I can say with some certainty that November and December have become my least favorite times of the year. For a long time I thought the stagnant months of February and March were worse (as they hold the record for the majority of my psychiatric hospitalizations) but it seems that every big blow-out started with a seed of intense stress in November and December.
Last week was really rough. Our dog Luna has been having seizures that our local vet has been having a hard time getting under control, and combined with the stresses and pressures of the holidays I started to crack very quickly. It started with really intense insomnia, and waking up psychotic around 4 or 5 am each morning for three days in a row. By the third day I had put on boots and a coat and walked to the grocery store outside in the dark in an attempt to outrun the vibrating energy in my body as I was filled with unprompted rage, and then the walk back tipped the scales in the other direction. Uncontrollable crying.
The swings were intense, on the brink of hospitalization-worthy. After having the ten-minutes-of-rage, ten-minutes-of-despair, ten-minutes of clarity, (wash, rinse, repeat) for a couple hours Corey and I decided it would be best to start the day with my emergency antipsychotic (Risperidone). 15 hours of sleep later I was a little more evened out, but it was a very serious sign to relax and take things more slowly. The last thing I wanted was to spend the holidays (and the new Star Wars premier) in the hospital.
One of the biggest difficulties I have at this time of year is that all of the progress my various family members have made regarding understanding my illness seems to evaporate (I am chalking it up to holiday stress, I don’t think they mean to do it) and things seem to reset to a time where I had little to no control over what I was doing or where I was spending my time.
It is often very hard for me to communicate my needs when it comes to managing bipolar disorder, but the problem always seems to grow exponentially around the holidays. It can feel really frustrating (to say the least) when my actions attempting to keep myself safe and sane start being ignored or demeaned when my needs start being categorized as selfish wants or irrelevant to the success of a holiday gathering.
I come from a long line of people who are much more quick to accommodate others than accommodate ourselves, and I think my Grandma said it best to me when she told me recently, “I always put my family’s needs before my own.” While this is something I have admired about us (lending itself to being giving and compassionate) one of the most difficult aspects of my life up to this point has been watching the people I love not taking care of themselves and feeling helpless to do anything about it.
At times it seems like my desire to take better care of myself is seen as an insult to my family when it has nothing to do with any of them. That is why I have had a whole series of Christmases where I made plans, and then always disrupted them at the last minute to do whatever whichever family member wants. These are people that really matter to me, and the shame and guilt I end of up feeling about not letting them control me is usually enough for me to give in. I don’t want to disappoint them, and I find myself traveling back to being a teenager or a kid who would rather just forgo helping myself and hide that I ever needed anything at all to keep from feeling vulnerable and like a disappointment.
Obviously that is a big part of what got me into this mess in the first place. Not taking care of myself when I really needed it has made my bipolar symptoms much bigger and stronger over time, and now that I am finally at that point where I am (making a good attempt at) managing my symptoms with a lot of help from my friends, things seem to be improving -albeit slowly.
Yesterday after a significant struggle through some knee deep inner turmoil I had a lightbulb go off. After the episode of this last week and all of the family conversations I had it was clear that taking care of myself has finally outweighed pleasing my family.
Like I said, I love them and I want them to be happy, but this doesn’t have to do with me being selfish, or my own happiness, or trying to punish them for not accommodating me, or just not wanting to be around them. This is about my health. My sanity. My brain is a pretty integral part of my daily living, so it’d be better if I gave it a hand here, you know?
Putting my family first doesn’t keep me from having bipolar episodes. It doesn’t help me cope with stress. It doesn’t let me live the life that I want to live because I am not living through them, I am living through me. It took me many years to learn that I could not take care of them when they were failing to take care of themselves, but taking care of me is the one thing I can do.
My needs are important and they can’t be ignored any longer. I am thirty years old now, and it is crystal clear that nobody is going to take care of me but me. That means I need to step up and do it all the way, not just a little bit here and there.
This doesn’t mean I am becoming a hermit, it simply means that what I want is going to have to agree with what is appropriate for my health before I do it, and the execution will involve a firm “no” (gasp!!) from time to time.
I’ve spent ten years trying to execute this plan and failed every time before now, but I am finally able to see that the old way… well it isn’t working. While I recognize that this is always easier said than done I can feel that guilt and shame window closing. I am tired of being ruled by my emotions, because emotions can be manipulated. I want my life to be about the things that are important to me, and while my family is important I am finally recognizing just how important my health is to me too.