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.