causing her brain unnecessary, additional struggles. She disagrees... Strongly.
She abuses whip it's and ketamine. One deprives her brain of OXEGEN and the other is an anesthetic.
She thinks I'm being insensitive and wonders if she can trust me because I'm demanding that she stop doing these drugs.
Does anyone have an opinion on this?
I found your comments fascinating. I am currently undiagnosed as Bi-Polar. However I have for years considered this to be the cause of my manic and depressed episodes. I can be the most horrible person in the world to live with, and yet at times provide a great deal of entertainment and inspiration to family and friends when I am manic. I have achieved some truly amazing feats when manic and have many stories to tell. However at 42 years of age with three children, I am starting to think that I may need treatment as when I crash so does my business, and this is not good for family and future. As a mild antidote to living with bi-polar, I would say the following... As a young unattached man, I could endure the lows to enjoy the productivity of the highs. But as an older family man it puts too much strain on my relationships and future prosperity.
Let me know if any of you feel similar...
Thanks for reading - Dean
I'm sorry that you're going though such a dark period of your life right now and that you feel you have to face this alone
For what it's worth I think we all wear a mask of some sort or other whether we have a mental illness or not but I do get what you are saying. With a mental illness comes a whole host of unique challenges
For me when I get struck in that valley again it's a very humbling experience. On heavy doses of meds trying to climb what seems like an unsurmountable mountain feels impossible, without the energy, strength, tools or proper support. I find being willing and open to accept any and all help that may be offered is always a good start. I know if I keep on fighting eventually things will start to improve. You CAN learn to rebuild your life again if you don't lose hope. It just takes time... Believe in yourself. Learn to be your own advocate and ask for what you need. Try not to compare yourself with others who have not experienced what you are going through otherwise you will sink into a pit of despair and negativity.
I hold down a part time job cleaning public toilets. Up until twoyears ago I was building houses for a living. I had a nervous breakdown midway through a Job and ended up having to walk away from it all work wise. This put a huge strain on my marriage and child as I had been functioning med free for five years. My life is on complete shambles now, and my days besides work on weekends consists of housework and not a lot else. I see my tools in the shed and part of me longs for my former life. 16 years ago I went through a similar period , lost wife family business everything but managed to rebuild. This time my memory is so badly affected I do not think I will ever work in the building trade again. In my 40s and it feels like I'm 70 because that's now my interaction level. It takes everything to hold the mask for my family and the small amount I have to go out in public. Truth is no one wants to see the mental illness. Nor do they understand. It evokes if anything pity, but not empathy. I don't think it can, unless you have it.
I struggle daily with suicidal thoughts although strongly medicated. What's the point if this is the best now life has to offer. I believe in a creator, however my faith does not take away the daily struggle. I also realistically realize my insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Life is exhausting before you walk out the door, before you draw your first breathe in the morning, and its hard to convince yourself that its worth the struggle.
I've lowered my expectations. I know I have the ability for so much more, yet not the capability to cope with it. That failure right there is a constant reminder of an illness that you predominantly have to hide. Have a broken leg people understand and it will heal. Bipolar, people stay for a while then leave, it just becomes too much. Again, why bother with the masks. Because unless you want to live like a leper, we have no choice. And having to hold it together for any length of time, yes we can do it. The anger, frustration, lack of memory seeps out and shows eventually and people notice. Then when away from everyone you completely fall apart. You become absolutely no fun. My wife says that all the time, your no fun . its not by choice. But can you blame them. No. So we struggle and fight alone.
And for me that's the hardest part. Having people around you yet feeling totally alone and abandon.
Guess we're all in the same boat. Was diagnosed with bd at 16 after 3 suicide attempts between 12 and 16 y/o. I've been suicidal w multiple highs and lows since I was 9 y/o. When I started consulting, the psychiatrist didn't diagnose me right away because she said "it could just be typical teenager symptoms". What a bunch of crap! I'm now 21 and not taking any medication. Can't really afford it and truth be told, I don't want to. The feeling of taking medication to try and be "normal" plus the fact that it takes years to find the right mix sounds annoying. Probably less than feeling and living my ups and lows though. I have long episodes, from months to a few years. I've normally been able to be high functioning, but the last four years were disastrous. Dropped out of school, couldn't get out of my bed, packed on 50 pounds... I'm only just starting to get out of it but I'm afraid I'll fall back. There's no way to explain it to people. It's like there's you and bd and then there's the outside world. You're in it, but not really. Kudos to all of you who have a family. It must be so hard to maintain it all on top of it. I can't deal with myself. I'll never have kids if it means being able to protect them from my behaviour, my episodes and everything that comes with bd. God forbid that I bring them down with me. I have more lows than highs and I have yet to feel a real feeling of happiness or gratefulness for being alive. I just don't see myself ever coming out of this. I don't know about you guys, but I feel like whatever happens, whenever it happens, I'll still end up taking my life. That's how I see it end, even if I get better.
That said, I know how hard it is when nobody understands what's going on inside your head. The time I had folliculitis was probably the worst time I've had with my BPD because both the inside and outside of my head were turning against me and I'm not sure my family had any idea what I was going through.
I switched family doctors 2 years ago to see the same doctor that my mother does. I thought that may help because he knew her background. Unlike the psych's that I had saw in the past where $130 = 15 minutes of nothing in my opinion the MD was much more interested in what I had to say and how I was feeling than just saying here is a prescription, and if the appt. took an hour then it took an hour that was his view. After 2 appointments, one with my wife in the room and one without and using the reference of my mother's bi-polar he told me he though I was bi-polar but not exactly like my mom. He diagnosed me with rapid cycling bi-polar 2 which was aggravating an anxiety problem I already had but had partially learned how to control. The end result was being prescribed Lamictal once per day and small dose klonopin twice per day.
I felt pretty flat and lame the first month or so but no major mood swings. As time went on I got used to it and feel pretty normal now. I will say that this year around the holiday period things got hectic and I forgot to take the Lamictal for 2 days, that made me feel horrible then when I did remember to start taking it again it took about a week to get back on the level again. I wish I could stop taking these meds not because they make me feel bad but just because I dont like taking meds just to feel "normal" but they work and if not both I will probably be on Lamictal the rest of my life.