I'm Bipolar and Disorganized -- Please Help
May 16, 2007 5:12 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to get my life organized. As I've mentioned here before , I'm also bipolar. Any ideas?

I've always been insanely disorganized. I constantly find myself in situations where I have to take "emergency actions" to make up for very poor planning and organization. I have bought socks many times on the way to work. I don't know how to prioritize. I don't multitask. Life seems like an overwhelming torrent of tasks that I can't possibly get done.

I have noticed that if I can dedicate myself to one thing, I can do that one thing very well. I am back in school for a bachelor's degree in Informatics and Biology. I get good grades only because as each assignment becomes due, I dedicate my time and effort to doing it well. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of everything else. This would be OK if I were only a young college student, but I'm in my mid-30s and have a wife, three special needs boys and a decent job for which I am responsible. I can't seem to slice my time to meet all of my obligations. I can't even find the knife!

Then there is the bipolar thing. I have a very rapid cycle that is somewhat controlled by medication (it was horrible), which I have been on for ~10 years. When I'm somewhat manic (like today), I have an easier time managing things than when I am depressed. When I am depressed, I mostly sleep and get very little done. I mention the bipolar disorder because you may find it pertinent in giving advice.

I've looked at GTD and I've tried all manner of calendars, reminders, Remember the Milk, etc. I'm hoping for something deeper: How do I get started with organization from a base of utter chaos? I have a strong desire to achieve my goals in life but I know that I don't have a prayer without a plan.
posted by SteveTheRed to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Man I'm right there with you. I do excellent work when I can do one thing. But at work I have so many things to do that I'm constantly stressed out hard because I can't keep a handle on it all.

I'm using Remember The Milk and am finding it to be a great way to handle work/home tasks from both work and home. Prioritizing, dating, tagging. But I'm still so stressed, anxious, and disorganized all the time. Like you, I'm looking for something deeper. So I'll watch this post with interest.

I'm at the point where I'm desperate to find a career that lets me go deep and long on one thing at a time. That just doesn't sound like most modern jobs though ("Must be able to handle multiple tasks simultaneously"), or modern lives for that matter. Everybody does better when not distracted by too many things, but I think the depression does make it more difficult. I know I didn't have anywhere near this kind of trouble pre-depression. I can't maintain this level of stress for much longer. It's exhausting and I think a real health hazard.

I tried taking Adderall for a while. It wasn't for me, but you might talk to whoever handles your bipolar meds about it or something like it. It addresses concentration more so than organization, obviously, but might still be in the ballpark. I could zone in pretty well when I took it, but it made my cerebellum feel like it was going to burst.

Good luck man.
posted by Bravely Anonymous at 5:32 PM on May 16, 2007

I can't give you specifics, but you may be able to find books about getting organized (you could search for AD/HD in a book search. There is a lot of resources for organization for those with it)

This book could be helpful:

ADD-friendly Ways to Organize Your Life

Just a thought! Hope it helps and good luck!
posted by slc228 at 5:35 PM on May 16, 2007

Maybe you're doing too much.

Take an hour with your wife and sit down and work out what you absolutely need to get done and good times to do it. Obviously the following will be on the list:

You need to go to work - scrawl work over a weekly schedule from hours 9-5 (or whatever).
You need to get to and get home from work. Write transport from 8-9 and 5-6
You need to do homework for school - what's a good time for that? 7-9? ? When are the boys in bed?
You need to do life maintenance stuff - prepare clothes (socks obviously), how about scheduling laundry tasks Sunday from 10-11.

Some people find pretending to believe that they'll accomplish something is enough to get them past the sludge that depression is, at least some of the time.

So in short, do a weekly schedule mapping out your most vital tasks, keep a copy on your fridge, in your briefcase, with your wife. Ask her to help you if you go off task.
posted by b33j at 5:37 PM on May 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

This happens to me too, I get bogged down by the amount of things to do and end up watching a movie instead. Yet I've found my solution! When I recognize that I'm in this situation I stop what I'm doing and I go buy some red bulls. Once the red bull kicks in I just organize what I need to do and start to tackle those objectives. All I need is a good swift kick in the ass to get motivated; hope this is all you need too.
posted by pwally at 5:42 PM on May 16, 2007


It's about cleaning but the principles work for just about anything.
posted by konolia at 5:56 PM on May 16, 2007

Response by poster: Being the idiot that I am, I forgot to mention that I have also have ADD. I take Focalin (stronger formulation of Ritalin) for it. This only really helps at work, which uses up all of the pills that my shrink will prescribe. (I'm on a pretty strong dose, at that)

Barring using a shady internet pharmacy and developing a serious pill habit, or shooting meth, I'm at the end of the road for attention-enhancing drugs. I would never do either of those things but it would be nice to feel like I am on the ball more of the time.
posted by SteveTheRed at 6:11 PM on May 16, 2007

Another vote for flylady - it is about building routines one small step at a time. You gradually develop routines which means that the little things that have to get done have a specific time and order for doing where you can check it off as you go so you don't have to remember. Lots of people have said this is very helpful when they are depressed since their morning routine tells them exactly what to do when they get out of bed. It is focused on cleaning so it would probably be easiest to learn if you use it start dealing with the most basic household chores. Once you get the idea, it is easy to extend it other parts of your life.
posted by metahawk at 6:21 PM on May 16, 2007

I have bipolar, and have read a lot of "how to live well" type books and personal accounts. I can't say that I've been good at following the advice myself...but many people with bipolar have success at controlling their rapid swings with strict schedules: strict sleep schedules (including weekends - no sleeping in or staying up late, and taking prescribed sleep meds when needed), strict diet, steady work hours...

Two books I would recommend along these lines are Living Well With Depression and Bipolar and A Lifelong Journey: Staying Well with Manic Depression. The "Lifelong Journey" is probably most appropriate for what you are needing; it looks at people who are high-functioning with bipolar, and how they maintain themselves that way.

Some medications can add to the disorganized feeling. I take Depakote, and "lack of concentration" is actually one of the possible side effects. If any of your disorganization began after you started meds, you might want to look into that and see if it's a side effect you can live with.
posted by veronitron at 6:22 PM on May 16, 2007

i'm pathalogically anal and organized, and what keeps me on the ball when i'm slacking is tons and tons of lists. maybe you can sit down with your wife and come up with various to-do lists. if necessary, come up with disincentives and incentives.

also, has your prescribing doctor set you up with a therapist? that person will probably give you better advice than any of us could...
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:00 PM on May 16, 2007

Response by poster: also, has your prescribing doctor set you up with a therapist? that person will probably give you better advice than any of us could...
posted by thinkingwoman

I have a really good therapist but she is on maternity leave. Also, I think that it's always a good idea to have a range of ideas to choose from.
posted by SteveTheRed at 8:01 PM on May 16, 2007

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