Holiday Shopping for Your Favorite Normal

A friend once described what it was like to have cancer.  Like having a paper bag over your head, you can't see anything outside the bag.  It's all about you and your cancer.

Mental illness can be like that.  Try it for yourself.  Put a bag over your head.  Make sure it's not plastic!  Our issues can be all consuming, our fears, our doubts, our grief, our hysteria, our voices...  We lose track of the world outside our paper bag.

But outside that bag are friends, family, allies.  There are more of them, and they are truer to us than we can imagine when inside that paper bag.  The bag, our absorption in our own concerns, makes certain life skills difficult.

Like holiday shopping.

To do a good job at holiday shopping, you have to pay attention to something, or someone outside your own inner world.  So before I give suggestions to loonies about what normals like for Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, here are first steps.

The first step to successful holiday shopping is to turn your attention away from yourself.  Remove that bag from your head.

The second step is to focus on the person for whom you want to shop.

The third step is to pay attention.  Engage your eyes and your ears.  Watch and listen for clues.  If you want to please this person, you need to find out what would please this person.  Write it down, if you have memory problems.  I assume that you have memory problems.

I have a hard time paying attention to the world outside myself.  I pay so much attention to my world inside that I trip over cracks in the sidewalk, bump into furniture, nick myself with a knife (but not on purpose!)  I bruise myself and don't even notice until my wife sees it and asks me what happened.  I have no idea.

When I decided to write this post, I realized I would have to follow my own advice.  I had to pay attention.  Actually, given the time constraint, I took the direct approach.  I asked Helen, "What would be a good gift to give a family member of somebody with a mental illness?"

She said, "A cure."

Such is the love available to me every day outside my bag.  Five years after Prozac, I can cry again, and I almost did.  I wrote "a cure" on my list.  Then we went on.

Of course, I got a list of things that Helen would like.  That is the point.  The people who love you are just as unique as you are, you little snowflake.  We got a catalog from Target today filled with gift suggestions.  Some of them may work for the person who loves you.  Some of them won't.  You can't trust the catalog for good guidance.  That is why I gave you the technique for figuring it out.  Talk to them about what's in the catalog.

Having observed your loved ones, so that you know their interests, having paid attention so that you might even have heard, "Gee, I wish I had...," or seen them pick up something at a store, then you are ready to go out shopping.

No, those of us with PTSD or OCD or whose meds wear us out or who feel like whale shit at the bottom of the ocean do not want to go out shopping.  The internet is our best friend, at least for the length of time it takes us to do our shopping.  Internet shopping does require a credit card, so those with bipolar might need supervision.

Simply google the source of your desired gift, Williams Sonoma for all things cooking, Eddie Bauer, Old Navy, Victoria's Secret, etc. for clothing, Cabela's or Scheel's for all things sporty, Amana for meat, See's or Godiva for chocolate.  See's makes the gold foil chocolate coins for Hanukkah's dreidel game.  Chocolate is also a fabulous Christmas gift, or for any occasion whatsoever.  [Does anyone know a tie-in to Islam?]  And it stimulates the production of dopamine.  So you might want to order some for yourself, while you are at it. Oh, and Amazon for just about anything.

If all the choices are just too much, get a gift certificate.

If your meds or your disease has destroyed your credit, so this is a cash deal, and if you can bear the public appearance, you can now buy at the grocery store gift certificates for all kinds of other stores, restaurants and websites.  Purchase your chocolate and do all the rest of your shopping in one stop.

If you are having a good day, head out to the mall for baskets of bath salts and candles, next year's calendar, movie coupons, cheesy popcorn, that toy workbench that I recommended your normals buy for you, and a truly amazing assortment of gadgets that you never knew anybody needed and that nobody will use by December 27, but it is the thought that counts. That "thought that counts" thing only works for your mother, by the way, and not really for her, either. Play with the worthless gadgets in the store.  Then give them a pass.

Weekdays, mid morning are safest for the mall.  I wouldn't dream of going there unless pharmaceutically protected.  Bring a friend who can drive after you collapse.

But if the cost of meds or the consequences of your disease (you know who you are) has destroyed your credit, you might like a more personal (read:cheaper) approach.  Write a poem or a story.  Draw a picture.  Make a collage.  Frame a photo.  Knit a scarf.  Bake some cookies.  Remember that thing about chocolate and dopamine.  Fudge!

I don't believe in those homemade coupon books filled with promises you can't keep, like how you will do your own laundry or cook dinner once a week, walk the dog, smile once in a while.  Don't promise.  Just do something that your normal has been begging you to do: make that doctor's appointment, attend that group, remove the leftover pizza from your bedroom, wash your hair...

Write a letter of appreciation.  That one works especially well with your mom.

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