Living a Full Life with Bipolar Disorder

December 31, 2012 Natasha Tracy

As happens from time to time, I recently received feedback from someone who was not a fan. Anonymous's remarks included:

…The way you go about it, you’d suggest that anyone with bipolar or any kind of mental illness shouldn’t lead a full life.

Let me be clear. You can lead a full life. Anyone can. What I recommend is calibrating your definition of “full” to allow for a mental illness.

What is a Full Life?

Truthfully, I have no idea what a full life is. Or, more specifically, I have no idea what a “full life” is to you. Because your idea likely isn’t mine. But that’s OK.

I think the main idea is to get what you want out of life. It likely involves family, friends, hobbies, work and other tidbits. A full life means being fulfilled I suppose. And I never suggested that a person with bipolar disorder shouldn’t or couldn’t be fulfilled.

Bipolar Disorder and Limitations

I hate to be the one to break it to you but your life comes with limitations. Lots of them. For example, you cannot fly. That’s why people invented airplanes. To get around that. They adjusted their expectations accordingly.

And if you have bipolar disorder, you have limitations that you average person likely doesn’t have. You have limitations dictated by your disease. You might not want to accept that, but it’s true. If you do not accept that, I can guarantee you will spend more time sick than you need to.

For example, you likely have to take medication. That medication will be on a schedule. That medication will likely come with side effects, psychiatric appointments and a host of other things you won’t like. You will hopefully learn to adjust your expectations accordingly.

Getting What You Want Out of Life

I’m not suggesting that you can’t get what you want out of life; I very much suspect you can, in the bigger picture, but that doesn’t mean that you can also have every little thing along the way. Yes, you probably have to give up drugs and alcohol for your health. Yes, you probably should have a sleep schedule to maintain stability. Yes, you should probably work hard in therapy to manage your illness. Yes, all those things will stand in the way of other things you’d rather be doing.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a full life and that doesn’t mean that you can’t be fulfilled; all it means is that fulfillment may not look like what you used to think it should. When I was a child, for example, I thought being a prima ballerina would be the best thing in the world. Well, I grew up, learned, and adjusted accordingly. And that’s all I’m saying. I’m saying that dealing with bipolar disorder involves a balance. It involves learning to make the sacrifices necessary to ensure your health – because your health is worth it and not because I think sacrifices are particularly fun.

This is a grown-up lesson for grown-up people – life involves sacrifice. Every life does. You might be paraplegic or diabetic or have children or care for your parent or get cancer or have a dog or pretty much anything else you can think of. Every life involves adjusting expectations and realigning what we thought would happen with what is actually happening around us.

Because adults are fulfilled not because of checks in arbitrary boxes but are fulfilled because they work, strive, achieve and live the life they choose. And the factors shaping that life and the way that life looks is different for everyone. That’s all I’m trying to say.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, December 31). Living a Full Life with Bipolar Disorder, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

November, 21 2018 at 10:14 pm

PS... I was diagnosed with CPTSD .. I guess they call it DID and was also born Transgender but never got to speak about it. just dealing with it now . thanks for letting me share MY th is young and amazing Now I know why being a band director worked for me . I could deal with all the instruments and children .. those are my strengths . Thank you for listening

November, 21 2018 at 10:11 pm

I am a senior . I have lost my teaching career as a band director too early I was really good at teaching it was natural . I helped many children . They helped me more. I am disabled but made American teach in this year. Going on disability was not the right choice for me . I had many years in. But life had been hard at home without family or support... we could not speak about it at work or ask for help.. I am just here to learn and share... I had trauma all through childhood .But music was my way of dealing with it. I was a music teacher. Now in my sixties I am here to learn. I did not fail. because I went on disability and could not ask for help . No way could I do that . Or go to resource we did not have it. I heeded help . Not to throw it all away. I just want to learn and share is that ok

June, 7 2013 at 9:55 pm

Yes, I see where you are coming from re: learned helplessness. However, I would like to point out that sometimes depression can last a loooong time. I've had people toss that word my way because I couldn't snap out of it in a year and it sucked. Words can be difficult indeed. But even if they said nothing at all, just the fact that depression is a recurrent thing is enough to make you lose faith in yourself.
In all, I don't think the intent of the article is to convince us to change our life to a drabby existence. It is merely to point out that bipolar comes with a unique set of limitations that you have to accomodate for. However, I can see why you reacted strongly to it. It had sort of a parental tone to it which (sorry natasha) is kind of condescending. But hey, let's face it, the limitations do SUCK. And they damn well suck even more for some people. For example, I met a woman who is bipolar who desperately wants to have children, but she can't. For her it is much too risky. It is heartbreaking. Would I tell her she is doing the mature and grown up thing? Probably not. I think it fair to let her grieve the passing of her desire.

June, 7 2013 at 11:55 am

for me ůearned helplness is not a tempoary vulnerability... it's something that is done to the person. Being told you are sick enough times... you start to believe it. You will lose faith in yourself... because others did.
Structure is good... but you will not die if you go sleep later then 10:00PM one day. So to stress about triggers too much or to make trigger of everything... you are harming yourself. And limiting yourself more then needed.

June, 7 2013 at 10:06 am

VenusH, I do agree with your last post. I really don't like the use of the words "grown up" and "mature" also. It sort of goes along with "suck it up". It makes a bleak situation even bleaker.
But I do agree that one has to manage their illness, and accepting that isn't "learned helplessness". I hate that phrase. It's assuming the other person is weak and has given up - when the reality is AT THAT MOMENT, the other person really is in a position of weakness and vulnerability. In the throes of depression, there is no fight in you. I've been in that situation, and if you are already feeling hopeless words like "will", and "faith" or even "life" rings hollow.There is a need - for support, structure, meds, etc. Kindness goes a long way also. I suppose time, but I am still waiting on that one :)

January, 1 2013 at 11:14 pm

Well, teal... Natasha may be talking her own experience, but she claims to be "breaking it to you" (and hating it...) and garanteeing certain outcome and talking of "adult" and "grown-up"* thinking... it sounds preachy, actually.
As for that is working for people... I have issues on my own, so I am not gonna judge others. But are you sure making your "illness" a center point of your life (to the point you will not even go out *one night a year* as hinted in previous article) is a good way to deal with it?
From my experience... learned helplessness is a horrible thing.
It's one thing to adjust unreaistic expectation. It's another to adjust them so much you will be afraid that you are afraid to do anything for fear of upsetting your life.
* speaking of "grown up"... somewhere I read how children laugh about twenty times more then adults. Some people seem to mistake boring for mature. Yes, you have to be responsible... but after you worked hard, payed your bills... nothing wrong with little spontangeity...

January, 1 2013 at 9:01 am

I agree with the things you say VenusH and its really great you can stay up all nite you dont stick to a strict schedule and have friends to go out with. With insight you can live this way I do until I get sick. If you are in recovery It helps to do the things Natasha says. People do limit themselves not just people with a mental illness. I dislike your comments "influential bloggers putting limits" and "I know you mean well".
You can disagree with Natasha but as far as I have seen all she has said is what works for her and what accepted practice for managing a chronic illness. It helps to hear that others are having a hard time. It makes me feel less like a failure living on disability and settling for being a volunteer.

January, 1 2013 at 7:36 am

I am on disability now. I might not be on disability if I hadn't decided to become a special education teacher. It was rewarding but very stressful, and when a terrible depression hit, I was unable to go on teaching.
Now I'm working part time and thinking about working full time and going off of disability. My office job is not the most exciting or rewarding job, but it is a job that I can handle, can do well, and will not send me over the edge, and I like it although I am not passionate about it. It is a job that I can do on my good and bad days. I wish I would have taken the stress level of a job into consideration before I prepared for a job that turned out to be too stressful. I wish I would have realized that I can only handle so much stress and still take care of myself.
It is hard to admit that you can't do everything you want to do, but bipolar disorder does put limitations on you, and those limitations are different for each person with the illness. It is important to be able to recognize which situations you can handle and which you cannot, otherwise you may spend more days than you'd like being actively ill.

January, 1 2013 at 7:29 am

Amen VenusH

January, 1 2013 at 5:19 am

There are real liminations and percieved ones. Ones that really exist and ones we let others set on us (doctors, "influential" bloggers, "loved ones", teachers...).
I think uberstrict schedule limits your life a lot... if going to sleep after midnight once could land you in hospital... how about traveling? How about challenging, but fullfilling job? How about getting mere degree? Sometimes you have to pull all nighter. Or sometimes one just wants to unwind. And *sometimes* a night out with dear friends is better then weeks of therapy and all meds in the world.
I know you mean well... but sometimes overfocusing on our "illness" can harm us in the end. Sometimes our fears can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Often people complain about "illness" robbing them of life and opportunities, but it fact it's them who limited themselves, out of fear.
In my life I regret few things I did. But what I regret more? All the things I didn't do. Out of fear mostly...

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