A uniquely you holiday

For many people the holidays can be a mirage of joy and peace. The bustle of the season does not shimmer with happiness, instead it just highlights their daily struggle with metal illness. From where they sit while “everyone” else enjoys themselves, they are stuck dealing with the day to day struggle of staying mentally and emotionally balanced. It’s as if their challenges stand as an obstacle to the joy “everyone” else is experiencing.

Having a realistic view of the holidays can combat the longing and jealousy I often feel about the “everybody” elses of the world.  The holidays give me the opportunity to be realistic about my expectations of both myself and others. Being realistic allows room for me to savor the good moments I am lucky enough to enjoy. Here are some tips for adding some realistic boundaries to your holiday season.

First of all, remember that just because the calendar and seasons change our lives actually go on as usual.  There are still bills to be paid, medications to take and illnesses to manage. Life and mental illness doesn’t take a break just because its Christmas.  Setting expectation that the season will lessen or eradicate  our pre-existing challenges is to set yourself up for disappointment.

Secondly, planning ahead can help.  For some, making a list of celebratory events and choosing intentionally which invitations to accept aids in keeping the calendar overcrowded and stress at a minimum.  I like to write gifts and recipients down in my journal so I can remember what I am doing, clearing my mind of worrying or having to remember all the details.  A little bit of planning goes a long way towards allowing the brain to rest and not obsess.

Third, embrace your humanity! You are one person who has a human body and defined amount of hours during the day.  Pushing yourself beyond reasonable healthy limits will only lessen your ability to maintain your mental and emotional health. Think of it as a pie. How much of that pie are you able to give to your family, errands, and celebrations? More importantly how much of that pie are you able to give to yourself to keep your energy reserves up so you can serve and bless your family and friends.

Fourth, enjoy! Be thankful for and relish the moments that are good. Life is a mixed bag of good and bad.  However, mental illness can cloud the reality that there are moments in every day that can be appreciated.  Being thankful for good physical health, the sunrise, a warm home, pets, friends or family can change a downward trajectory to one that is more positive.

Finally, celebrate the season in a way that honors the way you were created.  You are special, even with all your bumps and bruises.  So live the season in ways that honor God, your body and all your unique characteristics.  Celebrate you without comparing your experiences with others. You were created like nobody else in the world, so live like nobody else.

Balancing the Holidays

As if regulatory day to day concerns and tasks aren’t already mind boggling, the holidays can add to the overwhelm.  The season presents us with the challenge of limited time with an intimidating number of items getting added to our calendars and to do lists.  The holidays can feel like it is about making everybody else happy in exchange for ignoring our own need for calm, routine, and peace.

As a pastor, I had a love hate relationship with the holiday season. I loved putting together meaningful celebrations for our church to recognize their own gratitude and celebrate the birth of Christ. However, for so many years I felt disconnected from the reasons for the celebration because of my own sense of disrupted life rhythm and depression.  As I have acknowledged this harried relationship with celebrations I have learned how to manage so I can take in the holidays with enjoyment instead of dread.

4 Steps to Balancing the Holidays

  1. Take breaks: Taking a break with a book, cup of coffee, mediation or a good movie is good for the soul to rejuvenate and be at its best capacity to continue to give to others. This isn’t wasting time – this is important mind rest that can re-charge your batteries for the next task.
  2. Acknowledge and nurture your own needs: Even in the midst of the craziness we need to care for ourselves.  Don’t neglect sleep, good soul care, and nutrition. While these seem basic the holidays tempt us to push beyond our limits which diminishes our ability to sustain health through the season.
  3. Prioritize life giving relationships: The holidays can bring a challenge to us of socializing with strangers or with family that doesn’t bring you joy.  While avoiding those interactions may be impossible balancing those with relationships that bring you life, joy, hope and peace will keep your tank fuller.
  4. Be realistic: Our budgets, bodies and calendars can only carry so much.  Recognizing that there are limits and being ok with that is so important to our mental health. Saying no to some things helps make room for the really important moments

It is truly all about creating balance in your life so you can enjoy this wonderful time of year instead of dreading it!

Forgiveness

Much has been in the news lately about forgiveness. I have my own battles with the concept.  I have been asked many time how I can forgive those who wounded me, stole my innocence and wielded the Bible as an excuse to abuse me.

There was a time when I had to say to myself, almost every minute “i forgive”. It was a blanket statement covering all who I felt offended or hurt me. But by saying it over and over on repeat it slowly became less of a mantra and more of a lifestyle. Forgiveness isn’t solely about a moment. It is truly an attitude that stands witness to the fact that even the most egregious of faults can be overcome by a grace that doesn’t come from ourselves but from our faith.

At some point I didn’t have to remind myself every minute that there needed to be forgiveness for me to walk forward. It became every five minutes, than every half hour until only in the moments when I hurt the worst and wanted someone to blame did I need to recall and breathe the words “i forgive”.

Church members stood up at a my custody hearing and swore my mother would never hurt me. They swore on the Bible that she was a good parent and couldn’t possibly do the things I said she did.  I forgave them because they didn’t know any better. I didn’t blame the church or God or my faith for the hurt that caused. I held people, fallible, human people responsible for their actions and I forgave them.

At the end of the day isn’t that what we all want? To be recognized that we are people who make mistakes. There is accountability, reconciliation, restitution and consequences for our actions. But to those who harm others we must also consider that grace was offered freely to us and others deserve that also.

Forgiveness has not wiped away the memory of what was lost, stolen or what hurt was caused. It does however free me repeating a pattern of hurt and hatred that was offered to me. On good days I offer grace. On bad days I repeat to myself “i forgive” – hoping others will offer the same to me.

Prioritizing Self

Its been four years since I was hospitalized. I would like to say that I’m all better. I’m healed. I’m back better than ever. But mental illness doesn’t work that way. It is an ocean of high and low tides that roll in and out. Depression, anxiety, and flashbacks roll in but so do joy, peace, and thankfulness.  Its a mixed bag of balancing the past with the present, not allowing the past memories to hijack the beauty of the moments I have been given.

However, I am so grateful for the time that I was able to be inpatient in a treatment facility not just to identify my illnesses and to focus on what needs to happen to keep me healthy in the future.  Always the over achiever, when they told me that trauma treatment was a three- five year journey I was sure I could eagle that hole and finish in 3-5 months.  It has been four years of ups and downs and certainly of learning who I am and I plan to spend my life time pursuing that goal.

I was given the gift of time to reflect on my life but every one of us has the opportunity to do that. Perhaps we lack the motivation to take time out of our busy lives to reflect because we don’t understand the gifts on the other side of reflection. When done well the other side of reflection on our lives and our place in the world there holds better understanding of self, renewed focus on what is important, better physical health, improved mental and emotional health.

Take the time. Set aside the calendar and prioritize you. You are worth it and, here’s the bonus, absolutely no bad can come from focusing on yourself for even a short time. Don’t wait until you are at your end. Do it now.

The kissing booth

I have a gallon size bag of medication that I have acquired over the last four years of Complex PTSD treatment.  I’m fairly certain I could earn a fortune selling little goodie bags of my drugs on the street.

Over the past four years medications have walked in and out of my life with alarming rate. At doctors directions I keep trying them all on for size to see what is the best fit.  I’m a med serial dater. It’s like the worst kind of kissing booth at the fair. Some prospects are are friendly but others are completely unfortunate looking, sloppy and lack manners.

I’m a gyroscope on a rollercoaster. My sense of balance and orientation is all dependent on the correct combination of sleep, food, activity, inactivity, interaction, solitude, spiritual balance and of course meds. If even one of those things is out of balance I feel like I will hurtle off the track and go crashing on the ground.

This journey has been about adjusting. Its been about acknowledging my illnesses, which I don’t like, learning my limits, which I suck at, and admitting my need for help, which I hate. However, whenever i get overwhelmed I have to remember and be grateful for the fact that I don’t have a life threatening illness, terminal diagnosis or malformation of my physical body that would keep me from moving forward in life.

But, I will be grateful for modern science which helps keep me balanced and I will quit hating them for their needfulness in my life.