The run-up to Christmas is many things to many people.

It can be joyous, celebratory and light-hearted but it can also be hectic and stressful as people attempt to manage the demands of festive preparations and present buying with a busy social schedule.

Anyone would be understandably burnt out once the festive season has come to a close, but things can be a great deal more complicated when you are suffering from a mental health condition which is often exacerbated by the Christmas rush.

Ealing resident Charlotte Walker suffers from bipolar disorder and is better known to some as Bipolar Blogger, the writer of a popular website on which she chronicles her experiences with mental health issues.

A mother of two teenage children, she has to cope with all the trappings of Christmas but must also keep an eye on herself as she is prone to bouts of hypomania – a persistent mood that veers between feeling over-enthusiastic and highly irritated.

“All of the Christmas stuff ends up feeding into my moods,” she said. “But which way it goes can depend on what’s going on at the time.

“Sometimes I’ll be super, super happy, which in turn will result in me doing things like buying too many gifts for the kids.

“Other times I’ll want to have this sort of perfect Kirstie Allsopp-style Christmas and I’ll make all these handmade gifts and ornaments. I can end up doing even more cooking and insist that everything is prepared to perfection.

“Before I know it I realise I’ve bitten off more than I can chew.”

Charlotte said that she generally enjoys Christmas, but it wasn’t always the case.

“For many years I didn’t like it,” she said. “My parents split up when I was 16 so this time of year would become a very loaded situation in terms of which parent I’d be spending it with.

“If I was with one parent I’d feel as if somehow I was letting the other one down.

“I married quite young, at 20, and soon after I tried to ban Christmas by not celebrating it.

“When I had kids, though, you start to realise how Christmas can be fun and bring a lot of happiness into their lives so that makes you want to celebrate it with them.”

Although Charlotte is now separated from the father of her children, they are on a strict rotation of spending the holidays with a different parent each year, which avoids situations she found herself in when she was a teenager.

This Christmas, her children will be with their father, and Charlotte’s partner has arranged a pampering session so she can enjoy a proper break.

While she is looking forward to it, she must also pay close attention to her moods, because a previous family break left her in what she labelled a ‘mixed mood’, which has all the agitation of a hypomanic episode, mixed with the despair of depression.

“The trick is to try not to kid yourself and tell yourself that everything will be alright,” she explained. “It’s vital that you talk to someone and let them know how you’re feeling, or make sure you’re not overwhelmed by stuff like doing the cooking.

“You have to get away from the sense that everything must be perfect.”

It is this sense of ‘must be perfect’, she says, which can be one of the biggest obstacles to staying relatively stable at Christmas, adding: “It’s a case of managing your own expectations.

“You want so desperately for everything to go perfectly but really you have to free yourself from it and realise that instead of perfect that it can just be OK.”

One of the worst times for Charlotte came in 2010. She had been in remission from bipolar for some time but, without realising it, was about to become ill again.

She was engaged in a flurry of activity at home when, slowly but surely, her mental stability all but collapsed.

She said: “I was suffering a very anxious spell of hypomania and ended up rushing to my local chemist’s that afternoon and desperately asking them if there was anything they could give me for my condition without having to see a doctor.”

She added, with a chuckle: “They offered me some Rescue Remedy (a combination of flower essences).”

During the eight years she was in remission, Charlotte has had some great Christmasses.

Things became more difficult after she relapsed in 2011 but she said still gets a lot of enjoyment out of festive traditions.

She said: “I sing with the choir at St Matthew’s Concert Choir in Ealing, which is a lot of fun.

“My children grew up reading Raymond Briggs and even now as teenagers they still like to watch the animated version of his Father Christmas story.

“Even if I’m anxious or depressed I can still take pleasure in the small things. I make a cracking roast potato and when I put a bowl of them down on the Christmas dinner table everyone goes ‘oooooh’, which always makes me smile.”

* To find out more, visit Charlotte’s blog at You can also find her on Twitter via @BipolarBlogger.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental health issues, you can get help and advice from the Mind charity at