There are stresses this time of year. Routines are disrupted, people stay in crowded quarters, those who have reason to avoid each other are thrown together, negotiations between exes require professional mediation, alcohol is consumed in greater quantities, expectations for love and good cheer are bound for disappointment. Loonies and normals alike need to tend to their mental health.
So Prozac Monologues contines your handy holiday guide, with an assist from NAMI's Peer to Peer class and the University of Iowa Adult Behavioral Health department, covering the basics, planning ahead, mindfulness and quick getaways.
The Basics: Keep to your routine as much as possible. If you can't eat like you do at home, get at least one nutritious meal every day. If your family of origin was a little whacked, and your root chakra could use some assist, concentrate on protein (meat, fish, tofu, beans), root vegetables (carrots, beets, onions) and red stuff (beets, strawberries, cranberries, cherries -- jello does not count.) Don't go to parties without some protein already on board. At the buffet table, carrots. Skip the dip, limit your lipids. You will sleep better for it.
Remember Lloyd Bridges in Airplane? The holidays are probably not a good time to stop sipping, smoking, snorting, sniffing... You get the idea. On the other hand, ultimately substance abuse is a greater hazard than help in negotiating tricky family dynamics. So keep it under control.
Sleep -- not so easy if you get the couch in the family room. Borrow somebody's bed for a nap. If you anticipate a problem, I'm all for an occasional pharmaceutical assist, as an alternative to the straight jacket, which is where you may be headed if you don't get good sleep. This is true for everybody, essential for people with bipolar.
Safety -- no, you do not have to hang around anybody who is abusive. If that is an issue, have your escape plan ready, your keys and your credit card in your pocket, your alternative crash pad arranged.
Oh, and water -- with all your meds, you are probably supposed to push water, as it is. Even more so in the dry winter air. Even more so when dehydration can be mistaken for hunger, leading to more cookie consumption, requiring more water. Especially even more so with greater alcohol consumption. Be kind to your liver. Drink water.
Planning Ahead: Many a family feud could be short circuited with some conversation ahead of the storm. Which chores does the host want or expect help with? Which chores does the guest want to volunteer to do? In any relationship, 50/50 does not work. You have to give at least 60%.
Is there any tradition, activity, food, game that will blow your anterior cingulate cortex if it doesn't happen? Take some responsibility for it. Laugh about it, and let people know. And if it doesn't happen, well, that will give you material for your next therapy appointment. And you already know what your therapist will say, don't you.
How many events are planned? Which ones can you skip? Is there room for negotiation? What would you like to do in a group? When will you want to go off by yourself? When will the one who abused you as a child be around? Where will you be instead?
What are your needs? What are others' needs? Talk to each other. Listen to each other. Remember, there is no Hallmark Family Christmas, except in Hallmark commercials. These are ads, people. They are not your family, and they are not mine, and they are not anybody else's, either. Give yourself and your family a break. Your relatives, your tree, your cookies and cocoa are infinitely more entertaining, anyway.
Mindfulness: "I am here, this is now." That's my chant, accompanied by some deep breathing, calling me out of the unhappy past and the uncertain future. Look up, listen up, and notice. You don't have to participate. Just notice.
When things get especially bleak for me, I go outside, regardless of weather, and try to replace the running voices in my head with a minute description of what I see around me. "There is a little girl. She has pink leggings on. Her hair is in ponytails on either side of her head. The woman is pushing the stroller. The tree is a pin oak and still has its leaves. The passing car is a Volvo. We used to have a Volvo. It always... -- no, that's the past. This Volvo is dark green..." You get the idea.
When you can't get outside, like during Christmas dinner, become an anthropologist. Who are these people? What do they think? How do they treat each other? What are their eating habits? What happens after three beers? You are not responsible for any of it. You do not have to stop what you don't like. You don't even have to like or not like. You are simply an observer.
Mindfulness is a practice. Practice is what people do when they want to get better at something. Remember, if you can't pull off mindfulness every time you need it, that's okay. You just need more practice.
Quick getaways: There is one more thing you need, some handy lines to get you out of the inevitable spot. Let's see how many of these you can anticipate.
There you are, being an anthropologist, mindfulnessing away. And Uncle You Know Who turns to you and says... What will it be this year? Health care? Global warming? What he thinks about all this therapy you're doing? He knows your triggers like the back of his hand, because he trips them every year. Well, write this one down on the back of your hand, "That's very interesting. I'll have to think about that." That one can get you out of all kinds of arguments. Sometimes it even gets my therapist off my back.
Or there you are, seated next to the cousin you haven't seen since she tried to drown you in the pool when you were kids. Remember, you are here, this is now. Try, "Seen any good movies lately?" It matters not a whit if that line is a dud, because it sets up your next line, "What do you do with your time nowadays?"
Then there is the open-ended "How about them Hawks?" Or Vikings, or whatever. Do a little research ahead of time, so you know a team near the person you are addressing. For the sport challenged, here is a starting point: it's football season. And if that line is a dud, follow with... are you with me yet? "What do you do with your time nowadays?"
When you must escape the person or the room, there's: "Excuse me, my drink needs more ice; I'm going out for a smoke/some air/to make snow angels;" and, "Do you know where the bathroom is?"
And when you have had your limit: "I really must go. Thank you so much for the party. Merry Christmas." With a normal host, I mean really normal, not "undiagnosed" normal, you don't need to explain anything.
If the host is in the "undiagnosed " category, then try: "My puppy/probation officer/Nurse Ratchet is waiting up for me." Or, "I'm sorry, suddenly I'm feeling flu-ish." You can play the flu for all it's worth this year. Or even, "Oops, my meds are wearing off. Gotta go!"
If somebody else in the room should be on meds, a simple "I'm outa here" will suffice.
Make yourself a crib sheet, and these few lines will help you navigate a wide range of social situations. Do you have anything else you want to recommend to fellow readers? Make a comment!
There is one more strategy, diversion. I will cover diversion, in the form of recommended movies for the holiday season next week. Put your recommendations (and reasons) in the comments this week. I am happy for all the help I can get!
Families -- you gotta love 'em. And you can always laugh. It really works better if you do. Happy Holidays!
clipart from Microsoft online