Wednesday 18 December 2019

How I Unplugged the Christmas Machine and Created Stable Holidays

By Julie A. Fast

I love Christmas. I like the music and the colors. I’m listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas Soundtrack as I write this! I love the food and the snow and the lights on the houses. It is not a religious holiday for me, but one that I associate with really good childhood memories and a lot of family events.

And yet, there is also the bipolar disorder side of Christmas. Bipolar is an illness triggered by change, even if the change is positive. I write about triggers in my book Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder. For all of my adult life I’ve loved Christmas, but once my bipolar started in my late teens, I kept getting sick at this time of year.

It took me years to figure out why. My bipolar diagnosis at age 31 helped, but I still wasn’t able to handle the up and down emotions during the holiday season here in the States. (Please feel free to substitute the holiday you choose to celebrate.)

Even after my diagnosis and creating my management system I lived with very serious depression and paranoia for many years. No matter how hard I tried I could not stay stable during the holidays. Each year I would promise myself that the time between Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve — our biggest holiday celebrations in the United States — would not make me sick.

I usually failed.

Despite having plenty of people around me I had many lonely times. It was my own behavior and the illness itself that caused this. I knew I had to change if I wanted to have a positive time during the holidays. Here is what I’ve done over the past twenty years to make the holiday season a better experience. I won't lie to you and say that the holidays are easy. Nope! But they are SO much better than in the past and that creates happiness during an often stressful time.

1. Finances. I can’t keep myself stable and deal financially with supporting myself if I buy gifts during the holidays. I stopped giving gifts to adults over twenty years ago. I read a book called Unplug the Christmas Machine that changed my life. I give gifts to my nephew — and have done so for seventeen years — but adults and I have a different Christmas relationship now. It’s about being together, family, friends and good food. I simply can’t do the presents. No one has to do presents if they don’t want to! If presents are something you enjoy and if they are something you can afford, then go for it. But if you’re like me and the crowds and cost and pressure actually make you more ill and really affect your bank balance, you have permission to stop.

2. Say no if you need to. You can use the ideas in my previous post on saying no to explain to others that your choices are often far more about bipolar than what you as a person want to do. I want to say yes to most things, but there is no way I could stay stable if I said yes too much during the holidays. But (there is always this darn but with bipolar) I then feel lonely at having to say no in order to stay well. Finding that balance during the holidays is hard but I keep trying.

3. Take a moment right now to look back on holidays of the past. What worked? What didn’t work? Make a list. Be nice to yourself and change what you can and plan to make more changes in the future. The holidays show up every year! There is plenty of time for us to change. This is the year to start the process of creating holidays that work for you!

4. Plan now and do something small for this year. Keep a journal on what you go through so that you can make the BIG changes next year. This is how I progress. If you don't have plans yet and worry that you will be lonely, there is time to find a group who wants to meet YOU. There is always a place for us in the world. Sometimes, we just have to find it. I like the group for meeting new people. They do have holiday events that are open to all people!

Happy Holidays. Let’s Treat Bipolar First and have the best holidays possible.


About the Author

Julie A. Fast was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and a separate psychotic disorder in 1995. She is the author of Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, Take Charge of Bipolar Disorder, Get it Done When You’re Depressed and The Health Cards Treatment System for Bipolar Disorder. Julie runs the award winning Bipolar Happens blog, is a columnist and blogger for BP Magazine, and won the Mental Health America journalism award for the best mental health column in the US. Julie was the recipient of the Eli Lily Reintegration award for her work in bipolar disorder advocacy. She is a bipolar disorder expert for the Dr.Oz and Oprah created site ShareCare.

Julie is CEU certified and regularly trains health care professionals including psychiatric professionals, social workers, therapists and general practitioners on bipolar disorder management skills. She also educates the public on how cannabis marijuana affects people who have bipolar disorder and psychotic disorders. She was the original consultant for Claire Danes for the show Homeland and is on the mental health expert registry for People Magazine. She works as a coach for parents and partners of people with bipolar disorder. She struggles a lot due to bipolar disorder. Friendships keep her going.

You can find more about her work at and Her Facebook pages include Julie A. Fast, The Stable Table for parents and health care professionals, and The Stable Bed for partners. You can watch her talk at the Oxford Union here.



  1. Wow! This post is so enlightening and inspiring for me. I have anxiety and panic attack disorder and although I have managed pretty well, there are still times that it attacks me badly. I will try some of your tips that apply to me. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Martin & Julie,
    Exactly what I needed.