Bipolar Disorder, Chronic Illness, and Spinning Plates: Fighting to do Everything

The struggle to find balance with bipolar disorder.
A man struggling to keep all his plates spinning. | Graphic made by author with Canva.

My goal for Speaking Bipolar is to write informative and helpful posts. I want to help start conversations, give validation, and create empathy. But living with bipolar disorder means plans sometimes change.

Periodically, I also write posts for myself. These stories are my chance to vent, say the ugly things tormenting my mind, and whine about having a chronic illness.

This is one of those posts. You have been warned.

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Pain Every Stinkin’ Day

Besides living with bipolar disorder, I also fight daily with Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF). Reading online, I’ve found wonderful stories about patients who take colchicine, the primary medication prescribed for FMF, and how they live full and relatively symptom-free lives.

Then there are others, myself included, who receive only minimal benefit from the medication. We see some decrease in pain, but it never goes away completely.

Most days, I can stay upbeat. I have much less stomach pain since starting colchicine, so I try to cling to the good and be grateful.

The FMF attacks never stop. I run a low-grade fever most days, and body pain is my constant companion. Sometimes the chronic aches push me close to the edge, and it’s so tempting to jump.

There’s a reason torturers use pain to extort information. Nothing rattles your mind more than persistent pain. This is especially true if the pain keeps you from sleeping.

What really stinks is the painful nights are usually worst when bipolar decides to give me a break. The throbbing pain robs my one chance at a full night’s sleep while my mind is quiet.

FMF and bipolar work hard at torturing me, but I persist. It’s kind of like spinning plates.

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Spinning Plates

So what do spinning plates have to do with living with bipolar disorder or chronic illness? It’s a perfect word picture for how I feel most days. Let me explain where the idea started.

In January 2018, I left a stressful job to work from home. I loved working from home. I mean I really, really loved working from home. It’s a change I should have made years before.

Working as a freelancer gave me the freedom to work more on the days I felt good and rest more on the worse days. The luxury of being able to lie down when I needed to was exactly what I needed at the time.

In my desire to make sure I had enough work, I signed up with several freelance companies. I also started this blog and a dozen other writing projects.

Having so many irons in the fire meant I frequently bounced from job to job. Typically, I would work for 2-3 companies in the course of a day. Sometimes more. One job even forced me to multitask because I had to log in to start a task and then wait an hour to finish it. I struggled most with remembering to go back to finish it.

As much as I enjoyed working at home, working for five companies overwhelmed me. I spent so much time reading company guidelines that I had too little time to actually produce paid work.

The chaos made me think about spinning plates. Besides work, I also had a house to clean, laundry to do, food shopping and cooking, and yard work. January is the only month I rarely spend time in the yard. The rest of the year, I’ve got something to do all the time.

Since then, my parents need more help with their daily lives, adding even more plates for me to spin. When I felt I was succeeding in one area, such as keeping the lawn mowed, other plates crashed from neglect. Usually the falling plates were cleaning and laundry, which only added to my stress because I hate dirty things.

Life is a constant struggle to keep your plates spinning.

A man trying to balance on a large wood beam. | Graphic made by author with Canva.

Balancing Act

Balance is especially vital when you are living with bipolar disorder or another chronic illness. It’s a lesson I keep learning the hard way.

I quit the freelancing life after a year and went back to work in an office. While I miss working from home, it’s nice to leave work in a place more than 10 feet from my bedroom. Going to work outside the house again helped me return to balance.

I’d love to tell you achieving balance was super easy. The bipolar brain, or at least my bipolar brain, has two settings.

One, I can do everything for everyone. I don’t need to eat or sleep. Saying, “No,” is not an option. (Also known as mania.)

Two, I can’t do anything. Taking a shower requires too much effort. Getting dressed is too hard. I feel too stupid or unreliable to be of any help to anyone. I slip into darkness and spend all day in bed. If I venture out away from home, I pick up comfort food, like a dozen hot Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Then, for the next week, I hate myself for eating them all. (Also known as depression.)

Happily, my brain rarely slips into stage two. Most days, I am on a sliding scale somewhere between one and two.

Balance is Good

Balance is good. I have to remind myself of that. Part of me loves mania. The energy, the clarity, the creativity: there are so many “gifts” from mania.

But mania is only fun at the beginning and always comes with a price. The longer the manic episode, the more painful the price. When I feel myself revving up into mania, I consciously slow everything down. I know the damage a manic episode can cause, so I force myself back to some semblance of stability.

There are always enough plates spinning. I don’t need to add more, and that’s all mania wants to do.

Hard as it is sometimes, it’s okay to say no. Guilt is inevitable, but that’s okay, too. Guilt won’t kill you. Doing too much might.

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Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables is probably most famous for saying, “Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it.”

Words to live by.

Plates may fall. Some may break. Some may never spin again, but tomorrow is still a new day.

So tonight I will throw myself a pity party. I’ll whine about my body’s aches and pains and embrace the emotional turmoil making me irritable. With defiance, I’ll finish the box of doughnuts so there is no more to tempt me.

Tomorrow the sun will come up. I will smile and carry on.

If I can keep just one plate spinning, then I have accomplished something. Even one plate deserves a celebration.

Tomorrow is a new day. Happy spinning!

Until next time, keep fighting.

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    1. I have, yes. In fact, I refer to in in my post about chronic illness. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  1. “Don’t Let Yesterday Take Up Too Much Of Today.” – Will Rogers

    Nice blog and your posts are well written. Thank you for following BrewNSpew.

    1. That’s a great quote. Thank you for commenting. I really enjoyed visiting your site.

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