Bipolar and Managing Extreme All-or-Nothing Behaviors

November 20, 2015 Natasha Tracy

All-or-nothing and extreme behaviors are common with bipolar. But how does one manage with extreme behaviors or all-or-nothing behaviors in bipolar?

People with bipolar disorder often have extreme behaviors that personify the “all-or-nothing” school of thought. This thinking is pretty self-explanatory: either you do everything or you do nothing but never anything in between. For example, you become the most health-conscious person and eat only lettuce and chicken breast while running every day or you sit on your couch, Netflix-binging and eating ice cream. Either you have a relationship with the most beautiful person with every-second fireworks and storybook romance or you refuse relationships entirely. I am guilty of bipolar all-or-nothing, extreme behaviors/thinking, often according to mood, but I do try to manage them.

Bipolar and Extreme Dietary Behaviors

I am one of those people that can go from eating virtually nothing and counting every calorie to eating Ben and Jerry’s on a daily basis. I have those kind of extreme all-or-nothing eating behaviors. Some people might call that binging and purging a la bulimia, but I wouldn’t classify myself as such. I would just say that I have a problem with extreme, dietary behaviors, likely related to the bipolar. I am hardly the only person in this group – bipolar or not. (Note: if having bulimia is even a possibility for you, you should talk to a professional as eating disorders can be deadly.)

Bipolar and Extreme Sexual Behaviors

Similarly, I tend to have extreme all-or-nothing sexual behaviors, too. Either the sex I have is so intense and kinky that it causes a massive rush of endorphins and adrenaline or I sort of don’t want to bother at all. (And I’m not talking about hypersexuality due to hypomania, either. That's a whole other kettle of behavior.) And I could come up with many more examples. Moderation, it seems, it just not my thing.

Are All-or-Nothing Behaviors in Bipolar Mandatory?

But seriously, does everything have to be an obsession? Does everything have to be black or white? Does everything have to be on or off?

Well, if you were to ask my brain, clearly the answer would be “yes” but my more rational mind, of course, knows that the answer is “no.”

Managing All-or-Nothing, Extreme Behaviors in Bipolar

I think the first step is trying to managing extreme bipolar all-or-nothing behaviors is to recognize them. Do a reality check on yourself. Is what you’re doing reasonable? Are you comfortable with your behavior? Is your behavior hurting yourself or others?

Then, once you’ve determined you’ve got a problem, you’ve got to come up with a solution and if moderation isn’t your thing naturally, then maybe you can use your wiser mind to overlay moderation on top of extreme behaviors and thoughts. This does take work and mindfulness.

All-or-nothing and extreme behaviors are common with bipolar. But how does one manage with extreme behaviors or all-or-nothing behaviors in bipolar?For example, when you’re eating, you can ask yourself if this is a reasonable meal for someone of your body type and activity level. Are you possibly overeating or undereating? If that’s the case, can you gently modify that behavior slightly? And I’m talking about slightly here. Don’t swing from one end of the spectrum to the other; (again, extreme) just try to change things a bit. Maybe eat a bit less ice cream. Maybe go for a walk. Maybe incorporate a starch with a meal if you’re undereating. And so on.

What I know is that people with bipolar are a people of extremes in so many ways, so remember, trying to impose some perfect model of moderation is going to drive you as mad as living in the extremes, so just make small adjustments towards the middle. No one’s perfect and your inclinations are your inclinations. As long as you can honestly say you’re not hurting yourself or someone else and you’re making progress, then you’re making positive changes that, hopefully, will come more naturally in the future (actions do tend to build our habits).

Image care of Flickr user Paul.Klintworth.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or Google+ or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter or at Bipolar Burble, her blog.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2015, November 20). Bipolar and Managing Extreme All-or-Nothing Behaviors, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 19 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

sweet c
October, 31 2019 at 12:00 am

My Boyfriend is very unpredictable. If everything is going his way and I have no opinion on anything I'm all good but the moment I do I'm the worst.....He goes from saying I'm gonna marry you and we can try to have a baby and I'm the best thing in the world for him and his daughter one week. The next week we have a conflict of opinion on something and we need to figure something out cause this isnt working.....As soon as the boat rocks from a little wind hes ready to jump ship.....I feel desperate for answers on how to handle this behavior. If I bring up that this is manic behavior or extreme to go loving me so much to just going our separate ways in one week is obsessive he blames me and turns it all around.

August, 27 2019 at 2:21 pm

My boyfriend of 7 years is like this, and I always find myself trying to find answers for his odd behavior. I do point it out to him, and he even admits his “all or nothing” tendencies – but doesn’t do much to prevent it. Finally he’s a bit better with food – not binge eating whole boxes of doughnuts or mac & cheese like he used to. Now, he actually enjoys healthy balanced meals.
The main problems come with alcohol and periods of activity vs inactivity. I enjoy having some drinks a few times a week, but would be perfectly happy with 3-4. However he says he’ll have a few, then proceeds to have 7-8, at which point he begins talking incessantly and has these crazed bursts of verbal & mental energy that can last for several hours. Sometimes it turns into pointless anger, where he barely even makes sense. Then he will insist he isn’t tired, but if I pretend to fall asleep, he is also asleep in a few seconds. I then need to spend the next hour decompressing my own brain to “come down” from all of his babbling, which has completely drained me.
With activity, he will definitely do the whole “work like a maniac or lay on the couch all day” thing. Doesn’t matter if it’s cooking, mowing the lawn, doing dishes, or knocking out a wall… it will be furious crazed constant activity, or nothing. It stresses me out when he’s active, because it’s usually all about getting it done fast, so he doesn’t pay attention to details. I’m always afraid he’ll run over the lawn mower cord or injure himself. We want to start working out, and that’s also scary. He SAYS he gets that he has to start slow and work his way up. In reality, am betting he’ll go full force, injure himself, and have an excuse to not work out for the next 6 months – or maybe ever, because… remember, that one time?
He also uses drinking as a reward, so each time he does do something productive, he feels the need to drink excessively to relax and reward himself. Sure, this is normal after very hard work – I enjoy it too. But it’s gotten to the point where things like going to the grocery store, or folding some laundry warrant drinking to oblivion. It gets so tiring to deal with, and I worry for his health!! It also takes a toll on my mental health, and my normally balanced productivity levels - but it all feels very out of my control. For him to stop this, HE has to want it to stop.

June, 5 2017 at 1:48 pm

I was pleased to find the article and the comments as I was struggling to understand the behaviour of my bipolar ex daughter-in-law. For seven years she had a loving relationship with my son. During this time she seemed to be the most 'lovely' person. I wondered how she could be so positively 'lovely' to us and her many friends. Then just over a year ago, following three suicidal episodes, she completely changed. She blamed my son for her problems and tried to destroy him in the courts with lies and delusions. I can honestly say I have never come across anyone who was so 'evil'. I think this post about extremes perhaps explains it to some degree. I wonder if anyone else thinks this may be the case.

September, 9 2016 at 4:32 pm

I was diagnosed bipolar II about a year ago after living with this "version of myself" since I was probably about 15. I'm now 30 so wow.. That's literally half my life. I started hating myself and everyone when I was young. Mostly my dad because he was abusive and honestly I was terrified of him. I was afraid for him to come home from work because I didn't know which version of him I would get.. Usually it was rage, yelling, verbal and physical abuse.. I moved out when I was 17 because I couldn't take living there anymore. I'd go from relationship to relationship, whatever I could do to fill this infillable void.. I started cutting when I was 15 and by the time I was 20 I had cut myself so deep I had to rush to the ER to get stitches in two different cuts on my arm. I could see parts of my arm that no one should ever see. I remember my mom hovering over me in tears asking if it was her fault (she had left my dad just a few weeks prior to this incident).. That day I swore to myself I'd never cut again. That was 10 years ago. I've "scratched" here and there but never anywhere close to what happened that day. I moved away that year (2006) to go to college in PA, 14 hours away from my hometown. It was the first time I was out in the world all by myself. I should add that I started hating my body and restricting my food intake when I was around 17 and my mom always said "it's just a phase".. Well once I was out on my own, I hit rock bottom (well the rock bottom at the time. There have been plenty more since!). I hadn't eaten hardly anything at all for 2 weeks and was basically living on coffee and cigarettes. I was in class (in PA) and I blacked out and fell on the floor in front of everyone. The one friend I had there knew what was going on with me and grabbed my arm and said "we're going to the treatment center and getting you help. We drove to Pittsburg and I was admitted into an eating disorder treatment center there based on my low weight and even lower heart rate. It was the worst 2 weeks of my life. I felt like I was in prison.. That was in 2007. I (by the grace of God and because my teachers loved me) graduated in early 2008 and moved back home to AL. Got a job in MS a few months later so moved there. I got to work with amputees, making prosthetics! It was the job of my dreams!!! I cried myself to sleep so many nights just because I was so so incredibly happy!! I ended up falling for a guy I worked with and we got engaged shortly after. I then realized he was a raging alcoholic who was also cheating on me so after only a year in MS working at my dream job, I had no choice but to move back home, I had no family or friends there to keep me sane while all this was happening. When I found out he was cheating I went into shock and he had to call an ambulance to come and give me oxygen. So I moved back home.. Again.. Then a few months later moved to TN to live with my best friend who I ended up falling in love with and dated her for about a year. Things fell apart (as they usually do when you're sick) so once again I moved back home. Failure after failure, picking up the pieces from each of the lives I created for myself and then tore down like Godzilla on steroids... I was/am definitely all or nothing. In every aspect you can imagine. I'd take any drug, have sex with anyone that made me feel less invisible, do anything, say anything, I was a train wreck to put it politely... Finally after all this, I reunited with my good friend from high school 10 years after we met and we fell in love immediately. Got married in Nov 2013, had a beautiful daughter in April 2015, and here I am now. I was diagnosed Bipolar II last October (2015). Put on Paxil and Lamictol and Clonipin for my anxiety. Also Adderall for my ridiculous lack of concentration, memory, and energy. I'm back down to a dangerously low weight, and to the point where I'm not sure what my main illness is. Is it anorexia? Self-hatred? Self-harm? Manic depression, mood disorder, Bipolar? All those questions alone would drive a sane person completely mad! I'm a firm believer in the Lord and even lead worship at my church for 4-5 years now. So thankful for the grace and acceptance that church has shown me after knowing everything about me. I've said and done some horrible things even since I've been married. I had an affair a few months ago with a lying, stealing junkie.... I did this to the man I love with no remorse because it "seemed like a good idea at the time." I'm incapable of stepping back and seeing what's real and true when I'm in the moment of manic insaneness!! It's killing me. I broke his heart and he planned to not only divorce me but get full custody of my daughter. THAT was my rock bottom. I had just lost everything good in my life by one stupid decision that this "other version of me" decided was a good idea. I don't want to live like this anymore.. I'm on medication and I'm aware of my sickness and I have been/am praying for this to stop but the one thing I can't bring myself to pray for is my eating disorder. It's like a person. Like a friend, a constant in my life when everything else is spinning out of control. I don't want it to stop but I know I'm hurting everyone around me and I'm starving my brain and just becoming even more absent minded and stupid. I know this is a dead end road that will only end one way but why don't I want it to stop??? I'm a Christian and I love people so much. I'd do anything for anyone but I just can't learn to love myself that way. And honestly there have been days where if it weren't for my incredible blessing of a daughter I probably wouldn't even be here typing this right now. I immediately ran to my pastor with all this when my husband wanted to leave me and it's seriously by the GRACE of GOD that we are still together today and working harder than ever at fixing all that's been broken. The power of true, honest prayer and repentance is the most amazing thing I've ever experienced. Anyway I guess the moral of the story is... It's a shit storm and every wave we conquer is a success. Every time you feel like giving up, remember why you've help on for so long. No one who hasn't been where we are could ever understand. It's painful, scary, and there's nothing worse than being unpredictable to even yourself! Hang in there, friends! Deep breaths. Meditation, faith, prayer, and maybe a few glasses of wine ;]

January, 20 2016 at 6:41 am

My all or nothing is either being incredibly dedicated to my job or walking away with a big explosion. I'm on three years at my current job, which is a record for me. But the extremes are so frequent that I'm not sure what's going to happen.

January, 9 2016 at 3:06 am

I just came across this blog, and after reading all the responses, I had to respond to Gale. I don't even know if she'll see this, but I hope so.
Gale, I'm a bipolar woman and I've lived a very difficult, painful life. I am relatively stable on medication today. But when I read about your husband, I had only one thought:
Run. Leave the man. Seriously. I have been the kind of crazy he is. I have hurt the people I love. And if I hadn't gotten on meds, I wouldn't have blamed people for leaving me, too.
Gale, if he won't get help, then YOU must get help, for yourself. Leave him. See a psychologist. Your life has meaning and value. You don't deserve to live in a bipolar hell. If your husband isn't even trying to get help, then it's time for you to take control of your own life, your own feelings. It's okay for you to take care of yourself. It's okay for you to do the right thing for yourself.
I support those wonderful family members who stick by us bipolars, and the only thing we (as crazy people) can do to repay that love and kindness is to get on meds, to get a good healthy sleep schedule, to manage our moods and behavior. I am blessed to have such people in my life.
Gale, you are a kind, loving person who has given so much. Your husband is not giving you the loving support that YOU require - taking care of himself.
You're not a bad person for the feelings you have for him. You are not a bad person for leaving, either.
Take care of YOURSELF. It's like they say on the airplane: You can't help others until you put your own oxygen mask on. Take care of you, Gale. You've done so much for so long. It's your turn now.
I wish you love.

December, 2 2015 at 6:41 am

I am dealing with a husband who has undiagnoised bi-polar, I believe it is cycling just by reading these posts from others. He can't keep a job and has just lost a good paying job. He has always wanted me to stay home and take care of the kids and house, which I have with brief periods of jobs because of him not working due to his mental state. Kids are grown now and I feel as though I have lost myself through all we have been through. I no longer want to be there to do damage control for him, as I feel this will go on as long as he is alive. I have lost all the love and respect I had for him, most of the time I just feel sorry for him and don't know what to do. Thanks for letting me vent!

Live & Learn
November, 29 2015 at 1:01 pm

It seems like such an ingrained thing with me that I have a hard time remembering when my behaviour wasn't all or nothing. Many people over the years have even joked to me about it.
I think extreme behaviours are a natural extension of being bipolar. Before medication I was either manic or depressed, up or down, etc
There seemed to be no middle ground.
Mood stabilizers, etc help to even things out but not when I refuse to take them...
I was feeling much better in the Spring/Summer and weaned myself off some of the medications to see if I could manage with less or in some cases none. It turned out I couldn't.
The mania kinda snuck up on me but I didn't realize it until I was going days on only 3 hour of sleep a night, but not feeling the least bit tired, and ringing up over $1,000 on my monthly cell phone bill. Luckily I had the sense to go back on the medication and ask for help. I was only on maintenance at the time I cut back so I had to be honest with my pdoc and he raised my meds. Slowly things are starting to even out again.
Live and learn

November, 29 2015 at 12:51 pm

Dear Joy,
I am a 40 year old mother of four, so my heart goes out to you. My husband has rapid cycling bipolar disorder. We did not know this when we got married, and we have had a very difficult marriage because of his symptoms. Before diagnosis, we dealt with lying, sneaking, spending, obsessing, irrational rage, sleeping all day, quitting jobs, and the list goes on, as I'm sure you know. I think rapid cycling is the hardest to stay on top of, but there is hope. We have been married for 17 years now, and we desperately do not want to become a statistic. Some days I hate him. Some days I honestly feel like living with him is literally driving me insane. HOWEVER, I love him. I am doing my best to stay committed to this marriage, and remember that our struggles are because of an illness. I write to you because I want to encourage you. It is possible to have a lasting relationship, and happy family.
YOU CAN GET LEVEL. It just takes time and persistence. If your doctor has not prescribed meds that work, see someone else, try different meds until you find one (or more) that work. You need to deal with the depression because you have kids who rely on you. Once you get out of that low, you will be more motivated to tackle the mania. Take one step at a time. Yes, you would feel a lot better with a routine, but start with one thing. Set a bedtime. If nothing else, go to bed around the same time every night. Your sleep schedule is sooo important. When you conquer that, add a regular wake-up time. Or cut naps. One step at a time, one day at a time.
I'm going to pray for strength and courage for you, my sister in Christ. I do not believe I came across your post by accident tonight. You may be mad at God, but He understands and has not left you. I will pray you feel His peace tonight.

November, 29 2015 at 2:04 am

Hello I'm a 36 year old mother of four. I'm falling into pieces. I have rapid cycling bipolar ll . Every relationship I have fails I'm short with my children I'm always depressed. I think maybe I need lithium.I don't know how to live anymore. I need a routine but can't manage to make one. Id love to do inpatient but can't afford it and have Medicaid. I can't hold a job I feel I have the worst luck ever. I'm riddled with pain from this and arthritis.I'm so lost. I try to believe in Christ but I end up hating him. I don't know what to do anymore but I can't go on like this anymore something has to change.

November, 28 2015 at 4:44 am

Hi, Natasha,
I used to do the same thing with food and exercise. I was either eating without limits, especially at night, or dieting and exercising. I never could sustain either state.
Starting in September 2014 I realized that my eating was out of control. I was also angry most of the time. I had to go for long walks just to alleviate the anger. Every day I'd try not to overeat, but I'd do it anyway. I just couldn't stop. So, I joined a particular group, and I've been a member ever since.
I want to share my experience: There are some things I can't stop eating. When I stopped eating those foods, I started feeling my emotions. It was unpleasant, but I hung in there. Then, one day, about 3 weeks in, I noticed that my moods had really stabilized. It's like the food plan, not a diet, was the most powerful and consistent mood stabilizer I had ever taken. I didn't feel angry any more.
I've been through multiple traumas, including my son's mental illness diagnosis after a dramatic demonstration of depression. I haven't eaten over any of it.
My medication had to increase, and another one was added because I'm now in a bipolar depression, characterized by massive anger--not a big surprise. I used to think, well I'll gain weight because that's a side effect, and I've already given up so much. I wouldn't stop eating.
I have since learned that, at least for me, the hunger side effect goes away after a few days if I just stick to my plan.
The mood effect of food was a huge surprise to me. Like I said, I just wanted to share my experience, strength, and hope.

Leave a reply