Surviving the holidays with a mental illness

Keep CalmThis post was supposed to offer self-care and survival tips for the holidays, but then I realized that I have none. I’m still struggling to find strategies to cope when my world is moving at warp speed and my chest feels like it’s about to explode, so who am I to offer solutions?

I read other mental health articles about how to survive the holiday season with a mental illness and I could just rattle off their information, but that seems disingenuous.

When I started the sharing my mental health story, I promised myself that I was going to be extremely candid about what has happened and what is happening in my life. I never wanted to give my readers the impression that I have everything figured out because the reality is, I don’t. Not even close.

So this is more like my, what’s making me stress out this holiday season post.

For most people, going home for the holidays is already stressful with travelling, pushy relatives, over eating, and over spending. But for someone struggling with their mental health, the holidays are laden with triggers that you try and avoid, but they’re hidden like landmines. They’re unseen and unsuspected, until it’s too late and you’re blown to pieces.

In the lottery of parents and inlaws, I have sort of hit the jackpot. Horrible parenting stories are are a dime a dozen and even more common is the trope of the out-law in-laws. I’m extremely lucky to have none of that. I know I am well loved by both sets. My husband and I are also lucky because we have hometown friends that we still get together with. Despite our luck, we still feel the pressure, self-inflicted for the most part, of balancing our time. It’s like a dance of when to stay where and for how long and when to see which friend without our families feeling jilted. We are continually caught in a cycle of trying to please everyone and ensure no one feels neglected or slighted. Except this year, on top of the usual balancing act, I need to carve out enough time for me to stay sane. And I don’t mean that in a flip, hyperbolic way. Finding time and space for me is integral to my recovery.

Depression ball and chainI, and everyone around me, needs to recognize that I am not functioning at 100 per cent. My moods are like a roller coaster and I’m just along for the ride. I’ve been off work since October  and despite the reprieve, I still have that shell shocked feeling of being over stressed. I still bolt upright in the middle of the night, sweating and panting, wondering what I have forgotten to do. I’m on a new medication regimen and it has caused major agitation that is sometimes unmanageable. My anger is sometimes so intense that I feel like my body may spontaneously combust. When the rage is at its apex, I’m afraid of even opening my mouth for fear of what might come out. This is why I haven’t been at work. This type of behaviour often leads to unemployment sooner rather than later.

Beyond the terrifying anger, my ability to perform day-to-day tasks has decreased dramatically. I get tired and frustrated very easily. A simple task, like grocery shopping, has become the bane of my existence. Not only do I have to interact with people in a confined space, but I become exasperated when our store runs out of products. A few weeks ago, I almost had a meltdown in the middle of the store because I couldn’t I was cooking french onion soup and our store didn’t have gruyere cheese. If it hadn’t been for my husband offering to check the store across the street, I would have deserted the cart and fled the store in tears. This is my reality – I have meltdowns (pardon the pun) over cheese.

But it isn’t always like this, these are only the most difficult days. Most of the time, I just want to be alone and quiet. My current situation allows me to have a lot of time by myself.  My husband leaves to school during the day and comes home only for lunch and dinner. This leaves me alone to go for a walk, write, maybe run an errand or two, workout, and watch A LOT of daytime TV.

Other than my husband, therapist, and doctor,  I don’t really talk to that many people and that’s fine by me. Right now, in person social interactions are exhausting. For every one day that I socialize, it’s like I need two days to recuperate. So what am I going to do over the holidays? How do you explain that to people without their feelings getting hurt?

You're not a burden

Image source: Emm’s positivity blog.

It’s not that I don’t love my friends and family because I do. They’re everything to me. But, despite my physical body being strong and healthy, I’m unwell. I haven’t been around people in a constant way in three months and that makes me incredibly nervous. I’ve learned now that when I start to emotionally unravel at the seams, I have to crawl into bed with a book and be quiet for an hour or two before I feel like myself again. But that’s hard to do during in the middle of Christmas dinner or New Year’s Eve festivities. My two best friends have had major life events happen – one recently got engaged and another just bought a house – how do I explain to them that getting together to have a glass of wine or a coffee can seem daunting? How do I explain to my sister that Christmas shopping for mom and dad seems terrifying? How do I tell my in laws that despite the fact that I love their company and am so happy they are letting us stay with them throughout the holidays, I just really need to be alone right now? How do I say to my mom, please just don’t ask questions about my mental health or work because I just can’t handle that conversation?

There’s not a single mental health blog out there offering tips for these holiday problems and that’s because no one can answer these questions for me, not even my therapist. She and I have, undoubtedly, come up with coping strategies but how do I deal with hurt feelings?  It’s not that I don’t want to stay with my in-laws or have that glass of wine or go shopping, it’s just that simply getting out of bed in the morning can sometimes be difficult.

I need a wide berth by people right now, but I think it’s difficult for people to recognize this when you’re physically healthy. I look the same and may appear functional, but it’s important to remember that I’m not. I’m raw, on edge, and my brain is broken.

How do you survive the holidays when you’re struggling with your mental health?

If you need help coping, here are some of the articles that I read:

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