It’s the Hap-Happiest Season of All
“Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful. ” ― Norman Vincent Peale
Oh, if only the above quote were true.
Now granted, it may be true for many of us. There is something special about the holiday season that brings good cheer, merry wishes, good tidings, etc. But for those of us who are sick for the holidays, it feels as though that magic wand didn’t touch us.
There have been a few times that I’ve been sick on Christmas day. Usually I wake up with that ache in my head and that tickle in my throat – the one that tells me a cold or the flu is coming. And I panic – down a few gallons of tea, take over the counter cold medicines, and take every home remedy I can find online. But inevitably that ache and that tickle turned me into mush for Christmas, and the reality was that waking up early on Christmas morning and opening presents and enjoying Christmas food was simply something that I could not enjoy, no matter how bright and merry the season is supposed to be.
This is how it feels when Christmas comes for those with a mental illness. The Hap-Happiest Season of All? Not this time.
It can be hard to enjoy Christmas when you are sick. I’ve often described illnesses such as depression and anxiety as being a “black veil” that covers your eyes. All that you perceive is twisted and distorted in this veil. And even the red and green glitter of Christmas becomes scathed and dirty. For many people the holidays offer frustrations over commercialism, a return to familial physical, emotional, or verbal abuse, a lingering feeling of isolation, or the reminder that buying nice gifts is impossible when you’re living paycheck to paycheck.
So how can someone struggling with an illness find joy in Christmas? Or, if you have a loved one who is sick, what can you do to help make their days merry and bright?
For those who are ill:
- Take it easy. You are sick. While getting out of the house and interacting with others is encouraged, don’t push your limit by RSVPing to every office holiday party. Prioritize your social engagements and keep a balanced record of tending to your emotional state but also fighting the urge to isolate yourself.
- Don’t fetishize the holidays. We tend to look at the holidays as this magical everything-is-wonderful season, and that just isn’t true. Don’t let the mysticality of commercials, songs, or “stories of Christmases long long ago” make you believe that you are somehow doing this Christmas thing wrong.
- Surround yourself with good people. Yes, there is some obligation to see your family at Christmas. However, that obligation is canceled when abuse is involved. If your Christmas would be better spent with friends or coworkers, then by all means surround yourself with those people. Blood is thicker than water is not a valid reason to subject yourself to emotional turmoil for the sake of holiday cheer.
- Avoid Alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant, can intervene with medications, can make your feelings worse, and could even start an incident with your loved ones. Just keep it safe and drink the non-alcoholic eggnog this year.
- Laugh. Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you can’t find funny things. Laughter really is the best medicine. When you feel like holiday cheer is something you simply can’t find, look up funny cat videos or browse a humor website. Find humor wherever you can, and have a good laugh-out-loud session.
For those with a loved one who is ill:
- Plan Ahead. If you know a friend or family member has been struggling, be sensitive to the struggles that they have. Do you know certain circumstances they are struggling with? A holiday engagement may not be the best in front of the sister who is in the middle of a divorce.
- Ask Outright. Call up your loved one and be honest with them. Ask what you can do – or not do – to help them enjoy the holidays as best they can. Your loved one will be thankful that you’re thinking of them and they will know they can talk to you if anything is triggering them.
- Have a Do Not Talk About list. There are some questions that are triggering or embarrassing for others to answer. In the same way you should not ask a woman about her weight or her age, you also should not bring up topics such as progress in therapy and/or medication changes unless your loved one specifically gives you permission to discuss or they bring it up themselves. This is another great thing to call your loved one and ask about ahead of time so you know what topics are off-limits.
- Don’t be Perfect. It’s easy to get caught up in the perfect decorations, the perfect meal, the perfect gifts. When this happens, our family members often don’t play their perfect part, and we can become frustrated with them. Your loved one is sick and is in no position to play any parts this holiday. Ditch the perfectionism now and save yourself – and your loved one – a lot of stress and disappointment.
- Don’t be Negative. A complaining spirit is contagious. Sometimes we try to “meet people where they are” in their depression by bringing up complaints. While being in a continuous state of bliss is also unrealistic and unhelpful, bringing up the shortcomings of the season will only illuminate them. Be realistic, but always look at the cup half full. Your loved one just may see things from your point of view.
Here at Please Live, we pray that all of you will have a very Merry Christmas, and we look forward to new and exciting endeavors coming up for the New Year.