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Mental Health Doesn’t Take a Holiday: Michelle’s Story

Because Mental Health Doesn't Take a Holiday. Thank you!

I live with bi-polar disorder.

When it comes to the Christmas season, people automatically assume my bi-polar depression will rear its ugly head, but for me and my family it tends to be the opposite. We struggle with hypomania.

I say “we” because my symptoms affect my family as much, if not more, than me.  

It always starts the same way – irritability, agitation and frustration. Before I know it, my thoughts are racing, I’m obsessed with a new hobby or activity, my energy level is on overdrive, and sleep eludes me.

This always leads to another one of my AMAZING ideas!  I will buy goats and start to produce goat cheese, open a bakery that only sells scones, or this year start making all things gingerbread houses… better yet, gingerbread villages. What the outside world sees is my excitement, enthusiasm, and energy.  I become the life of all things Christmas. I’m that person who goes overboard in the spirit of the holidays.

The reality is very different for my family.

My husband and children know the signs, they see my behaviours escalating. They try to talk to me out of concern, and I get upset and defensive.  The more they try to keep me grounded, the more distant I become, which ends up fueling my excitement and ambitions to often unmanageable levels.

My spending becomes impulsive, and before I know it, packages are arriving at the door, each one a surprise.  In my mind all these items are essential, I have to have them, no matter what the cost.

As a major part of my hypomania, I experience memory impairment and often don’t remember events that took place, or the impact my behaviour has had on those I love.  As my world starts to settle and I discover the reality of what has happened, I am left with the embarrassment and humiliation.

Hypomania changes the holidays for everyone in my family.  My adult children sometimes have to take on the role of a parent, my parents feel helpless, and my husband becomes my caregiver and decision maker.  He not only manages everything through my episodes, but has to pick up the pieces while also knowing that for me the end of hypomania is the beginning of depression.

Because I experience both rapid cycling (four or more episodes in a year) and mixed episodes (symptoms of mania and depression occur at the same time) bi-polar plays a significant role in the lives of our family.

I am forever grateful and appreciate what my family has to do to support me through each episode.  But the only way my loved ones can care for me is if they can care for themselves.

That’s where CMHA York and South Simcoe comes in, and where you can help.

CMHA York and South Simcoe provides support to families like mine through the Family and Caregiver Education Groups. The support groups help loved ones increase their understanding of mental illness, the mental health system, treatment options, and effects of medication. But most of all, it’s a group of people who understand what my husband is going through – a  place where he doesn’t have to try to explain what it’s like to live with someone with mental illness. They already know. They help him cope and take care of himself.

Your gift means my husband and all the loved ones of people with mental illness, have somewhere they can turn for information, understanding, support, and resources. Somewhere they can find other people in similar situations for coaching, brainstorming, mentoring and problem resolution. Somewhere they don’t feel so alone.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you, from my family to yours,

Michelle Signature

P.S. Family and Caregiver Education groups are available in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Farsi. Find out how to join a group by calling 1.866.345.0183, ext. 3321.


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