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Are You Thriving or Just Surviving? Living with High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder

Living with high-functioning bipolar disorder can mean that most of your energy is spent on handling intense internal emotions and feelings. However, trying to manage these symptoms on your own can take a serious toll on your overall health.

People living with high-functioning bipolar disorder have, by all appearances, very normal lives. They often have steady jobs and solid relationships with others. However, these are attained through an incredible amount of energy and effort expended to handle the emotional turmoil that marks a bipolar disorder.

To an unfamiliar eye, high-functioning bipolar disorder is often deceptively mild. Characterised by a person’s ability to manage bipolar episodes through adaptation and coping mechanisms, it is easy to assume that an outward appearance of calm applies internally as well. The condition can be so well-hidden that it can be difficult to diagnose and treat, despite the effects it has on the person living with it.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder can generally be described as periods of mania, in which a person experiences unusually high levels of energy or activity, followed by periods of depression. However, the intensity of these episodes varies depending on the type of bipolar disorder that a person has. A person living with any of the four types of bipolar disorder but managing the symptoms on their own is understood to be “high-functioning.” The four types of bipolar disorder include:

Bipolar I

In this type, a person will experience a manic episode lasting at least a week, followed by a major depressive episode that can last two weeks or more. In some cases, the manic episode can become so intense that hospitalisation is required.

Bipolar II

Often misdiagnosed as depression, Bipolar II is characterised by alternating episodes of hypomania and depression. Hypomanic episodes are less intense and shorter than a typical manic episode (and therefore sometimes more difficult to detect), but still marked by elevated energy levels. These are then followed by lengthy periods of deep depression.

Bipolar Disorder (Not Elsewhere Classified)

When a person is experiencing frequent swings between manic episodes and depression, but not in the same duration or intensity of Bipolar I or II, this is generally understood to be a bipolar disorder (not elsewhere classified). People living with this type may experience cycles between highs and lows that last for days rather than weeks.

Cyclothymic Disorder

Generally thought to be the least severe form of bipolar disorder, people living with cyclothymic disorder experience hypomanic episodes followed by brief periods of depression. Though cyclothymic disorder can exist as its own condition, in some cases it can progress into a more acute type of bipolar disorder.

Out of Sight, But Not Out of Mind: High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder

It is quite common for people living with high-functioning bipolar disorder not to realise that what they’re dealing with is a mental health condition. What you are likely aware of is the turbulent emotions that churn just under the surface – and most likely, you’re exhausted trying to manage them. Talking to a professional about what you are feeling internally is a critical step in figuring out if you are struggling with high-functioning bipolar disorder, and ultimately getting relief from your symptoms.

The term “high-functioning,” when applied to bipolar disorder, does not apply to the severity of the condition, but rather the person’s ability to manage it. This means that the person may be experiencing acute symptoms, but is able to mask them and maintain daily functions. While you might think that as long as you are able to cope with the symptoms that you don’t require professional support, this is far from the truth. The stress and sheer energy it takes to try to get by completely on your own can push you to the brink – and beyond – what is good for your health.

Symptoms of High-Functioning Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder can manifest a range of symptoms, some of which can also occur normally in reaction to certain situations or events. However, for people living with bipolar disorder, symptoms occur cyclically, and can happen without significant emotional triggers.

Symptoms of a Manic Episode

  • Increased activity or hyperactivity, including engagement in risky or reckless activities
  • Decreased need for or inability to sleep
  • Rapid speech
  • Racing thoughts
  • Irritability, aggression, or euphoria
  • Elevated heart rate

Symptoms of a Depressive Episode

  • Lack of energy; exhaustion
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Sadness and anxiety
  • Loss of interest and focus
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you recognise some of these symptoms as present in your own life, it’s time to talk to a professional about the possibility of having a high-functioning bipolar disorder.

If I’m “High-Functioning” Do I Really Need Treatment?

Any type of bipolar disorder benefits from treatment, including those who are living with a “high-functioning” classification. In the short-term, the work that you have to do every day to manage your symptoms can be incredibly draining, taking a toll on your overall health as well as personal and professional relationships. The added support gained when you begin professional treatment can have an immediate positive impact on your quality of life.

Additionally, the long-term consequences of lack of treatment of bipolar disorders can be devastating to both your physical and mental health. Bipolar disorder can worsen without treatment, meaning that symptoms could eventually become unmanageable, creating significant disruptions to your work or education, and relationships with friends and family. Untreated bipolar disorder also carries greater risks for substance abuse issues, and suicidal thoughts or attempts.

Professional treatment can help you define and strengthen effective coping mechanisms, identify and manage stressors, and develop a strong support system. Ultimately, these actions can help ensure your long-term health, and provide relief from your symptoms so you can enjoy life to the fullest.

Getting the Support You Need at The Dawn

The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab offers a customised Mental Wellness Programme designed to help people understand their bipolar disorder, identify positive coping mechanisms, and find relief almost immediately. Our compassionate, Western-trained clinical team will work with you to develop a personalised treatment plan that can be adapted based on your progress and needs throughout your stay.

A Multi-faceted Treatment Approach

The Dawn uses a holistic approach to treatment that blends the most effective Western psychotherapies, like CBT and group sessions, with proven innovative treatment technologies and established Eastern wellness practises.

Studies show that for many mental health conditions, group therapy is highly valuable and in some cases more profoundly altering than individual therapy. The power of shared experience and support can be transformative in understanding and living with a mental health issue like high-functioning bipolar disorder.

A Mental Health Retreat in Thailand

Located in the serene beauty of Chiang Mai, Thailand, The Dawn offers a resort-like atmosphere far away from the stressors of daily life at home. The lower costs of living in Thailand ensure that we can offer high-quality, world-class treatment at a fraction of the cost in the U.K. or Australia. You’ll be able to relax in one of our private rooms and benefit from the many wellness activities offered, including yoga, art therapy, meditation, and massage therapy.

Your time at The Dawn will ensure that you’ll get the support you need to live with and manage your bipolar disorder in a healthy way. Your time with us is also a chance to give yourself the rest and relaxation you deserve. Call us today to learn more about how we can set up a treatment plan that is right for you.

Sometimes difficult to identify, high-functioning bipolar disorder is often hidden through coping mechanisms, but responds well to professional treatment.

How Do You Know If Someone Is Addicted to Weed?

Steven Gans, MD is board-certified in psychiatry and is an active supervisor, teacher, and mentor at Massachusetts General Hospital.

If your friend smokes weed and you are concerned that it is a problem, talk to them about it. A clear sign that recreational substances, such as alcohol or marijuana, have become an addiction is when family life, daily activities, and ability to work is impeded, and/or they can’t stop using the substance even though they want to quit.

Is Marijuana Addictive?

Marijuana addiction is uncommon and can only be diagnosed in severe cases. Only a small percentage of users will develop what is known as a marijuana use disorder. The number rises significantly for those who started using weed in their teens, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).   If your friend uses pot occasionally, they likely do not have an addiction to marijuana.

Marijuana Use Disorder

Rather than use the term “addiction,” health professionals prefer the term “marijuana use disorder.” The NIDA estimates that about 30% of marijuana users may have some degree of marijuana use disorder.  

Marijuana Dependence

If your friend frequently uses marijuana and experiences withdrawal symptoms upon stopping the drug, they may be considered to have marijuana dependence. Marijuana withdrawal symptoms are typically mild, peak within the first week after quitting, and may last up to two weeks. Symptoms include:  

  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Decreased appetite
  • Restlessness​

Marijuana Effects on the Adolescent Brain

Research has examined how marijuana affects teens. Some studies suggest that teenagers who use marijuana frequently may experience short-term effects such as problems with memory, learning, coordination, and judgment.  

There are also long-term effects. Some studies suggest an association between regular marijuana use in teens and “altered connectivity and reduced volume of specific brain regions.”     But other studies “have not found significant structural differences between the brains of users and non-users.”  

A large cohort study followed nearly 4,000 young adults over a 25-year period into mid-adulthood. It found that although cumulative lifetime exposure to marijuana is associated with lower verbal memory test scores, exposure did not affect other cognitive abilities like processing speed or executive function.  

Studies have found that frequent use of marijuana as a teenager can be associated with an average IQ loss of eight points that were not recoverable after quitting. However, the same use in adults showed no reduction in IQ. The research data suggests marijuana’s strongest long-term impact is on young users whose brains are still developing.  

Marijuana As a Gateway Drug

Marijuana is not generally considered a “gateway drug” because the majority of weed users do not go on to use harder, addictive substances, including cocaine and heroin. Social environment might be a more critical factor in determining someone’s risk for trying harder drugs.  

If someone is more vulnerable to getting involved with addictive substances, they are more likely to start with substances that are more readily available, such as alcohol, tobacco, or marijuana. People who have social interactions with other substance users are more likely to try other drugs.  

If your friend uses weed and it does not interfere with work, family life or daily activities, it is likely that your friend does not have an addiction. ]]>