How Do You Survive the Holidays? Help!

It’s not that I don’t love Thanksgiving or Christmas. I mean, who doesn’t love Thanksgiving and Christmas? The whole freaking world loves Thanksgiving and Christmas! Because…otherwise… You’re one of these two characters:

And wouldn’t you rather be these?

By the way, I wanted to include a picture of a guy enjoying some Christmas cheer so that my male readers wouldn’t feel left out. Word of advice: don’t Google “male Christmas model.” It’s nearly-naked dudes wearing Santa hats. Sometimes on their heads, sometimes on their…other place.

So.

I’ll take the grinchy hit here: Holidays stress me out. I’m not even sure that I like them. My favorite time to be thankful is when I’m snuggled up on the couch with my husband and dogs, watching our fireplace, and we’re snowed in so no one can bug us. Or when it’s summer, and we’re driving down a dirt road with nothing but trees for miles. That’s when I think, “Wow, I’m profoundly thankful.”

Thanksgiving is the time when I think, “Ack! I have to cook for HOW many people? And my house is supposed to somehow be magically spotless at the same time? Of course I should be able to do this, because Rachel Ray does it and the Pioneer Woman does it and every other freaking housewife on my social media feed does it. So why am I covered in flour with an underbaked casserole, burnt cookies, and a kitchen full of weird gadgets that I didn’t even know I owned? WHY?”

Then there’s dinner itself, where you mingle with the cousins who you haven’t seen all year, and they ask you awkward questions like “Why don’t you have kids yet?” Because it’s inappropriate to ask that to just anyone, but we’re family, after all, and so it’s probably fine even though we never talk except for at these awkward family events (Hint: it’s not fine).

Then there’s what I call the “résumé relatives,” who ask you what you’ve been up to this year, but it’s in this judgy way where you should have definitely accomplished more than you have (because did you hear how much THEY did this year??). It’s like they want you to send them your updated résumé every year, just so they can scoff and say, “HA! Loser. I knew it.”

And then there’s my grandma, who is honestly awesome but also the strangest grandma ever. She looked me up and down last year and said, “Yes, hm. I suppose you don’t need plastic surgery yet.” YET? WHAT? What am I going to need plastic surgery for?? And why did I barely make the cut?? I was feeling all cute, but then I felt like crawling in a corner and apologizing to everyone who had the unfortunate task of looking at me.

Plus, I mean, in-laws. That’s all there is to say about that, amirite?

So holidays stress me out. I ADMIT IT! I AM A SCROOGE!

Mental illness can make normal holiday stress even more difficult. I’m completely off of my routine, I’m under more anxiety than usual, I have to be all social when I hate being social, etc. The holiday season is not kind to the mentally ill. Lots of people kill themselves during this time, did you know that? “The most wonderful time of the year,” and people are killing themselves at alarming rates. I have no jokes about that one, y’all, because it’s not funny.

So. What do you do to decrease your stress during the holiday season? How do you keep your brain functioning like it should? Let’s comment with tips and all help each other out. Thanks in advance for any advice you may have!

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15 thoughts on “How Do You Survive the Holidays? Help!

  1. I’m having dinner at my mother-in-law’s house with her neighbors, that’s right, her NEIGHBORS! I’ve never met any of them and they’re all old enough to be my parents, and I’m 57. Fortunately, the dining room table isn’t big enough for all of us, so my wife and I will be sitting at the kids’ table by ourselves.
    Here’s one you can try if you’re daring and don’t mind becoming a figure of legend in your family’s mythology: Get a big tub of cool whip and leave it out so it’s soft. Set the desserts out near the table before the carnage begins. This will give you a reason to keep the cool whip handy. As long as everyone acts like they have a lick of sense you need do nothing. If, on the other hand, things start to go off the rails, you are prepared to strike quickly and decisively. All you need to do is open the cool whip, pick up a couple green beans and jam them up your nose. Now that you have everyone’s attention, take the cool whip, mash it down on top of your head and treat everyone to your best barnyard animal impersonation.
    I did this one a few years ago when my wife’s loudmouth Russian grandfather was trying to pick a fight at the table. It shut him right up and everyone else is still laughing about it. Brilliant. I’ve never had to do it again now that everyone understands who they’re messing with.
    Even if you decide not to try it, just save the visual in your mind for a quick laugh to take the edge off. Good luck.

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    • LOLLL. Thanks for the visual. That made me laugh back when I first read it, and it’s making me laugh again now when I’m realizing I never commented (sorry!!). I survived Thanksgiving without the green bean trick, but good news – Christmas is coming up. I have another chance. 😉

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  2. Well, you said comment. You didn’t say comment with healthy ways of coping.

    Ok/. I imagine that by ‘ hints’ and ‘ help each other’ it was implied.

    But. I also want to show that you aren’t alone so- past years I have ‘ coped’ by cutting, hitting, pinching and punching. Myself, not others. Equally as alarming. Less illegal.

    Copious amounts of alcohol. I rarely drink. More rarely do I get drunk. Christmas one year was survived my carrying tiny single serve bottles of flavored vodka in my purse for emergencies.

    Melt downs.
    Hissy fits
    Temper tantrums
    Making things as hard as possible by taking on extra work; making extra work for myself and being a perfectionist.
    Insisting no one can do things correctly so I will do them all myself and then bitching that no one ever helps me.

    This year is going to be different, damn it. In the morning I will tell you how and sprinkle some sunshine on you all by speaking words of wisdom- let it be.
    Right now it’s 4 am and I need to sleep but first I needed to let you know that you’re not alone. That some people are even more of a mess. Some are less of a mess. But you aren’t alone.

    A bit of advice? Don’t do a single one of the above mentioned.

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    • THANK YOU for this. It was helpful back when you wrote it, and then now when I’m (extremely late) in finally responding to these comments, it’s helpful again. Christmas is stressing me out and – wouldn’t you know it? – all the same stress/advice applies. So thanks for taking the time to write – it is amazing how helpful it can be to simply know I’m not alone. I always look forward to your comments.

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  3. Apparently sleep eludes me so here is the list of things I have vowed to do this year to cope.

    These are all things I have done periodically when I am not so over the top upset or overwhelmed that I am not thinking clearly enough to do them.

    1. Write. Eff gratitude journals. Whatever. I have an I hate the world journal. Get it out. Write it down. It’s like raining an abscess. Get the poison out of your brain. Be as angry or upset as you need to be. Cry hard if you need to. Lock yourself in the bathroom to write it if you need to. Just get it the eff out of your head. Swear, rant, rave, bitch. Insult. Write what you are thinking and feeling. You don’t need to give context. ‘ today this happened and therefore I feel this…’ eff that. Just. Write. This isn’t English class. Grammar, spelling and punctuation don’t matter. Don’t worry about formatting. Or penmanship. Just write it out. Date it though. Because you need to go back and read that someday and you’ll see how far you have come. If you can’t physically write it then type it. Put it in an email and send it to yourself- then put it in a folder. If you are stranded somewhere like an in-laws house you can type it on your phone.

    If you are upset with someone write them a letter or email using the same ideas as above BUT DO NOT SEND IT TO THAT PERSON. Send it to yourself. You can ponder it later and edit and decide it it should be sent.

    Ask yourself if what’s going on really matters? Is the particular situation worth addressing? I try to only address issues with other people if the relationship is important to me or if resolving the issue will prevent future similar issues. If a cousin is being a total pain in the arse and her flight is super inconvenient timing and then she leaves her luggage at the airport and needs to be driven back …. write it out if you need to- but also consider how likely this situation is to repeat itself at another time. If it isn’t likely just let it go. If you address it you are just going to upset the other person and not actually fix anything.

    If the relationship is important or if it’s a situation that needs to be nipped in the bud then take a moment. Think about it or write it out if you are angry and then address it. Tell the person that he or she is important to you or else you wouldn’t bother to address it with him or her.

    Don’t be afraid to take yourself out of potentially upsetting situations. Even if it means missing events or gatherings. My mother in law said something really hurtful the other day, she made it clear that Thanksgiving wasn’t going to be a peaceful one with the statement. She was winding up for a melt down and she was baiting me. I was kind. I was respectful, I told her I loved her and then I told her my family and I would be making other plans for thanksgiving. And we did.

    Put your phone on speaker and talk while you clean or cook. Or listen to a podcast. Or a book. Or music. Whatever. But have some contact with a voice.

    Talk to yourself. No, really. I make corny jokes out loud all day and then laugh at myself. I broke a sewing needle and said ‘ now there’s no point’ And cracked up.

    Talk to Alexa or Siri. I ask Alexa questions all day. ‘ what’s your favorite color.’ Or movie, or song, or performer. She has witty answers. You can have her tell you a joke. You can have an SAT word of the day: you can have a history fact of the day. It’s mindless and mostly pointless, often funny, and harmless. You can do this while you are cleaning or cooking or whatever.

    Put some music in your ears, go to the park and swing: for hours if you need to. Vestibular activity is priceless. And people will be so freaked out by this adult swinging like a kid that they will leave you the eff alone.

    Have a good Thanksgiving. Don’t do nearly as much as you think you need to. No one is gonna look at your baseboards or in your closet and if they do then they are the one with issues, not you:
    Mwah

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  4. Oh, all right, I can’t bear the shame, so here’s a bit of help.
    Nothing happens until it does, so don’t waste time dreading the potentially unpleasant people you will be dealing with. Your trepidation will unbalance you when you most need balance.
    Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful. Do you honestly believe that over-achieving person really wants to make you hate yourself? Only you can answer that, so be sure to think carefully and answer honestly. Here’s a snappy little aphorism, courtesy of Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Don’t allow others to do it and don’t allow yourself to do it either.
    Establish boundaries and enforce them. I was diagnosed with bipolar 1 in 2002 and, when the symptoms were explained to me, I could see the trail of destruction going back to my teens. I took a lot of crap from a lot of people for a long time.
    My family produced some of the worst abusers until I decided to address the problem head on. I made it clear that I wasn’t going home to write all this shit down in a book, hoping it would somehow get out of my mind, I was going to take care of it right here and now.
    It has been my experience that bipolar disorder is like a beautiful bouquet of roses with a wicked crop of thorns. When the bloom is off the rose and all I have is a fist full of thorns a lot of days become exercises in simple survival. And what do you do when you’re trying to survive? Any damn thing you have to.
    If you were being mauled by a big mean dog and you had a brick in your hand, would you pet the dog and speak in soft soothing tones because it’s mean to clobber a dog with a brick? Doubt it. As for the dogs you have to endow with the ancient order of the brick, screw ’em. If they were “Only joking”, they can go away until they have developed some better material. If they don’t want to, screw ’em again. Not everyone’s going to love you, not everyone’s going to care about you. You may, however, be reassured by the number of people who really do and who will understand and respect your determination to stand up for yourself. If the slapstick method doesn’t appeal to you, consider Downton Abbey. Maggie Smith had a singularly calm, yet brutal way of dealing with troublesome people. Your results may vary.
    All right, It’s Thanksgiving and there’s no time to read more. Enjoy your dinner and your guests.

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    • I’m ridiculously late in responding to this (my apologies), but I loved it. Thank you. And your quote, “What do you do when you’re trying to survive? Any damn thing you have to.” is so true. I want to write that on my mirror or something. I’ve been off the blog world for a while and struggling with some depression (fucking depression), and I love that quote. Instead of worrying about how the cycle of bp is never going to let me go, I just need to focus on today and surviving one day at a time. Thanks for that.

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  5. My family is mostly pretty cool, and it’s still stressful. Even just buying presents is stressful.

    My secret is: don’t host anything.

    But I get that’s not something you can always avoid.

    Other, less secret, ideas:
    – BOUNDARIES. Decide what they are, and then calmly and quietly stick to them.
    – It won’t be perfect, ever, and that’s not your fault.
    – You can’t force other people to be happy or like things. If they’re weird and grumpy and miserable, it’s not on you. And if they’re being a jerk about it, you don’t have to put up with it. Bail on that conversation. I’m sure something else needs your attention somewhere.
    – You can’t always be happy or like things, either, and that’s fine. As long as you’re not being a jerk to people, it’s okay if you feel grumpy and miserable and weird.
    – When in doubt, smile and nod.
    – Set the bar low. Food happens? A win. Doesn’t matter how great it is. No one stabbed each other? Win.
    – Don’t answer rude questions (e.g., the kids thing). This is a slightly petty thing I do sometimes, but if I know someone wants to know something and I think it’s none of their business or it’s super rude for them to ask, I will smile and deflect and not give any actual information. Bonus points if you can answer with another question about why they’re even asking. (Just a straight “why do you ask that?” with a pleasantly puzzled expression can be great).

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    • I like your more diplomatic approach, at least until I get to the “Big mean dog” stage, at which point I feel the need to be a bit more proactive. My family is quite a bit cooler than they used to be, thankfully. I’ve been ready to walk out on the whole bunch of them but I got some solid support so I stick around. Has your family always been cool or did you have to render a little assistance?

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      • I think there’s definitely a line where the diplomatic approach is not enough. Somethings do need to be called out.

        My family has always been pretty cool. Things are more likely to get sticky with immediate family, I think just because we’re closer so we’re more likely to rub each other the wrong way. I’ve found (for me and my family in those situations) that arguing never never never helps or changes anything other than now there’s an argument, and I think my adoption of the diplomatic method has helped (me, at least). But we’re still pretty cool. We don’t hold grudges. We aren’t petty. We mostly get on.

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    • SUCH good advice. Low bar. It’s like in teaching when I think, “Okay, today sucked. But did all the kids survive? Yes. So it’s all good.” Same with holidays. No one stabbed each other? Food was consumed? Great. Move on. Happy New Year. lol. Sounds bleak, but I appreciate it. I think it’s true.

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