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Finding Happiness at Halloween: Lifting the Veil off Mental Health

October 31, 2009 Leave a comment

(cross-posted from The Bilerico Project)

Halloween is my partner Jim’s favorite holiday. He loves it more than Thanksgiving and more than Christmas. Around this time of year, it’s not uncommon for our apartment to smell of baked pumpkin seeds and hot cider infused with mulling spices. Indeed, fall is when Jim seems to be the happiest.

But what if that which normally brings happiness and joy fails to do so? How do we reclaim that feeling? What if the only way to feel happiness seems to be only through unhealthy means?

I have been asking myself these questions because I have been helping Jim reclaim that feeling about Halloween. This holiday season has been a little bittersweet since it has arrived on the heels of a mild manic episode. As he has been coming down, he has become almost nostalgic for the time when he wasn’t in treatment and when his mania seemed to run wild.

Halloween is a perfect holiday to feed that mania as revelry and mischief are in the air and all around us. Jim’s drug regiment and treatment, however, preclude him from indulging too much in that revelry and this has caused some anxiety for us both.

According to Jim, being manic is like having the best “high” he can ever hope for. He feels invincible, special, sexy, creative, fun…and happy. In short, being manic for Jim is sort of fun, the subsequent crash notwithstanding. He craves happiness and joy the way we all do, but in his case (and, I presume, in the case for many who have experienced mania) joy in its most potent form has only been discovered while manic.

Happiness is a drug that makes us feel great so I can understand why Jim would want to get back to a place that seems to provide ample amounts of it. My struggle has been to help him find other sources of joy that do not involve a manic high. Recently, we talked about which aspects of Halloween make him happiest. The costumes are certainly at the top of his list.

But then there was the drinking, the parties, the sex…the drinking. These are all fun, to be sure, but doing these things whilst manic has in the past resulted in blackouts and questionable behavior. For Jim, drinking was fun, but not when it involved him disappearing for hours or when he couldn’t remember where he was. And the forceful downward swings that it often caused were not fun for either of us.

We have slowly realized together that his illness has forced us to redefine what fun is and what makes us both happy. We are still in that process and this Halloween will certainly be a test, but I am confident in him. He is more stable than ever before in his life and his outlook is generally positive.

His laments over his mania are just that, laments, and it is important for me to remember that he is still human and, like all of us, he just wants to have fun and be happy.

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