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Mania Gave Me Unrealistic Expectations About What I Could Get Done During COVID-19

I have bipolar disorder type 2, which some consider “mild”– but live in my shoes for a few weeks and you’ll think it’s anything but mild.

As with many mental illnesses, you can still be “high-functioning,” depending on the severity of the illness, support from others, etc.

Maybe it’s because performing well is a major part of my self-worth; maybe it’s the work ethic I’ve been brought up with; maybe it’s something else, but I have to be really, really depressed to keep me from working if I have a deadline for a task.

Lately I’ve been that depressed.

Today I realized a couple of the reasons….

First, the obvious: I mentioned why I feel I am “high-functioning” despite having a serious disorder. COVID-19 has robbed some of that from me and I hadn’t even realized it.

My main job is as an event photographer. I supplement my income with ride share jobs (Uber/Lyft), mystery shopping and some writing. So, three out of four of my main sources of income have been taken away. I’m high risk so photography, rideshare and mystery shopping are all out.

I thought my recent severe depression was due to the financial stress of losing my main three sources of income. But today I realized it’s a lot deeper.

I get a lot of my self-worth by hearing how great a job I’ve done on a project. Since all this social isolation started, I’ve gotten very little of that positive feedback. There has been almost no photography work and my writing, though “good enough,” isn’t award-winning.

This has affected me more than I like to admit. I had no idea how much I thrived on hearing those accolades or even just giving them to myself when I took a great photo. Both the photography and writing assignments I’ve gotten haven’t lent themselves to getting those types of compliments. They are good… just not “great.” Many mystery shops are scored… and I love getting those high “grades.” Even with ride shares, you can tell when a customer has enjoyed the trip, and even when my riders don’t mention it, I can tell when I’ve done a good.

Currently, I don’t have that steady stream of compliments. With the work I’ve managed to get, I send the photos and/or articles to the newspaper and then hopefully later see them published. I don’t get any, “Wow, that was a great photo!” or “I really enjoyed that article. You had some wonderful insights.”

Then there’s the mania/depression cycle that’s inherent in bipolar disorder and impacts all of this.

At the beginning of the stay-at-home orders, I was mostly manic (I am a rapid cycler and can cycle between moods even within a day). I had so many hopes and plans about what I could get done since I had to be stuck at home — all the projects I’ve been putting off for a while, sometimes years.

The mania stuck with me long enough to get started on several projects. I pitched some great ideas to my editor (of course I thought they were great — I was manic). I was going to catch up on personal photo editing, go through and get rid of lots of stuff in my attic, finish updating a series of articles that never got published, clean out and organize all of my camera equipment, list most of this extra stuff on eBay, work on the book I started writing months back, etc. And then, in my spare time, I was going to take over the world.

It hasn’t happened quite that way.

To my credit, I have had a lot of issues that got in the way. Major computer problems showed up that had to be resolved before I could do anything else. I re-did my photography website which took at least four times longer than it should have, due to issues with the new hosting site. My daughter broke her foot which caused some hassles. I started showing symptoms and, though I tested negative, haven’t felt well more days than not. Basically, it seemed like everything I tried to do took at least two or three times longer than usual… or more.

So, my list of all of the things I planned to do during my COVID-19 isolation should be mostly done by now.

It hasn’t been.

Not by a long shot.

I have made progress and have gotten a lot done, but one thing about the mania, you think you can do so much more… and it’s just not possible. Then you get down on yourself for not finishing all you started. Then that depression leads to doing even less. The only thing that breaks this cycle is a new manic period, but then though I do get more done, I add more to the list.

Sigh…

This has happened before, but usually steady work gets in the way. In other words, I make the plans but there’s a part of me that knows I probably won’t be able to finish many of them. In the COVID-19 isolation situation, my expectation of finishing that unrealistic amount of tasks was way too high — and the disappointment when there is still a lot more on my list even after almost two months of being home has driven me into a deep depression, which, ironically, has made it more difficult to get anything done.

My plan is to take some time and try to list everything I have gotten done during this crisis. Maybe being positive and putting the emphasis on what I’ve finished instead of what I haven’t will help list some of my depression and give me hope again.

With writing this, it occurred to me… maybe I’m not the only one who feels this way. Maybe others with bipolar or other mental illnesses are having similar problems coping with these kinds of issues. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not just me.

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Image Credits: Tracy Riggs