By Allison Clemmons Hatch
One of the most difficult seasons for many is upon us. Those of us who celebrate Christmas, not just those of us who grapple with the symptoms of bipolar disorder, have a tough time maintaining any sort of cheerful disposition, for a never-ending list of reasons. For those of us who do experience the ups and downs of bipolar disorder know all too well that amid the hustle and bustle of shopping, gatherings, and family obligations, we have to take great care to manage our moods and other symptoms associated with the illness.
These are obvious statements for the many of us who have read countless, helpful articles on the subject, or maybe taken the advice of our doctors and therapists. I just want to take a moment to relate my story of hope, based on what I experienced during Christmas 2017. It is a wonderful story about a caring group of people. It began when my husband and I decided to be upfront about what I was going through. One of the best decisions that we made was to be completely honest about the mixed episode that I had been experiencing for about one month prior to Christmas. I had not been at all well since November of last year. I had been dealing with my first mixed episode. Although I had been feeling somewhat better, my symptoms were off and on, and I was dealing with some major medication changes and the side effects that accompanied them.
We had been invited to the home of my husband’s father and stepmother for Christmas. My husband’s siblings and their families would also be there. Leading up to the trip, which is a five-hour drive, my husband checked in on me every other day or so to ask if I thought it was a good idea to travel, or if I thought I was “up for” the trip, as well as the two days we had planned to spend there with his parents and the other extended family. At what I would call the “very last minute,” I decided to give it my best shot. I spoke to my husband, and we agreed that it was important to let them know I was not doing well in the event we had to leave abruptly or anything over the long weekend. By disclosing my episode, we thought that they may be somewhat understanding in the event something went wrong, or if we couldn’t stay. So, on my behalf, my husband phoned his father to let him know about my current condition.
Telling them what had been going on with me, in my opinion, was one of the best decisions we could have made. Everyone had been “briefed,” so to speak. Upon our arrival it did not take long for me to realize that. And after all, having bipolar disorder to battle is nothing I asked for, nor is it may fault, so I was not in the least ashamed nor embarrassed about my current episode anyway. But it was not just that.
With everyone knowing that I was not well, they could not have been more kind to me, and not in a condescending manner either. They treated me like every other guest in their home. They put no pressure on us to join in every group activity, or even to have meals with the crowd, although they made me feel so comfortable that I did join in most of the time anyway. They did not treat me any differently, though I was having a tough go of it. Instead it seems that they were all there for me if I needed them, and pulling for me to feel better during our entire stay. They made me feel so welcomed, and for lack of a better word, so “normal.” I actually found myself smiling, and enjoying their company for the majority of our trip. They went out of their way to make me feel like a real part of the family, which in subsequent days, helped me to see the silver lining, and I started to have a breakthrough after the lengthy, difficult spell.
I don’t believe I have ever thanked them enough, not only for their hospitality, but for their understanding and caring demeanor, which I greatly needed during that time. I realize how hard Christmastime can be for all of us, but no matter what, we should never give up on people. I had been so cynical about that trip, because of only a handful of incidents wherein I was treated poorly by some uncaring people. I automatically believed they too might shun me, or worse, but I was so wrong. I hope for each and every one of you, that regardless of how you may have been treated in the past, that you can always keep an open mind and open heart to others, not just at Christmas, but all year through. Open your heart and mind to the fact that for every negative, unhealthy person in this world, there are two, three, 100 more caring individuals, or such as in my story, groups of people who care for each other, and for you. Even when your mind is telling you that you do not have, nor deserve, anyone to care about you, take the leap of faith and give people a chance. They might not understand, or be able to empathize, but they may at least bring a smile to your face, even when it seems there is nothing at all about which to smile. However, be kind to yourselves too, and be able to also say no, when you just cannot move forward. We must always do what is best for us when it comes to our health. Take all the time you need, but when you think that everything is lost—like Christmas, know that there are surprises around every corner and some of them can do wonders for bringing us closer to the wellness and stability we all deserve.
Happy holidays! I wish every reader good cheer, even if it doesn’t come until July!