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High Functioning Bipolar Disorder | You CAN Live a Normal Life

High-functioning bipolar disorder means a person is living with bipolar disorder but is still able to live a normal life, usually through the use of medication and some form of therapy, like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

Diagnosing a mental health disorder can be a complicated process. Many people go their entire lives with an untreated mental health disorder and miss out on the freedom that can come along with proper treatment.

If you didn’t already know, there are over 200 different types of mental health disorders that impact people all over the world. It doesn’t matter if a person is rich or poor, mental health disorders do not discriminate.  

High Functioning-Bipolar Disorder (HFBD) is one particular disorder I would like to speak on and is something that I have come up against for most of my adult life.

Having an answer has brought relief into my life, and hopefully, this helps a person out there who might be struggling with the same. 

Here are some of the warning signs of High Functioning Bipolar Disorder.

What Is High Functioning Bipolar Disorder?

I wish I could say that I didn’t have any personal experience with bipolar disorder. Not only does it run on my Mom’s side of the family, but I for the last 10 years have been diagnosed with Bipolar II, one of the four different types of Bipolar Disorders

The first symptoms that I can remember noticing were as an early adult around 20 years old. I had days on end where I simply just couldn’t go to sleep for the life of me and it felt like I had electricity coursing through my veins all through the night. 

My grades began to suffer dramatically as a result of my mania up until I finally landed myself inside of a psychiatric hospital.

It was there where I was first diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I can’t explain the relief in not only finally discovering what in the world was wrong with me, but also in learning that there would be a potential solution that would dramatically improve the rest of my life. 

Bipolar Disorder manifests by creating periods of mania in which a person will fluctuate back and forth between abnormally high levels of energy, followed by a period of intense depression. 

The intensity levels of the two extremes of emotion vary depending on which type of bipolar a person might have. 

There are four major types of Bipolar Disorder that can potentially be high functioning bipolar disorder.

Bipolar I will typically experience a manic episode that usually lasts at a minimum of a week. This intense period of mania will be followed by a deep and often dark depression that typically sticks around for a solid 2 weeks at minimum.

Bipolar II is often misdiagnosed as depression in people across the world. Depression and mental health disorders do not discriminate against culture or class level. People with Bipolar II will experience periods altering from hypomania to depression.

Hypomanic episodes are shorter and much less in intensity compared to a full-blown manic episode, but the depression that follows is often just as intense as what people who are Bipolar I experience.

Cyclothymic Disorder is basically a lesser of Bipolar with the manic episodes and depression both shorter in duration and lower in intensity.

You’d think that most people would fall under this category, but this is still a bit more intense than what a non-diagnosed person might experience from day-to-day life and stress. 

Common Questions About High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder

For many people who suffer from high-functioning bipolar disorder, it isn’t actually the natural state of the person’s mind that brings it out of them but something that actually takes quite a bit of work and effort. 

People living with high-functioning bipolar disorder have, by all appearances, very normal lives.

They often maintain steady jobs and healthy relationships with others. However, these are attained through an incredible amount of energy and effort expended to handle the emotional turmoil that acts as the catalyst for bipolar disorder.

The other bipolar disorders are very visible and unquestionable in a person, whereas this is something that can be hidden at work or on a first date.

People at work don’t see all the nights that you kept from eating dinner. The facade is a need to come across as “high functioning” where all of the action is really being used to keep wounds suppressed. 

A lot of people will gravitate towards being busier than usual for the sake of maybe trying to get over a fresh breakup and just need more distraction from thought.

With someone who has high functioning bipolar disorder, the motive behind all of the excess is to power through it all for the sake of functionality itself.

So many people with bipolar struggle holding down a job and a relationship, but HFBD will let you keep both at the end of the day.

Desperation For Functionality

Like I have mentioned, one of the biggest signs a person might have HFBD is the constant need for functionality. While maintaining high function can have professional and social benefits, it can also come with significant risks. 

Just as functionality can be used to keep the existence or severity of your bipolar disorder from others (friends, family, colleagues), it may also keep it hidden from yourself.

You may take your capacity to work, to socialize, to participate/perform in everyday life as a sign that leads to the inflating denial that you don’t need treatment or that treatment is working, even when your symptoms are just being pushed under the rug rather than actually improving.

These types of cycles can often result in a person neglecting certain vital areas of their life because all of the energy is getting dumped into one particular area. 

Signs of High Functioning Bipolar Disorder You Shouldn’t Ignore

There are a lot of different signs of high functioning bipolar disorder that might crop up that you definitely shouldn’t ignore.

The struggle of keeping up appearances is almost easier than having to explain what the real problem is. If you are constantly finding yourself having to wear a mask, you might have HFBD. 

If you are crying on your way to work and in the car on the way home, this is definitely something that should not be ignored. Especially if you are wounded from something more recent like a tragic death or breakup/divorce. 

Like I mentioned for me personally, not sleeping was one of the huge giveaways for me. With high functioning bipolar disorder, the signs can be all the more subtle. 

Do you often walk around with a lump in your throat almost like you could burst out into tears at any moment, especially at the first opportunity to respond to someone after they finally asked if I needed to talk about anything or if it appears obvious that you might be holding something in emotionally?

This might be a heck of a lot harder to be called out when you are at an office working in the cubicle all day. It can make it feel all the more desperate in having to prove functionality when people are sitting there next to you while critiquing your work all day.

Please don’t ignore the signs of high functioning bipolar disorder, and please don’t feel shame around having to take medication if it means getting to actually thrive in life with abundance instead of having to survive it all the time.

This was such a huge mindset shift for me, and I can say that the medication has definitely made me not only grateful that I sought help, but also feeling like living a life filled with abundance. 

If you suffer from high functioning bipolar disorder, let me know your experience in the comments.

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Anthony Burton
Anthony Burton
1 month ago

I have bipolar 2. I work at the top of my field. Probably work to much overtime but it is one of the ways I cope. I have a drive not just to survive but to thrive and the thought of failing that scares me constantly. Knowing that one low or high that I can’t handle could torpedo my whole life. Knowing that no matter what I have to stay in control. Would love to hear from other “high functioning” bipolar patients. Just knowing that it is possible to walk this tight rope that I find myself on.

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Ryan Henderson

Ryan Henderson is a magician and mental health advocate.