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High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder

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.

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, 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.

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.

317 thoughts on “High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder”

  1. Wonderful!
    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.

  2. Wow, this is me. I was diagnosed with depression years ago, and just thought it was brought on by stress. Recently I was diagnosed as being bipolar after a suicide attempt. It came as a shock to everyone. This article is definatley me. I look back and see the mania now and the depressive episodes. I function as I should at work but I go home and just collapse.

  3. Hi Natasha, I’m also bipolar and also a writer. I don’t think I write as much as you. I think the most I’ve written in one day is 2500, 3000 words, probably followed by a day of rest (I write essays for college students :P) . Fortunately I work online, at home, that makes things possible. I also want to be entirely functional, but its hard in terms of having to be in -the zone- managing side effects, dosing, etc. Great post!

  4. I was diagnosed BPI at 20, right smack in the middle of university. If anything explains just where I was, after being awake for three days without taking my
    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.

  5. I cannot agree more with this text. Besides in denial, after being hypo what it’s left are some little pieces to pull back again. I do not have social life because it triggers unexpected hypo, and after producing for 3 people I Just feel extremely tired that I have to lay down in bed. On meds and weekly CBT….:(. Thanks for your article.

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