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The Struggle Is Real to Maintain 'High-Functioning' Bipolar Disorder

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I have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder type 2. I also have diagnoses of anxiety and ADHD (and probably obsessive-compulsive disorder too).

• What is Bipolar disorder?

I feel like I’m an example of someone who is living with bipolar disorder and also is “high-functioning.” I take my meds, I go to therapy, I exercise. I am religious about my sleep schedule. I go to work. I’ve worked full-time for over the past 20 years, and I’m now working part-time.

But just because I’m able to do all those things doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle. I struggle on a daily basis. And sometimes I get tired, of working, taking care of myself and trying to act like a real person in the world. And I am a real person.

I have good days — days when I feel like I’m on top of the world. Like I’m channeling joy. Not hypomanic, just happy. I know the difference now. These are days when work is easy and flies by. When my gratitude list is longer than my list of problems. When I notice the little details in the world that make it beautiful. I love those days. I wish I had more of them.

Then there are the gray days. When I barely manage to talk myself to get out of bed. When I need to call in sick. When I can’t really move off the couch. When motivating myself to exercise isn’t possible. This is the time when it’s hard to be high-functioning. Am I really having a bad day or just being lazy? Why do I still have bad days, when I’m managing my condition well? I try (mostly) to eat well. I work out. I meditate. I go to therapy. I work so hard, and sometimes things are still difficult. This is what frustrates me. And it’s something that I have to live with. I never just lie in bed. It fuels my anxiety. I’m never able to skip taking a shower. Taking one makes me feel sane, stable and healthy. And I want to feel that way.

I do know that bad days are a part of life, a part of having this condition, a part of being human. That doesn’t make it any easier to deal with.

When the bad days come — and I want to give up (and I do sometimes), I turn towards self-care. I go get a massage. I get a pedicure. I go to the beach. I curl up with my cats, coffee and a good book. I nap. I write. I take a bath. I get outside. I try to make myself exercise, even a little. I realize that I am not my illness. I am not my illness. I use the DBT (dialectical behavioral therapy) skills I’ve learned over the past year. I put one foot in front of the other. I do radical self-care.

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Because it’s necessary for my survival, and it allows me the ability to continue to keep going. And to be high-functioning. Or at least appear to be. I don’t have a neurotypical brain. But I find a way, somehow, to take care of myself, stay well, and to be a functioning member of society. It’s what I want. While I don’t work full-time, I do have a meaningful part-time job. And I intend to keep it.

That’s what it means to be high-functioning to me. It’s sometimes one step forward and two steps backwards. And sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back. But the important thing is to continue to keep moving forward. To be of this world, not simply in it. This helps to keep me well. And this is enough.

Getty image by Victor_Tongdee

Originally published: September 27, 2020
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