Skip to main content

mental health mondays :: your holiday primer

most of us have heard that there's a bump in the number of suicides every year, as the good cheer of others makes depressed people sink even further. it's not actually true, but it does sound pretty believable, doesn't it? after all, things are rough enough when you're dealing with mental health issues, let alone when the entire world seems to be trying to force you to smile and be "merry". it's easy to believe that the added pressure and the projected happiness of others is enough to nudge someone over the edge.

but the fact is, even if people aren't throwing themselves off bridges like a bunch of lemmings [also a myth, by the way], the holidays can be a pretty stressful time. for my american readers, that stress started a few weeks ago, with thanksgiving, but for the rest of us, it's just starting to hit fever pitch now. i may not be able to help you with your last minute shopping, but i have come up with a list of tips that might help keep you from losing your cool and contributing to the annual holiday rise in crime, which is real.

  1. drugs are important :: things can get very busy around the holidays. offices have irregular hours. you may have irregular hours. make sure that you stock up early on whatever medicines you need to get you through to the new year. while pharmacists generally frown on renewing prescriptions early, they're more likely to be understanding around this time of year. this is absolutely not the time to reduce, skip or change your medication. if you're in the process of doing one of these things, talk to your doctor about possibly putting that on hold until things normalize. [if you are looking to reduce or stop your medications, you might want to have a look here for some extra tips.]
  2. do as much and as little as you can :: it might be tempting to crawl in bed and hide for a month, but that's not like you to leave you feeling any better. on the other hand, dealing with large numbers of unfamiliar family members and friends and coworkers and... well, being around lots of people might not be advisable either. so pace yourself. let those close to you know your limitations and why you might not want to participate in every holiday activity. if you don't feel comfortable with coworkers, you can politely back out of the office party. if you want to participate, but think you might feel overwhelmed, have an early exit strategy.
  3. sleep it off :: don't think sleep is a mental health issue? it absolutely is. so make sure that you get the rest you need. even if you can't sleep [and that in itself is a problem you should address], make sure you at least take the time to rest in a place that's dark and quiet and where you're not going to be interrupted.
  4. the big d :: you can find more information in this post, but here's the bottom line: there are lots of good reasons to take vitamin d and while the science on its efficacy against seasonal affective disorder might be inconclusive, there's enough evidence that it might help to make it worth a try. the sun is our major source of vitamin d and there's no getting around the fact that we get precious little of it at this time of year. it will likely do you good on some level and it's not going to harm you. 
  5. and while we're talking about natural highs :: consider adding a good quality omega-3 supplement or increasing your intake of foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. you can read more about them here. [note :: omega-3 means omega-3, not 6 and not 9. north americans normally get those in more than sufficient quantities already.]
  6. watch the holiday cheer :: lots of people will tell you that you shouldn't touch alcohol or illicit drugs if you're on any kind of psychiatric medication. i am not one of those people. [i do, however, strongly suggest you read  up on any possible interactions before indulging and making an informed decision.] but the fact is that whether you are or aren't on medication, alcohol is a depressant. if you're already feeling depressed, alcohol will only pull you further down.
  7. plan for the last minute :: if you've already completed all your shopping, you have one less thing to stress about. however, if you've somehow managed, like many, many others to leave it until next week, you can still reduce your anxiety and your time fighting the throngs. take a few quiet moments to think of things you've heard people close to you mention that they planned to get, or that they admired when other people got them... you get the idea. then go online and find out where to get them. if you can order them in time, great, but if not, find out what local stores sell what you need. call and confirm they're in stock and find out the best map that will allow you to get everything you need in the fastest, most efficient way possible.
  8. be nontraditional :: sometimes, family traditions that have formed around the holidays are a comfort for people with mental disorders. they provide a sense of calmness and security that can relieve stress. for others... not so much. if there are traditions that your family practices that are unduly stressful for you, talk to them about it in advance. see if there's some change that could be made to the plan [keeping in mind that others have a right to enjoy their holidays too]. it's all well and good to have established traditions, but it's also fun to find new ones. you might also want to have a think about why certain holiday activities are so stressful for you and see if you can link it to other things that cause you stress. even better, talk to your therapist or doctor about it. it's good to avoid causes of stress when you can, but it's even better to be able to stop them from causing stress at all.
i don't pretend that this is a comprehensive list, but i think it's a starting point. the idea that we make ourselves suffer through something that is meant to give us a break from the stresses of the rest of the year and remind us of how lucky we are to have our loved ones in our life is quite sad. and none of us needs anything to make us more sad at this time of year.

sit back, relax, feel the world slow down around you. no lives are at stake. take a few moments to think about what you need and what you can offer. happy holidays need not be an irritating, chipper slogan. it can be a statement of fact.

p.s. :: if you have a friend or family member who is suffering from mental illness, or if you think you might face [well-meaning but possibly infuriating] questions from your loved ones about your own struggles, you might want to look at this handy list of what to say and what not to say to people with mental disorders.

p.p.s. :: à propos of the image above and as an inveterate hater of christmas movies, i do in all seriousness recommend watching grumpy cat's "worst christmas ever".  its total self-awareness makes it charming where it should be corny. for the season, i also recommend "die hard" [i'm a purist and go only for the original, but dom also likes the second one], "blackadder's christmas carol" and the "holy" episode of bottom. i've also been known to watch old religious epics [ceci b. demille is the man] and add audience participation à la "rocky horror picture show", but your enjoyment of this will depend on your own spiritual outlook and your comfort level with going to hell if it turns out you guessed wrong.

Comments

as long as you're here, why not read more?

long division

after the united states election last year, there were the usual calls for the country to unite behind the new president. that never happens anymore, because, since george w. bush scored a victory in 2004, having launched the country into a war in iraq for no reason, the people on the losing side of a presidential election have been pretty bloody angry about it. democrats hated bush 43. republicans really hated obama. democrats really hate trump.

it didn't help that trump didn't make the typical conciliatory gestures like including a couple of members of the opposite party in his cabinet, or encouraging his party to proceed slowly with contentious legislation. barack obama arguably wasted at least two and as many as six years of his tenure as president trying to play peacemaker before he felt sufficiently safe to just say "screw you guys" and start governing around the ridiculous congress he was forced to deal with. not-giving-a-shit obama was the best president in …

making faces :: i could maybe not buy this one thing

i've been into makeup on some level for a long time- much longer than i've been writing about it, for certain. even as a young woman, i loved the feeling of i got from applying a deep-hued lipstick and some mascara. it took years for me to figure out eyeshadow, and even longer for me to appreciate blush. but at this point, i think we can agree that i'm pretty much into the whole gamut. [except liquid and super-matte lipsticks, and most very sparkly eyeshadows. but that's because they're painful for me to wear.]

the thing about spending a long time collecting and holding onto just about everything is that you accumulate quite a stash. lately, i'm trying to force myself to think about what i already have before laying down money for something new. most recently, i found myself drawn to the modern renaissance palette from anastasia. me and a lot of people. by the time i started thinking about it, it was already sold out in my local sephora and online. i signed up…

...and my cup size is none of your damn business

this story, about a man who got a female coworker to trade email accounts with him for two weeks to see if he could see a difference in customer reactions, has been making the rounds on social media and beyond in the last week or so. earlier today, i posted it on my personal facebook page about it, and realised that i had a lot more that i wanted to share than made sense for a facebook post. so i've come here to rant.

a couple of things to start:

1. i've had some really good job experiences in my life. i'm both lucky and unlucky that the best of them came early on, but even in more recent years, i worked at a couple of places that treated workers, all workers, with respect. that respect can be expressed in different ways, but believe me, you know it when it's there. so i want to make it clear that #notallworkplaces fit the pattern i'm about to describe.

2. i am really, really, really grateful to martin r. schneider, who thought up and did this experiment, not just …