Bipolar Disorder and Pushing Past Your Limits

Bipolar Disorder and Pushing Past Your Limits

Pushing past your limits when you have bipolar disorder is dangerous. I should know; I tend to do it. I tend to work too much and too hard. And while that might simply make a normal person a “workaholic” or an “A-type personality” it makes me sick, sick, sick. This is an article about doing what I say and not what I do. Don’t push past your limits if you have bipolar disorder.

“Give it 110%.”

“Push your limits.”

“Try harder.”

We all know these phrases. We have all heard them and maybe even said them. And while there may be some wisdom in encouraging people that way, when you have bipolar disorder, I highly recommend you not try to push past your limits.

The Effects of Pushing Past Your Limits

I can understand if you’re running a marathon (assuming you don’t have bipolar disorder) and you think to yourself – “I can make it just one more mile. I can do it. I can push past my body’s limits.”

I get this. This might be the self-talk you need to get to that finish line.

The problem is, this identical line of thought, when applied to daily activities for one with bipolar, can cause great harm. Pushing past the limits bipolar disorder sets on you can lead to a worsening of bipolar symptoms.

Pushing Past My Work Limits with Bipolar

I am a writer and speaker. I am an independent contractor. Thus, I am not on salary anywhere so I only get paid when I work. This is my choice. It allows me to work from home, work odd hours and take breaks throughout the day as I require and not as is allowed by a nine-to-five job.

This is great, but if you only get paid when you’re actively producing work, it creates great pressure on you to work all the time. In my case, I’m trying to pay a tax bill that was much larger than expected so the drive to produce, invoice and pay that down is notable.

What I generally do is work all the hours I can physically do it and rest most of the rest of the time. I’m not saying I recommend this, it is not in any way balanced, but it’s what I need to do.

And last Monday, I was having a very productive day. I worked about twice the number of hours I normally would and then I went out to see a friend afterward. No breaks. No nothing. But, for some reason, I could do it that day.

Oh, silly, silly Natasha. I should have realized I was pushing beyond my limits. I should have realized the pressure of owing money was bearing down on me too hard. I should have realized that even though my hands were still typing, that didn’t mean I shouldn’t respect what I know are my daily limits.

The Effects of Pushing Past My Limits with Bipolar Disorder

Pushing past your limits might sound like a good idea but can pushing past your limits with bipolar disorder make your chronic illness worse?So while your average person might feel proud that he or she was able to push the limit, I did not feel that way. The next day I just felt very, very bipolar-sick. Yes, my bipolar acted up, zapped me of all energy and ability to do anything and caused great pain.

This is the price I paid for “giving 110%.”

I need to know that I can’t even give 100%. I need to give only the percentage I can to stay well. Which is sucky, but reality.

I think the problem is that I refuse to acknowledge on a daily basis that I’m a person with a chronic illness. I have a disability that affects me every single day and I still can’t seem to make good decisions based on that fact. It’s like willful denial.

And it’s not like I don’t know it, I do, but I end up comparing myself to those without a serious mental illness and I just feel like if they can do it, then I can do it. And not being able to do what others can do makes me feel lesser-than. I know it doesn’t actually make me lesser-than, but it’s just how I feel.

I know now, knew then and will know in the future I need to respect the limits bipolar disorder enforces. It’s not about being lesser-than, it’s just about being. I’m me and not others and that’s okay.

Somehow, though, during crunch time, I just fail to remember this.

So yes, unless you don’t mind being worse because of the bipolar and pushing the limits, I recommend you respect those limits. The price of not doing so is just too high.

Banner image by Ian Paterson [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Image by Flickr user Chad Elliott.


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.



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