If someone ever asked me to describe what my brain feels like when I am having a manic episode, I would tell them that it is like shopping on Black Friday. There are thoughts racing through my head at speeds that I would otherwise think aren’t humanly possible — thoughts that trip over, trample, and fight each other over something that would be rather insignificant on any other day, and the voice of reason that can usually tell these thoughts to relax is too busy pushing another thought out of the way so that she can get to the gold designer handbag before anyone else, even though, on any other day, she would think that bag was tacky and overpriced.
If someone ever asked me what my brain feels like when I am having a depressive episode, I would tell them it is like being the person working the cash register on Black Friday. Everything is overwhelming. I am anywhere between a slight panic and a full-blown nervous breakdown at any given moment all because someone said something to me a little too rudely. It is like being on your feet for twelve hours, getting home, collapsing on the bed with my shoes still on, and sleeping for the next day and a half.
The difference between being bipolar and being a member of society who participates in the Black Friday madness is that only one of these things is socially acceptable during the holiday season.
I have spent so many holiday seasons with my brain in absolute chaos, and with my family having no idea what to do about it.
One year, from Halloween to New Year’s Day, I spent almost everyday running in circles making sure everything was perfect for each holiday. I threw a Halloween decorating party in which I talked too quickly around my friends and hung decorations at the speed of light, even though I should have been exhausted because I had spent the whole night before cleaning until 4:30 a.m., where I fell asleep on the floor with the rug cleaner still in my hand.
For Thanksgiving, I made not only one, but three turkeys for eight people, two of which were vegetarians, just because I could. I made nine pies, cupcakes, and cookies. Suffice to say, I had leftovers for weeks. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I bought presents for every single person who ever breathed in my direction, wrapped them, and screamed every song on Idina Menzel’s Holiday Wishes for days. I may have slept a total of 18 hours for the whole month of December.
By New Year’s Eve, I was having yet another party, which means I had another manic cleaning night, and it also meant I was drinking A LOT. Nothing calms a manic episode like liver damage, a bad hangover, and lectures from family members that I forgot to block on Snapchat.
However, the year before that, I was basically a zombie for the entire holiday season. My psychiatrist put me on Abilify, so I blew up like a balloon, and just sat there, completely uninterested in anything. I thought my family was going to begin poking me with a stick to see if I was actually just dead because I simply would not move. Or speak. Or eat. Or do anything at all.
Both of these years were extremely stressful for my family, and they made sure I knew that. In response, I said, “This inconveniences you? You’re annoyed? Imagine how I feel.”
If you are like me and you live with bipolar disorder during the holidays, please do not feel ashamed of how the chemicals in your brain are working during this weirdly over-the-top joyous season. The amount of cheer you are supposed to have during the holidays is enough to make anyone a little bit unstable, whether their moods skyrocket upward or plummet downward. Do not let your family make you feel bad about how your brain works.
The holidays are rough. Sometimes medication is not enough. We all have our manic magic days and depressed nights. It is normal, and you are valid.
I hope we can survive this holiday season together.