Our Bipolar Christmas

"I don't know what to tell you except it's Christmas and we're all in misery."  National Lampoon Christmas Vacation

“I don’t know what to say except it’s Christmas and we’re all in misery.”–Beverly D’Angelo in  National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

We didn’t put up a tree.

We’re not giving presents.

We’re roasting turkey tomorrow.

We’re treating Christmas as a grown-up holiday.

It is splendid so far.

We had a very dark Christmas one year when my cousin was in a mental hospital.  She went manic on Christmas Eve because of steroids for an ear infection.  It was a side effect of the steroids.

It began with her walking around the supermarket telling people the air was poisoned.  The manager wouldn’t sell her the items she’d gone to buy and said she couldn’t shop there anymore.

Then she called 911 three times to say the air was poisoned.

The police came.  “You can’t call 911 like that.”  They searched her house for drugs. “I have no drugs,” she told them.

They dragged her out of the house and she wrapped her legs around a pillar on the porch and screamed to a neighbor that they weren’t “the real police.” Another policeman showed up, was kind and won her confidence, and took her to the psychiatric hospital.

Not only was she manic, but she was also disoriented.  They took away her shoelaces. “What can I do with shoelaces?”  she asked reasonably.  They let her have dental floss, but she became terrified of the dental floss.  “What if someone strangles me with dental floss?”

She asked us to bring her journal, couldn’t sleep (there’s the mania), and wrote incoherently in her journal for hours.  The next day she said the nurses had been reading her journal.  (She imagined it, but she was manic, not a liar.)

In cases of mental illness, family is not always sympathetic.  Her boyfriend, her father, and another cousin and I went to see her, but her mother refused.  When my cousin called a few days later, her mother said, “What have you done now?”  My cousin wept.  She is a law-abiding citizen.  She had “done” nothing.  She was ill.

In the common room she made friends–she always makes friends–and asked us to bring in a treat.  We brought in milkshakes from McDonald’s.

She watched Star Trek with her new friends and became a Star Trek fan.  Yes, she knows everything about Star Trek.

The doctor told her the steroids triggered the mania, but thought she was also bipolar.  He sent her home with psychiatric drugs.  Honestly?  I don’t know if she’s bipolar or not.  Perhaps a bit of hypomania sometimes.  She is very talkative and impulsive, but so are a lot of people.

I am a generation older and feel maternal towards her.  She visits me often. She is loud but vulnerable.  I enjoy her company.  I know she is horribly lonely this time of year.

So Merry Christmas, everyone!  If you’re having a bad Christmas, remember:  it could be worse.

P.S.  My cousin is no longer banned from the supermarket.   They don’t recognize her as the crazy person who talked about poisoned air.

4 thoughts on “Our Bipolar Christmas

  1. I like movies and stories where the truth is told about Christmas, how ambiguous it is for most people or grating or desolating for many. One such movie is w Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan: it’s known as a free adaptation of Mansfield Park, but it’s a movie in its own right. On Christmas eve, the hero (Edmund character) has Channel 11 in NYC with its burning log and incessant Christmas carol going. His parents were divorced some years ago, both families keep their distance. His mother spends the night sitting on the couch in the front room trying to watch an absurd noisy TV program. The heroine (Fanny character) fares better. She and her mother (a long time widow) go to St Patrick’s cathedral, a huge church in Manhattan where they join in the service and carols. They stand amid a huge crowd, but Aubrey-Fanny cannot manage to sing as the the Edmund character has lied to her and stood her up in their last meeting. But she does cry for the beauty of the place and some of the songs. The mother is another character enduring it as best as she. She has more money than the Edmund character’s mother, is more upper class and thinks to take her daughter out. The distraction, walk in the cold and snow help too.


  2. Ellen, it sounds fascinating and I wish I had that movie.

    National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation is very, very funny, with Chevy Chaseas the sentimentalist, his wife supportive but rolling her eyes, their children annoyed, and the grandparents fighting. It’s stress, but hilarious.


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