It’s December. This means a lot of things.
Colder weather and less sunlight in some states. Colorful lights, gatherings of family and friends, decorating, lots of food with lots of sugar in it, and presents.
Beneath the surface
For those of us with mental health concerns such as depression, PTSD, chronic anxiety, and others, this is the time of year we are easily triggered.
Seeing beautiful, colorful posts on social media, other people smiling, and having a good time, old insecurities come to the surface, along with a feeling of being less than.
If you’re like me in the first week of this month, you spent an unreasonable amount of time staring at your bank account and credit card balances while wondering if you will need to decide between presents and holiday food or bills and groceries. While I make much more money now than I have in previous years, I still get very stressed out over my finances.
One of my fears is of being homeless. I’ve been homeless before. When I was eighteen, several different things led to me being homeless. I was fortunate because my homelessness didn’t look like what you would typically imagine. Being an attractive young woman going to school for media arts, wasn’t hard for me to find couches and extra beds to crash in now and then.
Taking days off for yourself
I have also been lucky enough to become self-employed. So I can choose to work less to take days off whenever I’m feeling too triggered.
Some people would call these mental health days. I don’t like to call them that. When I was an employee, I often got a pat on the back for never calling into work in contrast to my coworkers, who called in often so that they could have “mental health days.”
I feel that it’s good to take time off work to focus on yourself and your mental health. In my opinion, these days off are better as planned days rather than sporadic—especially this time of year.
Why routines are important
Without routine, the challenges of the holidays can become so much worse. Since Thanksgiving, I have noticed my regular diet slipping.
Eat a less than optimal diet isn’t out of laziness or lack of self-awareness. It is due to a desire for comfort, being stressed out about money, and the constant busyness of this time of year.
Living in Arizona this time of year is the busiest for all businesses. My private business is no exception.
As I try to attend to this influx of business, I find it much too easy to grab whatever is on hand. For this reason, I try to make sure what’s on hand is a healthier option—another benefit to working for myself is controlling the food that’s near me.
Holiday goodies were always a problem for me when I worked as an employee. Well-meaning coworkers who bring in tons of baked goods and all the potlucks would make it difficult to say no to the foods I knew but throw off my physical and mental chemistry.
Not all holiday memories are good
Holidays are also when many of us start remembering things we may not necessarily want to remember. This is a time when putting the past behind us is made harder than ever.
As someone who grew up in an abusive home, I can tell you that abuse did not stop because of the holidays; in many cases, it gets worse.
It was a good holiday if it passed without any fights or something getting broken.
My family was very good at putting on a show. Our house was fully decorated; we would always have a Christmas tree that was too big for the living room and enough food to feed an army. The food might as well have gone to an army because our house felt like a war zone.
The tension was as thick as frozen butter. My brother would usually calm down just enough this time of year at this time of year, and our mother would reduce her drinking just enough to appear sober. Being the youngest, it was my job to act like a happy child.
I don’t think there was ever a time in my childhood when I believed in Santa Claus. A month before the holiday, my mom would request my Christmas list. I knew that I would get every item. I knew that she and her first husband were the ones buying all the gifts. Her ex-husband was never shy about reminding us of who bought our presents. The holidays were just another way for him to prove that he was a provider and that we owed him for our very existence.
In my twenties, I ended up in a very similar relationship. However, that particular person’s manipulations during the holidays extended for months. They would refuse to open the gifts that I had been so excited about getting them and spent time wrapping. Those unopened gifts would sit on a shelf as proof that I was a worthless person.
The social anxiety that I developed over time to always be presentable is always heightened during the holidays.
I enjoy gatherings and being around people; nonetheless, the very idea of them around the holidays is terrifying. Once I’m at a gathering, it’s easy for me to go with the flow, but If I’m not fully prepared, it can lead to panic.
Don’t hide, be there
Around this time of year, it’s best to have a support system. It’s much too easy to go inside your head trying to hide from the world, hoping it’ll pass quickly as possible. That’s the last thing that you should do. It’s the number one thing I will be avoiding myself.
Even if you don’t personally have a mental illness, but you do know someone who does. Reach out; let them know they’re not alone right now. This time of year, they need you most.
How are you feeling during this holiday season? What are your struggles? Leave your comments below.
To learn more about depression check out this essay on the Observer- Dispatch2