I’ll be honest. Sometimes holidays are difficult. Not because I don’t love holidays. Because I do. Not because I don’t love the people with whom I often spend the holidays. Because I do. But mostly, because I have to be “on” for the holidays. I have to be “on” 24/7. For someone with mental disorders, that’s often a lot of pressure. Especially one who is an extrovert at heart, like I am. Being an extrovert who is also bipolar and suffers from social anxiety is a true pain. It’s hard to see your way through. No matter how well you stay on-track with your medications, it can sneak up on you with merely a moment’s notice. Most of the times over something seemingly minor.
Take this Thanksgiving, for example. I got a little rattled over a couple of things on Thanksgiving Day that had nothing to do with me. But I was able to walk away for a few minutes, and everything was fine. Despite the fact that, upon waking up that morning, I was notified that the three of us kids (Russ, his sister Elise, and I) would be fixing Thanksgiving dinner to give Mom a break. Which she needed. Desperately. I took a deep breath and jumped in to help however I knew to. And the three of us together pulled off a pretty decent meal. It was after dinner that things got a little dicey for me.
Elise and her mom love those painting nights and talked me into doing one with them at Thanksgiving a few years ago. They’re good at it. I’m not. In addition to my mental disorders, I am a perfectionist. I had a kindergarten teacher who criticized my coloring and I’ve never wanted to color since then. That was in 1976. Wounding words last long. To be fair, I didn’t tell them that I hated this activity after we did it a few years ago. I didn’t want to be rude. And, I thought at the time, I made it through it and would never have to do it again. I was wrong.
After dinner, Elise found one. With a gorgeous – and difficult-looking – picture of a winter scene and Northern Lights – and suggested that we go. Her mom was excited and placed her credit card on the table. Elise was excited and started the reservation. They looked at me. What was I supposed to do? I’m also a people-pleaser, or try hard to be. Even when it’s dis-pleasing to myself. I said, “Sure, why not,” and immediately began feeling sick. By bedtime, I needed Tums.
The first part of Black Friday went well enough: the annual Peters Women’s Trip to Conquer IKEA! We’ve done this most years since 2001. I found myself jabbering away at lunch about being bipolar, about my social anxiety, about my great-grandfather who murdered someone. Why? I’m not sure. I think it was my feeble way of trying to explain that I didn’t want to go painting that night. But detaching it from myself and making it more about my family. Not owning it for myself. Not a very healthy way of dealing with it at all. Not a very practical or healthy way of trying to explain it at all to people who might not understand mental illnesses.
By that evening, I’d worked my gut up into super-sonic sour mode and was in the bathroom every ten minutes relieving my bowels. And it was time to go paint. Time to face the music. I begged Russ to never make me do this again if I lived through this night. See, I’d hated my work from the previous experience so very much that I wanted to throw it away. His mom wouldn’t let me. So I told her that she could keep it. And it now hangs on the wall of the room I sleep in when we visit. As I see it, a huge reminder of what a failure that whole experience was.
I remained pretty quiet on the way there. Elise’s GPS gives directions in Swedish, so it was easy enough to tune it out, not understanding the language whatsoever. When we got to the strip mall where Pinot’s Palette was supposed to be, we both looked for it. And drove around for a few minutes beforehand looking at the lovely Christmas lights. I took deep breaths, but was still throwing up in my mouth. We arrived and saw Elise and Sandy’s names on plates beside each other in the middle of the room. I took a deep breath, thanking God silently for delivering me from evil. “Elise, if they don’t have me down, it’s fine. I don’t mind just sitting and watching everyone.” She said no, her mom had paid for it, and I would be painting. And so she straightened it out.
Long story short, the instructor was great. She encouraged creativity. When she came around the first time, she commented on my work, “I love the way it matches your hair! That’s really nice!” Don’t get me wrong: I still wanted to puke for the first hour or so. But I felt encouraged and supported. I felt adequately instructed, but also adequately free to pursue my own paths and color schemes. “Oh, I had a feeling I’d see that purple sneak into the Northern lights!” And, “So cool to see the purple swirls in the snow and on the snow drifts on the pine tree!” I was doing it! It wasn’t perfect, but it was perfect enough to be good! By the end of it, I was actually excited! I was thrilled with my picture. And – I was trying to mentally move things around in my already-packed suitcases to make room so I could take it home. I even remember thinking to myself, “If they had a place like this at home, I wouldn’t mind going maybe a couple of times a year to practice some. I’d probably still want to puke at first, but maybe in time, that would pass…”
I’m proud of the picture the instructor took of the three Peters Women with our paintings this year. It still took me most of the next day to recover, though. Because I had worked myself up into such a psychological/physical frenzy of dread and fear. Because a Bipolar Thanksgiving is simply no fun for anyone.