Bipolar blogger Natasha Tracy offers exclusive insight into the world of bipolar disorder.See all posts »
‘Tis the Season to Be Unstable
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The holidays have landed squarely in our laps, and that is both good and bad. Many people look forward to the holiday from work, seeing their families, opening gifts, and eating too much food. That is the good. On the other hand, people tend to forget all the things that were keeping their bipolar at bay during the year. That is, most definitely, the bad.
The Holidays. Yay?
I would suggest that the holidays bring stress to everyone—even if you love them. There are very few people I’ve ever heard say that this time of year is relaxing. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say that. Even if you adore spending time with your family (and many of us don’t) there’s still the pressure of gifts, and trees, and perfect holiday dinners, and party-planning, and, and, and. This holiday comes with teeth.
But that’s okay. We’re strong, resilient people and we can handle life’s stressors. Can’t we?
The thing is, if someone were in a stressful situation I would tell them this: use all of your coping skills to work your way through it. Anticipate the effects stress will have on you and fight it with rest, routine, medication, therapy, exercise, friends, and all the other things that work for you.
And most people would think that was pretty reasonable. But with the holidays, this notion of “fighting” them goes out the window because we all fall prey to a Norman Rockwell version of the holidays where everyone is magically happy just because it’s December. People forget that the stress is real. People forget their coping mechanisms. People walk into the holidays blindly not at all thinking of the effect they will have on their bipolar disorder.
And I get this. I do. In no Christmas story is the tale of the girl with bipolar disorder who leaves the party early in order to get her sleep. In no holiday carol does the bipolar boy take his medications as prescribed and refuse the eggnog because of the effect it has on his mood. We have a romanticized notion of the holiday. And I get it. It’s what we all would have if we could get it.
We Hate Limitations
But the fact of the matter is, we can’t get it. We are not like everyone else. We cannot party until 2 AM and expect to be okay. We cannot drink and do drugs. We cannot get ridiculously stressed out because the centerpiece doesn’t match the napkin rings.
We just can’t. At least not if you want to spend you January somewhere outside the psych ward.
And no one wants to hear this. No one wants to hear of limitations. But consider this. Anyone with an illness has limitations, and the holidays make no difference. If you were in cancer treatment, you would still have to go get radiation as prescribed. If you were diabetic you would still have to watch your diet, like always. If you had a broken leg you wouldn’t be able to dance just because it was a holiday. Every illness or injury puts limitations on you. But it’s up to us to be strong enough to recognize that.
Put Your Bipolar First
And while some people complain that bipolar shouldn’t dictate every moment of their lives, I would argue that making adjustments to your holiday routine so that you stay well is well worth the sacrifices you have to make. Eggnog versus depression. Holiday stress versus hypomania. Staying out partying versus mania. There’s a reason people with bipolar disorder are in treatment and it’s to get rid of the depression, mania and hypomania and inviting it back just so you can “fit in” with the people around you is ridiculous.
So do your part to stay well. Treat the holidays like the stressor they are. You can still have fun; you just can’t necessarily have the same fun as everyone else. Does that suck? Well, yes, it does. But it sucks a lot less than spending January in a sea of misery, wishing you were dead, desperately seeking a medication change to help you out of it. Eggnog doesn’t seem so tasty now, does it?