A profile of a woman

What the Holidays Are Like in India as Someone With Bipolar Disorder

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The holidays can actually be the hardest time for people in any part of the world. I know if someone were to ask me if I love the holidays, the answer would be no.

I should’ve written this post a month back, in October, which is the peak season for holidays in our India. We have Dussehra in October, a 10-day celebration. But because I wasn’t feeling well during that time (I was under one of the nasty depression spells), I thought I’d write about it now. After all, we still have Christmas to cover. And it is quite a huge deal here as it is everywhere in the world. The span from October to December is fueled with the magic of holidays in our hearts.

What do holidays really feel like to someone with bipolar disorder, like me, trotting between mania and depression? You guessed it — it’s a nightmare of epic proportions. Me, as a Bengali, in West Bengal, we have Durga Puja — and five out of those 10 days are said to be auspicious.

I will tell you how I spent the fifth day of those 10 days — I spent it crying. Apparently something was wrong with my medication cocktail and it made me almost lose my mind. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore. My husband was sitting there with me, helpless. Because the fact is I don’t even know why I was crying. This is just an example of what goes on in the holidays.

To begin the festive day, first I have to wake up. Waking up, getting out of the bed, can be pretty hard work for anyone with mental health issues, but waking up on a festive day with mental illnesses comes with a tremendous amount of pressure created by others. These are the days when rules are made up for you — wake up, get dressed for others and get a panic attack. Meanwhile, look alive. Since relatives are going to come over and the festival is happening at your home, you have to look alive even though you’re dead as a zombie inside.

This is exactly how my holidays went down every year until I got married.

“You’ve grown so big,” Aunty exclaims. “Look how much you look like your dead mother,” another one exclaims. More awkward conversations, glances, some pitiful, others envious. Let’s not forget the biggest question of them all — what are you doing now? My daughter so and so just completed engineering, now she’s all set to marry this man so and so and they’re settling in the U.S. 

Me, as a simple, 30-year-old, unemployed woman with various mental disorders, just looks up and smiles, hoping to somehow disappear into thin air. But since life isn’t that miraculous, I stand there holding a smile for the longest time, losing my train of thought. 

I know I could just say that you know, because of my bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I just can’t hold a job. Also, I have a boyfriend of seven years and we plan to get married after 32. At least I’m on the road to some future. But this answer would probably wake up alarm bells everywhere. This is not an acceptable answer.

Because firstly, they don’t believe mental illness is real. Secondly, they assume if you don’t have a job you’re lazy, or you’re not smart like aunty’s engineer daughter. And seven years with a boy? Not yet married and you’re 30? Unacceptable, all of it! Probably your father should have taken better care of you, taken you to the guruji to expel those demons. 

So I smile till my jaw hurts, imagine my father calling me and wander away from the aunties till another one finds me.

During these festivities, all I do is get social anxiety and panic attacks, which I certainly don’t want anyone to see.

Now that I’m 32 and married, it doesn’t much seem to bother them anymore. They have moved on to territory of child-bearing. But still, my profession always comes up every year. And I want to disappear into thin air every year.

Once I’m alone, there’s nothing much to do other than cry my eyes out and to think, why did it have to be me? Why does it feel like I’m the only one who’s struggling?

At least I felt that way until I met others like me, in you all. No matter how much negativity they spew around, I always find solace when I come here, when I write, when I do my work for Hope Is Good.

I figure holidays must feel like this for someone else. So I wrote it down today. Don’t forget to let me know if your last holiday went something like this or if you’re dreading the upcoming season.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Showering With Bipolar Disorder

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I have a confession to make: I don’t always shower every day. Sometimes, I don’t even shower for four or five days at a time. Once in a blue moon, I don’t shower for more than a week. But, then there are times where I do shower every single day.

When I was younger, I hated when it was bath time. Soap would always get in my eyes, I was petrified of going down the drain when the water was let out (thanks to a book I read about a little girl going down the drain), I didn’t like getting wet, and it hurt when my mom would comb out the huge tangles that would accumulate throughout the day.

By the time I was old enough to start taking showers by myself, I was getting good with excuses on how to at least prolong the time before getting into the shower. My favorite was that I just flushed the toilet so I have to wait for the water to warm back up.

When I was in high school, I came to the realization that it wasn’t cool amongst my peers if I didn’t take a shower every day, but I was able to at least get myself on an every-other-day schedule that seemed to work for me.

As an adult my shower schedule is completely random, and but at least I’ve heard it’s better for my hair if I don’t wash it every day.

I realized today (ironically while I was in the shower) that my self-care habits and schedule correlate significantly to what bipolar disorder cycle I’m in. They change drastically when I’m hypomanic and when I’m depressed.

When I’m hypomanic I have very grandiose thoughts that make me want to play the part of the most beautiful woman in the room. I take the time to get frequent manicures and pedicures, my eyebrows are waxed every two weeks, I increase my amount of exercise, I cook healthy meals, I brush and floss my teeth at least twice daily, I put on more makeup, I wear clothes that are more stylish, and I shower every day and wash my hair every other day so it’s perfectly styled.

When I go into a depression, this all changes. I no longer get manicures and pedicures, and my nails are all different lengths. I never take the time to wax anything. Exercise goes out the window. I order pizzas and get takeout more than cooking at home. I’m lucky if I brush my teeth, let alone floss. I wear barely any makeup, and if I do it’s because I’m going to work and I don’t want to scare off my customers. I tend to wear the most comfortable clothing I can get away with at work, and I immediately put on my pajamas when I get home. I only shower when my hair looks greasy, and when I do wash it, I hardly ever blow dry and straighten it. Instead I just let it air-dry in hopes it will at least somewhat curl and not become a frizzy mess.

I’m not proud when I lack in my self-care, but at least I’m not ashamed by it any longer.  I thought I was the only one who was like this when they’re depressed, but it’s comforting to know I’m not.

What’s ironic to me is that I always feel better after I take a shower and do my hair and makeup, yet I can’t always muster up the energy to actually do it. I guess that’s just part of my normal of my bipolar roller coaster.

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Thinkstock photo by eldinhoid

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