How to Plan Realistically with Bipolar Disorder

Hi, how’s it going? Hope you are doing well.

On some days, with your loved one’s bipolar disorder, it’s hard to be sure where they’re going in life. At times they’re doing so well, and maybe even better than the average person. They certainly have so much potential! But there are other days when it’s so blatantly obvious that they don’t live up to it.

Those are the days when their symptoms take over and they lose control. Those are the days that have you worried that they won’t make it to where they want to be. With those days in mind, how do you help them plan for the career of their dreams without setting them up for failure?

Marie was a young teenager who was constantly being asked what she wanted to be when she grew up. She knew she wanted to have the good things in life. That is, she wanted to buy a house eventually, and to own a nice car.

She wanted to have a retirement account set up so she didn’t have to work for the rest of her life. She wanted to graduate from college long before thinking about a family. She had a good head on her shoulders.

But she couldn’t for the life of her think of what she wanted to do as her career. Well, she was only 14 years old. Did she honestly need to know yet?

So when her teacher insisted that she map out her life plan, here’s what she did: She mapped out her goals that she knew, and the finances she would need to make those goals. She even did the research on things like buying a house so she had her numbers right.

She then, very realistically, mapped out a plan for how much she needed to make each month, starting at a lower wage and working her way up over time, to meet her goals. Then, based on her interests and her financial needs, she came up with 12 possible career choices that might work for her, with an emphasis in the report that they were just possibilities and she was not limiting herself to them.

The teacher didn’t like the fact that she didn’t give a diffident answer, but had to respect the research and thought she put into it, so she got an A.

Sometimes you can’t plan for everything. Well, most of the time, actually. If your loved one is working on their recovery to the best of their ability but still has relapses, then yes, you need to plan for the symptoms of their relapse.

But you can’t expect to plan how they will affect the rest of your or their lives. It’s just not so easy to map that out. So instead, you have to do your best to plan for the uncertain and to live life anyway.

If they know what they want to do (when they aren’t manic, that is) and it doesn’t sound absolutely impossible, then help them plan for it. There will be factors to planning for it that they probably haven’t thought of.

It is possible, especially if they are persistent in working towards it and in improving. But everyone needs some help in making sure their ideas are sound to one extent or another. Someone who has trouble with mania may need a little extra help.

Remember to break down the goals into two groups: eventually and today. It’s what happens today that has potential to set them up for success. But don’t worry: what happens today isn’t guaranteed to set them up for failure.

Do you have any thoughts on this?

Well, I have to go!

Your Friend,


  1. You are right on with this, Dave. But unfortunately for many with bipolar PLANNING isn’t in their vocabulary. Sticking to a plan is a challenge. I am at a point where I keep trying to convince my husband that we need a plan, but he won’t acknowledge the need. He says he feels fine, is taking his meds and doing his best daily. That recent relapse? Just a fluke. Won’t happen again now that the meds have been adjusted. Very frustrating for me! I am a planner!

  2. Dear David,

    I have enjoyed your materials for several years now~ God bless your kind heart for caring and sharing…After 24 years of a bipolar marriage (my husband),you would think that I could finally handle my husband’s episodes that still happen even on meds.He is now 56 years old but when he enters a hypomanic state;he seems to regress back to 18 years old/behavior wise.Life is sooo uncertain when you are married to someone who is bipolar.What I did learn after being to hell and back w/him is that we can only do so much & the meds,books,shrinks,& group therapy meetings can only help so much.There comes a time when the family has to self-preserve~ Myself & our children have PTSD from my husband’s mania’s.We have been intensely supportive of him all these years but if we have to focus on our own health because he gets too convinced “he’s fine”when manic,then so be it. It’s only when he is depressed that he seems to need his family.Isn’t this typical? One’s life map can take many different turns…THANKS FOR EVERYTHING!!

  3. This is the first time I write . The hardest thing is to keep remembering that your loved one has mental illness, because when they are doing fine you think wow this is it the problem is cured and they are acting normal and suire enough later on they relapse either in a mania or depression and you relize it’s just another episode and you are with reality again thAt’s what happens to me at least

  4. Thank you so much for your posts; this one in particular has moved me to write as I have two children with Bipolar Disorder and thinking about helping them set goals and plan for their future is a daunting task for this ADHD Mom who struggles with such things inherently anyway. I appreciate the way you described the process of how the young woman in question prioritized her of path to meet her goals. The overall process has been quite a struggle for me as problem solving is not intuitive for me. Thank you again.

  5. I have a Mother and brother that are bi-polar…My brother suffered for years…my mother has been getting worse the last few years…they no long speak or see each other..My mother has planned and saved money for my brother cause of his illness and set up a special needs trust for him…Now she wants to give it all away…I’m afraid she may need it herself. She doesn’t care, she wants to give this money away. What do I do to protect both of them?

  6. Thank you for religiously sending me emails. My husband and I are really frustrated, tired and feel like our situation is hopeless. Our son,youngest at age 26, of three other children both who are grown married with their own children, has suffered with ” bipolar” condition since 18. Atleast that was when he was diagnoised. After at least 6 psychrists and numerous other doctors we are not that much better. I say we because I know I am such a enabler to his behavior. Is it possible to love someone too much?our son is taking zanax for his condition and everyone has told us that that is not the right med. But his now doctor has him on it. I want him off all drugs is that possible? I feel with the right nutrition and exercise I could cure my son. I believe my son has so much potential but he is a prisioner in his body and I just want to set him free…

  7. hello i am john. I had been diagnosed with pibolar disorder since i am 33 & i am 39 now…. i finally found a medicine that might help others it is called epilim.500 mg.. it makes you gain waieght a little because you r actually mare stable & your actions r much slower, but it actually work… i think people should try it. it takes 2 weeks to kick in, but after that if you keep taking it it prevent the episodes

    I just wanted to let you know that Xanax is not the right medication for bipolar disorder, at least…not that by itself. A person with bipolar disorder must take a MOOD STABILIZER, basically there are three most popularly used…Lithium, Divalproex (Depakote, Epival), or Lamictal (Lamotrigine). The psychiatrist decides whether or not they need an antidepressant on top of that, depending on their symptoms and the type and severity of the disorder. They could also be given an anti-anxiety medication, like Xanax, on an as-needed basis, but actually Xanax is a poor choice, since it is quite addictive and has severe withdrawal symptoms. Clonazepam or Lorazepam are better. You must take your son to a different psychiatrist who has experience in dealing with bipolar disorder, to get the proper medication prescribed for him. Good luck and God bless.

  9. Thanks, I needed this at this moment in time…my adult daughter’s symptoms has beaten me down..the advise has been well taken…Peace

  10. After a lifetime of dysfuntional family members around
    me, I concluded the only planning left to try and maybe
    get some relief for myself was to leave and do my best.
    Years later, found out I am the bipolar sibling & patient getting help and taking the necessary meds.
    DeeDee is on target with meds and side effects. By now
    have tried most of them and live a fairly decent life
    most of the time. A great psychiatrist is a MUST HAVE and Dave’s knowledge is priceless. A success story is
    another life saved, one day at a time.
    Still here after all these years, just keep at it till
    it works for you. Because it will.

  11. I am bipolar. Initially I was diagnosed with depression. I have a really hard time distinguishing between reality and mania or depression.. Im really good at alot of things..and I have alot of interests, but I never finish anything because I always change moods… I will get really sad or so manic that I turn angry and accomplish nothing. I cant plan even day to day .. sometimes even hour to hour is a toss up.

    There is no miracle diet or any exercise program that will “CURE” Bipolar Disorder. Daily exercise and sunlight will help with depression. This is a known fact; but as far as a “CURE” there is none known to man. Maybe in another lifetime but not this one.

    The hardest part of getting help and finding the right combination of drugs is weeding through the psychiatrists,meds,books,therapists,support groups and INTERNET sites to find the ones that work for you. In your case your son.

    He truly needs a different psychiatrist because Xanax was not made for bipolar; it was made for COPD. I have been many years and combinations trying to get the right ones for myself. I am being taken off three of my meds and replacing them with Lamictal and Vistaril. So far there has been a tremendous difference; I also benefit by not having so many drugs to take.

    I also have a word of advice about stopping meds. DO NOT suddenly and completely stop at once. This could cause an adverse effect on your body and/or brain. Always use Doctors instructions when starting or stopping Medication for any Mental Health issue.

    Mary Alice

  13. Now on to the subject of this article; Bipolar and Planing. Oh,how I wish I had use of Smilies right now!
    Where to begin; ahh part of planing right?
    Being realistic is the main goal of planning anything. I think I have this thing planning down to a science. What was I talking about?
    First, nail down ONE subject to plan about. It Is Soo hard to do!! I have so many plans swirling around in where was I?
    Maybe I better come back when I finish what I started twenty minuets ago Ohh Yeah reading my email so much for that plan!

    See where I’m going with this?

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