Preventing Holiday Melt-Down

This may come like a snowball in the back of the head, but Jack Frost and the Spirit of Mall Shopping will be upon us shortly.

The holiday season can put a strain on everyone. And I find those of us dealing with a mental illness (which includes myself) are particularly vulnerable to down swings as the season gets into its' full swing. Family can be a source of support and respite during these harried times. Or they can be part of the harried times.

As a child, my parents always did their very best. They showed my love, doted on me even. But the tension between them could be cut with a knife. Especially at Xmas. Ours isn't so much of a family circle, but more like a family speck. We are a rather diminutive unit: Mother, Father, Me. It makes for rather charged gatherings. No Aunts, Uncles, or Grandparents to dilute the marital Molotov cocktail. There is nowhere to run if someone's having an argument. I mean do the math. It takes two to tango, so that leaves one poor soul caught in the middle. And that soul was usually me.

It wasn't until many years later, and many years of therapy later, I learned effective coping strategies to reduce the likelihood of spiraling into a black mist, particularly during the holidays.

During the Christmas season I need, and do, take deliberate precautions, fortifying my arsenal of coping tools to ensure I don't plummet into the dank coalmines of depression or fire off into the heights of a 'melt-down' mania.

These are my hot tips for keeping your cool and holding your own over the holidays:

  1. Know your limits and assert them with kindness and firmness. Don't feel pressured to say 'yes' to every family event. Even the Holiday Spirit needs her down time.
  2. At the same, do not isolate. When the wounds of 'Decembers' past come knocking, often all I want to do is rip my duvet from my bed, find a table and crawl under the table and comforter until all festivities are finished and February is well underway. Do not do this! Even in the depths of your worst depression, do not and I repeat do not evaporate from sight. We need you, even if you can't imagine why.
  3. Spend time with cherished friends. We can't choose our family (I mean often when I'm depressed I can't even choose what flavor of potato chips to binge on). But we can choose our friends. Your family gatherings may not be like a Norman Rockwell painting (and whose are?), but your friends can be a pool of peace and pleasure.

The company of friends doesn't make my depressions magically disappear, but it does remind me I am worthy of having friends. Something I don't believe when I am at the bottom of the depression pit looking up. Be selective with whom you spend your time. Choose friends who make you feel all warm and fuzzy. This doesn't mean refusing to see your relatives all together, but rather balancing your time with friends and family with more awareness.

Family can be a place of warmth and comfort over the holidays, but not for everyone. As I have learned to set healthier boundaries and assert my needs (and discovering what those are) without either incessant apologies or indignation, I enjoy my time with my parents more and more. And I am sure I have become more enjoyable to be around. It couldn't have been much fun for them to hang out with me when I offered so little of myself and instead offered disdain.

Ironically, it is through the process of healthy individual definition and separation that creates hearty family connections.

From my home to yours I wish you the very best of the season and an abundantly peaceful New Year for now and always.

Some inspirational reading and watching to keep you company when your own company doesn't feel enough:

Oh, The Places You'll Go – Dr. Suess
Soul Mates – Honoring the Mysteries of Love and Relationships – Thomas Moore
A Christmas Carol – 1952 classic with Alistair Sim

And of course:

The Grinch Who Stole Christmas

For those readers who do not celebrate Christmas, I offer these to you as classic stories that are heartwarming.

My play Crazy for Life is now available!

Great holiday gift for someone you love to give hope and help getting through their experiences with mental illness. Or for family members to better understand what you are going through. Order early to avoid disappointment.

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