bipolar parent

How to Plan a Holiday Party with Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

People can have mixed feelings about holiday parties. Parties can be fun! Parties can be stressful. Parties can be unmitigated disasters, but they absolutely do not have to be.

After the coronavirus pandemic especially, most of the extroverts among us are starved for social contact and looking forward hosting and attending holiday parties. Missing get-togethers with friends and family members is normal, but we need to be especially careful with our health–both physical and mental.

If you’re hosting a holiday party this year and you have bipolar disorder, you need to take care of yourself, prioritizing your mental health.

So how do you do that?

I’ll use the example from planning my own family’s Thanksgiving this year and offer you some tips and tricks for hosting your own holiday celebrations. My perspective is as a North American woman with bipolar disorder, but I do hope that regardless of my using specific North American holidays and timelines, the tips and tricks contained in this post can apply to your plans for all of your holidays.

Tip #1: Stay Safe

This year, barring any problems with surging covid cases and lockdowns, I will be hosting my sister, her husband, and their one-year-old, my own immediate family of five members, as well as my two other adult siblings and my parents for Thanksgiving.

The holiday is a North American feast day held on the fourth Thursday of November, beloved by my family because of the togetherness it represents to us.

All the adults and my 13-year-old son on the guest list are vaccinated, but we will all be wearing masks as we will have young children not qualified to be vaccinated yet at the party. Our living room is thankfully large enough to maintain a decent amount of social distancing.

If the Delta variant of the coronavirus illness threatens our area further, we will be hosting a Zoom party, which will be substantially less work but still, hopefully, as much fun.

Especially in this time of rampant illness, I highly recommend staying safe. Hosting a party, even with vaccinated, masked adults, is still a risk.

If you decide seeing your friends and family outweighs the risk of catching covid, then take steps to ensure your safety and the safety of your friends and family.

To protect yourself from coronavirus, follow the Center for Disease Control’s guidelines:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Wear a mask while visiting indoor public places
  • Stay 6 feet away from others
  • Avoid crowds and poorly ventilated spaces – if possible, open a window to let fresh air in during times when you’re in a crowded space
  • Wash your hands often
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Clean and disinfect
  • Monitor your health daily

My family, if we get to see them in person this year, will absolutely be masked. I do not play around with the health of my children and my sister’s child.

Prioritize your physical health. Stay safe.

Tip #2: Start Planning Early

Once Halloween rolls around on October 31st, I get busy thinking about my plans for Thanksgiving.

I have a plan written out in the OneNote app on my phone about what to clean when, how to decorate for the party, when to invite people, what supplies to buy for the meal (traditionally turkey and various side dishes), and when to cook them at what times so the feast will get to the table hot.

I absolutely have to start planning early for this. Throwing a feast together for roughly a dozen people is no mean feat. I have to figure out who’s invited and when to invite them, what dishes they prefer, and double-check for allergies.

If I don’t start early, which has happened in previous years, I end up as a stressed-out, sobbing mess on the floor–and actually canceled Thanksgiving last year, which I will go into in a future post.

Start planning early. Make a list of everything you need to keep track of and/or do for the party, and then cut that list ruthlessly, which we’ll go into with the next point.

Tip #3: Don’t Take on Too Much By Yourself

I often have gone manic with the pressure of hosting a holiday party. I suffer from perfectionism, so I want everything to be perfect for my family.

For me, that means I take too much onto myself and if I don’t start early, I don’t have the time to step back and see if my plans are actually feasible given my mental state and physical capabilities.

One of my manifestations of mania is crafting, so I yearn to handmake beautiful decorations and bake pies with decorative leaves as crusts. But I’ve learned from many disastrous holiday parties that I’ve tried to throw all by myself that I cannot craft everything I want to. I need a low-key party, especially if I’m hosting.

I frequently suffer from a sense of urgency–all tasks taking up space in my brain must be done right now–and an inability to prioritize. During some parties, before I learned my limits, I handstitched gifts and decorations while neglecting to make food, the centerpiece of any gathering in my family.

I know it’s hard to ask for help. I struggle with that, too. But if you take on too much and try to host a party all by yourself, you may end up manic, like I have.

And depression, for me, has always followed mania, so what that means for me is that I’ve often overextended myself for Christmas and been depressed during all of January, already a depressing month with bad weather.

Don’t be like I used to be. For your holiday party this year, ask your guests to bring side dishes and games. Ask them to clean up and take home leftovers. If you live with friends or family, ask them for help planning and hosting the party.

Determine your limits. Try to forecast the future and recognize what you can reasonably do. Provide only what you can, and no more.

If you take on more than you can handle, you may end up running around like a chicken with your head cut off at the actual party, which means you may not even get to enjoy the gathering you’ve worked so tirelessly to host.

And, if worst comes to worst, you’ll end up manic, like I used to before I recognized my limits.

Prioritize your mental health. Don’t overextend yourself.

Tip #4: Don’t Invite Anyone Who Doesn’t Support You

This tip is a hard one to swallow for many people, especially those of us who come from contentious families.

We have to invite my mother, the conversation goes. She’s terrible to our children, she doesn’t understand mental health challenges, and she calls me “too fat” regularly, but she’s family, right?

Stop right there. Toxic people absolutely do not deserve a space at your table, even and especially if they’re family. Screw up your courage and set boundaries this holiday season (which I will go into more detail about in a future post).

Anyone who doesn’t unabashedly make you feel good does not deserve your time and energy. They don’t. I know they may be family, but if they stress you out, why are you hosting a party for them that they probably won’t even like?

You deserve so much better. And I’m not trying to be glib; I know that not inviting certain people to your holiday party will have repercussions, none of which I can foresee in your circumstances.

If you can’t manage to set boundaries with your family this holiday season (and I will go into detail about how to do that in a future post), try for next year. Chew on this for a while: You deserve so much better.

Tip #5: Limit Alcohol

If you have bipolar disorder, alcohol and your mental illness do not mix.

This tip is likely hard to hear and even harder to follow, but research shows that alcohol exacerbates bipolar disorder symptoms and can lead to severe mood episodes.

Drinking leads to mood episodes, which may lead to more drinking, which leads to more mood episodes–a vicious cycle. Alcohol use disorder and bipolar disorder have a high rate of comorbidity, which means people often suffer from both conditions.

You may think that you can drink the night away with no repercussions. But I am here to tell you that that link of thinking is a mistake.

If you sink into the pits of depression or spiral up, up, up into mania, the damage done will be immense and hard to recover from. Suffering a mood episode is not worth the occasional all-night banger.

Know your limits. Try to stick to only a couples of drinks, or better yet, don’t drink at all. Find replacements like egg nog, soda, or seltzer water, and stick to them.

Let’s Recap

With these tips, you can host a holiday party and protect your mental health.

Stay safe, start planning early, don’t take too much on by yourself, don’t invite anyone who doesn’t support you, and limit alcohol.

And if you find that hosting a holiday party is too stressful, there’s no shame in canceling it.

Prioritize yourself. Protect your mental health, and enjoy your holidays.

I wish you well in your journey.

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