For me, the Holidays aren’t about merriment and cheer. Instead, rage boils below my skin while depression lurks around the corner.
Fourteen years ago, I wrote a holiday letter, stuffed copies of it into festive cards, and mailed or passed it around to family and friends. It was the first Christmas post-9/11, and I wanted the words in my note to provide some kind of soothing to folks, and to offer a larger message of hope and renewal.
I wrote of my dogs, and how they used to play a sort of catch-me-catch-you game in the yard which always ended at the same spot, a “home-base”. There, each could rest alone or together, knowing that this place, where they’d worn away the grass to cool, soft sand, provided safety, calm, a spot to catch one’s breath, and when needed, another dog to lean on, to lick and to give shelter. I wrote of how much I thought we could learn from the simplicity of the dogs’ behavior, the concept of home base, and finding certain shelter and safety with loved ones in scary and rotten times.
December 2001 was before I was diagnosed with bipolar, PTSD, and anxiety, which meant I was also untreated, and therefore often sick. And it was well before the internet, social media, and mobile technology took hold of our lives 24/7; the bottom-of-the-TV-screen news ticker of today is a direct result of the 9/11 attacks. As it turns out, the home base letter is the last holiday letter I ever wrote, on paper or otherwise.
That’s because few understood it. Indeed, there were some who mocked it, mocked me. Of course, there was a scarce number who found it meaningful, relevant; they got it. But many others thought the note sappy, too deep, or didn’t appreciate the symbolism. Or they were so used to the Christmas letter that lists family accomplishments and we-dun-this that they didn’t know how to take my more than musings. I was actually told by a few that my letter was stupid. To my face.
I recall my hurt at folks’ reactions. And at my resulting depression, and later, rage. I’d wanted to help. To help others in their pain and rage and confusion at a world that’d suddenly changed, and instead, I felt attacked myself. I’d known for decades I was different, a bit strange in the eyes of some, and feeling stigmatized because of my undiagnosed mental disorders was nothing new (post-diagnosis, stigma, we know, often doesn’t change that much).
But I’ve learned that’s what people do when they are afraid and angry, worried that their world, their foundations of life, love, and beliefs are threatened by others, whether the “others” are of a different color, creed, country, faith, or, like me, mentally ill. Somehow, fourteen years ago, my letter, intending to be one of hope and joy, was met with hostility and resentment.
This holiday season, we are there again. Recent world events have many of us angry, scared, and hurting. I know that for me, rage is just below my skin; I can barely contain it. I am fighting depression on the flipside of anger on an hourly basis. It is a bouncing ball of moodiness exacerbated by the holidays, the weather, and the media.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Reflecting on the expanse of fourteen years, what I have learned about bipolar, anger, and how we treat one another shows me that those of us with mental illness are highly equipped for compassion, kindness and sensitivity towards others. We in many ways have been there.
If we take management of our own wellness seriously, we then also learn a great deal about the human condition overall, and perhaps gain an intellectual capacity to understand the goings-on in the lives of others– we can understand their pain, too, and care enough to give back a little.
And that’s where hope lies. We may never know how we as individuals impact the lives of others, nor how we spread hope. But small actions have big impact, for ourselves and for others; a simple smile, a kind word, a helping hand, can make an enormous change in someone’s life. Including yours. I promise.
There. I wrote another holiday letter. May you find the deepest peace, love, and hope this holiday season.
Beth Brownsberger Mader was diagnosed in 2004, at age 38, with bipolar II disorder and C-PTSD, after living with symptoms and misdiagnoses for over 30 years. In 2007, she suffered a traumatic brain injury, compounding bipolar recovery challenges that she continues to work on today. Since these diagnoses, Beth has written extensively about bipolar, its connection to PTSD, physical illness, disability, and ways to develop coping skills and maintain hope. She also writes about bipolar/brain disorders and family, marriage, relationships, loss, and grief. Beth finds the outdoors to be her connection to her deepest healing skills, where the metaphors for life, love, compassion, and empathy are revealed, and how her bipolar and other challenges are faced head-on with perseverance and determination. Beth served as a contributing editor/featured columnist for bp Magazine from 2007 until 2016, and as a bphope blogger from 2011 until 2016. She returned to blogging for bphope in 2019. Beth continues to work on her unpublished memoir, Savender. She holds a BA from Colorado College and an MFA from the University of Denver. Beth lives in Colorado with her husband, Blake, and her service dog, Butter. Check out Beth’s blog at bessiebandaidrinkiewater.wordpress.com.
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