“Everything was going so fast” – Wendy’s story
Christmas can be lonely, isolating and stressful, especially for people living with severe mental illness. In this blog, Wendy reflects on the Christmas where she was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder after a manic, psychotic episode.
For me, this time of year is a constant reminder of the winter when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder. In 1991, I ended up in hospital, and every Christmas I’m so scared that the events of that year will repeat themselves.
In 1991, my husband found a new job, so we moved from Bradford to Leicester with two young children. I was miles away from my family; we had no one to help us. My husband was working a lot of shifts, so I was left with the kids trying to manage.
Since I was little, I’d always loved Christmas. But the year I became ill was different. It was like an electric impulse – I wanted to make it the best Christmas ever, cook this massive feast, make it the best ever party and invite all of the neighbours round. It just got overwhelming.
Every year, I’m conscious of what I went through back then. The memory of that Christmas is still resonant.
I was spending far too much and really wasn’t in a good state. I wanted instant gratification - it was nice to go out and buy things but I didn’t have a clue how much money we had. I got a job but I couldn’t do it well and was earning very little. I started chatting to everyone at the post office, talking too much, laughing at things that no one else was laughing at. I now know that I was having a manic episode.
I remember going to work one day in December and by then I was basically crying all the time. I went to the doctor and my heart started racing. I was having a panic attack, but at the time I was convinced I was having a heart attack.
Over the next few days, things got worse and worse. I began to have a psychotic episode. I hadn’t slept for days on end and I wasn’t eating. I remember watching the telly and there were all of these nappy adverts; it made me think I was becoming Mary.
I became convinced our house was being attacked. I stayed up to be vigilant and was sure I saw a fireball heading for our roof in the morning. I was beginning to think I had superpowers in my head. Everything was going so fast.
I was beginning to think I had superpowers in my head.
I ended up being admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It was a bit like Hotel California, I couldn’t come back. I was convinced I was being such a bad person, that I was taken to a judgement place before going to Hell, like a waiting room. I was convinced that they thought I was a spy and that’s why I was taken there. I refused to talk to anybody about what had happened.
Every year, I’m conscious of what I went through back then. The memory of that Christmas is still resonant. I have to take extra care of myself, making sure I don’t commit to too many social events or get carried away buying too many gifts. My daughter says she’s always concerned that too much happening will trigger my mania – I’d either get too tired and withdraw or not sleep and not eat again.
Distraction techniques, like doing a jigsaw or crafts, is really helpful and a form of self-care.
Christmas is difficult for people like me. Watching the festive adverts that fill our screens at this time of year, it’s easy to think Christmas is the same for everyone. It’s all shiny happy families, glitter and great big Christmas dinners, but people don’t always have that and I know that’s not normal.
I have to watch my symptoms and pace myself. I’m more in control now. I try not to get lost in the present extravangza, I turn myself off from all that. From my birthday in November to Christmas Day, I do one nice thing everyday that doesn’t cost a lot – like one day I’ll do mindfulness or go to the cinema with my husband.
It doesn’t always have to be about Christmas and plans can be spread out. Distraction techniques, like doing a jigsaw or crafts, is really helpful and a form of self-care. You don’t have to do all of the Santa Claus or Christmas movies. Treat it as a normal day.