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  • Writer's pictureSarah Dionne

What it's Like Living with Bipolar II and OCD

Note: This blog is about my experience living with Bipolar II and ocd. All people's experiences with these illnesses are unique. If you or someone you love is dealing with mental illness and struggling, supporting them to seek help is vital. Yet, please support them with both urgency and compassion. This entry is to provide insight, yet is not meant to be used as professional advice.

I remember thinking some time ago what it might be like to not have bipolar and ocd. It was hard to imagine since I've never experienced anything else. However, it did make me a bit envious, imagining that many people live freely from obsessive thoughts or swings from hypo mania to episodes of depression.

Yet, If I don't fully understand what it's like to NOT have these illnesses, it makes sense that others don't understand what it's like to live with them. It is vital that we understand one another so that we can live compassionately together and give one another the support we need.

So I thought I'd explain as best I can what it's like for me to live with bipolar II and ocd as a busy mother, full time psychotherapist and business owner, wife, daughter of aging parents, sister...the many roles so many of fill every day.

Filling so many roles is stressful for anyone.

There's so much to do on any given day, jumping through the hoops of life, which is not only physically draining but emotionally taxing. Approaching these things with mental illness doesn't simply add another hoop to jump through. Sometimes it can put a mountain right smack in the middle of the day that you have to climb while jumping through the hoops.

However, and thankfully, it's not like this every day. I do go through periods that feel much easier, maybe it's just a hill to climb rather than a mountain.

So what exactly do I mean by these mountains or hills...

One of my biggest issues with both bipolar and my type of ocd (there are many) is organization. In fact, bipolar is very similar to adhd. The two can be so similar at times they can be miss-diagnosed. I will write a separate entry on this because it's actually a common issue and one that can be extremely detrimental.

My brain does not organize the way many brains do. This affects time management, office organization, managing my schedule (if it's not in my calendar it does not exist), and much, more.

Losing things is a huge problem for me. So often I will have something in my hand and, moments later, it's gone and I have no clue where it went. During periods when my illness is very active this gets much, much more frequent and so annoying.

You might think that ocd should makes me a good organizer, but this is simply a stereotype of what ocd is. In fact, hoarding is a type of ocd. I do not struggle with hoarding, but getting rid of unnecessary things can be a challenge because I worry that I'll need it in the future.

My ocd is obsessive, repetitive, intrusive unwanted thoughts. For me, this mostly centers around people I love and manifests by checking on people I'm worried about. Most days I'm able to ride out the thoughts with very little checking, however scary it feels. This is very distracting from the to-do's of the day. When my ocd is very active it makes organization feel close to impossible.

Imagine getting through a busy day filled with things to attend to and complete all while managing overwhelming thoughts and experiences. This is only one ledge on my mountain. It is a mental juggling act, an exhausting, constant awareness of how I'm doing, talking myself off the ledge, reality checking my fears, all while attending to life responsibility.

Another ledge on my mountain...

Another way bipolar affects me is hyper-focus during periods of hypo-mania or severe anxiety. This makes me overly invested in one project, pushing everything else aside. When the hypo-mania passes, it's easy to lose focus. Today I'm aware of this and I'll notice when my focus is waning. I'll put enormous effort into finishing projects regardless if I'm interested or not. This sounds easy, but trust's not.

This kind of hyper-focus can be frustrating to family members who need me to also attend to things like chores, making dinner and other tasks. It's not a choice to have hyper-focus. Pulling myself a way is a sheer act of will that I'm getting much better at. Then, when the focus has waned, this is also frustrating to those around me. I may leave something and totally forget about it, caught up in the next thing. This is still a struggle for me, walking away from something half way through. Yet, with awareness and practice, it's continuously improving.

Waves of anxiety and periods of dreaded depression...

I go through waves of anxiety and periods of depression, both of these can be paralyzing. Depression is like a massive pool of mud. When it's active, I have to wade through the pool to do anything at all...showering, cooking, paperwork, paying's all floating in that sea that feels close to cement at times.

While the anxiety can feel the same, it also brings feelings of doom and ebbs close to panic, though I thankfully don't have panic attacks. It makes me want to sit still and do nothing to avoid these experiences. This is simply not an option in my life, yet every activity can feel hard, even scary at times.

This can be my day to day...but isn't always so bad...

These problems are the most prevalent when my illnesses are very active. When they are well managed, my world can get closer to typical. My management includes medication, routine, exercise, eating as well as I can and lots of sleep. However, I'm not perfect and I'm not always exercising as much as I'd like to be or eating as well as I'd like. So, the fact is that my most vital skill is compassion.

I hold love for myself no matter what.

My illnesses have been very active for the last several months. Getting medication right has been touch and go to say the least. This means everything has been off...exercise, eating, things I usually's all been tough.

This leads me to something important to know about people living with mental illness...exercise, sunlight, healthy food may keep us from falling into an abyss, but often times they don't help all that much. In fact, doing them can feel painful.

I do believe it's important to push ourselves to a point. For me, Going to the gym or getting on my Yoga mat have felt impossible, what I do find more tolerable are walks in the woods with my dog. So that's what I do.

Sometimes we just have to find a balance, something that will be doable until we get to the other side of a hard period of time. And it's okay to not enjoy it. I usually love walks with my dog...but right now I can only tolerate it. That's really hard because I want to enjoy it.

Here's again where compassion steps in. It's okay to be where I am, to not be doing it all. To be at the bare minimum and just tolerating it. This will pass. We will make it to the other side.

My reality is that I've lived with these issues all my life and my greatest strength has been determination. I refuse to let these illnesses destroy my life. I am perseverant and have used sheer will many times in my life to get through. I have always held hope for the rising sun on the outside of that mountain, and I've always found it. Yet, sometimes it's taken months and months.

Please know that those of us living with mental illness and also achieving our goals are working ten times as hard to get there. This is my truth and the truth of so many other people I know like me.

I hope this was helpful...

I hope this gave you some insight into the challenges those of us face living with bipolar and/or ocd. I hope that it will allow you to feel compassion when your friend or loved one is struggling and just can't do what they typically do. I also hope that, if you are suffering, you are able to give yourself some compassion for when your mountain is smack in the middle of your day. You're mountains are real, and we are capable of climbing them.


Sarah Dionne is a licensed psychotherapist, Ayurvedic nutritionist and light worker in Halifax, Massachusetts. Learn more about Sarah.

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