Tag Archive | holidays

Horrible Holidays – part 2 – How to cope

An amazing therapy session today. I feel empowered to handle some of the holiday stress now. She found my ruby slippers – ‘you’ve had the power all along dear’. Except when I click my slippers, I will be transported to a mental happy home.

So I explained all of my issues regarding holidays. We decided to tackle the gatherings at MIL’s house first, and scheduled 3 more sessions to work on the issues of my own family of origin’s parties.

So I told her I don’t enjoy these long days of family hoopla. She asked what I’ve already tried.

Well I said, I have 3 choices here.

  1. Go and plaster on my smile and pretend all is well
  2. Go and be authentic and stir up trouble as I speak my mind
  3. Don’t go at all

She says I have a 4th choice. Something I never considered.


4. Go and be authentic to myself



At first I didn’t understand. She says I am to use my amazing inner world to supplement my outer one. Like I do in business meetings ALL OF THE TIME. I was still confused. I said what about being mindful? She said yes I want you to be mindful, be aware of your stress level, and when it approaches the red zone, maybe even when it is orange or yellow, I am to mentally back out of the situation and imagination a different ending.

I’m thinking Ally McBeal style.

So when anyone starts saying something negative, attacking, selfish, snobby, etc – I will picture them as hippies dancing through a field of flowers and delivering fresh baked goodies to the homeless. Or their big egos inflating their heads like balloons. Or them holding the coveted glowing iphone as angels sing and circle.

I don’t wish to force my values on anyone, and I don’t enjoy judging these people that I should accept as family. I have already tried the path of greatest resistance – I have already spoken up multiple times and they know my stance on these issues as well as I know theirs. So if they insist on speaking about politics, education, or how great the latest iphone is, I will not consider it my duty to scold them, and will instead IMAGINE the conversation taking a different route.

She said just make sure I don’t use it as an escape – it should only be a minute as needed to lighten my own mental mood. I do this when speaking to my boss, but had never considered doing this for my inlaws. I asked my therapist “Is this really healthy?” “Isn’t the same as pretending?” She said no. I will be true to my inner self and wisely choose which battles need fighting. Having the same argument is draining for me, and no net gain will ever be had. I’d be better off arguing my points to the rocks outside, at least then I’d have some fresh air to go along with the futility.


COPING SKILL 2 – Breathing Breaks

She said no one has to know I doing deep breathing and counting and feeling my belly rise and fall. I don’t even need to leave the room – which can actually cause more stress as people ‘search’ for me and ask if I’m ok when they find me sitting alone in the dark. A whole house full of extroverts – I’m alien to them. Sitting around the dinner table with one hand in my lap, it will be easy to focus on my breathing and keep my heart rate down and stress levels at bay without causing unnecessary alarm or drawing unwanted attention to myself.



She said to bring something to do. Busy people are usually left alone. She suggested my camera. If they see me out snapping pics they are less likely to worry or intrude on me. I actually did this last time, practicing my macro skills and playing with lighting – I took 50 shots of her blooming Christmas cactus, some very artsy, and some very standard. And then I share my favorites with them, so my antisocial break turns into a positive social later. win-win. She also suggested I take my sketch pad and some pencils, or some games or crafts to play with the kids.



I have already set the boundary that we will not spend the night at MIL’s on these occasions. I am trying to also limit how long we spend there – does it need to be 8-10 hours? If so, I need to be afforded extra quiet time before and after the visit to prepare and recover. Some of this is simply giving myself permission for this, not any changes that need to happen other than my own inner critic allowing me to be tired and being gentle with myself.



If yz always seem to happen after x – try starting with Q! If MIL always complains about having to make all of the food, but refuses to let anyone in her kitchen to help – tell her ahead of time we’d really like to bring some special dishes this year. Make them in our own kitchen, with whatever bowl or spoon we choose, and bring it along to lighten her load. If certain conversation always lead to arguments, throw out new topics and see what happens – Say did you know anglerfish has bioluminescent bacteria residing in side of them to make the glowy bobber? I’m pretty sure no one will have a strong or caustic opinion about that. Always in trouble for showing up late? Go for breakfast this year. Tradition is one thing – but a rut is a rut.


So to sum this up – she does not feel there is any danger or harm in exhausting myself at MIL’s house as long as I take care of myself too. She thinks that it would be harmful to avoid it, both for my own peace of mind and guilt, feeling of belonging – as well as for my kids. She said if nothing else, go and be a part of this wild group a few times a year to model how to do it for my kids. Grumble grumble yes I thought she would say that. pout. FINE.

Actually I am looking forward to trying out my new skills and seeing if I can carve out an introverted niche in the extroverted wild kingdom. Use my powers for good! Let this family get to know me, and love me. Understand I am actually loved and missed if not there. Understand that strong personalities zap my energy, but not my soul. No dangers here, turn off the red alert.

I’ll try.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or Seasonal Dysfunctional Family Disorder

I’ve been nearly hibernating for about 2 weeks now. I do this every year, and I have always been diagnosed with SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. I used to take a multitude of antidepressants to help, but it never helped much. I think I’m seeing now some patterns.

I think my responses this time of year are more related to stress than any type of cyclical affect. It starts in the Fall as school starts and my schedule fills up. I have to get up earlier than my body wants to. I am a natural night owl, despite many attempts to change this – mornings do, always will – suck. Then each evening we cram so many to-do’s into a few hours: homework headaches, dinner, extra-curriculars, bathtimes, bedtimes. I know every family handles this, and I’m pretty sure every family feels this same stress.

And then we start Holiday planning. Well, this year I made sure one stress was removed. This was the first year in my 36 years of life that I requested to have Thanksgiving and Christmas without my Father present. I never knew I could ask for that. My family never thought to  do this for me. (Can’t dwell on the ‘why’ of that one) And even though he was not there in person, he was still there in spirit, and I nearly lost my mind after Thanksgiving dinner. I was sent to such a deep dark place I nearly ended my marriage. I felt so unsafe that I even pushed away Hubby. Again. We worked on many issues, made me feel safe again, and Hubby has been back home and generally being wonderful. (Way too much to post here about the marriage – another time)

So the panic attacks prior to Christmas dinner were phenomenal. I nearly did not go. Thankfully Hubby talked me through them. We nearly did not go at all, and made it there at 7pm rather than 2pm as promised.

When we got there, my Mom was visibly annoyed at us being so late, and not knowing the reason, and says “Did you meet ____?”

“No  . . .  who?”

She points to a cheerful, maybe 12 year old girl, then smiles at my nephew David and says, “She’s going to be David’s sister” (David is not his real name, but it made no sense without a name)


It took me a second, but then I figured it out. This was my brother’s new girlfriend’s daughter. Oh my. I had no idea he was getting so serious with her. A few more conversations with another brother and I find out this new girlfriend has already moved in with my brother. And my Dad. My Dad sold his house and moved into this brother’s house when his wife left him 2 years ago.  With my nephews. My psyhopathic, pedophilic monster of  a father lives with my nephews. Despite my warnings, despite my efforts. My brother insists he has enough control over the situation, that he never allows the boys home alone with my Dad, that it is ok. I had to deal with fact, because I can not change this situation. But hearing that a young girl has now moved into this house too, well that was too much. I felt like I was punched in the stomach and would never take a full breath again.

Photo of an open fortune cookie

Leave it to my Mom to make fortune cookies dysfunctional (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Then in comes my Mom, in a deranged effort to make our dinner fun, she brings out fortune cookies, and requests all children (all grandchildren, not her children) to leave the kitchen. She wants us “grownup” kids to play the fortune cookie “in bed” game. (In case you don’t know this game, you read aloud the fortune followed by the phrase ‘in bed’ to make interesting, naughty fortunes) Let alone this is awkward to play with your Mom instead of friends with drinks, it was so awkward to abruptly ask the kids to leave. I should point out that there are 15 grandkids in attendance, so they keep coming in for cookies and drinks and she keeps getting angrier, but that cold, tight-lipped anger, and asks them all to leave the room. Instead I do. I go out to the front porch for a literal cooling down.

Hubby follows me out there, and we talk a bit, and I tell him I want to leave. He asks if he can talk to my brother for me. I say Yes, and so he does. I felt so supported, by at least one person in this craziness. And I focused on playing with the kids – the whole reason I go to these events, to get to see my nieces and nephews. Much later, Hubby and my brother emerge from a bedroom, neither looking too upset. We went back outside, and he told me that the girlfriend knows about the dangers of my Dad, and that they have lots of rules in place. I don’t feel much better, but at least I feel less responsible. I did my duty to warn anyone who comes in contact with this evil man. What they do with the information is out of my control. (I so much want to feel good about that, and let it go, but it is soo, so hard not to worry about those children) My brother thinks my Dad is no longer a physical threat, due to his emphysema, as he can no longer stand, and moves about only with an electric scooter. He actually said he encourages the kids to make crazy wild messes in their rooms, feeling secure that the scooter could not traverse the messy floor and grant access to sleeping children. I of course think this is bullshit. But I have to let it go. I see nothing else I can do. But pray those children remain untouched.

Why? Why does my brother allow this monster to live with him? Is it a sense of obligation? Unresolved guilt? Does he get something from it? I actually wondered if he thought of my Dad as a prisoner, and is getting off on the feeling of controlling him. I just don’t know. I barely talk to my family, and basically only see them for the Holidays.

So this year, my SAD, seems to be SDFD (Seasonal Dysfunctional Family Disorder). (Yes this is my attempt at humor to make the best of a crappy situation) Panic is in full swing. I am having trouble showering (just not thinking of it) every day, and forgetting what I was up to in the middle of tasks. I have been extremely anxious and jumpy. If the kids get too excited and speak too loudly too quickly, it feels like a gunshot in my head. I have had terrible nightmares, nearly every night. They are so gruesome that I avoid going to sleep some nights. I have found myself staying up all night play Sim games instead. It seems if I sleep in 3-4 hour batches, I avoid the nasty scenes. I have panic attacks in my sleep too, unrelated to dreams. I wake up feeling like I am choking.

My vitamin D level is normal now. I have a daylight therapy lamp. I have a weekly dance class. I go outside everytime the sun shines (twice here in the last month-ugh) and try to build a snowman or something with the kids.  I am not suicidal, and not even thinking of giving up. I am not depressed. I am not manic. I am just not me. I am anxious and exhausted. So very tired. I am waiting for my system to return to normal from all that stress. I am trying not to eat everything in sight. Trying. Keeping going.

Hubby is wearing thin, taking on too much again. I am sorry for this, but accepting that it just has to be this way until I recover again. I’m doing what I can. It isn’t fair, but I never promised fair. Just need to control my wicked tongue. I say hurtful things when I don’t feel well about myself. The inner critic turns outward. Sorry Hubby – I truly am, and I will try to be more gentle to all of us, including me.

Christmas in my own house, with my own Hubby and kids was magical, beautiful, and so entirely wonderful. I will hold on to that forever, just hold tight.