Dealing with the December Doldrums

December is rough for me. December 11 would be my mother’s 63rd birthday. December 17 is the day my father died. That particular week is hell for my mental health. The holidays bring their own unique stressors: spending time with unsavory family, fighting for space in every store, the emptiness some experience when they have become jaded with the traditions and rituals of the season. Not to mention the seemingly ever-present grayness and chill from the weather.

Those of us with mental illnesses tend to shy away from the holidays at best and hate them with a passion at worst. It’s a time of forced interaction with people who may trigger our conditions, or just make us really anxious and angry. It can seem like one month lasts for years. But there are ways to deal with the feelings and problems that creep up during the holidays.

When it comes to family gatherings, we all have our thresholds for ignorant family members. Remember, no matter what your parents tell you, you don’t have to interact with these people. Your parents may make you think you have to, but if they understand you and your feelings, they won’t force you. I know some of us don’t have parents who understand our situations. If you’re one of those people, remember that standing up for yourself, even against family, is more important than talking to your MAGA hat-wearing uncle.

Shopping anywhere after Black Friday will be a chore at the very least. If you have to go Christmas shopping, make sure you take time to leave the store if you feel overwhelmed. Crowds aren’t for everyone, and pushy, rude shoppers are even worse. This is a good time to perhaps shop later in the day or at night.

It’s amazing how much the weather alone affects our moods. December, for most place except Florida, are usually cool or cold, gray, and seemingly colorless (Florida, however, has many other reasons for people to be depressed). I regularly fight the urge to stay wrapped in my blanket in my bed during cold, gray weather. This is not productive nor healthy. I constantly have to talk myself up and get moving, or I will end up just staying in bed, inert and melancholy. I have found that having a brightly lit room helps with the dark mood. Surrounding yourself with colorful art, furniture, clothing, and other decor also brings a little bit of spring into the cold gray.

Holidays tend to bring back memories of past celebrations and those we’ve lost. This is the biggest struggle for me. I find myself getting teary-eyed thinking about how on Christmas Day we kids would pick a spot in the living room, delegate one of us to be the present fetcher, and take turns opening the gifts. Then we would let our parents open their presents, eagerly awaiting their reaction when they opened the present I gave them. There were many more good memories than bad on those days.

December is a roller coaster of emotion, memory, and mood. Those of us who struggle with balancing our moods and emotions must steel ourselves for the barrage our brains are going to endure. The biggest keys to remember are that you are worth standing up for, so stand up for yourself when your family makes egregious demands of you. Try to keep brightness and color around you during the grayer days. Memories of those who have passed will arise, so focus on the good times with them during the holidays. Be more vigilant about your mental and emotional well-being and remember that the new year, and the opportunity to improve, is just around the corner.

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