Work, School, and Stress – With Bipolar Disorder

Author: Matthew Palmieri



As someone suffering from a severe mood disorder, one of the hardest things to come to grips with is how stress with work and school impacts my ability to function on a day-to-day basis.

While I have had extended periods of stability, the effort it takes to achieve a proper balance is on-going and the chance of falling into another episode is always there, kept at bay with a holistic treatment plan including medication, exercise, therapy, regular sleep, and routine.

If I fall into a manic episode, I tend to gravitate towards goal-oriented activities, often trying to make up for lost time spent in depression.

While being in a manic state, I develop a kind of fervor for accomplishing important long and short term goals.

That being said, sometimes I just don’t have the clarity to see purpose in my work, forcing me to always think of the past and future, never quite settling into the moment and forgiving myself for my limitations.

On social media and within support groups, I see many others striving for the same thing — just wanting to be stable, to hold down a job or complete the degree they set out to accomplish.

So much of what we do is trying to prove our worth, to feel a sense of normalcy amidst the torrent of shifting moods. It’s often just us trying to prove it to ourself.

I do often see purpose in my artistic endeavors, however, but rarely feel a wholeness when I have to show up day in and day out for a job that pays my bills.

I think, there’s always a career out there that’ll complete me. An accomplishment waiting for me to achieve to reach a kind of solace for my efforts.

Academia and the Struggle for Stability

When I was in school, I was caught up in the cycle of always needing to focus on the next task, barely considering what was in front of me.

I juggled 3 part time jobs and maintained excellent grades but often at the cost of severe mental taxation.

I was often heartbroken, fidgety, on edge, and just unhappy.

I had music as an outlet and loved jamming with friends, playing shows and recording, but for every good show we had, there’d be one that put me in the dumps.

Although I was years away from getting a proper diagnosis, it’s clear to me as I look back that I was in a perpetual mixed state, constantly fighting my need to accomplish while both manic and depressed. I was often irritated, battling this depression cloaked in mania.

When I had downtime, I would numb my feelings with drugs and alcohol, convincing myself it was better to live in a haze than to confront my compulsion for always needing to be doing something, anything, but confronting how I really felt.

I was so caught up in being busy all the time, I never took the time to question my compulsion for always doing.

Mania ruled, fueling all my choices and keeping me in a cycle of despair.

I never gave myself time to stop, ponder and consider my lifestyle.

Why was I always needing to work so hard?

I’ve come to understand this may be a symptom of mania and classes were my outlet to vent.

Although I didn’t have my first full blown manic episode until my late 20s, I see the patterns and the seeds rooted in my behavior during my early and mid 20s.

I kept busy to avoid uncomfortable feelings.

The Hope

Coming to grips with the fact that even when I’m stable, mania and depression will always be lurking, can be both debilitating yet can also provide clarity for a more focused and attentive life.

9 years after my diagnosis, I started to dive into the available literature on bipolar symptoms and treatment with the same rigor I had while in school and working to find the right career path.

Without it, I’d be lost.

The greatest reward was learning the subtle and not so subtle symptoms to the illness that I had developed a kind of shame about, but were actually ‘normal’ to the bipolar experience.

Grandiosity, flight of ideas, irritability — symptoms I had experienced which I couldn’t quite come to terms with were common to the illness and that helped me develop a kind of checklist I could always refer back to if I found myself slipping.

I realized that there’s always a shadow to the illness and sometimes it’s about accepting that, embracing it, and educating myself on how vital it is to achieve stability.


The content of the International Bipolar Foundation blogs is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician and never disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read in any IBPF content.
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