How to Help the Mentally Ill during the Holidays

During a season known for its twinkle lights and tinsel, it’s hard to feel the least bit sparkly when suffering from a mental illness. All the shining happy people floating around us make us feel that much more isolated, removed, and miserable. They all make it look so effortless while we struggle to keep our heads above water on a regular day. The added mayhem of shopping, socializing, and stringing the lights raises the bar to a Himalayan height.

I’ve talked before about how I’ve come to hate putting up our Christmas tree the last few years. Those Christmas crackers? They’ve got nothing on me. My head was about to pop off several times throughout the whole ordeal. This year a few events have transpired that have unwittingly saved me from the debacle so far.

This is only our second year with a real pine tree, which takes more planning than retrieving the cardboard coffin of our since deceased artificial one from the basement. As always the weekends spool away from us toward the holiday at an alarming rate and we haven’t made it to the tree farm. Not to mention, we don’t have tons of extra green of the other kind lying around these days. After two years of failing to decorate that pine tree in direct line of sight from our back door, we finally decided we should chop it down and use it as our indoor Christmas tree. To which the kids balked saying it is too small. They fail to remember the merits of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree or the top third we had to slice off last year due to our overzealous choice. BUT in any event, the ensuing chaos and discord has kept us tree-free for a couple of weeks now.

Which is totally fine by me.

One day when only one of my elves was home from school, I dragged out the bin of wreaths and garlands and hung those up, deposited the empty bin downstairs, and enjoyed the view. Another day, I set up the bin with the nativity and related items. And quit for that day. A third day, I retrieved the mamma-jamma bin longer than I am tall – and which usually makes me want to lay down inside and cry because the kids fling stuff out of it with reckless abandon – and opened it. That’s all. It’s still sitting in the corner, lid askew. The kids pick a few things out here and there, but we haven’t set it all out yet.

And still no sign of a tree.

I know it’s my anxiety and perfectionism and ability to get easily overwhelmed and controlling tendencies that made opening that Christmas box of decorations so hellish. I know I may be missing the point by not letting my girls pull it all out with reckless abandon. But it doesn’t come from some deep-seated desire to be like Martha Stewart. It comes from my tendency to move like a snail and being pushed through the steps heightens my anxiety like the Abdominable Snowman’s toothache. A previously joyous activity becomes hell on a holly branch.

So low and slow is my speed this year.

It seems as if the absence of the tree lets us focus on other beautiful parts of the season, too. Our advent wreath. The nativity. The soft glow of candlelight. Christmas stories and cuddling.

The slow dissemination of decorations from storage bins is not a foolproof solution for all people struggling during the holiday season, though.

How can we all lower our expectations and be at peace with ourselves? How can you keep it low and slow? How can you help your loved ones cope?

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12 Comments

  1. I’ve come to the conclusion that, aside from the tiny artificial tree I’ve had since the mid-80s, nothing is going to really get decorated this year. Finishing up moving while trying to shop and decorate and. . . Not so much.

    I picked what was most important to me as holiday traditions go, something I haven’t been able to do in three years: baking. I’m going Christmas cookie crazy this year, which is made even MORE special as this is the first year I’m doing it in my own kitchen.

    Hang in there, Jen. You obviously have a hold on the important stuff. 😉

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  December 11, 2014

      Cookies in your own kitchen – how sweet that is! That’s the type of thing we need to focus on, I think, to get us through. It doesn’t have to be all the traditions, all the time. Less certainly can be more – and not in an overwhelming sort of way either. Thanks for your perspective – and happy holiday home!

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  2. I listen and have few, if any, expectations. It works well for me.

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  December 11, 2014

      Listen to what your family members might need? How did you train yourself to have few, if any, expectations? Any tips for that!?

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      • I listen, attentively, to everyone I encounter be they family or complete strangers. It’s taken considerable time to hone this skill.

        I simply realized I’d rather reflect and make choices through the lens of anticipation rather than expectation. Once I become aware and aligned with how I want to be, it is just a matter to recognizing triggers and being intentionally focused on what could be (the anticipation). Not sure if this makes sense to someone who has yet to practice it.

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      • Jennifer Butler Basile

         /  December 13, 2014

        It does. Though it certainly would take reflection and practice.

        Thank you for your insight, Eric.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My tree is still in its coffin in storage and I’m really not sure if the ornaments and other decorations were place in the storage unit with it or shoved under a bed or in the closet last year! Andrew will be home Tuesday from college and I know he will see it,s taken care of. He gets a little frustrated with us because it’s not up when he gets in, but…life happens! 😉

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  4. danielle

     /  December 11, 2014

    Low and slow seems to work for Dusty Crophopper, so stick with that!

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  December 11, 2014

      Him too? I knew about Ramone!

      Seriously, though, I should have specified low expectations – not mood!

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  5. Ummm. Yeah. This. Everything you said.

    Liked by 1 person

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