This is what high-functioning bipolar disorder feels like

I have Bipolar I Disorder. Apparently, it’s something that’s been around for a very long time, I just haven’t been able to name it until now. It all made sense, the swings, the dips, the highs. I didn’t think it was real at first, I was stunned when I was officially diagnosed, but as soon as my doctor handed me my prescription, my world sort of slowed down.

I always knew something was off but I didn’t think it merited a diagnosis. I did well in school, had extracurriculars, and generally balanced everything. At face value, I was completely fine, proud to accept medals and to study hard. But I knew behind the scenes, when I was screaming into pillows, talking too fast, or crying the entire night, that something was wrong.

Dr. Suzanna Flala, who also suffers from bipolar disorder, says in an essay:

Normal is a place I visit, not one in which I am allowed to remain.

And nothing has ever resounded more greatly in my life. In my rush from class to class and now from one aspect of work to another, I find myself addled with trying to get things done while I am still able to move. Sometimes a rush of euphoria and functionality hits me so hard and, in the anxiety that couples with my bipolar disorder, I finish everything I need to do, even deliverables for the next week because I know that the depressive wave is coming and I will struggle to get anything done.

Outwardly, things are normal. I get things done. But sometimes at the cost of what little sanity I have that day. I sometimes want to scream from my rooftop, other times I want to just never stand up again. But maintaining that semblance of normal isn’t easy, it’s not something that comes naturally. With everything in my life I need to be in control and that need overrides everything that I appear, for the most part, normal.

But what many don’t know is that it’s a guise. I’m barely keeping it together, I just do out of necessity. I am often one hanging thread away from completely melting down or wanting to do something risky. The last thing that keeps me from doing it is necessity.

What keeps me running a lot of the time is medication and I don’t want to say that I’m completely reliant on it, but some days I am. I need to be knocked out by my anti-anxiety pill so I stop doing risky things. I need serotonin so I won’t cry the entire day. Sometimes I need the numbness just to function. Other days I might not be relying on my meds as much but there are definitely days where I am scared if I don’t take them.

There is often no visible struggle but only because I am putting on a mask that appears socially-acceptable. Even on my most manic days I grit my teeth and sit down for meetings. And it’s not a resting state, it’s a state of active, constant restraint. I put reins on it because I must. Because things must get done. Like what Dr. Flala says: I visit normal, but it’s not where I remain. I am in a state of being flung from one end of the emotional spectrum to the next and I have to pack it in just to make it day-to-day.

It feels like an exhausting, constant grip. Like always trying to keep a door closed when something on the other side wants to come out. It feels like standing in front of a cracking dam and bracing myself. It’s exhausting because being normal isn’t my regular state, it’s a state I have to struggle towards every day. But it’s necessary. Sometimes I think it’s a way to convince myself I’m fine, but once the curtains have closed for the day and I’m alone, I know I’m not. The grip loosens, the door breaks open, and the dam bursts. And I am faced with reality.

Other times, reaching some semblance of normalcy makes me think that I can be, that it’s somewhere I can stay and not just visit. But once I start feeling my mania or my depression again, I know it’s not true. One thing I learned is that I shouldn’t ignore that. That I shouldn’t think that just because I can function doesn’t mean I’m not sick. I am. And I have to face that in order to continue living day by day in acceptance of it. So I can heal.

If you’re in the same predicament as me and you don’t visibly struggle, I want to tell you: You’re not alone. Maybe it’s the pressure of a job or the desire not to let loved ones down–whatever it is that makes you want to maintain balance in your life, you are not alone in your struggle. Don’t forget to reach out when it becomes too much. While we are far from living comfortable lives, we still show the world our strength. And that strength will carry us through.

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