The “High-Functioning” Bipolar

I used to be a fun person.
Once upon a time, I enjoyed going out and spending a day with friends, shopping, seeing movies, even attending parties and other gatherings. I loved having big holiday get-togethers at home and making sure everything that wasn’t red hot or running for the hills was decorated in seasonally appropriate twinkle-lights. I even used to get a kick out of hosting birthday parties for the kids.

Now I’m quite possibly THE lamest person on the planet. I don’t go to parties because the experience of being in a crowded room is excruciating for me—there are too many people, too much light and noise, and I am so easily overstimulated it’s not even funny. I still do a couple of the major holidays because a) it’s tradition, and b) I don’t want to have to drive on a holiday if I can avoid it. But after working all week and using the vast majority of my energies to keep a roof over our heads, all I want is a day where I don’t have to go anywhere and I can lounge in my jammies, work in the yard, or hang out on the computer.

This is the price I pay for being what’s called a “high-functioning” bipolar. I can do what needs to be done to make the rent and put food on the table; I can even manage to go to the store for groceries on a Saturday afternoon and to Mass on most Sundays. But ask me to drive 30 miles one way for a visit or God forbid, participate in a social activity, and I’m apt to break out in a sweat and come up with a hundred excuses for why I can’t make it.

It’s not that I don’t want to go places and do things. Well, okay, it IS because I don’t want to, but I want to want to. Does that make sense?

Being high-functioning means that I can fake ‘normal’ really well. To look at me, to listen to me, you would never suspect that I am mentally ill. I can carry on a conversation and deal articulately with complex ideas. I know a little about a lot of things, and a lot about a few other things. I’m able to teach people how to do tasks, like giving themselves insulin injections or checking their blood pressure; I can discuss the issues of the day with intelligence; and I’m damn good at assessing both the physical and psychosocial aspects of peoples’ lives. It’s just that being a bipolar woman with a career means there’s not enough of me left over for much of anything else.

I’ve tried explaining this to a few folks without much success. But the fact that I am able to have a career doesn’t make the rest of my life work; if anything, it sucks the life right out of me and renders me too exhausted for play.

I’m not sure what the answer to this dilemma is, or even if there is one. It seems almost as though I’m issued a finite amount of energy at the beginning of each week, and by the time I get to Friday, ninety percent of it is gone. That leaves a mere 10 percent for the most important people in my life……including me. Something is very wrong with that picture. And high-functioning or not, I owe it to all of us to figure out a healthier balance between life and work; after all, when I’m on my deathbed I am NOT going to wish I’d spent more time at the office. Or in traffic. Or at war with myself.  







Published by bpnurse

I'm a retired registered nurse and writer who also happens to be street-rat crazy, if the DSM-IV.....oops, 5---is to be believed. I was diagnosed with bipolar I disorder at the age of 55, and am still sorting through the ashes of the flaming garbage pile that my life had become. Here, I'll share the lumps and bumps of a late-life journey toward sanity.... along with some rants, gripes, sour grapes and good old-fashioned whining from time to time. It's not easy being bipolar in a unipolar world; let's figure it out together.

12 thoughts on “The “High-Functioning” Bipolar

  1. You just described me, much better than I ever could and you don’t even know me. I know what you mean about being issued a finite amount of energy and it nearly all being used up by 3pm on Fridays. I don’t have the answer either, I wish I did. I have reduced my hours in work to 4 instead of 5 days I’m fortunate that we can afford that but I still feel like a failure and a fraud because if I can do 5 days I should do 5 days, but I’m not sure I can do 5 days and stay well.


    1. I love the Spoon Theory. There are days when I simply run out of spoons and there ain’t no more. So why I try to keep going without them, I dunno.


  2. Wow another person here who you’ve managed to put life into words. I to e am high functioning but most days i fear i am on the brink of not being. Thanks do you mind if i link and elaborate more about it for myself on my blog?


  3. Thanks. Again such great expression of what bipolar is like to us. Here we know we are not alone. We could have lived a normal life if only our mind would have let us. 🙂


  4. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments! Yes, please use anything here that you like, all I ask is that you credit me with it on your own blogs. 🙂


  5. You are exactly right on. Before I accepted and decided enough was enough. Life is same now except I do not have to get up and go to work.


  6. Excellent description of what “high functioning” means in your case. I can relate, even though I’ve been on disability since I was hospitalized when my son was 4. He’s 13 now. Now, blogging has become my “vocation” or “work.” Not sure whether or when or how I will start earning my own living. Thank God my husband makes enough to support the family. My former career was too stressful and demanding to balance with caring for my son while maintaining my own mental health.


    1. Thank you for the follow, and for your response! I know what you mean about careers being hard to balance with family; my kids are grown and on their own, but my husband has cancer and I want to be with him and support him during whatever time he has left. That’s hard for anyone, and doubly so for those of us with bipolar or other mental illness(es). Thankfully, I’m not to the point where I need to be on disability, but I spend enough time ill that it definitely affects my career, which is inherently stressful and demanding. Think I’m going to look for something that’s less so. 🙂


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