A Dark December with SAD

The following piece, contributed voluntarily, shares with readers one individual’s lived experience with SAD and General Anxiety Disorder.

 

SAD


 

Ahhhh…it’s December – and when the first day of December comes I think that maybe this year it’ll be different and I’ll be all ready and feel motivated and organized but as the month wears on and the solstice is coming, my energy lessens.

I used to be so hard on myself and compare myself to all the other Moms and women who could do so much at this time of the year. I tried all kinds of things with a variety of results but here it is again, the Holiday Season is upon us and I’m stalled or have spurts of energy and if things are going a bit well, then I can get enthused and say yes to things, feeling truly that I can do it or be there and then for some of it I have to push myself through.

I loved Christmas as a kid. My Mom made it nice for all of us even though she had a real Grinch in my Father who was mean spirited. There were people around, it was fun. I liked the music, the lights, the tree, the visits, baking and being together with family. I went on to enjoy Christmas even when I met my husband’s family, fine people but a lot of alcohol abuse so these Christmas were tense and my partner grew to really hate Christmas or at least what Christmas represented in his family, a time of conflict.

Before having children, I worked in the hotel, restaurant, banquet business so often I worked  during the Christmas season, this was tiring but it was nice to help others have fun and so I had fun too and being around the friends I worked with. As more time went by and my husband and I had our first child, things changed a lot. We had this precious little being but I suffered with perinatal depression and anxiety and so began the conditional Christmases with feeling more demands and the duty to provide a memorable and magical Christmas for my child and family members.  As well my partners’ dislike of Christmas was harder to roll with for me now that we had our own child. It was hard on him to have his wife experiencing perinatal depression and anxiety and his well being decreased too.  It took some time to recover for me and anxiety and I went on to have two more children and experienced it yet again with our third child.

I’ve gotten better over the years, of necessity and am better at not setting myself up for the fall or the fail. I’ve had to have self compassion and I reason that even though so many people may look like they’re doing OK or even great, not everyone is and we never really know. I suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I have many coping skills and a lot of the time they serve me very well and I’m open to learning others.  I’ve had to accept that this is not an all jolly time for me though, and so when I have some moments of feeling happy then I really take the time to be mindful that is going on. It’s often the simple things that help me feel better.

This time of year brings memories, good, bad, ugly even from other years. The losses and traumas can be underlined and triggering. Sometimes I have to really excavate to find the good feelings and memories when the triggering begins or sneaks up and my mind can go to just what isn’t good now or in the past, even worrying about the future. I try to do some self-care during the season and to have a plan for following the big day  to recover and replenish. And….remembering, that’s it’s okay to have a “good enough” Christmas. I had a wise therapist who taught this to me many years ago and it has always been a comfort to come back to, like a touch stone to take heart from.

 

Some helpful sites:

 

–Linda


MDABC would like to thank everyone who contributed to our blogs and newsletters throughout 2017. If you or anyone you know would like to contribute in 2018, contact: devassist@lookoutsociety.ca

 

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“Happy” Holidays

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Have you ever seen Christmas Vacation? Do you know every line, too?

Since I was a kid, watching that movie was as much of a holiday tradition as eating turkey or decorating our Christmas tree. The Griswold family (and extended family) made me laugh uncontrollably every year, even though I knew every line by heart.

So, how did somehow, somewhere along the way, that I become the living embodiment of Ellen Griswold?!

 *  *  *

Originally I thought my un-happy holiday spirit began in early adulthood, when I still lived in New Brunswick. Let me set the scene of my family’s holiday movie: The hustle and bustle of buying gifts, drinks, dinners, planning or organizing meals for a dozen people — while simultaneously trying to manage not getting ill in freezing (-25 Celsius) temperatures, driving on dangerous roads and parking in icy streets. Add in some awkward family encounters, passive-aggressive behavior, inappropriate jokes, at least one person offended and at least two people drinking too much. Sounds like the reason I’d dislike Christmas, right?

Wrong.

My family/geographical location did not trigger my dislike of the holidays as I’d originally thought. Fast forward to today where I’ve been living in Vancouver for over three years, currently in my 30’s and living a quiet, calm life. I don’t have gifts to buy, I steer free of shopping centers, take easily accessible public transit on non-icy roads (or an EVO when I’m feeling lazy), save a tonne of money by not spending lavishly family over the holidays. I’m not stressed out or overwhelmed! It’s actually the opposite of what the holidays were that I grew up with–  I’m living my West Coast, calmly, with warm weather. It’s holiday dream…right?

Wrong, again.

As it turns out, moving away from my family and cold weather did not warm my frosty Christmas spirit. In fact, this holiday season seems to be one of the most difficult yet. As someone who struggles to meet new people — introverted, with a slight social anxiety and never someone to have a large group of friends (not to mention I genuinely love being at home) — three years in this city has proven to be quite challenging emotionally. No longer are my limited but and very deep connections available during the holidays.

As a result, this year’s festive season highlights the issue of loneliness, which can easily lead to depression. Everywhere I look it seems like advertisements, movies, photos, music, social media, restaurants (and so much more) are telling me what to buy, wear, eat or drink in order to be happy. Like there’s some special consumerist “Happy” holiday recipe:

  • 6 Bottles of red wine (questionable substance use)
  • 3 Expensive holiday outfits (compounding debt further)
  • 12 Closest friends  (Acquaintances at best)
    • 17729346 Selfies (to post on social media; proving how happy you are)
  • 1 Christmas soundtrack (same songs grocery stores started playing in October)
  • 37 Small talk conversations (painfully awkward and un-illuminating)
  • Mix all together quickly for two weeks and VOILA!  Enjoy and “Happy” Holidays!

This reads more like a recipe for disaster to me!

*  *  *

In all seriousness though, this year is the first Christmas that I truly feel homesick. I now have a niece back home, my sister is having her first Christmas in her first house, my dad is selling the house I grew up in, and everything seems settled. The feeling of missing out on new traditions and saying goodbye to old ones is incredibly hard. Although I miss my family all year, the holidays just seem to intensify my emotions. It makes me sad to miss them, but that’s OK, I’m allowed to feel sad. Not only me, anyone to can feel something other than “happy” during the holidays — stress, depression, loneliness…anything!

But, if you feel like your struggling too much over the holiday season, and need to speak to someone, there are links at the bottom of this post. And if you’re in need of a warm meal or looking to help serve one, there are options for that too!

 

 

Today’s Stigma

Today, December 1st, is World AIDS Day. MDABC has decided focus on stigma– something that several communities of people experience, including individuals who struggle with mental health.
If you would like to contribute to future writing assignments, please contact: devassist@lookoutsociety.ca 

 

stigma-1


 

Stigma is defined as a mark of shame. Years ago, those living with mental illness were publicly shamed, persecuted, and punished. Today, society no longer outwardly condemns mental illness, but the sad reality is, people who live with mental health challenges still associate their illnesses with sentiments of shame, embarrassment, and guilt.

Today, misinformed social circles tend to mock the experience of mental illness. To compound matters, the media often demonizes mental illness, and eagerly reports news of violent crimes committed by people living with mental health challenges.  What the media fails to report, however, is that comparably, those who live with mental illness are less likely to commit violent acts than the general population. In fact, those living with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence, than be violent offenders themselves.

People say stigma has changed, and that mental illness is no longer feared. But, society still recoils at the very mention of psychiatric wards, forensic hospitals, and streets beset with homelessness. The same underlying societal fears exist today, as they did years ago. Albeit, to a lesser degree.

Currently, there is little certainty around the causes of mental illness. The human brain is still a relatively unexplored frontier, and guesswork often mars the credibility of the field of psychiatry. Despite recent breakthroughs, modern medicine has yet to dispel the stigma associated with mental illness. We, as members of society, fear what we do not understand, and only when mental illness and addiction are better understood, will societal and cultural misinformation be overcome.

Stigma has been referred to as, a “social disease.”  Like any disease, stigma can be spread. Cultural mediums, such as film, music, literature, and art, can all propagate stigma. Today’s horror films, for example, often revolve around the theme of mental illness, and frequently, these artforms are inaccurate, exaggerated for effect, and fictionalized.

But, the spread of stigma can also be prevented. Knowledge is powerful, and mental health education has the potential to eliminate stigma.

Mental health issues have gained a lot of attention in recent years. Nowadays, we frequently hear of celebrities coming out of the mental health closet, and revealing their histories of mental illness and addiction. As public figures become increasingly outspoken about mental illness, those of us with lived experience may feel more empowered to make our voices heard. Ultimately, what it will take to finally eliminate stigma are our collective voice, and our willingness to stand up to those who seek to brand us with a mark of shame.

 

-Andrew