If you were asked to describe someone living with bipolar disorder, what descriptors would you use? Perhaps some words that come to mind are “manic” or “depressed” or “impulsive.” After all, bipolar disorder is a mental illness characterized by intense periods of happiness (mania), followed by extremely low periods (depression), and those who experience mania may feel impulsive at times.
But what about the term, “high-functioning?”
When people use the phrase “high-functioning” in terms of mental illness, they use it to describe someone who appears “OK” to everybody else, but on the inside, they’re struggling. People with high-functioning bipolar disorder are no exception. Though they might live with bipolar symptoms, they have developed “habits” to cope with the internal struggle they face.
We wanted to know what kinds of habits people who live with high-functioning bipolar disorder have developed, so we asked members of our bipolar community to share their experiences with us.
Before we begin, we want to acknowledge that if you live with bipolar disorder and don’t identify with being “high-functioning,” there’s nothing wrong with you. Everyone faces unique challenges on their health journeys and all experiences are valid. Regardless of how you identify, we hope you can benefit from some of the coping strategies below.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. Establishing a Routine
“Having a routine and art therapy to express my emotions instead of holding them in or draining people I love with my feelings every day.” — April M.
“Planning and routine. I have to keep a schedule and plan everything. I have a routine, I have a set time to take my medication, days I do laundry, our daughter’s school schedule (she’s online schooled) and housework. If I don’t, it messes with me mentally.” — Bethany B.
2. Keeping a ‘Pill Diary’ to Track Medications
“I have a ‘pill diary’ where I keep track of my medications, and any additional medications I take, my side effects and my mood. Tracking my mood helps me see when I’m moving away (high or low) from the midline.” — Thando T.
3. Speaking Up When Struggling
“I work night shift because I cannot handle too many people around me at once. I stay on top of my medication and I speak out when I feel I am struggling. I am fortunate to have a great support system.” — Bec J.
4. Practicing Daily Self-Care
“Self-care. I trying to make a little time every day to do something I enjoy, like knit or read.” — Jordan C.
5. Doing a Mood Self-Check
“I try to always assess myself throughout the day to ensure I’m ‘normal’ and not showing any signs of hypomania especially when I’m interacting with people.” — Renz M.
“I check in on myself at least twice a day and analyze how I’m feeling and the emotions I’m feeling. Most especially if I’m suspicious about possibly having an episode.” — Samantha G.
6. Scheduling Bill Payments Ahead of Time
“I make sure all the bills are paid. I have bills planned out on four different calendars. I make sure every single one of them is paid or know they will be paid.” — Salena A.
7. Spending Time With Loved Ones
“Stay busy, especially since I’m not working right now. I resigned from a job that just wasn’t going to work for my family’s schedule. Make sure to socialize, take my medications around the same time every morning. I just joined a gym so I can focus on my health and general well-being. I’m also in the process of cleaning out my house to be able to have repairs done. My husband and I are very active with our teenage son’s sports programs. That helps as well and gets us involved with fellow parents/friends in the community. We also try to have weekly lunch dates. Basically, take my meds and stay engaged with family and friends.” — Kimberly F.
8. Getting Enough Sleep
“I always stay on top of my meds, and I have to get enough sleep! If I don’t sleep enough, I’m a monster. Stress is one of my biggest triggers and getting enough sleep helps me manage my stress.” — Elizabeth A.
“Bedtimes. When I was at my worst I kept ludicrous hours, so I force myself to have a healthy sleep schedule now.” — Anastasia S.
9. Having a Plan for When Things Get Challenging
“I try to stay aware of my symptoms and strategize a plan to help ride out any storms.” — Madison V.
10. Recognizing When a Break is Necessary
“Keeping track of hygiene habits so I can tell when bipolar depression may be kicking in. Making all phone calls I had previously procrastinated making during hypomania. Recognizing when symptoms are about to develop and taking a mental health break.” — Jennifer L.
11. Watching for Mania Signs
“Hypervigilance: I am always watching for my signs that hypomania is coming/starting.” — Rhainy C.
“Watching for mania — giving my card to someone I trust, getting enough sleep and taking meds around the same time every day.” — Katie L.
12. Setting Boundaries
“An element of selfishness, trying not to take on other people’s problems, opinions, etc., to stop me [from] overthinking.” — Kerrie B.
13. Making Lists
“Lists. I make lists for everything because no matter if I’m up or down, my mind can’t stay focused.” — Allison M.
14. Keeping Track of Appointments
“Using a calendar to keep track of appointments because I easily forget. Also, I can’t go to bed unless I am dead tired now, or I will spiral out of control in my thought processes.” — Gary A.
All of these “habits” are things that anyone can work on implementing in their daily life with mental illness. Whether or not you consider yourself to be “high-functioning,” developing healthy coping habits is important in keeping your condition under control.
That being said, not every day is going to be a walk in the park and if you need support from someone, you can always post a Thought or Question using the hashtag #CheckInWithMe. We’re here for you on your good days, your bad days and every day in between.