Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A Blue Christmas? Something Needs to Change

The holiday season -- whatever you celebrate and regardless of why you celebrate, heck, even if you don't celebrate -- is tough.

There's no way around it and it's made worse by the fact that we tend to think we're the only ones having a hard time negotiating the terrain of life between Thanksgiving and Jan. 2.

I blame Norman Rockwell and television. Well, that and the fact that we universally lie to one another about how great our holidays are, or our memories from childhood when we didn't really know what was going on are so clouded that we think perfection existed then and it's just now that we are failures.


Dreaming of that greeting card Christmas where everyone gathers around the table, clean, sober and civil, for a holiday toast of eggnog, mulled cider or maybe hot chocolate, can drive us insane when we're actually dealing with the reality.

Reality for a vast number of us, including me, includes a big chunk of dysfunction. How we cope with it affects our ability to enjoy the holidays.

Right now, I'm not doing too good. Despite my intent to focus on my grandchildren, and the fact that I've put my holiday energies there, I'm still struggling to be filled with Christmas cheer. Although I promised myself I would never get caught up in that vision of a perfect holiday that I've seen so many people struggle with, I'm finding it difficult this year. Since my winter depression doesn't usually hit until after the tree comes down, I'm looking for ways to cope better.

So for me, and everyone else that is finding it tough, I've been looking for ideas to help. Some have helped me identify my unexpected blues and maybe they will help you as well. Using medical sources I've narrowed it down to a list of 10.

1) Don't lower your expectations too much. Expecting too little from the holiday as a way of avoiding disappointment can be as bad as expecting too much. Seriously, if you start trying to prepare yourself for a holiday without a family member, you can miss the joy of everyone else. If you just know that nothing will go right, even if it does, you may be so caught in your blue fog that you don't notice. I put this first because I think that's what's happened to me after Thanksgiving. Really, while I missed my son who chose not to come, it didn't keep me from enjoying the day, so I shouldn't let anticipation of a repeat put a damper on Christmas either.

2)Volunteer and do something for someone else. Oops. I've messed up here already. I ALWAYS help pack Christmas food boxes, but I'm so far out of the loop no one reminded me of the date and I missed it this year. In the last 20 or so years, I've only missed doing it once before and perhaps part of my blues comes from that absence. I may need to be looking for another opportunity.

3)Exercise. Doctors recommend that even if you don't feel like you have the time or energy, exercise will help beat back depression. I've been doing some of that, but I'm used to being outside everyday for about an hour of fresh air and walking. I cannot control the weather and the rain has kept me inside. I think that may be part of my problem identified right there. Instead of spending my mornings walking with dogs, I've been stuck inside waiting on stir crazy preschoolers -- hmm, could that be making me a little crazy, too?

4)Find positive ways to remember loved ones. This is the week I lost my Ma. I was sitting in a courtroom waiting on some boring legal decision when my mom called and I felt my phone vibrate. I slipped out to call her back and found out my most beloved grandparent had slipped quietly away less than two weeks before her most beloved holiday and the one we always spent with her. The ways I remember her are positive, but this week I'm exceptionally sad, especially since the weather was so much like this year as well. I'll celebrate her by fixing a ham, and her famous chocolate pies, and maybe some really good mashed potatoes just like she would have done, and by decorating because the little people who call me Ma like it.

5)Use a sun lamp to fight seasonal depression. I have one because I know I have a touch of seasonal depression caused by shorter days. Although it's a bit early in the season, the ongoing rain and gloom are probably contributing to that as well. Got to dig that darn thing out and sit and listen to Christmas carols.

6)Lean on your support system (family, friends, support group, or therapist, if you have one). I've been a slacker in that area as well. I haven't talked to my best friend about just not quite feeling up to Christmas this year. Instead I'm still aiming to be little Miss Christmas. Guess I'm going to have to come clean.

7)In contradiction to not expecting too much, have modest expectations. DO NOT EXPECT THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS! Too many of us (including my family sometimes) dream that somehow we will put aside the differences that keep us from being close the other 364 days of the year and have peace and harmony together at Christmas. Somehow the magic of the season will spread to our dysfunctional families and they will be perfect for that one day. In direct relation to that, don't expect to have the perfect gift for everyone, or that someone will buy the perfect gift for you if you don't tell them what it is. Not giving or getting that gift should not set the tone for the holiday, but I also know that is part of my problem. My adult son has asked for something outlandishly expensive that I know he would love. I had to flat out say no. That's in direct contrast to the mom idea of seeing a child's face light up when they open their gifts -- never mind his age.

8)Don't overindulge in food or holiday "spirits." Darn, I was really looking forward to spiking a really big glass of eggnog and overdosing on calories, sugar and alcohol all at once. Or maybe baking and devouring a few sheets of holiday cookies. I've got some great recipes and I have the perfect little people to help bake them. It would feel good at the time, but the guilt, carb crash and potential hangover wouldn't help my overall mood I know.

9)Forget the unimportant stuff. I know, I do not have to put every decoration on the tree. Yet it haunts me that they are still languishing in a closet. Let it go already. No, I also am not displaying every light and I'm deeming it a failure and blaming it on my lack of enthusiasm and anticipation of having to put it all away after the holiday. No one but me notices that I haven't found my wreath yet (I hope) or hung the icicle lights. Don't we all have things we do that we can probably do without sometimes? I've got to let it go.

10)Remember the reason for the season. OK, so this one didn't make the WebMD list, but really, for most of us taking a step back to think about why we celebrate Christmas instead of how can bring some serenity. It's not about getting together with family, gifts, food, parties, decorating or cooking -- nope, none of the things we get focused on and consumed by are really what matters. Christmas is the day set aside to observe a miracle, love come to life, the redemption of mankind. It's about unselfish love that we've all been given whether we accept it or not. If we remember Christmas and let that love fill us, all these other things don't matter nearly as much.

So let the true spirit of Christmas fill you. Let go of the things stressing you out and be good to yourself. Sounds easy, but I know it won't be quite that simple. Still, it gives us something to aim for and if we manage only partial success, we'll still feel better in the long run.

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