When Completing Tasks Becomes Too Much to Manage

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With bipolar disorder, the inability to complete tasks is not a sign of laziness. It’s your mind going so fast that you can’t focus, or because you’re depressed and feel too tired.


How many people have started something, but not completed it? Pretty much everyone. I’m definitely guilty of not completing tasks. There are many things that I have started, but then I either end up losing focus and not completing them or end up trashing them altogether. This might seem normal to other people. Others might see it as laziness or just not being willing to follow through with anything.

At least that’s the perception that most people would have for someone like me who finds themselves doing it repeatedly—except I consider myself a different case.

You see, what some people don’t realize is that my mind races at 1,000 miles per hour, whether I’m experiencing mania or depression. I can never fully keep my mind quiet and focused long enough to keep up with the task at hand. I find myself wanting to start everything, do everything, only to find myself extremely overwhelmed, having anxiety attacks, and my focus shifting to something else. By the time it’s all over, I ended up with a bunch of papers on my desk and a bunch of files and tabs opened on my computer, frustrated and  wondering what I was doing. I was no closer to completing my main goal than when I started.

When I was in the army, I was one of the sergeants in a section that consisted of an NCOIC (non-commissioned officer in charge; the senior sergeant of the section) and two soldiers below me. One day, I came in from doing some running around and completing some errands. Apparently, while I was out, he had noticed on my computer that I had a bunch of tabs open. He asked me if I had ADHD and wanted me to get checked out, which I did. The results: I didn’t have ADHD.

Looking back on it now, it was probably a symptom of my bipolar disorder. During that time period, I was dealing with crippling depression, but I had hypomanic and mixed moments. And while I’m a very goal-oriented kind of guy, sometimes I find myself wanting to start on fifty things—most of them come to my head at night when I need to sleep—and I find myself frustrated because I have too much on my plate.

That doesn’t mean that I can’t complete a task. I’ve written several pieces and finished a college degree despite these issues.

But then comes the low. I can’t even get up long enough to go into my office to work on the things that I need to work on, and my office is only a few steps from my bedroom. I’m drained, tired, and miserable. I look at the things that I wanted to do and couldn’t do and I think to myself, “Damn, JB! You just suck! You couldn’t even finish X, Y, or Z.” Then I look at my pile on my desk or the mess on my computer and I just feel defeated. What makes it worse is when I see other people doing exactly what I was doing who are further ahead than I am.

Sometimes, my medication regimen also has the same effect; I’m drained and can’t do anything because my mind feels like a piece of lead. It’s very tempting sometimes to go off of my meds. But that’s a bad idea.

I will eventually find myself back to the first problem; flooded with ideas that I have to get out, only to not finish them.

The outsider looks at this as me being lazy. I know this because I’ve heard people say these things about me behind my back when they think I’m not paying attention. I see it in their faces when I talk about my ambitions and goals, and hear it in the questions that they ask me. I’ve been given lectures about it.

Those attitudes are some of the many reasons why I initially didn’t want to disclose my diagnosis, and why it took so long for me to come out publicly with it. While people are starting to recognize the seriousness of bipolar disorder and other mental illness, the misconceptions and stigmas are still out there. Even people within my circle who knew couldn’t really see how it was affecting me because they had their own perception of how a person should function. Some people looked at it as though I was using it as an excuse, which is far from the truth. We still have a long way to go.

I’m working on steps to keep myself better organized, so I can do what I set out to do. This is easier said than done. But I’m trying. One of the things I’m doing is trying to recognize that I need to take a step back. A break is often much needed or I’ll lose my mind. I’ll give myself a day or two to be as “lazy” as I want, in order to clear my head. Because it’s starting to warm up and I’m taking preventative measures to control my seasonal allergies, I’ll probably start my walking and workout routines. Walking always helps me clear my head and mellow out my moods.

Hopefully, this year will be a better year as far as completing my tasks at hand, so I can develop the content that I need to produce and gradually fulfill my life’s goals and dreams. Wish me luck.

About the author
JB Burrage is a creative and content writer living in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Originally from Meridian, Mississippi, he joined the US Army in 1999, serving until 2010. After years of battling depression and receiving different diagnoses, he was finally diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2011. Initially ashamed of his diagnosis, he later embraced it and started on the road to manage it. He’s currently the owner and operator of The Mad Writer Project, LLC, a writing service and self-publishing consulting company that also manage his various projects; including material that addresses his mental health concerns and a blog on his website called The Diary of a Mad Writer. More information about him and his work can be found at jbburrage.com.
49 Comments
  1. Thank you for an insightful article. I have just started a new job and have become aware of some of the tendencies you describe. Now I can quit beating myself up for what is natural.

  2. Thank you very much. I needed to hear that.
    Peace out and Good Luck Friend!

  3. I tended to “over-plan” and “underperform”. In short, I would become completely overwhelmed and just “shut down”. I had a work list that reached SIX PAGES LONG, would look at it, and just…quit. After the guilt of being “lazy” subsided, my wife and I sat down together and developed “The Elephant List”.

    How do you eat an elephant?

    One “bite” at a time.

    We agreed that I was no longer responsible for the list. Each day, my wife would hand me a slip of paper of tasks to be performed – realistic and challenging, but enough to accomplish in on or two days. I was allowed to cross off accomplished tasks, but was NOT allowed to add to it – I could SUGGEST to my wife things to add, but it was up to her to either add the task or simply say “NO”. If I want more to do, I can ask, and it is her “call” as to whether she allows me one more job or not.

    Results?

    Things get done, the list gets shorter, I am not overwhelmed, I have free time to do things I enjoy, and I don’t feel “stressed” by the amount of work I haven’t gotten done. 🙂

    It works for me!

  4. Thanks for explaining the mental chaos I so often feel. A challenge for me can be to remember clearly just what the tasks are that I need to accomplish. Another is how to manage the physical chaos I create, papers and sticky notes everywhere contribute to mental confusion. Did I keep that thought on my desktop? Or in a notebook? It helps me to clean up the paper chaos, a work surface that is free of papers calms my brain enough to think a little more clearly.

  5. Beautifully raw, well written, accurate and relatable. I genuinely feel the same way. Thanks for making me feel a little less crazy.

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