Coping with the Holidays

John McManamy Health Guide
  • It is Thanksgiving and before we know it we'll be bracing ourselves for Christmas and Saturnalia. For three years running, the holidays have represented an extreme challenge to me. Around this time in 2007, in a sharepost here, I observed:

    Life doesn’t come with a trouble-free warranty. A year ago exactly, I was stuffing my personal belongings into six or seven shipping cartons. My marriage of three years had just broken up, and I was taking a leap of faith by moving in with a friend on the opposite coast. My one-way ticket was booked. No time for sentiment. The clock was running. I had affairs to settle, things to pack.

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    Mercifully, the gods were smiling on me. I landed in a situation that was uniquely suited to my recovery and healing.

    Now, a year later, I’m pulling out of the funk from the break-up of a short-lived relationship. Our illness doesn’t appreciate dimensions or proportionality. One ton of bricks dropped on my head is as good as ten tons of bricks so far as this illness is concerned. Often, it doesn’t take much. We feel something subtle shifting in the brain, and next thing we’re thinking, oh no, here we go again.

    I reacted to that break-up by moving forward by six months a decision to purchase a new Mac desktop and laptop. The arrival of new toys had a way of cushioning the thud of those descending bricks. Additionally, I made some important long-term adjustments: I cut back on my work and travel and social life, and resolved to spend more time just smelling the roses.

    Unbelievably, a year after that, I experienced yet my third Thanksgiving break-up in three years. I decided to get away to the Grand Canyon, only to discover Arizona was socked in. Instead, I spent a weekend at the resort where I normally show up for a day of water volleyball. For the long term, again I took stock. One result was I launched a new blog, Knowledge is Necessity, which provided me with new challenges and new topics to investigate. The other was a retooling of my shareposts here, which allowed me to incorporate your wisdom and insight into my pieces.

    This year, I have really good news: I am not in a loving relationship. There will be no break-up. No ten tons of bricks dropping on my head, no one ton of bricks. But there will be bricks. The holidays are always a challenge for everyone. For our population, they inevitably pose a special challenge. Some common sense guidelines:

    • Keep your expectations low. We tend to do the very opposite, then find ourselves dealing with the disappointment. You will be a lot better off if you don't think of the holidays as a time to strengthen your bond to your loved one, impress your parents, reconcile with a difficult brother or sister, or be a hero to your nieces and nephews.
    • Take time out for yourself. The holidays put us in situations where we are easily overstimulated and overwhelmed. If you sense a force nine family fight about to break out at the table, don't be afraid to summarily remove yourself from the scene. The same holds true even if there is no family tension, even if everyone is enjoying themselves. You don't need a good excuse to make an exit - any bad one will do.
    • Plan ahead. This excellent advice came up in responses to my latest Question of the Week. The less surprises the better. The less last-minute rushing around the better.
    • Figure out your needs. Some of us need to be around people. Some of us are better off taking a Sabbatical from humanity. Don't let family obligations and other duties affect your decision. We are all dealing with a severe chronic illness, with huge consequences when things go wrong. Interpersonal stresses can set us up for a crash and burn at one end, isolation can make us sitting ducks at the other. The only wrong decision is the one you make against your own best judgment.

    Finally: Don't be afraid to have a happy holidays. They have been known to happen.

Published On: November 20, 2009