Wearing Myself Out with Bipolar — Bipolar and Energy

I often wear myself out with bipolar disorder. The odd thing about it, is that I don’t know when I’m doing it. I run and run and run and run and do and do and do and do until I’m completely worn out and then the next day, inevitably, I just collapse into a pile of fatigue. But while I’m running and doing I don’t know that I’m wearing myself out. Everything feels fine, until it doesn’t. It’s seemingly impossible to know when I’m wearing myself out with bipolar disorder.

Bipolar Disorder and Wearing Myself Out

I’ve talked a lot about how I feel a lot of fatigue thanks to bipolar disorder and how I have a very limited supply of energy thanks to bipolar disorder as well. And I believe I have to respect these limits if I’m to be high-functioning with bipolar disorder. But even knowing this and trying to respect it, I don’t seem able to predict my extreme fatigue. I don’t seem able to predict when, the next day, I’m going to be absolutely useless because I’ve used up all my energy for the week.

I can get so worn out because of bipolar disorder. Thing is, I don't know when I'm doing it. How can I figure out when I'm wearing myself out because of bipolar?And I’m constantly surprised at how little it takes to wear me out. I’m so not like a normal person it’s shocking. All it takes is a little visiting, a little going out for dinner and a little shopping and all of a sudden, the next day I sapped of all will to, well, do anything. The next day all I can do is rest and rest and rest. I absolutely can’t make my brain or body work. And people who know what little I’ve been doing just don’t understand how I could be tired from it. I don’t understand it either. It’s just how it is and what I know is that there isn’t enough coffee in all of North America to fix it.

Predicting Energy Levels and Getting Worn Out with Bipolar Disorder

So what I’m trying to learn is that I truly do have much less energy than I think I do. I truly need more rest than I think I do. I truly cannot get as much done as I think I should. I truly have to be very careful in rationing my energy. When I know I have a lot of work to do, I absolutely, positively have to not wear myself out beforehand as it just ruins my workdays. I really can’t explain why my brain ceases to work when I exhausted but I am clear on the fact that it absolutely doesn’t. It seriously is like carrying around a rock in my head and expecting it to think for me. Rocks just don’t do that.

My learning curve on this issue seems to be awfully steep and I feel like I haven’t made it very far, but I’m working on it.

What do you think? Is there any way to predict when you’re wearing yourself out with bipolar disorder?

Insert image by: Draia436.

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  1. I think exhaustion goes hand in hand with bipolar disorder. Think about it this way, not only are we trying to accomplish our daily activities but also doing our best to control our minds, thoughts, moods, ect. It’s a real struggle to deal with this disorder. Being worn out is just one of the horrid side effects we have to accept.

  2. I am so grateful for this article and the above commentaries especially regarding energy reserves. My medication regime was really harsh and at very high dosages. I was rendered quite lifeless for a decade. Many of my friends in rehab complained of the same thing. There was always the spectre of no doing vs. doing and I was totally incapable of doing very much. This was met with harsh opposition from my friends and family. In fact I lost my brother over it. He still won’t speak to me and my other disabled girlfriend who was older than me complained I was not doing something with my life as well as saying I did not do enough for her. Well to set the record straight I eventually got off those meds and they left a lot of health damage. I had to clear it all myself. I did every conceivable therapy available. I do mention it a lot but I credit my quality of life having colonics/parasite cleanse, kidney detox, liver detox, blood detox, heavy metal chelation, oilpulling, footpatches, ionized/alkaline water, oxygen therapy, acupuncture and longevity herbs and a few essential supplements. I did all this myself off curezone apart from acupuncture and now am able to do things but still can’t face the possibility of working. I wish more people showed interest in someones situation with compassion rather than being ignorant and blaming and pointing the finger. I really value this discussion and hope that if someone has been in my situation they can possibly make some headway. I still have to take a maintenance dosage of a different drug but I do what I can. Even if other people can’t be tolerant of your lack of ability at least we can. If you have had to put up with other peoples attitudes its probably better to not have them in your life thus alienating you even further than you need to be. My friend has died but brother’s attitude is his issue and I don’t have to put up with it. Don’t cower to people who give you a hard time. If they don’t shape up just get rid of them.

  3. Lisa- I get your point, but can’t necessarily agree with the whole concept. Now, in my case, that may apply. Very effed up childhood. But I’ve also met some BP folks who had a wonderful childhood. So that, in turn, leads me to believe in the chemical imbalance/genetic components. Not to say that many people here have differing opinions, and I respect that. Just my view.

    As for the whole wearing we BP’s out, yep, that’s me. (Holding up my hand.) I’m currently in a mixed state. I’ve had to take antibiotics for a while now, and who knew they could send BP’s into mania?? Or for some, depression. During these times I’m exhausted all of the time. Too hard to deal with depression AND mania. Thankfully I had an idea that this was headed into full-fledged mania and called my doc for instructions.

    I absolutely loved my last job. Excelled, moved up the ladder quickly. I was confident and could speak to the physicians or the CEO with ease. Managed 40 people and built damned good teams. I felt like I was on top of the world.

    Then out of nowhere, I got slammed with a full-blown manic attack. Ended up in the hospital, psychotic. Went thru 3-4 outpatient 30-day programs in addition to more inpatient stays. Was pretty out of it for about a year.

    When I “woke up”, I was still a bit manic. Against my doc’s wishes, I got a job. Fulltime, sales, couldn’t wait to start. That fell apart quickly and badly. Then I stupidly did it again. Fulltime manager. Same horrible scenario.

    So the point is, I tried. I really did. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t do these things, I’d done similar things for years! But I finally had to admit that I wasn’t able to do that. Not even part time. Or to volunteer. I was a mess.

    I couldn’t even handle small tasks at home. Little things like unloading the dishwasher. I was either to depressed or too manic. I felt glued to my bed. I became agoraphobic. Still can’t go much of anywhere unless I’m with my husband. Every once in a while, I can go on a date with him. But he wants to stay out late and I just can’t do that anymore. Then he’ll want to do similar the next night (weekend) and I can’t. One night out for me in a week means I’m out for at least 2-3 days. Getting groceries? Forget it. My husband has to do it. And many other things for me.

    My doc recommended disability, my husband was bugging me about it. The very thought of it made me sick. Always liked being independent. But we finally filed but didn’t use an atty. Bad idea. Denied. Went back a second time with an atty, waited a while for word. Then my doc wrote a letter to SS on my behalf. Just my history of BP, PTSD, ADHD and my progress. Within 3 weeks of that, I was approved. I’m lucky I guess. But it still galls me to accept it.

    I wish I could work, I miss it. Today I can barely leave the house, have regular panic attacks, any confrontation or deadline sends me into a tail spin. I keep hoping that one day I’ll improve enough that I’m NOT so exhausted every day and have the cognitive ability to do anything. I have scheduled an appt at Mayo Clinic as a last resort. They have an actual mood disorder clinic there. I sure hope it helps, because we really don’t have the money to do it.

    Those of you who have reached that goal to be able to work and plan ahead, I sure hope to join you soon.

  4. I have actually reflected on this topic in the past – bipolar is generally caused by faulty parenting (practically always by well-intentioned parents who stuffed it up) – since one’s parenting ‘pushed one too far’ and resulted in one’s mind breaking, one has never learned one’s limits (so to speak). thus the bipolar person continues to push themselves beyond his/her limits in adulthood (and usually this continues to be encouraged by the parents and the mental health system [the latter pushes people to and past breaking point as a matter of course]). It’s all a balancing act surviving the bloomin’ lot fhem until you are my age (late 40s) and have figured all this out, given them all the ‘metaphorical finger’ and learned to relax and go out to lunch.

    ps. i just had a read of synergy’s comments and would like to add that it was discrimination that forced me from the workforce. although it was hard i could do and did do my jobs well. it was discrimination that forced me onto the disability pension.

    • One thing that bugs me about your comment Lisa is that I have never heard of Bipolar being the result of faulty parenting. Bipolar is not strictly a “nurture vs nature”, nor a behavioral disorder; rather a combination of many factors including genetics, environment, stress (positive and negative), etc.

    • Lisa, I have to agree with other commenters here. It’s important you read up on research and not simply reflect on the topic. Bipolar can be caused by genetics, changes in body chemistry, traumatic events, etc…

      It is not, as you stated, “generally caused by faulty parenting.” If you’ve been diagnosed with it, please do yourself a huge favor and research, research, research. I’m in my 60’s, and still don’t have it all figured out.

      Yes, we must learn to manage our condition, but there is new research coming along every day.

  5. I have to agree with you on this point – mental exhaustion which manifests into physical fatigue and exhaustion.

    My mind is always seemingly “on”. Even in my most depressive moments, it is “on”. It may be sludgy, due to having to process and analyze everything through a thickened state of Bipolar fog, but it is still “on”.

    A lot of contributing factors with mine. I have anemia, via low iron and I have moderate to severe B12 deficiency. I also am 49,, female, and pre-menopausal. My job, as well, is 98% mental with the only physical activity being to key upon a computer and well… get to the job and back again (work outside of home).

    Yet, it’s the internal sense of exhaustion I get of which changes throughout each day, that has always gotten to me. I know, even when I am suicidally depressed (as I am now), that I will have roughly 1 small window of “energy” each day. It is generally in the mid-morning, for roughly 2 hours. Otherwise; I am spent.

    I also know that when I am transitioning up, in mood… that I must run and run and work and work to gain as much ground as I am able for when the bottom seems to hit and I can barely move or think. When “up”, I am a whirlwind of energy and focus (to a point) and yet, when “down”, I seemingly cannot stay with “it” nor focus.

    I too, am “high functioning” and it is such a misnomer.

    The amount of mental energy it takes to just get through a 24 hour day without reacting to every swing, impulse and drive. The constant deciphering and analyzing to determine if the stimuli coming at me is “normal” or not, appropriate or not and to ensure that what I provide outward is also “normal” or not, appropriate or not. The continual need to “be mindful” is depleting as well as, the added mental work of having to socialize and interact and relate to others, throughout the day, because I am also horribly introverted.

    The mental exhaustion manifesting into physical fatigue and exhaustion… ah yes, very much so. My family, overall, just considers me lazy and un-motivated, which in turn, feeds my depression or agitation (depending on mood state) which then correlates with… well… energy spent.

    A question though… thought popped in head… I often have the symptom of psychomotor agitation when ramping either up or down (mostly up) and have more “mixed” episodes now than I once did… does this not physically exhaust others as well?

  6. I have spent a while figuring this out for myself and this is what I came up with and it seems to work. Of course there is the regular daily routine… managed to figure out what I can do each day and make it through the week. These are the things that must be done… like work (8 hours on the go), exercise myself and my dog(my personal anxiety meter), eat and maintain my living environment with one small chore per day (maintains order) and somehow connect with my two grown children (my best supports). This is Monday to Friday. It is not exciting but predictable and it keeps me going. My friends know I am not available weekdays for any extra activities other than a text or phone call. The ones that can’t understand that have stopped calling but that is okay. I plan my weekends to include one social activity OR shopping trip per day… that’s it. Any more and I am exhausted and cannot get on track for Monday. I require several hours of NO stimulation on the weekend to recharge and think. For me it is about getting overstimulated. If I get overstimulated one day I KNOW the next day is a write off. I never commit to anything that I am not certain I can handle. I have learned to live for me. Bipolar meds have not served me well. I only use them when I have no energy left to live. I do what I can to not get to that point. This requires constant self monitoring and self care. Just that can be freaking’ exhausting!

  7. I had no idea this was an artifact of my bipolar, but this happens to me too. Right now I’m working way too much, and it feels like all I do is work and sleep. I just can’t seem to catch up with myself. THANK YOU so much for posting this.

  8. Thank-You, Natasha, for helping me to see a different perspective regarding our levels of energy, as we’re managing our bipolar mood swings. I am completely unable to predict when I’m wearing myself out with bipolar. This is because I rarely wear myself out, no matter how hard I go. In my brain I’m never wearing out, but I have no doubts that my body and brain are suffering from too much energy. The meds I’m taking help me to dial down the racing thoughts and agitated energy, coursing through my mind and body like a jet plane. Everyday I swim laps for additional ‘ calm down ‘ help. Even with all of this help, I am unable to relax and just rest. I would have to be flat on my back with the flu to actually rest. But, maybe not even then, because I had full blown pneumonia with huge amounts of energy. Natasha, can you imagine how difficult this would be ? I believe both of us have a difficult road to travel regarding levels of energy.

  9. Thank you for another well-written, relatable article!

    Managing my energy comes about with planning and a lot of trial and error. Knowing what tires me out, and what energizes me.

    If I know we have a family obligation, I plan around it, giving myself quiet time to charge before and after. My family is awesome, but they are high energy and for whatever reason, that wears me out. On longer get togethers, like Thanksgiving, my husband is so awesome about going for an after dinner stroll with me. I get to enjoy a little time outside and some quiet.

    Another example is crowds. I don’t do well in them. Crowds will cause my irritability to skyrocket. Fortunately, my work schedule allows me to run errands when there is less traffic (both on the road and in stores).

    It has taken a long time for me to accept that I do not function at the level other people seem to function. The suggested “daily routine” for most people isn’t for me. I’m learning to look at my schedule as little blocks. Some blocks I have to use each week (like work, chores, etc.) Other blocks are only used in constructing certain weeks (birthday parties, holidays, date night, etc.) Each block will be a different size because of the time and energy it requires. I build my week out of the blocks in such a way as to try and balance the structure of my week so it/I don’t collapse.

    I hope this makes sense.

  10. Natasha, I’m always so very grateful for the information and experience you share with us. I have bp2, and I find myself in a vicious cycle of having lots of energy to do things (gardening, cooking, spring cleaning, exercising regularly) then I take a downturn and have absolutely no energy for months. I almost never relate it to the bipolar until I happen to catch an article like this, then slap myself on the forehead and remember: “Oh, yeah, I’ve got bipolar!” The older I get (I’m 65) the less energy I seem to have and the longer those “downturns” seem to last.

    Day to day, it’s like struggling to climb a ladder with a 50 lb. backpack. And about once a quarter, I simply surrender and give myself permission to leave the backpack off, not climb at all, and binge watch something on Netflix.

    So glad there is a community of folks with bp who understand.

  11. I do wonder if there are a couple of things at work here that compound the issue:

    Depression typically robs you of energy to do just about anything. Mania seems to make you charge on in the belief that you’re fine and don’t need to stop for rest. Is it possible that the flip-flopping is reflective of bipolar mood-swings?

    I know that my ex had low energy levels. Blood tests showed that she was also anaemic. She seemed to be more depressed than manic so I do wonder if the depression and anaemia combined to rob her of her ‘get up and go?’

    Certainly my ex benefited from a healthy gym-routine and I wonder if the endorphin release helps to combat the depression and lethargy.

  12. This is a difficult question to answer. I am exhausted most of the time, that is easy. I walk about 3 times per week with a concerted effort and try to eat healthy. The difficulty is in the myriad other medical issues, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, anxiety, etc.; AND the plethora of medications that tell you the side effects will cause dizziness, tiredness, etc.
    Where does it start and stop with bipolar? I think for me, with the medications I take, I don’t even need to include my bipolar to get to the exhaustion stage. Feeling chronically fatiqued.

  13. I can totally relate to everything you’ve written here, Natasha! I do my very best to plan out my energy expenditures and rest time, because that exhaustion crash is really the pits. But it’s so frustrating that because I have learned to be so careful to plan for (and avoid as much as possible!) energy depletion, most peripheral people in my life don’t really understand that it truly is an issue for me. It’s so hard to explain that I have a lack of symptoms because I work so hard to have that lack of symptoms that I’m exhausted by it all and the thought of adding anything else to my spartan schedule is truly overwhelming. They just see a person who doesn’t do much of much and therefore must be lazy and/or faking an illness.

    • Dear leepfroggie, What a marvelous screen name!!!! Ha Ha Ho Ho

      I can totally, totally relate to your experience with people. I actually have a lot of trouble accepting MYSELF as needing all this down time. And I suspect that even the friends I’ve confided that I have bipolar disorder, suspect me of faking. I “seem” so “with it.” I’m just getting to know my new power of attorney for Health care. That’s because I zapped my sister out of my life, and out of her role to assist me when I get old(er) and feeble. or dying. The sister is a whole ‘nother story. But anyway, the new power of attorney, a wonderful and very intelligent social worker recommended to me, has been working with me on my various documents such as my will, physicians’ orders, and stuff. My stuff was very disorganized. I worked with her in getting it all in one place and up to date. She expressed surprise that I could be anything but organized. and smart. I can’t remember what signs I exhibited that shocked her….something or other when we were in the lawyer’s office and I had forgotten to bring my files. I sent her the gist of Natasha’s article here about exhaustion.

      • Synergy,

        I’m so glad to hear you’ve been able to put together a group of people to help you navigate it all. I’m lucky enough to have a very patient family to help me — though I know I certainly try that patience from time to time. I am glad to have at least that stability in my support group as I’ve found it’s been nearly impossible to maintain a steady balance of professionals to help me.

        In the 10 years since my diagnosis I’ve had an assortment of 10 or 11 different doctors/therapists. Between some retiring and some simply changing careers it’s seemed almost as though I just get settled in with one and it’s time for them to move on. At this point I’m left solely with my family doctor — the resources in my area have been so pared back that there simply aren’t enough psychiatrists and therapists to go around.

        I know I’m so lucky to be on a program for managing my symptoms that seems to be working, but I’m also terrified to do anything that might rock the boat as I know there are few resources (other than immediate hospitalization) to help me stabilize if I get even a little bit off track.

        • Dear Leepfroggie, my favoritely -named person! You wrote: ” the resources in my area have been so pared back …” Re: this issue, here is a letter I have written to my local newspaper. I hope they print it.

          My letter:

          The US Postal Service delivered two of my packages to the wrong address. The carrier even left my packages outside the door of this wrong place. This is the second time in less than 6 months. Voter-approved funding cuts are undermining the quality of postal service, and the rest of the infrastructure in the country, state, and our City itself.
          Voters’ position on “No more taxes” is likely due to observation and anger about our governments’ waste, misspending and corruption. Despite this, “No more taxes,” the current mantra, is a double edged sword. We need to carefully consider each and every tax measure on our ballots, voting for or against taxes in ways that do not undermine our own well being.

          Everyone at Bipolar Burble has my permission to copy my letter, alter it if you want to, and submit it to your own newspapers!

  14. There is no way to predict my bipolar exhaustion level, but I feel worn out in general and I am just now figuring out that it is mood related. One thing that I have to do is make sure that sleep patterns are absolutely priority. I must go to bed at the exact same time every night and get at least eight hours of sleep. That doesn’t mean that I wont get exhausted very quickly. I am on a pension and social security and cannot hold a regular job, but I am looking for flexible work to pay back my student loans.- a bipolar diagnosis, even when you are old like me, doesn’t get you outta student loans, because you are perceived as being able to work at “something”. Bipolar depression is the stressor that leads to brain fuel depletion for me. Even though I get good sleep at the right time, after I begin my day I find that I can easily get exhausted within a couple of hours. Thinking about depression, anxieties, etc. causes my brain to quit functioning. If I am lucky, I can force the body to go for a walk or do some form of exercise like yoga in a group so that the depleted rock I am carrying around can just exist. However, it makes for a very slow accountability/recovery process. I just can’t beat myself up over not completing tasks in a “normal” timeframe.

    • Dear Edde, I sympathize about the work thing. All I can say is (1) some Federal legislators and at least one presidential candidate are working hard to alleviate this abuse. (2) some of us were deceived by the “financial assistance” departments at the college or university. I certainly was! I was told that I qualified for a “government insured student loan.” I took this to mean that if I could not repay the loan, or part of the loan, the government would pay it off! What a lie. (3) See #4, but you might also TRY calling your Federal Senator/s. They have a lot of power, but I don’t know if they would have the power to waive your loan payments. My Senator did actually get my SSDI benefits since the Social Security process had lost my file. (4) This is just a rave, — but a lot of info below — but to be approved for Social Security Disability , you said, “because you are perceived as being able to work at’ “something’. ” The whole reason we get Disability is because we “cannot substantial gainful activity, SGA” but as the website says, some areas are fuzzy.

      Here’s about other work

      “ What does social security mean by other work?”
      This is actually where the social security administration’s disability evaluation process becomes more hazy. Other work can include many types of jobs that a claimant has never worked, and which might not even exist where a claimant lives.

      Also from the government website: “How does social security decide whether your can work or not?” By evaluating your medical evidence, rating how limited you are, and then comparing this rating to the kind of work you did in the past…..

      “If my medical condition keeps me from working will I get Social Security disability?”
      Certainly, one criteria of Social Security disability (and SSI) eligibility is that you must be unable to work at any meaningful level for a period of not less than twelve months.

      This definitely not all there is! The is a lot more info here, though: http://www.ssdrc.com/answers14.html

  15. THANKS for this article, Natasha, you are right on, as usual. This is “me too.” At least now I realize why I’ve been so exhausted, like, forever. This is one of the reasons I could not hold down a “regular job.” And not being able to keep a job, according to a therapist, is a sign of bipolar disorder and was why I got onto Social Security Disability (USA) To help support myself, I founded and “did” two small businesses — a secretarial service that grew so fast I had to sell it! Got good money, too in the sale. In those days, secretarial services were almost never saleable. The other independent business I had, for 20 years, was as a piano teacher. In both of them, I was very limited in how many days / hours each week that I was able to work.

    I sent your info, Natasha, to my brother, my significant other, and my power of attorney for health care.