Monday, October 15, 2007

Bipolar Holidays (Part 1)

I received the following comment from another post, but I'm going to address it today. If any of you have helpful suggestions, I'm sure that "anonymous" will appreciate your comments as well.

"I have a sister (age 45) who has bipolar. I am her 56 year old sister. I am already dreading the holidays. I dread going to see my parents on Thanksgiving and Christmas because I know she will be at their home. I get a knot in the pit of my stomach every time I think about going. She will be there all day on both holidays. She has not spoken to me in 6 months because I talked back to her last February when she called me out of the clear blue sky and swore and screamed at me for 30 minutes for no reason. Any advice would be greatly appreciated."

First of all, let me say that there's no excuse for "bad behavior," whether your sister is bipolar or not. Should an incident like the one you described happen again, i.e. she calls you and screams at you for no reason, I would say, "I'm sorry. This is not acceptable behavior. I'm going to hang up the telephone now. When we can talk together like adults, please call me back."

And then I would hang up. Bipolar mood disorder does not give anyone the right to be abusive. If your sister cannot distinguish between "appropriate and inappropriate" behavior, she should get help from a cognitive therapist.

From reading your comment, it's difficult to provide advice about what you should do about the holidays. I have no idea whether your sister was always unpleasant at the holidays, if her behavior is caused by her medication or because she's not taking any, what your relationship has been over time, what the family dynamics are, whether there are other extended family members present (other than your parents and sister at these holidays) who can act as a buffer, and so much more.

Knowing none of this, let me say this. I don't believe that holidays are the time to resolve family problems; for the most part I believe they aggravate problems. If you and your sister can talk before the holiday and resolve things, that would be great (although from what you've said, it's seems unlikely). If you can't talk with your sister but if you can discuss her behavior with your parents, and seek advice from them before the holidays, that would also be helpful. If none of this is possible, do you have a clergy member who knows your family with whom you could discuss the problems?

If none of these ideas work, perhaps my readers will have advice for you, or you can always contact NAMI and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance to see if someone there has advice, or perhaps Dr. Deb Serani, or John McManamy can help.

To see why your sister may have difficulties during the holidays, I googled "holidays with bipolars siblings" and got an interesting hit on WebMD, which might give you her perspective.

Best of luck!


JayPeeFreely said...

I agree that holidays are never a very good time to solve your problems. I've never had a really, really bad one, but mine are spent alone.

For those who have family, try to get the best from the ones you communicate with well. The holidays shouldn't be a MoFo and your shouldn't feel a pressure to hash out the past.

For the emailer, this suggestion applies. Susan you hit it right out the park!!!

Syd said...

I would love to post a meaningful reply to Anonymous here, but I must say that I agree with jaypeefreely... Susan, you really did hit a home run with your response!

The holidays have always been difficult for me, even before my bipolar symptoms were noticeable. For me, it has always been a very lonely time because I've never felt a sense of "family" that I've always dreamed of. There have always been "issues" in my family and they always seemed to be exaggerated around the holidays. Yet this was the same time that everybody else "appeared" to be so happy.

I can't imagine what may be prompting your sister's behavior, but Susan is right that being bipolar does not give anyone a free pass to be rude or unkind. Similarly, the fact that you are related by blood is no reason for you to allow yourself to be her emotional punching bag.

I don't know how far you live from your parents, but if you live close enough, perhaps it's possible to plan to spend only a portion of the day with them on the actual holidays and plan to spend more time with them either the day before or the day after the holidays. Even if you don't live close enough, it may be worth it for your peace of mind to plan to do that anyway, even if it means sightseeing, checking out a movie, or reading a book in your hotel room. It sounds like any of those options would be better than being verbally abused by your sister.

I wish you the best. Please keep us posted.