Oooh, the holidays.
Everyone full of joy and cheer. Holiday-themed music blasting on radio stations since the day after Black Friday. Television specials about the meaning of Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa, gatherings. And, trauma.
Yes, you read right. Trauma.
For persons suffering from mental illness, trauma and depression are two of the most common things intersecting with one another during the holidays. And for those folks haunted by trauma and depression this holiday season, it might not be the most wonderful time of the year. Fact is, it can be some of the most depressing and worst times of the year.
But there are ways you might be able to cope. So, my gift to all you fine folks this year is seven tips to help make sure your holidays are not so glum. You can use all seven, or three, or one, or, heck, none. If you don’t use them, feel free to pass them along to a friend in desperate need. One more note. Remember that, just like life, none of these are set in stone. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have a start.
1. Have a support system: This goes without saying, but this becomes way more important to have during the holiday season. Sometimes we’re forced to be in spaces that can trigger severe trauma, or we end up having symptoms that worsen as certain days of the year are near. If you are feeling overwhelmed emotionally or everything seems unbearable, it’s beautiful to know that you can have someone or more than one someone to speak to when times are tough. Write down phone numbers, reach out to folks on Facebook, or ask people to check in on you. If you are in crisis, you can contact hotlines or IM services to help you (See the end of this article).
2. Allow yourself to feel negative emotions: All too often, we tend to bottle up our emotions. Personally, I am more likely to bottle them up because of this idea that I have to force myself to feel happy around the holiday season. Some folks are similar to me, but I want to tell you something: you don’t have to be happy or cheerful during the holidays. You can hate it as much as you want because it is your right as a person that is existing in the world. If you feel angry, be as angry as you want to be. If you are sad and need to cry, cry yourself to sleep while listening to shitty holiday music. One of the worse things about depression is that it might strip you of your emotions, making you feel like the emotional equivalent of watching paint dry. Negative emotions are emotions that should be valued because, like positive emotions, they exist, and you have the right to feel them.
3. For folks with traumaversaries (specific dates when something traumatic happened), try to create new memories around or on that date or dates (if you have enough energy to do so): While Christmas isn’t a trigger for me, the day after (which is Boxing Day for some countries) is. As it gets closer, there is a sense of helplessness and fear of impending doom rumbling within me. I’ve had more breakdowns and flashbacks from an abusive person in my life, memories I wish I haven’t had to deal with around the season. While having a breakdown, my partner asked if I would like to hang out with them that day and try to create newer, better memories. I valued that. While traumaversaries can be draining, spending time with people who you care about or going to places that don’t remind you of someone or something can be cathartic and energy giving. Not to say that being exhausted isn’t valid. It completely is. However, it’s okay to want to create something new on the day that gives you so much pain. It’s more than o.k. It’s fine.
4. Practice harm reduction: Harm reduction is something that is meant to reduce harmful results due to a variety of human behaviors. Some of these things include self-harm and drug use. Around this season, it might be harder for folks to cope and they might turn to these things. Also, there is this expectation that everyone who is relapsing or doing some of these behaviors are bad people because they are not able to practice sobriety. However, there is not just a dichotomy of sober and not-sober. There are blurred lines and people recover in different ways, something people forget. Shaming yourself for relapsing into these habits or even indulging in them continuously will make you feel much worse. If you’re going to do something deemed as a “healthy” or “legal” coping mechanism, still allow yourself to do them in healthy ways. There are programs that will give you clean needles to safely practice some forms of drug usage. Also in a few states, you can get overdose antidote drugs and have your loved ones learn how to administer it, just in case this does happen. There are meetings that can help with learning how to drink or do other things in safer ways, so you don’t end up hurting yourself (or harming yourself as bad). You are not a bad person, relapses happen, but you also deserve to have access to do things safely.
5. Congratulate yourself on the simple things: In this world, people expect accolades only if they did something big. Well, when you have a mental illness, eEverything is pretty big. If you managed to get up out of bed when you thought you couldn’t on Christmas day, pat yourself on the back. If you allowed yourself to cry when you thought you had no more energy to do it, give yourself a hug. If you gave yourself space to take the time to appreciate some of the good things that have happened to you, cherish that. Congratulate yourself on surviving this year or this part of the year. You don’t have to have discovered the cure for cancer or produced a new well-known holiday song to congratulate yourself. Your survival alone is something worth congratulating, especially when you’re navigating life through the prism of a mental illness and trauma.
6. Remember that this part of the year will die down eventually: I’d say this one is pretty self-explanatory. If the only thing keeping you alive is knowing that this year will be over in a couple of weeks, hold on to that.
7. Write a list reflecting on positive stuff you plan to do for the New Year. Or, write a list reflecting on all the positive things you ended up doing this year : Sometimes, it’s hard to think of a long-term goal when every day isn’t a guarantee you might survive your mental illness(es). Take time to reflect on what you have done and what you haven’t done. Try this only if you have the energy to do so. You can write down a list, maybe it’s just one thing that you’ve done for this entire year. Doing this activity is part of celebrating the good, even at a bad period of your life. You are not disposable; you are worthy. And just by reading this list, you did something today. You did something that was energy consuming, but you managed to do it!
As someone who suffers from depression that worsens near the holiday seasons, borderline personality disorder, panic disorder and PTSD around certain parts of the season, I know all too well how difficult things can get during these seasons. Sometimes there will be flashbacks, sometimes there will be unexplained physical and emotional pain, and sometimes you might feel extremely numb.
Experiencing these feelings is completely normal.
If you use just one tip on this list, know that this writer is proud of you. You deserve to exist, you deserve to live, and you deserve to survive this holiday season.
Hotlines/Websites for Folks in Crisis
Trans Lifeline – 877-565-8860
National Suicide Prevention Line — (800) 273-8255
The New York Anti-Violence Project (for survivors of intimate partner violence) — 212-714-1141
Community United Against Violence (also for survivors of intimate partner violence) — (415) 333-HELP
IMAlive — www.imalive.org/
Crisis Text Line — www.crisistextline.org/
Featured Image: Patrick Marlone , Creative Commons