Being Bipolar and Holiday Parties

Thursday was Thanksgiving. A time to gather with family and friends and share an incredible meal (that I personally wait for all year) and enjoy the company of those you love. Or not.

As a person with bipolar disorder, I find holidays to be extremely stressful. Because my bipolar has caused a huge anxiety disorder, I have a fear of crowds, whether people “know” about my mental illness, whether they are talking about me behind my back, and whether they will even be willing to have a conversation with me. I have sabotaged myself right out of every single holiday social event we have ever been invited to. And there are a lot of “social events” at the end of the year. They’re supposed to be fun, but for me, they are more like a Chinese water torture. Made worse by the fact that I feel like I am letting my husband down in such a big way.

Before we even get out the door, I start imagining that people are going to find me horribly boring. Why anyone would want to talk to me, especially people I’ve never met before? The fact that I have been working on my social skills with strangers at the grocery store or the library by making random remarks to someone I won’t ever see again gives me really good practice without the fear of social failure.

For years, I used my youngest son as an excuse to leave holiday parties early. The holidays and all of the parties that go with it are a huge trigger for a mood swing and I am always so afraid I will say something I shouldn’t say or start talking and not be able to shut up. Now that my youngest is almost 13, he is no longer a valid excuse for leaving the party. In fact, he often wants to stay when I feel the panic attack coming on. So now I have no excuse except for the fact that I am hyperventilating and it feels like I might be having a self-induced heart attack.

The problem has become that all of my neighbors and friends know that my son is not the reason I am leaving after a half an hour while my husband stays and has a great time. Today, hubby ran into our next door neighbor who is trying to start a tradition of having a Christmas party at his house. Hubby said we would be happy to come over on the night of the party. And the neighbor said, “Well, I know that Chelle doesn’t really like to stay long for these things, but I would love to have you guys.” Last year, I left pretty early – like after about 20 minutes in. I feel so bad for my husband, who really enjoys these things. I should be doing better with this, but I’m still just not. After 47 years, I wonder if this is something I will ever get the hang of.

It appears my secret is out. If I go and stay, I’m so afraid of putting my foot into my mouth that I feel it is safer to go over, show my face, and then come running back home before the panic attack hits. I’ve never understood how to make small talk and I think I’m too old to learn. Is there a manual somewhere for this problem? I’m tired of looking snobby because I don’t know what to say. People must think I’m completely snobby when, in actuality, I am terrified that they won’t like me.

Do other people with bipolar disorder freeze in the midst of a social gathering like a deer in the headlights? It’s hard to have a mental illness during the holiday season because there are so many expectations from your family about what you “have” to do to get through it and enjoying the season.

I guess I would just enjoy the season more if people weren’t always throwing parties because of it.

7 thoughts on “Being Bipolar and Holiday Parties

  1. I don’t ever freeze up I stay and make an ass out of my self,I have great acting skills,or so I like to believe while I am there.Then I have a lovely story to entertain my self with and over- analyze later.
    But its not only people who have bipolar that go through this. Obviously there is a fear of socializing here,many people with PTSD and social anxiety disorders and people with depression and people who haven’t even been diagnosed with anything officially, dislike parties and their whole atmosphere and point. And yes youre right it does look very snobby and rude when people come and then just leave in that manner,it took a many years before I could figure out that it wasn’t my sisternlaw who i thought to be snooty for leaving early from get togethers,it was my own brothers social discomfort. other than that,ive never been invited to a Chritsmas party before ,not since I was a kid anyways. I alwyas stay home with family on New Years Eve as well. and this year im drinking me some champagne!wow See how liked I am,no invites,thats just sad! LOL ive been to other parties,just not holiday ones.

  2. I keep getting invited back, which I don’t understand. It’s probably my husband, because everyone loves him.

    I have PTSD from the job that I got fired from and that is making the whole thing worse, but I’ve never been good at parties. I just don’t know what to say to people. Maybe if I was able to have a glass of wine or two, I could calm down, but I can’t drink on my meds and I won’t put my liver at risk.

    We usually stay in on New Year’s Eve too, Julie. I find it much better than braving the drunk drivers. We get Outback and watch a movie and go to bed before midnight. We’re such partiers!

  3. 🙂 i drink at home on New Years if I can, but If i could i would love to go to Times Square some day,i dont mind the crowds so much,its the aftermathi face thats the most difficult for me. mmm Outback sounds good!

  4. I’ll go with you to Times Square, Julie! I’ve never been to New York and would love to go sometime. If I ever get the anxiety and panic attacks under control. I’d like to watch it from a hotel room window though and not down on the street! That will never be possible, I don’t think. I always wonder how those people who stand there all day go without needing the bathroom.

    Someday you and I can have our own party and we’ll invite people we know are friendly already so there’s no anxiety factor. Maybe we’ll all go to NY for New Year’s. That sounds like fun!

  5. I have terrible anxiety about social situations especially if they are unfamiliar ones. If I am able to even talk myself into tolerating the situation I am usually considered snobby too or just anti-social because I dont talk to anyone, I usually find me a comfortable spot in the room and stay there. And sometimes, like you Chelle, I even have to leave early if my anxiety kicks in while there. I cant use my girls as an excuse anymore either because THEY give me away. So I usually use the old stand by “Im just feeling sick at my stomach” you’d be suprised how often I get sick…lol. When I DO stay at a social gathering and GET INVOLVED I tend to get overly involved. I dont know when to shut up. I have mouth overload and I just ramble needlessly about useless things and someone ends up just looking at me funny after a few minutes.

  6. I get what you are saying here. My husband is very social and I stick by him the whole time I am at a party, etc. If I meet somebody one-on-one then I do OK and can make a conversation start. But put me in a crowd and I panic inside. I have often thought that people think I am snobby because I don’t know what to say and am very quiet in a crowded situation. Plus, I always worry about what people will think of me and whether or not they will like me.

    I have come out of my shell a little but it has taken over 15 years for that to happen. It will take another 15 for me to really be social I think.

    Thanks for writing this.

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