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A Gift-Giving Guide From a Man With Bipolar Disorder

So, yeah, I have bipolar disorder. To be exact, I have bipolar 2, which means I am on the depression side of the mood pendulum more often than the hypomanic side. I don’t get manic.

This can mean buying gifts for me, especially for Christmas, can be a real bear. It’s no fun. I’m sorry to the people who feel the need to. In fact, I often tell them not to because when the impulse strikes, I’ll just get what I want when I want.

Now, buying presents for me is difficult because, well, I’m all over the place. The act of going to someone’s house and the expectations of Christmas weigh on me tremendously. I feel the need to please people and make them happy, even when I’m miserable.

I try to do this when people get me presents. I act like I love them even when I do not. Even if I do love them, the gifts are often associated with the anxiety, pressure and subsequent depression I feel when in the throes of Christmas. Thus, when you buy me that shirt, put it in a box and give it to me, know all the emotions I am struggling with just to maintain throughout the day are there, and I’ll probably never wear that shirt again.

But you want to get me a gift that speaks to our relationship and the fact that you “know” me. Let me give you some tips on picking out that gift.

1. Show you know me and care about me.

Too often people’s gifts are a reflection of them instead of the one the gift is being given to. I do not give all my friends “Grateful Dead” CDs, and I do not expect to get “Journey” from you. (Just so anyone knows, a gift of anything related to “Journey” is a declaration that our friendship is over.)

2. Understand where I go and do not go.

Having bipolar disorder means I have a host of triggers. I avoid places, and I avoid them like the plague because they trigger emotions or anxiety. They do not give me the “feels.” So, buying me gift cards to places where they throw food at you is not my idea of a gift. It’s an exercise in hand-eye coordination. If I wanted to do that, then I’d play baseball with my son.

3. Keep me in mind when you buy a gift for my child or spouse.

This goes along with the previous point. If you buy my children $300 worth of gift cards to Chuck E. Cheese, I most likely will not be able to take them there. It stresses me out and causes all sorts of thoughts to go through my head that end up with me hurt.

4. Understand what helps me.

Managing my bipolar is often a 24-hour job. Little mess ups here and there can lead to big consequences later. When you’re thinking about a gift for me, think about getting me things that are helpful or can be helpful to me in managing my illness. Find out what I do to keep my illness under control and be thoughtful enough to contribute there.

5. Take my gift I give to you.

One of the biggest things for me is that I do not give gifts just to give them. They mean something. I take a lot of time, effort and thought to pick out gifts, and they reflect my understanding of who you are. To reject them or to be ambivalent about them is a rejection of me and how well I know you. It hurts my feelings.

6. Take the pressure out of the holidays.

This is perhaps the greatest gift you can give me for Christmas. I do not mean to sound preachy, but the holidays have never been about presents or about the pressure for the perfect meal. The more pressure you put on it, the more I cannot handle it. You exclude me off the bat because it’s too much for me. I can’t be part of it because it makes me feel depressed, terrible and awful. The greatest gift is to simply be simple and give up the pretense.

Those are the starting guidelines for buying gifts for me, the person with bipolar disorder. The people in my life find me somewhat impossible to buy for. Reading this list, I get their predicament. Yet, know if you buy a gift with these in mind, then maybe the person with bipolar disorder in your life will get a better gift and will be a little happier. At least, if my family is reading this, I will.

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