These next two months are often hectic and filled with lots of events related to the holidays.
So I did a thing.
Surviving the Holidays
Holidays can be hard for everyone. But they tend to be especially hard for those with mental illness and those who have been through trauma. Holidays tend to be synonymous with large crowds and holiday cheer but also with a reinforced sense of being an ‘other’. Of feeling broken because one is faking the smile or feeling uncomfortable with people all around them.
One of the methods for trying to survive anything is HALT. Each letter stands for something that is likely to make things worse in unpleasant situations.
The idea being that people who are tempted to relapse or who can’t place why they feel so bad should look back at each of these and ask if there is something they can do to make any of those levels go down. Whether is be taking a nap, eating a sandwich, calling an old friend, or finding an appropriate way to vent.
Especially when it comes to family gatherings, there is probably going to be a lot of questions/conversations that you might not feel comfortable having.
Understand that even if these people are family you don’t owe them ‘fake cheer’ or complete honesty. It is often best to have an idea of how you’ll answer routine questions before you go. If you already know they’ve going to judge you (as unfortunately, families are prone to do) practice saying, ‘Look, my life not yours. I can handle myself’ and not feeling guilty about it.
Figure out some things you can talk about yourself if you begin to feel awkward. Whether it be something political that you either A) feel strongly about (if you feel comfortable enough to argue in these settings) or B) don’t care that much about (and thus won’t feel terrible if the person you’re talking to disagrees), a movie/book/game that came out within the last year, or something that you’re working on.
During the event
Don’t be afraid to walk away for a second. If you smoke, step outside for a cigarette. If not, you can say you need to check in on a friend real quick so you need to go somewhere quiet to call them. If someone claims that is rude, say that your friend is sick or recently broke up with their long time s.o. or is alone for the holidays. Say you have a headache and need to step away from the noise. Anything to allow you a moment to get away from people. Don’t feel bad about doing it either.
If you know that parties are likely to trigger an episode, whether it be flashbacks, dissociation, or anxiety, make sure to bring something along that can help you out. A backpack or small bag filled with things like peppermints, comfort objects, and even just things that you can do to distract you, like a crossword puzzle or book.
Keep as much of a schedule as possible. Don’t starve yourself beforehand so that you can ‘eat as much as you want’ there. Don’t not eat the next day because you ate so much before. No slight increase in caloric intake is worth the potential upset that not eating can cause.
Remind yourself that just because people are family/friends doesn’t mean they can’t be toxic or spout toxic ideas. You don’t have to confront people if you don’t want to, but don’t internalize their opinions either.
Whether this be about how they don’t think you should have taken time off from school, or how you don’t have a nice enough job yet, or ‘do you really think you should be eating that?’
You are allowed to say, ‘You can have your opinion, but this is my life and I’m going to keep living it the way I want and I don’t want to hear anymore about this’
You are allowed to draw that boundary line
Remember to take care of yourself
The holidays are busy times filled with lots of people and that is why it is more important than ever to take care of yourself. Schedule in some ‘me-time’ to just get away and unwind.
Don’t stress too much over perfection or making sure that everything goes right and what everyone thinks of you. I know that can be hard, but remember, it is going to be okay.
It is okay if you don’t spent the holidays with your family. It is okay if you don’t have a good relationship with your family. It is okay. That does not make you a bad person. It is okay to spend the holidays alone. Do what is best for you, alright?