High Functioning

I’ve been hearing a lot about the concept of “high functioning” lately (and no, that isn’t functioning while high).

“High functioning” is usually used to describe someone who has a developmental disability, mental disability, or addiction, who can (sometimes more than) excel in the the roles of society despite those setbacks. For example,

  • high functioning autism
  • high functioning bipolar disorder
  • or high functioning alcoholism

In some cases, like high functioning autism, this is a positive quality. In others, like high functioning alcoholism, it is considered negative (because it often perpetuates the alcoholism, the alcoholic doesn’t readily recognize they have a problem).

Last weekend my boss was urging me to consider what I plan on doing for the rest of my life. She doesn’t know that I have bipolar disorder, and that I spent 6 months in 2011 on disability, not working at all. At this point she is only familiar with the brief snippets of me that she has seen over the last two months, which led her to make the following conclusion at the end of one of her speeches:

“I would encourage you to get your real estate license, but I know the business is hard right now. You’d potentially have to spend a couple years as someone’s assistant, and you are way too intelligent for that. It would be a waste of your abilities.”

What that means is that my current job is also a “waste of my abilities” because I’m pretty much her assistant.

I am the sort of person who is constantly bobbing between a place where I am high-functioning and not functioning at all.

That’s one of the reasons why I haven’t even really thought about the future. Yes, I’d love a career, and given the opportunity to continue tapping into that intelligence she says is there, I know I would do better than succeed. Unfortunately, if time has taught me anything it has taught me that I can’t trust this. I have to be very careful when I make plans, because ultimately I don’t know if I’ll even get a chance to make it to the finish line.

It’s true that there have been periods (usually in school when there is a consistent schedule) of even years at a time where I have been able to keep up like this, but jobs have always been a different story.

I read somewhere that it is usually people who hang out in the more manic side of the spectrum that are high-functioning, and that would explain why things have been so easy lately. I don’t think it is necessarily that I am depressed often, but when it happens it is severe enough for everything to come crashing to a halt.

I don’t know that I’ve ever had so much positive feedback from one of my bosses before, and though I do appreciate her taking the time to care about my future I obviously can’t commit to anything. It’s like dating, and I’ve kind of just been having job one-night-stands. I simply can’t commit to anything more.

The part I find a little disconcerting is that the older I get, the more frequent this is happening. Being called out as having a job that is beneath me. My commitment-phobia becomes more transparent as time wears on, until it is bound to reach the point where people say,

“Oh yes, that Sarah. Wonderful smart girl, but there must be something wrong with her because she keeps dodging having a career!”

Stuffy old twats!

I’m sure something will work out somewhere down the line, and I feel surprisingly nonchalant about the whole thing lately.

3 responses to “High Functioning

  1. Yeah, having a career can be prestigious and makes great conversation at cocktail parties, but the flip side is that it can drive you to the hospital, too. That’s what it did to me. I certainly don’t want to discourage you if going for a career is what you really want to do. I held my own for 20 years. The best piece of advice I can give any BP is to be mindful of your condition, take those vacation days when you’re supposed to, don’t be afraid to call in ‘sick’ on the bad days and if you have to use FMLA, do it (the employers can’t ask you why you’re on leave, usually only the HR Department & insurance company has to know). I can tell by your posts you’re very intelligent and would do very well if you chose to go for a career if that’s what you really want. The best part is you have a choice. And there’s absolutely no shame in choosing to not follow a career path. Quite often the happiest people I meet are those who have chosen not to. 🙂

  2. Thank you but no, I am fully aware that I am definitely NOT able to have a career, at least not in the traditional sense. A lot of things would have to change significantly for that to work, like a miracle bipolar drug, perhaps?

    I like the idea of it, and I can imagine myself becoming immersed in a field, but I absolutely cannot tolerate the stress. I had no trouble getting a job in my field after getting my degree in fashion design, but I only lasted a year and a half before I had a meltdown, and now completely despise the fashion industry.

    Sticking it out for 20 years, kudos! I’m pretty certain that in the last 4 years I’ve held 12 different jobs. My mindfulness of my condition is exactly why I know I’m not able to have a career, but I’ve finally reached the point where I’ve begun to accept it.

  3. I feel like I could have written most of this. Nobody can grasp why I won’t go back and get a degree, why I no longer see the point in that. I also have the issue of many simply not believing there could be anything that badly wrong with me if I can hold down a job and what appears to be a normal, stable life.

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