mental health

Blue Christmas

Between Thanksgiving and the start of the New Year, there are fourteen celebrations that take place among different belief systems. (Which comes as a shock to a lot of people with narrowly-focused minds – not that it changes anything) Some have solemn, dignified practices. Others are boisterous and loud. And a few mix those emotions together. The majority, though, concentrate on a singular theme of family, togetherness, and reflection.

Beautiful, right?

For most people, it is. The vast majority count down the days to their holiday with anticipation and excitement. Halloween barely makes it out the door before they start planning decorations, meals, and gifts. (Okay, so I’m leaning heavily on Christmas here. I honestly can’t say I’ve encountered anyone going overboard on Chanukah or Kwanzaa decorations) They pummel you daily (hourly), asking if you’ve finished your shopping, your baking, your cards. You can see the phrenetic energy coming off them, making you wish you had some kind of force field or protective bubble to hide in. Because those people drain YOUR energy and heighten your anxiety the longer you spend in their presence.

Because the holidays AREN’T always happy and joyous occasions for everyone. Those same messages of family, friendship, and togetherness become reminders for people who are struggling with those very concepts. The enforced joy and happiness hammer at people struggling with their depression. And that constant badgering? Not so great for people with anxiety. (Seriously, how are you supposed to feel getting asked the same question every two seconds?!)

But denying the holidays? Sacrilege!

If you attempt to crawl away from the lights and garland and tinsel (fucking tinsel gets EVERYWHERE – it’s worse than glitter), people stare and shame you. Because who hates holidays? They can’t take a moment to listen and realize that there are underlying issues at play. That overwhelming cheer makes you feel WORSE. That you possibly aren’t on speaking terms with your family (or maybe you don’t HAVE family – 2020 took a lot of them away). Or – craziest of all – perhaps you celebrate differently from them.

WHAT?!

I’ve walked a careful balance for almost two decades now. Since I broke with my upbringing and elected to follow a different belief system from my family, I’ve encountered a lot of stubbornness, ugliness, and ignorance. Which sucks the joy right out of the holidays. And when I dare to point out the pagan origins of A LOT of those people’s habits, they REALLY get nasty. It makes me not want to participate in the first place.

The approach of the holidays equates to stress, anxiety, depression, and misery, for me. It means waiting for endless questions, hearing the same spouted nonsense (for crying out loud – “Happy Holidays” is not a “liberal cop out” – I’m being polite and respecting the fact that I have no idea what you might celebrate!), and rolling my eyes so much I get a headache. I spend more time crying during the holidays than I do the rest of the year.

And I know I’m not alone.

I think, if everyone stopped for FIVE SECONDS, and looked around at everyone around them, things might be different. STOP forcing a bright, cheery demeanor on these weeks. TALK to those around you – find out what’s going on in their minds. LISTEN to people about their beliefs, and maybe learn about a different culture and celebration for once. Take moments out to BREATHE, in peace and quiet with no one around. If you have to, tell people to go away so you can gain those moments (they’ll survive).

And, if you need to, feel bad during the holidays. You’re entitled to your emotions and what’s going on in your mind. Never let anyone tell you differently. Because, when you get down to it, they’re just one more day.

mental health

I’ll Take Water, Thanks

No family may be better than two families
Photo by Paula Schmidt from Pexels

“You can’t choose your family.” Everyone knows that tired old phrase. Never mind that it isn’t precisely true. All of us defy those words when we settle into the groups we DO choose, composed of loved ones who don’t share our blood but mean every bit as much to us as the people who can donate a kidney or liver lobe to us. They also prove that old adage of “blood is thicker than water” wrong. Oftentimes, they stand beside us when our official, legal family members find it uncomfortable to stick with us through panic attacks, depressive fugues, and other mental health taboos no one likes to talk about.

The family we CHOOSE keeps us sane.

The family we have no input on? Those are the people who – more times than not – drive us over the cliff. They stop listening, they don’t hear us (and, yes, there’s a difference between those two things), they trample over our words, and they misunderstand our states of mind. If they don’t experience the same shamble of disorders we do, they have no frame of reference and fail (epically) to assist us. Even when they mean well, they do more damage than good. Old traumas resurface time and time again, reopening old wounds that have never properly healed.

Because these are the people closest to us (in my case, anyway. I recognize I can’t speak for everyone). They know our history more than anyone else; they were present for the majority of it. Odds are, they were the first people we ever attempted to talk to, to approach with the chaos in our minds. And there’s a pretty good chance they were the first people to dismiss our concerns. (Family’s great and all, but they usually screw up) It’s a Mobius Strip that no one ever quite escapes from.

And then your dumb ass gets married.

You DO choose your spouse (most of the time. I’m aware arranged marriages still exist). However, the family that comes with them? Yeah, you don’t get a say there. You’re stuck with whatever hand the Universe feels like dealing you, and not everyone lucks out in the deal. Some do – I won’t deny that. The rest of us come to realize all of those “in-law” tropes exist for a reason. And marriage shackles you to whatever lunatics your spouse is related to TILL DEATH DO YOU PART!

Granted, you have no legal obligations to THEM. (I know – I checked the marriage certificate just to make sure) But suddenly you have ties to more people with ZERO comprehension of your mental tolerances. Not to mention you’re expected to swallow their “quirks,” no matter how badly they scrape at human sensibility. (To say nothing of your anxiety levels) And when they push you over the edge, YOU’RE the problem. (As always – Wow, sounds just like home)

Fucking bullshit.

The family you create over the years, made up of the people who know you, accept you, understand you, and love you ranks above any level of blood relation. Maybe they can’t donate an organ to save your life, but they’ll hold your hand while you go through the transplant and recovery. They’ll cheer you on and bring you soup or saltines or a glass of water while your body copes. They kick your ass when it’s needed, dragging you out of bed and forcing you to get your shit together when you’ve wallowed in too much self-pity. THOSE people are worthy of the “family” label – not the ones who share your name.

That’s not to say you WON’T incorporate genuine family members into that group. I know people out there who love their parents and siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles – you name it. The word “family” needs to mean more than “individuals you’re related to.” It should stand for everything I described above. And if that includes relations, so be it. But, for a lot of people I know, it doesn’t. Because those blood relatives are a major source of the problem.

There are shredded pieces of the Mobius Strip of my immediate family. We’ve worked through some things, but there are a lot of problems that still continue to cycle around and around again, never making a breakthrough. I love them – I never doubt that – and I’ll do anything for them. But my parents…my parents still drive me over the cliff at times. No matter how often I try to explain things to them, they fail to hear me, see me. They circle the outside of my chosen family – because they don’t understand me the way my friends do.

Look at your family. Your REAL family. Don’t let the definition of the word weigh down your shoulders. You have one – everyone does – that’s surrounding you and supporting you and cheering you on. When you shift the way you look at that word, it lightens the burden on your mind. Maybe it IS water running through that family instead of blood. So what? Look at the world around you and all of the things WATER accomplishes.

mental health

Check the Fertilizer

Wasn’t exactly intentional, but I’ve stumbled onto a theme this month concerning dreams and goals, and this post circles around that same concept. When you sit down and start to figure out how to break down your dream into goals, it’s natural to look around at the people you love and admire – especially if they’re successful and living their personal dreams. It makes sense, too, since they’ve achieved a lot of their goals and climbed higher on their ladders than you. I’m not saying this is a bad idea by any stretch. The problem comes in when you start to compare and contrast them against yourself.

The grass is greener on the other side for a reason.

You are NOT that person. The two of you don’t have the same pedestals, don’t have the same ladders, and you aren’t even standing on the same level ground. Comparing yourself to them is going to start a round of self-defeating thoughts and behavior that will guarantee one thing: you aren’t going anywhere. You don’t know how many goals they’ve checked off the their list to get where they are today. How many sacrifices have they made? How much work have they invested? What kind of commitment are they putting in every single day? And how long have they been at things? You’re not even at DAY ONE – expecting brilliance is asking too much of anyone (not even superheroes save the world on their first day).

Yes, they make it look easy, and it’s depressing. When you reach that stage, you’ll get to depress everyone watching you from the ground floor – so there’s that to look forward to (don’t make that a goal, please). As soon as you sit down and FOCUS on what steps you’ll need, you’ll figure out it isn’t easy and gain some perspective. Whatever the dream is that you’re chasing down, there’s work involved that demands your attention, blood, sweat, and tears. Nothing that requires those things is easy. Anyone that tells you differently is selling something – usually at a steep price.

Are there people out there willing to sneer down at you from their ladder? Of course – people are shit. They live to make you feel bad because they aren’t secure on their own journey. Maybe they didn’t plan very well and are stuck without a new rung to go to. Maybe they realized what they were chasing wasn’t their dream (NEVER follow someone else’s dream!). Or maybe they’re just an asshole – those people do exist out there. Yeah, they’re standing above you, but if they aren’t doing any work, you need to stop and think before you try to compare yourself to them.

Sometimes the grass is green because it’s full of shit.

Is it hard to stop comparing yourself with the successful people around you? Of course it is. I spent years hearing my parents tell everyone who would listen about my sister being the only one in the family who used her college degree (newsflash – I’m not using any of my degrees). I watched my brother move up through the ranks of his military career (you get medals there, too). Then my other brother got a job where he was PAID to go to movies and got free tickets to ComicCon – I mean, come on! Meanwhile, I was sitting in a career that didn’t really offer advancement and wasn’t exactly thrilling me – yay.

I was embarrassed, I was depressed, and I avoided family functions whenever possible so I didn’t have to admit that I was a pathetic nothing in comparison to my fabulous – younger – siblings. It took me YEARS to realize that my siblings didn’t feel they were any better (or worse) than me, nor was there really any comparison. None of us are even in the same REALM as one another when it comes to our dreams and goals!

Comparison can get your nowhere – FAST!

What I DID finally get was a blueprint for my own success: I stopped being an idiot and realized what I wanted to do with my life. I thought over how my sister followed what she wanted to do – I could do that (and I have). I looked at how my brother has continued to pursue his dreams despite all of the changes in his life – hell, I could do that (and I am). I admired my other brother’s commitment and constant genuine self – yeah, I could do that (and I figured out how to). I picked out the RIGHT comparison to get myself moving forward, instead of continuing to stagnate.

Pick out the elements of those people you admire and decide how they benefit you. If they don’t, dismiss them and move on. If those people look down on you – get rid of them, because you don’t need that kind of negativity. Compare, don’t contrast; you can find the right model to help you adjust your goals and planning appropriately.

Remember: the only person you’re in a race with is you and where you were yesterday.