Bipolar Disorder and Focus Problems: How Do You Do it Julie?

rows tulipsHere is a reader question from Michelle. She asks important questions. How DO we get through the days, weeks, months and years when we have focus problems because of bipolar disorder! (By the way, writing this felt like going to the dentist!)


Hi Julie!

Can you please tell me how you are consistently productive and living with bipolar disorder?
I too, am a writer, and I start projects, but can’t finish them. I have boundless energy for awhile, then I crash. I can’t commit to making long term projects with people because I can’t depend on myself that I can follow through. Where do you get your energy? How do you manage on a daily basis? I wake up each day not knowing how I am going to feel. I have to live day by day, and it sucks. Any positive feedback and/or advice would be greatly appreciated.


Hi Michelle,

Thanks for your question- to be honest, I go through everything you describe above- and I go through it every single day. My life changed when I learned to work as much as possible despite all of the bipolar symptoms. I created my Health Cards Treatment Plan for Bipolar Disorder in 1999. I have used the system every day for ten years- that taught me how to manage the illness. I learned what triggers most of my mood swings and how I have to take care of myself in order to be well enough to function. Without the Health Cards, I would not be able to work or have stable relationships. They saved my life. But, there are days when sticking to my plan feels impossible. I work though a haze of a mud bath where each step takes all of my energy.

Having a system doesn’t take away the illness. I agree with you, it’s exhausting. But, what matters is that we DO get things done.

It may seem like I really have bipolar disorder taken care of, but I still live with strong and constant bipolar disorder symptoms- today for example: I got up and had a hard time focusing on what I    (this is hilarious- I just went back to read this and see that I just left this sentence hanging!)

I want to write a blog every day, but wow, I’m lucky if I do one once a week.

I’ve learned to compare myself ONLY to others with bipolar disorder. If I compare myself to those without the illness, I will be a wreck.

I realized one day- with perfect clarity- that I didn’t want bipolar disorder to control my life. I did everything possible to change what was making me more ill. I had to find my triggers and reduce them or stop them. Then I kept trying meds until I found ones that work at the lowest doses possible.

On some days it’s so hard I actually have panic attack symptoms when I try to write.  On most days I just keep on trucking!

I could go on and on here- but my biggest piece of advice is to focus on the outcome of a project. If you focus on the project itself you will get overwhelmed. I know that if I stay here I will not only get work done, I will feel better when I do go see friends later this evening. This is all explained in my book Get it Done When You’re Depressed: 50 Strategies for Keeping Your Life on Track.

All of your excellent questions are answered in my books with a lot more detail- these are big questions so I can’t do them justice here. All people with bipolar disorder have them. I’ve managed to create a life where I can get things done because I use my own work on a daily basis. It’s already written down so I don’t have to constantly try new things.

boy focusI am sometimes so anxious – my focus is that of a seven year old! I’m staring and this and then I realize I’m not even looking at the page. I’m in some kind of catatonic fugue. But I will keep going because I know what outcome I want for today. I know you can do the same. It takes time. I’ve been using my system for 15 years – it’s fully in place now with myself and all of the people in my life. I’m here at a coffee shop writing this– I almost quit many times. I know that I want to have a new blog post and to do that I have to keep sitting DOWN.

Thanks again for your question. You can be a professional writer- it just takes a plan you can use every day! I wrote my first book at age 33- I used to start and stop projects and wonder why I was such a failure- when I realized it was bipolar disorder and that managing the illness helped my writing, I started to have success.

Accepting New Family Member and Partner Coaching Clients

b father

Over five years ago, I started coaching partners and family members of people with bipolar disorder as an addition to my writing career.

I never thought I would find work that I enjoy as much as I enjoy coaching. I feel at home with the parents and partners as I have been where they are- and I remain calm during the crises that many of my clients are going through while we are working together. Bipolar disorder is like a puzzle. It’s not always easy to find the right pieces on your own. It helps to have a coach as a guide.

My coaching practice has room for new clients. I take new clients about once a month-and then help them as best I can. It’s a partnership that saves relationships and often lives.

Coaching is not for everyone, but if you are concerned about your relationship with a person with bipolar disorder, it may be a good fit for you. The following link will tell you more. I look forward to talking.

Julie Fast Family and Partner Coaching



PS: My work often involves custody cases, helping loved ones get into the hospital, problems with loved ones who have a pot problem and many more situations that require extreme discretion.


Bipolar Disorder Agitated Mania/Dysphoric Mania

MANIC-PANIC-onlyThe main difference between Bipolar I and Bipolar II is the type of mania. Bipolar I has full blown mania- Bipolar II has hypomania. Bipolar II never has full blown mania- if it happens, the diagnosis is changed to Bipolar I. People with Bipolar I can definitely get hypomanic as well as fully manic!

Euphoric and dysphoric mania…..

There are two types of mania seen in both Bipolar I and Bipolar II : euphoric mania and dysphoric mania . Euphoric is just like it sounds. Dysphoric is harder to understand as we are not used to the word! Dysphoric mania means agitated mania. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling!

There is a lot of mental and physical agitation with dysphoric mania , but a person in this mood swing can be very aggressive and even violent. There are always sleep problems – the person looks haggard and worn out. They may sweat a lot and can look pretty wild in the face. I went through this with my former partner Ivan. He was in a dysphoric mania/psychotic episode for three months. He doesn’t get euphoric mania.

Whew. This illness is very complicated. If you have bipolar disorder, what kind of mania do you experience the most? If you care about someone with the illness, how would you describe their mania?

I have bipolar II hypomania. I mainly dealt with euphoric mania from age 17 until I was in my 40s. Then the dysphoric mania hit me hard! I force myself to get help when the euphoric mania is here.   It’s hard to ask for help during dysphoric mania as you feel like everyone else is the problem.

It takes a lot of practice and self awareness to acknowledge and get help for bipolar mania!


Tips to Talk with Kids about Bipolar Disorder and Life in General

david julie selfie 2014Here’s a pic from last summer. I’m lying on the hammock with the greatest person I have ever met in my life- my nephew David.

He has taught me so much.

He turned 13 this year and the inevitable changes are happening in our relationship. When he turned 11, I started talking with him about the changes he would experience as he became a teenager so that I could prepare myself for when nights at home with Auntie Wee  would not be a priority.

I believe we can talk to kids from a very young age about emotions and behaviors so that they can learn empathy, compassion, self belief and personal strength as they get older. I started teaching David about bipolar disorder when he was four. I wanted him to understand his Auntie Wee even if he could not intellectually express what he was seeing- I knew the emotions were there and that he would need to know why there were some days where I talked like a Tasmania devil and on others I had trouble getting out of bed.

He tells me now that all of the talk about my illness helped.

We were in Starbucks last week and had the following conversation:

Julie (also known as Auntie Wee): David, have you noticed that you don’t want to spend as much time with me as you used to?

David: (Looks at me a bit surprised) Yes! I have!

Julie: Did you know that’s normal. It has a lot to do with testosterone and getting older. You’re more interested in being with your guy friends and doing role playing and use your nerf guns. You probably don’t want to hang out with your mom and grandma as much either.

David: (Looking even more surprised) Yes! Is that why I want to spend a lot more time with my dad?

Julie: Of course- you want to do guy stuff. Are you more interested in girls?

David: I am.

Julie: That is completely natural too. I am fine with spending less time with you. Let’s figure out what you can do with your dad this summer so that you can spend more time together.

David: Cool.

I then did a little jig at the counter to embarrass him. HAHa.

The next week, we talked with his dad about doing jujitsu together and David signed up and my brother took him to his first class!

Learning to talk with kids takes practice. I have experimented using all of my coaching skills with younger kids and teens- and it’s working.

If you have bipolar disorder, I believe it’s important to let the kids know what you are going through in an intellectual way- being overly emotional is not helpful in my option. Explaining what is happening and how kids can help- even kids as young as four can make a huge difference in THEIR future. They are allowed to grow and have their own lives even when you might be struggling.


Can Depression Get Better? Yes, depression can get better.

man depressionThe following is a blog post from two years ago. Now that my depression is better, I’m looking back on life to see where I came from. I was depressed for 30 years off and on. I have a plan that works now. It IS possible to get better. Julie

Will This Depression Ever End and Can Anyone Help Me?

When I’m seriously depressed every single minute feels like I’m living in hell and I am just closer and closer to death.

 I sometimes get so depressed that I can’t move my head or have a conversation. I still make myself get out and do things. I cry and I feel I can’t go on, but I do. I feel better for having done something. Every minute when I’m well is filled with possibility because I can choose what to feel and what to do. People take this for granted. They take for granted that they can decide not to be mad about something or not to let others bother them.

 Bipolar disorder is not about fixing problems. I can fix my problems. I have a choice with that. The main problem I have is that I can’t always fix bipolar disorder. I can manage it, but I can’t fix something that is so broken. I feel this will last forever and that nothing will change for the future. I will be alone and old and have no purpose. What is the point of my life?

** Back to the present!

Over one year ago, I found medical help that I now use along with my existing management skills.


Never give up. Keep trying new meds- new methods- reread my books- get help, but never give up.



A Bipolar Disorder Blast from the Past.. it’s always something!

Getting_Better_-_The_Beatles_(sheet_music)This is a blog post from 2009. I’m sharing it today because it shows how far I have come and how far you can come when you get a management plan that works. I read this and realized that these work and depression episodes don’t happen to me anymore. My depression, mania, anxiety and psychosis are always lurking, but they are under control. I have tools for the situations I describe below. I write about them in my books. I NEVER thought I would have the life I have now, but I do. I’m happy, stable and I CAN WORK! 

From 2009

I always know I’m depressed if I wake up and suddenly hear an avalanche of negative thoughts.  Sometimes I wake up and think- hmm, what fun things do I have to do today? Those are miracle days where I just get out of bed and look forward to the hours ahead.

I had extreme trouble sleeping last night. True insomnia- it’s so different from mania sleep issues. I had to take two ativan (A benzodiazepine/anti anxiety med) – two ativan means I will get really tired this afternoon. I usually stick to one. But at least I finally got to sleep around 2:30 AM.

This means I lost the hours of work I was going to do this morning. What can I do but just get on with it! I’m lucky I didn’t have a deadline this morning.

I’d rather be tired than depressed. I made a list of my plans for the day. I made one last night before I went to sleep as well. This helps if I wake up depressed!

Have you ever thought that IT’S ALWAYS SOMETHING WITH BIPOLAR DISORDER! and it always helps to get out of bed before the thoughts take over. I did that this morning and vacuumed my room. I’ve been upset with myself for weeks because I didn’t vacuum my room. It takes more time to worry than to DO.



2015 update: We can get better! I lived with this kind of depression for way too long. There is a way out. It doesn’t have to be like this and life can be good.


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