Bipolar Thanksgiving


Picture this:

The family (and extended family) are all sitting around the large table with the big Thanksgiving centerpiece in the middle of it. The luscious holiday dishes are passed around, and there are smiles on all the faces, much talk and laughter going on at the same time as the food is served.

When the meal is served, everyone looks to the head of the table, and the patriarch of the family, Grandpa, starts by saying, “Today I am grateful for…” And everyone goes around the room saying what they are grateful for. Then grace is said, and everyone digs in to the great Thanksgiving feast, as the laughter and conversations pick up again.

What a lovely picture of Thanksgiving, isn’t it? Don’t you wish it could be your picture of

the holiday as well? But chances are, it won’t be. Not when you’re a supporter to a loved one

with bipolar disorder.

The holidays, like Thanksgiving, can be very stressful for people with bipolar disorder. They can even be a trigger to a bipolar episode for some people with the disorder.

For example, being at a family gathering means being around more people, so for someone who is triggered by crowds, this would be a stressful situation for them. It would be best if you either avoid the family gathering or, if you do plan to attend it, you need to have a plan of what to do if your loved one does, indeed, become too stressed out or their bipolar disorder does become affected.

You might want to have some kind of signal that they can give you if you are not right next to them that tells you that they need to leave. Then you can make your excuses, and simply leave the gathering if your loved one becomes too overwhelmed.

Another plan might be that knowing ahead of time that this might be a problem, contact your loved one’s psychiatrist and have them prescribe an anti-anxiety medication that your loved one can take so they can stay at the gathering.

Be sure to give your loved one extra love and support during this time, so they know you are

on their side.

The holidays can also be a trigger to depression for someone with bipolar disorder. In this case, a family gathering can help them avoid the depression by not allowing them to isolate. Isolation can be a trigger to a bipolar episode.

Can you see how knowing your loved one’s triggers can help you know what to do (whether

to go to the gathering or not, in this case)?

If your loved one tends to get depressed around the holidays, try to get them involved in more


Part of the depression is a loss of interest in things that used to interest them. So try to spark their interest.

Have them help you with holiday preparations. Maybe have them help you with your Christmas

shopping list. If they are up to it, do a little bit of early Christmas shopping with them. Even wrapping some Christmas presents might help them get into the spirit. If this is something that interests them, have them help you with the holiday cooking. Have them go to the grocery store with you.

Be careful not to overwhelm your loved one, however. Too much excitement can trigger a person with bipolar disorder into a bipolar manic episode, and you don’t want that, either.

Try to stick to as normal a daily schedule as possible. That will help them the most.

Well, I have to go!

Your Friend,


  1. I’m tired of not being able to spend Thanksgiving or any other holiday because of my Bipolar husband. It’s just not fair to me or to our children…and I know that life isn’t fair. He has isolated himself to just our family for holidays and cuts off everyone else. I can’t also just leave with the kids because then he’ll go into a depression cycle. I’ve been dealing with this for 11 years now and I’m just about at my wits end.

  2. this year is the best we moved out from where we were living as it was making me sick. gone to allergy dr. and i don’t have this. see dr in three monthes. on inhalier just for 6 monthes,nose drops as needed. had a test breathing treatment. passed above average. stuff is all clearing up. using energy drink and one cup of coffee everyother day. this is great than being yuck. this is working for me and very thankful.

  3. Okay!!!! Is there a support group for the ones that have been devastated by someone that is bipolar? I am not bipolar. My husband is bipolar. For heaven’s sake!!!!!

  4. We don’t have thanksgiving here, maybe just as well, as the Christmas madness is enough to deal with. I can see warning signs now that my loved one is on his way into an episode. He tells me he is taking all his meds as prescribed, but he has started drinking again, which is not good. On and off he has been slightly hypomanic, moody, not sleeping or eating right. The trigger was someone he valued as a friend has let him down badly. He regards me as a therapist/ counselor and I do what I can to help. However, when I gently remind him that the drink is doing him no good he won’t listen. He says he is currently neither creative nor religious, which (he thinks) means he is a long way from an episode. I think putting his time into something creative would be far better than drinking, but he has to realise that himself.

  5. Dear Dave and all readers,
    My name is Lynn and I’m a recovering alcoholic. I also live w/Bipolar II Depression on a daily basis.
    Most larger A.A. mtg. halls have what’s called an Alcathon around the holidays. It’s marathon mtgs., usually every 2 hrs., done w/potluck and lots of ‘bad A.A. coffee!!’The reason I’m sharing this w/you is, almost all Alcathon mtgs. are ‘open’ mtgs., which can include visiting family members and friends, as well as others who are interested in the A.A. steps of recovery. These marathon mtgs. usually last for abt. a day-and-a-half, including all night. Contact your local A.A. Office for times and locations of mtgs. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DRINK ON HOLIDAYS, EITHER!! Thanks for letting me share, and Happy Holidays!!
    Lynn S.
    Sacramento, CA

  6. Hi Everyone,

    I want to be of some good cheer this holiday. Bipolar is managable, but it has to be learned. I found my ability to deal with episodes by being in therapy and sticking with the doc as they worked on finding the medication that worked for me. Dave’s material was priceless to helping me achieve stability. Systems and routines are extremely helpful. Managing episodes is a two fold approach. I have to think the right thoughts, and take the right meds to stay balanced but it IS achievable.

    I am grateful for the many things I have been blessed with and although the holidays used to make me depressed I have learned out to prevent this from happening. I had to work through the triggers that Dave mentioned in this post. I had to find the right medication, but I did it. And you and/or your loved one can do it too! It takes persistence, a good psychitrist and a good psychologist to stabilize, but it is possible.

    Have a great ThanksGiving everyone, and know that there is hope, a light at the end of the tunnel. We just have to work at it and never give up!


  7. I hear you Dawn, been there and my son’s and I are still recovering from the devastation. You might have complex post trauma. Just do your best every day to heal yourself and your kids (if you have kids). Post trauma is tricky and it takes a while to find your equilibrium again. Especially with repeated insults to your body, mind and soul, all the crazy making that goes on with a bipolar mate and parent, and the damage to the nervous system. Good therapists help a lot too. It is sad that we all dance around one person, who craves attention, and yet that one person on the right medications, seeing the right therapist themselves, makes it so much easier on everyone. The damage extends out like ripples from a wake. The inner sunami (sp?) is the beginning and as the years go by, after you have pulled out if that is the case for safety and your own sanity (and the kids), I have been told it takes several years. Keep around people who truly love you and care about you that are stable and strong. If you sense someone does not understand, just find people who do. They are out there. With hope.

  8. Today is Thanksgiving and I thought I was doing the right thing for my 15 yr old son whom was diagnosed with bipolar over two years ago. Suffers from extreme depression, anxiety, social disorder etc. Also substance abuse. I went to eat with family, he did not feel up to going, as if he was a little sick. He said he just couldn’t do it so I said ok. I wont be long. He was home alone and tried to overdose with his meds. He took 20 Haldol 2 mg and Xanax 1 mg like 5 or more he says. But I counted alot more missing!!! I’m worried sick for my son. I’ve been by his side through all. So many family members just don’t understand. They think hes “faking” alot of this. Why in the world would a 15 yr old teenage boy fake something like that? He nevers goes anywhere unless with me. Has friends but they come to our house and then all they do is smoke pot outside. I’m to the point now is all I do is cry everyday, sometimes I hide from him, cause I know it upsets him. My baby wants to die…. I don’t know how to help. Please help desperate Mom pleasel

  9. Tammy I know how you feel for I have a fourteen year old daughter with BP, anxiety issues, paranoia, and ADD. You are best if you can find a local support group or online to share your feelings and concerns. Unless you have a child like ours family and friends usually will not understand. It’s easier to blame the behavior than try to minimize the disease. Best of luck to you!

  10. We took a huge step and my BP loved one agreed to go to our family Thanksgiving as a first official introduction. My family is such a loving family and was very supportive. Some of my family know about BP and have helped me thru some tough moments. And I was so proud of them to not judge and to show love and affection. There is nothing like seeing your family and your loved one laughing together, enjoying cards and games, hugging one another. I knew then this was a huge moment in our lives in our relationship. I hope my loved one can see what is available to them in the way of unconditional love beyond what i have to offer. And the next day, I realized it is another day. But I hang onto showing unconditional love to the one I love and support the best I can offer. Love your BP loved one! Be patient, compassionate and supportive best you can.

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