Can I be honest with you, friend? Bipolar and ADHD suck. As an adult, I’ve lived my life in two extremes. I’m either in a pit of depression or on top of the world. And, somewhere in the middle, my lack of focus and direction turns my brain into chaos. I become messy, disorganized, frazzled, time blind, and impulsive. It’s easy for me to make a mess of my life. Although, you’re too aloof to notice. Buried underneath reckless illogical decisions. I’ve uprooted my life more than a few times. Yet, you see me as a wild spirit and encourage me to follow my bliss. But, my bliss is bipolar dipped in hypomania.
You know I struggle to stay committed to any professional aspiration. Oh, how often have we had the conversation about what I should do with my life? I’ve quit jobs and pursued goals and dreams that felt right in the moment. But, ultimately failed. And, when reality slapped me in the face and I broke down mentally and emotionally I don’t remember seeing you as much. What was up?
You know that I’m embarrassed and anxious about my past mistakes and missteps. But, do you know how heavy and cumbersome it is? That it pulls me underneath the dark, turbulent waves of depression. And, depression is more than happy to swallow me whole into a void of emptiness. This never-ending push and pull. Back and forth has encompassed my entire life. On the outside, you can’t see the mess that I am. You think I’m eccentric, funny, and the kind of weird that’s not too out there but just enough to make me “cool”. And, while it’s fun to be around the other me you always disappear when I’m at my worst. I know you don’t get it. That you don’t understand. Because on the outside looking in, you can’t see my bipolar and ADHD.
Bipolar And ADHD And Chasing Dopamine
What I’m trying to tell you is my life is spent chasing dopamine and snorting serotonin. I’m an addict. Bipolar and ADHD do a real number on my brain. It’s like the rise and fall of dopamine, serotonin, and the flight of ideas from Mars. When I’m hypomanic, the party never ends. However, when I’m depressed, I’m the loser cleaning up the aftermath. That’s when I need you most.
Sandwiched in between the mood swings of bipolar, ADHD enters the chat. It’s not enough that bipolar transforms my behavior, thought process, impulsivity, and attentiveness. ADHD slides into the party that’s already out of control and manages to make things worse.
As the party in my head intensifies, my logic leaves me hanging exiting the back door. Suddenly spending $300 on groceries makes perfect sense. Because it felt like the responsible thing to do. Investing in that stupid MLM business because it was going to pay off big time. As you know, it didn’t. I’m a disorganized, disheveled, sloppy mess of a human. I don’t know if I’m coming or going. I talk quickly, think too fast, and sleep seldom.
Yet, for some reason, my work never suffers. The one benefit of my hypomania is I’m a killer at work. Whatever job I’m at, I’m firing away, running on all cylinders. I’m like the employee of the month every single day. Need me to work on a project? Absolutely. Looking for someone to work late? I’m your girl. There’s absolutely nothing I can’t do. Until there’s nothing that I can do. And, I crash and burn.
I Crash And Burn
The higher you fly, the harder you fall. And I fall hard—one day I’m singing on the tables the next hiding in my bed. One day I’m a super employee of the month, and then I’m struggling to make it through the day. I’m unmotivated, uninspired, and DO NOT want to be a team player. It’s during the crash and burn, I face the wreck I was when dopamine flew through my veins like speed. And, during the crash and burn you always seem to fade away.
Everything that went fast becomes slow. Motivation, drive, confidence, and all the energy that kept me up at night are gone in a flash. I’m moody, irritable, insecure, and doubtful. I’m consumed with self-hatred and loathing. It feels like the walls are caving in on me. I’m crying in bed, crying on the couch, crying in my car, and crying in the bathroom. And I question my identity. Who I am and if I even matter. Why I’m not where I want to be. How did I become such a failure? The ghosts of my bad decisions haunt me. I’m all alone and you never answer my texts, you don’t respond to my calls.
I start to disassociate with reality and cut myself off from the world and go into zombie mode. Everything is a blur, and I just exist, not truly living, just breathing. A shell, a being. When I was a teenager and slipped into this blank space, I would self-harm to feel something other than empty. I got professional help and traded self-harm for drinking myself into oblivion. I traded excessive drinking with compulsive eating. Consequently, I’m struggling with disordered eating and body dysmorphia. But, it gets confusing when you praise my toxic behaviors. Encourage me to skip meals, and overly restrict myself. It increases my negative body image when you fixate on my weight. Telling me I’m too fat, or too skinny. Because I’m never enough when I’m just me.
On the Outside
Honestly, you don’t truly notice and pay attention to me. Before you accuse me of being dramatic I’m not insinuating you don’t care at all. The reality is I’m a chameleon, and I’m really good at masking myself. I can read you like a book. I know how to adapt and present myself in a non-intimidating way. I know what you want from me, and I deliver my lines and play my part.
I know if you prefer the happy-go, lucky girl. The one who’s the life of the party and engaging. The girl that’s super fun to be around, witty and charismatic. So, I deliver. I know if you prefer the subdued version of me. The polished and refined person who has it all together. Poised, soft-spoken, and dependable. And, I adjust to make myself fit your mold. I know how to be seen, noticed, and heard when I want to be. And I also know how to slip into the shadows and go unnoticed. I shift, I adjust, and I adapt according to my surroundings.
That’s why you don’t know I struggle. Because you don’t see my bipolar and ADHD. It’s hard to see my depression when I make you laugh as we throw back a few drinks. But, how can you know that I’m going to go home and cry myself to sleep as I contemplate suicide? You don’t see my bipolar and ADHD. When I’m your good time pal dancing on the table being the life of the party as usual. It’s not abnormal or out of line. We’re just two friends having a good time.
You fail to recognize the binge drinking and out-of-control behavior. Can’t see the sleepless nights, reckless spending, risky behavior, disordered eating, irrational anger, and aggressiveness. You don’t see my bipolar and ADHD. When I’m chasing after goals and starting new projects, it’s not strange. I come off as driven and a go-getter. In reality, I’m taking on way too much. Half of the projects I start I’ll get bored with and stop, or they’ll fail miserably. Not to mention I probably invested way too much money. You don’t see my bipolar and ADHD.
When you see me with my planners, calendars, and to-do lists, you assume I’m super organized and efficient. The reality is I’m struggling to manage my life. You don’t know I use productivity tools to avoid late payments because I always forget to pay bills. That I have to remind myself to feed the dogs as though I’m 12.
That timeliness isn’t my strong suit, and I struggle to make it to appointments on time. Or how I fake being responsible when the reality is procrastination is my best friend. That I need to follow a strict schedule and live on tight routines. Because when I fail to organize my life, things don’t get done. When I’m hypomanic and hyper-focused, I forget to eat, and sometimes I even forget to pee. Stupid but true. You don’t see my bipolar and ADHD. You can’t tell when I’m chasing dopamine or in the middle of a crash and burn. Not from the outside looking in any way.
All That’s Hidden
You don’t understand that once upon a time, I did reach out for help. I was vulnerable and tried to explain that something wasn’t right. That I felt depressed all the time and contemplated suicide. And I felt numb and didn’t know who I was. That no matter how hard I tried in school, I felt like I was twenty steps behind. I tried to tell people that I was struggling. And, no one believed me.
I was shamed and told I was attention-seeking and dramatic. I was gaslighted and manipulated to believe I was a hypochondriac looking for a reason to be sick. When I was struggling with math, my teacher told me that I needed to try harder and be more like my sister. Cause you see she was way better at math than me. She was better and smarter than me in a lot of things. And, when she said this I felt stupid like I was a failure. A problem that didn’t measure up. And I carried that shame and insecurity with me into adulthood.
You don’t know that these invalidating experiences made my life worse. That in those moments, I learned to suffer in silence. I realized that mental illness and depression made people uncomfortable. Caused them to shift in their seats. Learning disabilities were considered a joke. Because you’re perceived as lazy regardless that you’re trying your best. Furthermore, it revealed their ignorance, bias, and prejudice towards mental illness, and learning disabilities. People like me. You can’t possibly know that this is when I began to mask and hide behind a facade to protect myself. So I could assimilate into a society that wasn’t set up for me. Because it was my only chance at having a somewhat normal life and be accepted. You don’t see my bipolar and ADHD.
You didn’t grow up or deal with the stigma associated with mental illness. I never shared with you that I flunked out of college because I struggled with the majority of the courses I took. And, I gave up. Or that I was prescribed Adderall when I was falling behind at work. Because I was overwhelmed and putting more on myself than I probably should’ve. But, it was more important to please everyone around me than, to be honest and prioritize my mental and emotional health. You don’t get why I hid the fact that I was in therapy for years until recently. And, you never saw me struggle to find affordable options for therapy and psychiatric care. Or how much I spend on my mental health right now. It’s hard to even talk about it with you since most of the time you’re telling me I don’t need to do all of these things. That I’m fine, I’m normal. You’ll whisper that only “crazy” people need those things and I’m not “crazy” I look “normal”. You don’t see my bipolar and ADHD.
I never shared with you know how rough it was when I first started my medication. That I went from having rapid cycling bipolar to ultra-rapid cycling bipolar. That I struggled with mixed episodes where I wanted to scratch my skin off because I felt happy and sad at the same time. I was angry and anxious yet too overwhelmed and tired to do anything about it. That I would go from laughing to sitting on my couch crying and didn’t know why. Like the time we had lunch and you told me that I was fun again like I used to be. And, when I went home I cried and cried because I felt so empty. You don’t see my bipolar and ADHD.
And, perhaps that’s the worst part of mental illness. Is that I can stand here bleeding in front of you, and you don’t notice. I can reach out to you for help, and you’ll tell me to try harder. Or, worse, you’ll blow me off and not take me seriously. You’ll tell me to meditate, try a new diet, go out and have fun. And, you’ll say things like you’re just not the same as you used to be. Why can’t you be like you were before?
Because you only like me when I’m chasing dopamine. When I’m speedballing on serotonin. When I’m hypomanic and reckless you purchase tickets to watch my train wreck. How I drink a little too much, and words fly out of my mouth at the speed of light. That it’s more fun when I’m there to paint the town red. That the only acceptable version of me is the part that’s the most damaging. And, you don’t even notice how the good times are killing me. Here’s a secret sometimes I think you do see. I think you see the paint chipping and peeling apart. You get a glimpse of the cracked windows and leaky roof. But, you willfully ignore it. Is it because you only care about the “good times”. That you’re so superficial you don’t care to go deeper than the surface? Maybe it’s why you disappear when I crash and burn because it’s too much. I’m a downer. It’s not fun anymore. Things become too serious.
Now that I’m in a place of recovery, you’ve noticed I act differently-especially towards you. I don’t hang out with you as much. And, I keep to myself. When it comes to my medication, I take it at scheduled times. There’s Lamictal to stabilize my moods and Adderall to be focus and present. I meet with my psychiatrist once a month and go to therapy every six weeks. I attend a weekly support group.
I stopped trying to please you. Disagreed with your opinions about my life. Specifically, the ignorant opinions you shared about how you really “feel” about mental health and mental illness. The subtle digs you toss my way. Because for once I’m not making you the center of my life. For the first time since I’ve known you, I’m actually putting my health first.
I traded partying with you to focus on adulting—even the boring stuff. I don’t forget things all the time. My thoughts aren’t a jumbled, racing mess. I can somewhat pay attention when you speak. And, when I listen I don’t like what I hear. I finally learned to differentiate between my emotions. Not the fake pretend ones I use when I’m with you. But the genuine real ones. I don’t feel numb, like a zombie, or question my existence.
I’m not always angry and irritable. I laugh, I cry, I grieve and feel all the feelings. And, I know who I am and don’t struggle with my identity. I stopped fantasizing and obsessing over ending my life. Did you even know I was suicidal? I walked away from flirting with suicide—even a little. For the first time in a long time, I actually want to live. I set and enforce boundaries-especially with you. I choose safe people. And, honestly, I’m trying to discern if you’re safe or toxic. But, still, I struggle to let our friendship go. Despite the fact, you only like the hypomanic version of me. The version that chases dopamine. And, it hurts me.
These days I’m more sober than drunk, and I seldom drink, if at all. So, I pour the liquor down the drain. I avoid parties and social gatherings—any event where I have to pretend and mask myself. Where I slip into the familiarity of being a dopamine addict. Because I don’t chase dopamine anymore. I’m not looking for serotonin in all the wrong places.
And, I’ve noticed you don’t call as often. You’re not as willing to hang out anymore. My hypomania isn’t as intense and debilitating. And my depressive episodes are few and far between. They don’t linger for weeks and months. I pour my heart and soul into my passions. But, you haven’t been interested. It seems like you’re low-key ghosting me.
Additionally, therapy has helped me sift through the confusion and create space for healing. I have a small yet mighty support system consisting of my husband and my best furry friend. And, they make it easier to move from under the weight of bipolar and ADHD. With them, I don’t feel defined by mental illness. It’s just a health condition that I need to monitor and manage. It’s no different than treating high blood pressure or a chronic condition. Yet, I still wish you were part of this journey. That you could support me in finding peace and getting better.
Although, I don’t need validation from you anymore. And, I’m not seeking pity or want you to feel sorry for me. Even though there’s something cathartic and freeing sharing my feelings, my story. It’s still hard to be real about the version of me I’ve kept hidden. Because I know that you won’t get me or understand. You’ll always believe I’m making it up. That I’m attention-seeking and should keep it all to myself. You’re incapable of accepting me and others like me.
Mental illness will always be the punchline of a joke. You’ll continue using mental illnesses as adjectives. Describing the weather as “bipolar” claiming you’re “ADHD” when you forget something. You’ll continue advising me to stop taking medication because it’s bad for me, and there are “natural” options.
And here’s the good part. Your scientific evidence consists of an article you read by a guy on some blog that isn’t a psychiatrist or psychologist and has no medical degree. However, his opinion is “gospel,” and my psychiatrist is a quack. So, I should choose his advice over a medical professional that has a degree in psychiatry.
Do you even see the absurdity? The sheer narcissism cloaking itself as sympathy for me. You don’t, do you? You really think you’re helping? But the truth we both know is my mental illness freaks YOU out. It makes YOU uncomfortable. Me seeking psychiatric help and taking medication makes YOU feel weird about me.
Mental illness is unbearable to YOU, full stop. YOU feel people medicating themself for an invisible illness like bipolar and ADHD is intolerable. It rubs YOU the wrong way. Because, according to your narrow-minded assumption, I should try harder. WE (those with mental illness) should try harder. To fit in, to assimilate, and to get this make YOU feel comfortable.
It always comes back to you. And, frankly, I’m over YOU. My lived experience super cedes your ignorant opinion. And I have chosen to take ownership of my journey, use my voice, step into my authority and control my narrative. And I don’t have to alter my identity to be accepted by you. The toxic friend that believes it’s ok to stigmatize, generalize, and stereotype me. Like everything is a big joke. That I’m a joke. You see, something I’ve learned is that my worth, my value, isn’t determined by YOU. It’s actually determined by ME.
Informative Articles From Professionals And People With Actual Lived Experience of Bipolar and ADHD
ADDItude Magazine ADHD and Bipolar: A Dual Diagnosis Helped My Mental Illness Symptoms
ADDitude Magazine Bipolar and ADHD Together Solving the ADHD Bipolar Puzzle
Hey Kat, it’s like reading my own biography. I’m in my 50’s and only now am I starting to accept it’s how I’m wired and not that I’m inadequate or lazy. You’re blog is inspiring and I wish you all the love and serenity in the world.
Thank you Jeanette!
Could super relate to all of that, fuck it’s painful but this helped me get through and ease my struggle – even if only for a while, because we know how hard it is.Thank you
I’m glad you find some relief, even if temporarily.