bipolar parent

Bipolar Mania and My Need to Craft

Photo by Aneta Pawlik on Unsplash

When I’m suffering from a manic episode, I need to craft and I cannot prioritize.

Every task that my brain comes up with must be done right then. And, like most people suffering from a manic or hypomanic episode, I come up with a lot of tasks.

Many times, my brain thinks I should start new craft projects for friends. “The holidays are right around the corner!” my manic brain screams in November. “I must cross stitch something that’ll normally take me 30 hours to complete, but right now it’ll only take 5!”

Basically, my manic brain is too ambitious for its britches. When I’ve started new projects in a hypomanic state, where I feel euphoric and superhuman, I rarely finish them, leaving them–and their accoutrements like needles–around the house for anyone to step on.

During hypomanic phases, I’ve made oodles of poorly-sewed plushies (including a whole sushi tray); painted multiple canvases and glass pictures; and cross stitched coasters, QR codes, and a multitude of other fabric projects. I don’t properly prepare for these projects, and I also usually don’t clean up until the hypomanic phase is over.

I also feel a sense of urgency with the projects. They end up rushed: I pull the stitches too tightly, warping the fabric, or splash paint on the trim when painting awkward-looking trees on the walls–permanent fixtures in our dining room that my husband absolutely hates, haha!

Like many people dealing with mania, I’ve also purchased hundreds of dollars of supplies. I’ve cluttered up my garage and ended up buying so many duplicates, I ran out of space and ended up throwing them out in a moment when I was more stable and clearheaded.

I’ve even left my fabrics and embroidery threads on the floor for the cat to pee on, eventually tossing more than half of my massive collection.

One hypomanic Christmas, I thought my father-in-law and his wife didn’t have enough presents, so I stayed up on Christmas Eve making them pink and purple hats with spare fabric and hot glue–without measuring.

The hats turned out too small, were scratchy, and fell apart almost immediately after being opened. I still remember my father-in-law trying the hat on and having it not even cover the top of his head.

After we finished opening presents, the hats were unceremoniously placed in the trash. Christmas Day, I felt ashamed and embarrassed, my face hot and tears welling in my eyes.

Recognizing that almost all of the presents I’d made for family members were of poor quality and thus rightfully unappreciated, I stopped making presents and really participating in the holidays for years.

Years later, when my daughter was four months old, I entered a similar hypomanic state and decided to paint a cherry blossom branch on a huge canvas.

Putting her in my Ergo front-pack baby carrier, I hunched over the kitchen table and painted for 4 hours, losing track of time while she slept. The project felt so urgent, I didn’t stop to eat lunch, feed my child, or even go to the bathroom.

Cassandra Stout’s cherry blossom painting. Copyrighted under a Creative Commons license.

Realizing that I was only creating when my brain was sick, that was the last craft project–or art of any kind–I produced for four years.

Thankfully, I am now much more stable. Once I was on an more even keel and not in danger of going manic, I started writing fanfiction and enjoying creating again, writing quick short stories that I can produce and publish online for my fans in a few hours.

Since then, one year after I began writing for fun again, I’ve embarked on other art projects. I’ve painted small ceramics: tiny projects–fridge magnets and paperweights–things I can get done in small increments, and things that won’t trigger that sense of urgency again.

This past holiday season, I took up cross-stitching presents for Christmas gifts again, this time for fun, and the biggest project–which really did take me 30 hours–turned out beautifully. My stitches are straight and just tight enough to make the project look nice.

I earned this stability through hard work–taking and rebalancing my medication cocktail on a regular basis, checking in with my treatment team whenever I feel like I’m slipping into a mood episode, and engaging in psychotherapy.

I am happy to say that I am now creating again, thoroughly enjoying myself and taking my time rather than feeling pressured to complete things on an unreasonable timetable.

And when I do feel that invisible pull, that pressure, that sense of urgency that I feel sometimes even when stable because that’s what my sick brain associates with crafting, I set the project down and do something else.

I am much, much happier now.

Have you ever felt like this? What does your brain force you to do when you’re manic?

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bipolar parent

Bipolar? You Can Survive This Holiday Season, part I

This is part one of a two-part series.
Part I | Part II

I’m a little late for Thanksgiving, but I wanted to address what to do before Christmas and Kwanzaa sweep the land. For some, the holiday season is filled with joy and light, sweet treats, and time off. But for others, hasty decisions and loneliness reign supreme.

What to Do if You’re Manic

Credited to flickr user derekskey.  Used with permission.
Credited to flickr user derekskey. Used with permission.

When at get-togethers, try to steer clear of the alcohol, especially if you’re taking medication. If you’re partying with someone you trust, ask them to give you a signal if your behavior is out of control, but don’t let them be responsible for checking in on you for the entire gathering. Set a timer on your watch, and step outside–alone–every twenty minutes to regroup. Breathe. Have a glass of water. Take stock of what you’ve been doing at the party. Don’t pass any judgments. Just acknowledge it. Then go back inside.

Next, be wary of getting sucked into the gift-giving trap. Mania exacerbates spending, and what better excuse for racking up credit card charges than purchasing gifts for friends? Make a list of your friends, family, and co-workers. Rank the names by importance. Sketch out a basic set of “what they like” for each person. Then set a realistic budget accordingly. If you’re over-budget, then pare down your list your list and reorganize who gets what. Easy, right?

I’m a crafter, so of course I love to paint, bake, and stitch everything–including stocking stuffers–by hand. Each year I’ve ended up as a sobbing mess on the floor, so I’d recommend not following my lead. If you also have a love for DIY, plan one small, easy project for each person on your list–and start early. If you feel it’s not enough, supplement with candy or thoughtful trinkets.

Over all, try not to stress yourself out.  Gorgeous décor and intricately decorated cookies may be fun, but each project you take on tests your ability to manage everything else.

Stick around for my next post, where I’ll cover what to do if you’re depressed during the holiday season!