When you have created an agenda for yourself, are you easily frustrated by people who evidently have no deadlines to meet and are enjoying a perpetual shortage of things needing to be done and, worse, who manage to inadvertently hinder your productivity? Apparently “normal” people don’t feel that they have to constantly utilize every waking second of the time during which they feel like being productive, whether it be work-related or personal productivity. However, what those people seem to neglect to consider is the constant race against time we who are learning to manage bipolar disorder remain incessantly engaged in.
I’d never really put much conscious thought into my need for speed on the few days each week in which I feel truly compelled to do something useful and productive – until a couple nights ago when situation after situation began “stealing” my time. At that point, it became apparent to me that I was absolutely furious at anyone who took more of my time than I believed they should require. For example, a friend had come by to help me with some household projects. In an attempt to decrease the amount of time I had to engage in actual interaction with him (& hoping to thereby extinguishing the need for potentially taking even more time with stray conversation and small talk!), I made a list of tasks I was delegating to him before he arrived. Everything was fine as I placed my headphones in my ears, iPod on as high as the volume would go, and prepared to enter my “zone.” However, when he came to me with question after question – the answers to which all seemed overly obvious, given the simplistic language my list for him had embodied, my mere annoyance began to intensify until it eventually became anger. Then, when he became defensive toward my frustration with his misunderstandings, I went from being just angry to being immensely irate! My friend and I eventually came to an understanding that night, but the question of how he couldn’t understand that I simply refused to expend my limited time on him by providing answers to every “what if” question he could think of or on stopping to listen to him make suggestions on topics that weren’t open for debate as far as I was concerned, remained in my thoughts.
After a few hours, it became clear to me that he’d probably never felt this intense demand to accomplish a week’s worth of tasks and goals in only a couple days. Since people who aren’t dealing with such limitations of bipolar disorder can always begin a task they previously left unfinished on the following day, or even further into the future, they likely can’t understand my passion for getting everything done as quickly as possible, staying up all night as many nights as I can in order to keep up the stamina until the things I’ve decided to do are completed. While I’m not sure whether bipolar disorder manifests in this increased emotional intensity aimed at accomplishing tasks I’ve appointed myself to do NOW, and not later, I can say that this behavior is at least somewhat indicative of hypomania (or mania in a more extreme form). Since hypomania, mania and bipolar disorder in general have had stigmas attached to them traditionally, few people truly understand that while I have to operate on a level “normal” people cannot possibly comprehend (especially when, as far as they know, there are no life-or-death consequences for tasks being finished when I say they need to be), consistently living at such a break-neck pace, I end up becoming frustrated and angry when they become obstacles to my successfully completing what I’ve decided I want to get done. Thus, they can’t fathom why it’s so very inconvenient to me if they put unnecessary obstacles in my path, particularly conversation that I could do without.
However, on the other hand, what they fail to realize is that when my mood swings into a depressive episode (or at least into a less hypomanic/manic phase), I’ll no longer be productive, regardless of how much I want to be or how few obstacles are in my path. I simply won’t feel like accomplishing anything and will lose time when I’m sluggish and unmotivated for a few days. As such, unbeknownst to them, in my mind it’s absolutely imperative that I maintain this level of frantic productivity throughout the days in which I feel compelled to do so – simply in order to “make up for” those days that I know are ahead of me during which NOTHING will be completed. Once I thought about this discrepancy between our thought patterns, I began feeling somewhat guilty for having had such impatience with him. However, I came believe that it’s as crucial for us with bipolar disorder to attempt to explain to people close to us that demanding minimal distraction is not a flaw or a form of us being inconsiderate, ungrateful, or selfish on days in which we feel up to being productive. We need to make them understand that while they have fairly consistent levels of productivity, sleep patterns, and motivation on a daily basis; we share the very same thoughts but simply do so on a somewhat different cycle of both productivity and lack thereof.
As more objective information is discovered and published concerning bipolar disease and its components, we come closer to all getting along and working effectively together, realizing that there’s no “right” or “wrong” way to live life; rather, there are different cycles and different schedules that all work in order to create the diversity that makes this world, and each life in it, beautiful and enticing. As such, the next time you’re feeling overly irritated at people “taking up” your time when you’re feeling “on top of the world” and capable of doing all the things that have been piling up on your to do list, try stopping just for a moment and providing them with the difference of their being able to work each day and sleep each night while you simply work better and have a preference to work harder and longer at a time, then resting longer. If we all keep an open mind and stray from making generalizations about “correct” behavior that we base on subjective interpretations and preferences, I believe bipolar disorder people will carve their own little niche in the world of work and productivity. Not only that, but I’m certain we’ll be admired and appreciated for our unique ability to work under differing conditions than have traditionally been accepted while still producing equally, if not superior, impressive and creative outcomes.