The Appearance of High-Functioning Bipolar Online

August 9, 2020 Natasha Tracy

Some with bipolar disorder appear high-functioning online. I'm one of them, according to some of those who follow me. But high-functioning bipolar online is not the same thing as high-functioning bipolar in life. Read on to learn about what high-functioning bipolar disorder really is and how it looks online and in-person.

What Is High-Functioning Bipolar?

High-functioning bipolar disorder refers to how well a person is able to deal with bipolar disorder and, in large part, mask its symptoms. A person with high-functioning bipolar disorder may have a family, have a job and appear quite well on the outside. The illness may still be present and even severe, but the person can deal with the bipolar symptoms very effectively.

There is no technical definition for the term "high-functioning" bipolar disorder, though, so how functional a person actually has to be to get the label of "high-functioning" is really in the eye of the beholder. One person may consider an individual high-functioning while others may disagree. Often, a person is considered to have high-functioning bipolar disorder simply if that person appears to function better than the person making the judgment. 

High-Functioning Bipolar Appearances

The thing about "high-functioning" bipolar disorder is that its determination is often made by others. In other words, you might look at someone and decide that person is or is not high-functioning based on what you have observed and your own set of rules. People's own determination of their own functioning might be quite different than yours, however.

High-Functioning Bipolar Appearance Online

As for me, I have been told I have high-functioning bipolar disorder based on how I appear online. It's true that I do a lot online, but it's also true that those functions are part of my job. I'm an independent contractor, and I do various things that predominantly get seen online. Everything from written articles to webinars to surveys to videos to social media and more are part of what I do for a living.

Fulfilling these job requirements may, de facto, mean I have high-functioning bipolar disorder to some. I'm okay with that.

But I have to tell you. That's not how I view myself. I view myself as, well, attempting-to-function, mostly. There are so many things I have issues with doing that "high-functioning" just feels like a joke. Watch this video for more about considering me to be high-functioning.

What I think is important to realize is that functioning is not a straight line. It's not an even layer. We all have things we can easily do to function, and we all have things that are much more difficult. For example, I brush and floss my teeth every night. However, I talked to someone with bipolar disorder who find that the hardest thing in the world. I, on the other hand, find showering, particularly washing my hair, extremely difficult. So the question becomes, can I possibly have high-functioning bipolar disorder if it practically takes a miracle for me to wash my hair? Does the person who finds brushing her teeth extremely difficult have low-functioning bipolar disorder based on that one thing?

That's an exercise left to the reader.

No matter what you decide, please remember that everyone is three-dimensional, and we all have parts of us that work properly and other parts of us that cause trouble and what you see may not be what that person is truly experiencing. For example, if you see a person with agoraphobia in the grocery store, that person may look like everyone else. However, that person may be close to having an anxiety attack with having to be there and you'd never know.

All of us with mental illness are adept at hiding symptoms. That's a life skill for us. So when you see what you consider to be high-functioning mental illness, consider for a moment what you don't see. Especially online, what you don't see is the majority of what the person really experiences.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2020, August 9). The Appearance of High-Functioning Bipolar Online, 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.

August, 14 2020 at 1:03 am

I too am considered to be high” functioning (as per my pdoc) but I can tell you with absolute certainty that’s a misnomer ‘cause it is definitely NOT my baseline or natural state. I really have to work at being (or appearing to be) functional. It’s absolutely exhausting. I often lie about how I am really doing. It’s a way of avoiding embarrassment or negative judgement, especially by others who don’t have a clue what it’s like to walk a mile in my shoes.

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