A Guide to the Holidays: Staying Emotionally Healthy

The holidays can be a difficult time for many people. Many deal with stress and/or depression, grief, or other issues like toxic family members. Some even go through the holidays alone. This can be especially hard. It’s important to know how to stay emotionally healthy during this time so that you can enjoy the holidays and possibly be able to help someone you know.

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If You Are Alone

This situation is caused by different factors- distance, family issues, financial issues, and so on. There are ways that you can make this a positive time of the year:

  • Reach out. Many people will offer to extend an invitation to someone they know may be alone for the holidays. Let them know if you are available, offer to bring something. If you have friends who wouldn’t mind an extra person, ask if you can join them for a celebration.
  • Create alternative traditions. “Friendsgiving” potlucks have become popular in the last few years among those who aren’t able to see their families. I’ve gone to a couple, and it’s a lot of fun. Everyone brings a dish, decide on a fun activity, and let the fun begin.
  • Pamper yourself. Do something you enjoy- a day at the spa, nails, a new book, shirt, etc.
  • Help others. This can take many different directions- volunteering at a homeless shelter, animal shelter, etc. This can help remind you of how fortunate you are and it’s a good experience.
  • Travel. If you can afford it, go out of town for a couple of days. If you can’t, try a “staycation” and go places in your city that you haven’t been to.
  • Self- care. Check in with yourself daily- feelings, hygiene, etc. You don’t have to be cheerful 24/7 during this season, alone or not. If you realize you are having a hard time, reach out. Please see my Resources page for more information.

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For Those That Are Grieving

Grief is a hard process any day of the year. The holidays can be harder on someone that is grieving than most people realize. If you are grieving or will be celebrating the holidays with someone that is, these tips may be helpful.

  • Take care of yourself. Grief can affect people differently. Depression can cause a person to not care for themselves as they did before the loss. Self-care is important, even the tiniest steps like brushing your teeth, taking a shower, etc.
  • Don’t rush the process. It may take years for a family to feel like holiday gatherings are “normal” again after a loss. Do not rush through your grieving process for others. Everyone grieves differently and this should be respected.
  • Plan ahead. Do you really want to host Thanksgiving this year? Can someone else do it? Think about where you are in the grieving process and how comfortable you feel hosting holiday events. It might not be for you this year, but in a year or so, it might be okay again.
  • Share stories. This might be hard, depending on the situation, but it can also be helpful. Sharing stories can be good, however, when they focus on the good times with the person, acknowledging that they are missed.

If you are going to a gathering with a family who has had a recent loss:

  • Offer help. Maybe the family needs help with shopping, cleaning, decorating, etc. This can be a huge relief to them. It’s one less worry in an already tough time.
  • Ask how everyone is doing before attending the gathering. It may be a somber or joyous gathering, but you will not know unless you ask beforehand.
  • Respect the right for everyone to grieve. This is very important.

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Holiday Cheer or Holiday Stress?

There’s a lot of pressure to spend lots of money on presents, spend time with family that we may or may not get along with, get our kids everything they want and so on. How do we remain, or even get, cheerful about the holidays? How do we deal with the stress?

  • Tune out the noise. The holiday specials, songs, and movies can be a bit too much. If it becomes too much, turn it off. I can’t stand the radio stations that play nothing but Christmas music- starting before Thanksgiving.

Can we get through Thanksgiving first? It’s a bit much for me to hear this music for over a month, so I don’t even turn it on. I am stuck with it when Matthew and I are in the car together because he loves it- there’s a thing called compromise.

  • Set limits for presents. This can be a number of presents, price, or even both. We have four birthdays within 2 weeks after Christmas, so we really try to watch how much we spend. (Those birthdays are mine, Matthew, my father in law, and Cameron.) Plus, there’s the battle of making sure each kid has the same number of presents. Kids need to know that money doesn’t come easily and that they may not be able to always get what they want.
  • Toxic people need to be shown the door. Not everyone in your life is meant to be there, and that includes family. Your time is valuable- why spend it with people who don’t value you? Be realistic about what you can handle.
  • Be grateful. The main message behind the holidays is counting our blessings and being grateful for what we have. It may be a good idea to make a list of the things you are grateful for, no matter how small they are. This can be a bit of a lift, especially on the harder days.
  • Have fun in moderation. You will feel a lot better if you don’t overeat, drink too much or overdo other activities. Everyone has their limits- don’t go past them or you may disappoint yourself.
  • Take care of yourself. This can be a very hectic time of the year, and self- care can slide to the bottom of your to-do list.

Example: If you’re a perfectionist, it’s okay to let things go a bit. You can find the perfect gift for everyone, but if you’re so stressed out finding it, you’ve lost the fun part. It becomes a drag. Try loosening up a bit- don’t spend hours online looking. If you need to, take a break after an hour and come back to it the next day. Start shopping earlier to relieve some of the stress.

  • Say no. This is okay. It’s possible to become overburdened with parties, work, and other activities. Saying no lessens that burden. It’s important to remember your needs.
  • Nourish yourself- physically and emotionally. Don’t entirely skip the good foods, because there are plenty out there. Try a smaller portion. Treat yourself. Try taking a bit of “quiet time” each day to read, write, draw, anything that helps you rest your mind a bit. You will feel much less smothered by the demands of the season.

Do you have any tips for a stress-free holiday season?

All pics are from Unsplash

Information from Psychology Today

The Place I Don’t Like to Be

There is a cemetery in Southern Indiana that holds a grave I never thought I would see.

I know exactly where Jake’s grave is and every time I walk towards it, my heart breaks.

I’m not supposed to be here.

He’s not supposed to be here.

It took three years before I could come to his grave and not cry until my eyes swelled.

This is not where I want to be, but it’s where he is.

The Day We Didn’t See Coming

Nobody saw the events of September 1, 2015 coming. Even if any of us had consulted a crystal ball, this wouldn’t have been in it. I’ve looked back so often- even though Jake was quiet the last couple days before his death, this wasn’t on my radar.

I thought he had a lot on his mind, maybe a depressive episode.

If it had been, I would have done anything to stop him. All of us would have.

There are no words to fully explain how I got through hearing of Jake’s death. I’ve tried to describe it to those close to me, including my former therapist. Shattered is the only word that can even come close.

The Day After describes how I began the process of crawling forward with my life and how it is possible if you have had this sort of loss.

I didn’t attend anything after the funeral service because I was far too broken. I simply walked out to my car and drove home.

I spent days in bed, crying and drinking. I even spent my tenth wedding anniversary in bed- it was only 9 days after Jake’s death. Matthew let me be.

What?

Stay with me.

He knew that he had essentially broken me. Verbal and emotional abuse is no joke, and it will put you in a place that nobody should ever be in. Matthew is a bright man, but this wasn’t one of his better ideas.

He had changed.

I had changed.

That’s no excuse for what occurred.

He eventually realized that even though I had cheated on him and ran our marriage even further into the ground, Jake put me back together. Anyone who knows me well knows this.

There were days that I couldn’t see a way out of the darkness that I was living in. I ate and drank my way through my feelings. I gained weight and didn’t care.

I still don’t. I currently sit at 170. I don’t weigh myself unless I’m at a doctors appointment.

At one point, I became angry and mean. I’m not like that. I will become that way if pushed and even at this point, I still should have handled things better.

The Breaking Point

I began talking to Jake’s brother’s girlfriend, *Lauren. One discussion went terribly and to this day, we aren’t on speaking terms. I’m okay with this.

I am not, however, okay, with the fact, that it destroyed my friendship with Jordan. We are barely back on speaking terms. This took a lot of time, work on my end, and a bit of help from Sara.

I realized that I needed a bit more help to get past my grief. Raging, crying and eating clearly weren’t working.

I found a wonderful therapist and slowly began to see a bit of light. I worked on processing my grief in healthier ways- this blog is one result. I also worked my way through trust issues (I’m still picky about who I like), issues in my marriage, with my kids and some other personal things.

I highly recommend therapy in any form.

I even got sober while I was in therapy and my therapist was thrilled. When I started, she was almost ready to send me inpatient based on my drinking.

Seeing the Light Ahead

There are days that hurt- Jake’s birthday and today, September 1. I think it always will. This is okay. I refer to it as “The Day the World Went Away”, which is the title of a Nine Inch Nails song. He loved that band.

As four years have gone by, I try to remember what I’ve been able to accomplish. I remember that Jake would be so proud of me, or so I hope.

I’ve become a volunteer for the AFSP Out of the Darkness Community Walks. I’ve also done a couple of the college campus walks at the University of Louisville. In a way, it helps me carry on Jake’s (and my) love of helping others.

I figure if I can live through this, I can help others somehow. I cannot explain what a suicide loss is like. I just know that this is something that nobody should have to live through.

I have been outrageously lucky- support isn’t something that everyone has. Matthew didn’t have to be there, but he was. My best friends and family have been there since day one.

Josh, Jake’s other brother, has been one of the best supports I could ask for. I couldn’t have made it through the first two years without my former therapist. I may have ended up in jail and/or rehab.

I have a really bad mouth and back then, unchecked anger issues. The mouth hasn’t changed at all, but I’ve learned to manage my anger. My kids have noticed.

I may have kept drinking had my doctor not called with the fateful lab results.

Grief is one of the hardest emotions for a person to manage. One day can be great and you don’t think about the loss at all- the next, you’re sobbing over a memory.

” Hold on to the memories, they will hold on to you”- “New Year’s Eve”, Taylor Swift

My short term memory is trashed, thanks to a mini-stroke shortly before meeting Jake. My long-term memory is intact, and I am grateful. This helps me hold on to the two years of memories.

Thanks to those memories, I’ve created two hashtags: #ForMySuperman and #SpeakNow

They are seen with many of my mental health/suicide related posts on social media. I’ve often referred to Jake as my Superman. Even though he wasn’t perfect and our situation definitely wasn’t, my life was better with him in it.

He saved me from myself sometimes, but even more, the world I was living in. For two years, he was always there for me. I could be myself again, I was able to breathe. I could be happy and not pushed into a corner.

Those memories have gotten ne through the last four years, the good and bad days. I don’t have any pictures of the two of us together, but Josh and Sara have helped me with a collection of pictures of Jake and even a few of his kids. His daughter looks just like him. Of course, she’s taller than me.

All of the pictures have been carefully saved- they’re all I have.

The last week of August and the first couple of days of September are hard for me. I try to do things for others during this time- it helps. I also try to take care of myself so that I don’t fall into a pile of tears.

Growth, Change and Happiness

Before I met Jake, there was another Jacob in my life, my grandfather. He died in May 2016, and it broke my heart. He was the first man in my life who really believed in me.

I called my Granddad “the sunshine of my life”. He gave great advice and had a great sense of humor.

It took over a year to finally feel like I was living again. This doesn’t mean I was fully healed and living my best life. It means I felt like I wasn’t stuck in a daily grief pattern.

I struggled to move past the anger that eventually came, sadness, and other emotions. I never went through the bargaining stage. I knew Jake wasn’t coming back.

I’m at the best I’ve been so far. I’m past 2 1/2 years sober, and every day still remains a challenge. If someone tells you that sobriety is a breeze, it’s a lie. I don’t sit in meetings or read the Big Book every day, but that doesn’t mean I don’t do the work.

Happy? Am I happy? Probably. I’m living the life that Jake made me strong enough to live. As long as I keep that promise to myself, I’ll be okay.

My kids are growing up and I’m attempting to figure out where I want to go next. A few years ago, they were smaller and I had all the plans in the world. I know what it’s like to have that ruined in a minute. I don’t like making long term plans.

I do know that I’m going to be okay no matter where life takes me. I’ve got three people watching out for me- my grandparents and of course, my Superman.

Pics courtesy of pinterest

The Road to Authenticity

I have written a lot about being yourself and being vulnerable, no matter how hard it may be. I’ve struggled a lot with accepting myself, flaws and all. It wasn’t until I met Jake that I realized that being me is the best thing to be. It took knowing him to realize that Being You is a SuperPower.

There is No Carbon Copy

The definitions of authenticity vary by who you ask and what you read, but the official definition from Webster’s is: real or genuine: not copied or false. : true and accurate. : made to be or look just like an original.

I’ll take that. I’m definitely an original, there isn’t another person who looks like me, except for maybe Julian. He comes pretty close. My personality can’t be copied, and I don’t have the ability to be false or “fake”.

I spent a few years hiding my true feelings pain, anger, sadness and hiding my personality. I felt it was necessary because it wasn’t helping the situation I was in. I wasn’t being appreciated for who I was- I was being torn down no matter what I did, no matter what I said.

I felt like I wasn’t the person I was supposed to be anymore. I simply stopped being me, but I wasn’t happy that way. I wasn’t sure who I was supposed to be. Instead, I became guarded, anxious, and quiet. Anyone who knows me at all knows that is not in my DNA.

I’ve been loud since I was able to talk, except for a very bad strep throat/laryngitis episode in eighth grade and post-thyroid surgery in 2017. I was unable to talk above a whisper for a couple of weeks during both times and that was not fun. I felt as if I was sinking to the bottom of the ocean without a lifesaver. I was drowning with no one to save me.

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I was saved- and I am forever grateful to Jake. I don’t think he ever realized what he did for me. I was told he died knowing how much I cared for him, and that has helped me immensely.

He once told me that he wanted me to be myself as much as possible around him and that opened the floodgates. I needed to be myself again, in a safe space, with someone who cared about me.

I can’t say this was the right way to do it. He understood me in a way few people have. Slowly, I allowed him to see my feelings and thoughts, and not once did he use them against me. He knew what it was like to be hurt deeply, and while other things occurred between us that wasn’t so great, he didn’t go too far in this way.

Carefully Stepping Forward

After Jake’s death, I re-examined my life in a lot of ways. One of those ways was whether to stay with Matthew. In that decision, I also had to think about letting him back in again. I would have to be vulnerable with him, let him see the strong person I had become.

He would have to see that I had regained my self-respect, and was working on regaining my self-esteem and self-worth. This meant that things would have to change between us and if he couldn’t accept it, our marriage was done. I wouldn’t stay for him to hurt me as he had in the past.

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I had to also admit where I had been wrong. I’d broken a few rules of marriage- it’s somewhat of a miracle that Matthew still speaks to me, much less stayed.

I’m sure that this was a hard decision for him, but it was his to make, and I am delighted that he did. We had to do a lot of work to stay together and even now it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a lot better than where we were before 2013.

This process set off an intense internal battle. I didn’t want to try this- what if I stayed, let him see me this way and I got hurt all over again? There was no way I could handle this. There was no way I wanted to see how that would end.

I didn’t even want to take the chance. I had already decided to stay, but I was still very guarded. I talked to my therapist extensively about this fear- it was a justified fear, considering Matthew’s past abuse. I made a list of the things that I was afraid of Matthew seeing from me:

  • Crying
  • Anxiety
  • Sadness/that he had said or done something to hurt me
  • Being overwhelmed (this was one of the biggest issues in the past)
  • Being open about my feelings, then him using them against me

I had changed and I wasn’t about to go backward. I was happy being myself again.

The Turtle-Like Process

With the help of my therapist, I did let Matthew see who I had become. I figured that if I stayed, I may as well let him see who I had become. It was a slow process because I still had terrible memories in my mind. I’m well aware of the fact that they will be with me for a long time. I took small steps because that’s all I could handle.

I think Matthew got a bit frustrated, but I was dealing with a lot. In a way, it was his own fault- he was the one who hurt me, so he would have to wait for me to heal. I reminded him more than once that it wasn’t an overnight process and that I needed time. I did have slips, in which I would shut down entirely, stopped talking to him when I should have talked more. This caused arguments and didn’t go well.

Being honest with yourself is not always pretty. You have to look really deep inside, at all the things you’ve done, good or bad. At that point, it’s time to hold yourself accountable for the screwups, apologize to those you’ve hurt (or at least try), and try to move forward.

Most importantly, try to forgive yourself. This part can be hard- it was very hard for me to forgive myself for hurting Matthew and the damage that I caused to our marriage.

It’s not easy to become authentic, especially around the person who broke you. It takes a lot of adjustment on both sides. The changes are real- it may not turn out the way you hope. Many hide behind fear of not being liked or loved like I did. That fear does fade away. I can’t say when it does, but it will as you change. I am much happier being me and not hiding.

I do have times in which I tend to hide my sadness a bit, but many others do so. That is something to be worked on. It is refreshing to just be myself- even my sense of humor has improved, and I’ve always been funny. I don’t hold a lot back, and most of the people around me appreciate this. I know I do.

Have you tried being more authentic? Do you think it would make you happier? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Pic courtesy of Pinterest

The Words Left Unsaid

Regret is a terrible thing. I’ve lived with it and even with therapy, the feelings stick.

You can work through the feelings, but the situation itself remains.

Hands

So Close But Yet So Far

What hurts the most

Is being so close

Having so much to say

And watching you walk away” –

What Hurts the Most”, Rascal Flatts

It can be difficult to express your feelings with someone that you care about, for a variety of reasons. Fear is a beast that can keep you from doing what you need to the most.

What if I say how I really feel?

Does this change everything?

Will he/she freak out?

The closer you get to say these things, the bigger the questions get.

The Words Left Behind

I wanted so badly to tell Jake that I loved him, along with years’ worth of other things. “I love you” just happened to be at the top of the list.

I just didn’t. I was afraid.

I knew he cared a lot about me- but love? I couldn’t tell. He wasn’t a fan of commitment and I was aware that he had other women in his life, so I really struggled with the idea of saying this.

Things were about to change between us as it was- when he died, I was a week from filing for a divorce. I didn’t know what would happen next, but I was worried that putting too much on him emotionally would push him away.

We hung out a week before his death and there was one moment that I felt it was finally okay, and for some reason, I told myself, “Nah, next time. This isn’t it.”

There wasn’t a next time.

The next time I saw Jake besides work was his visitation.

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Dealing With the Leftovers

I realized that I wouldn’t be able to tell him how I felt. This crushed me. I would never know how he really felt about me.

While sitting with Jordan at the visitation, I asked him if he thought Jake died knowing how much I cared about him.

“I think he knew. He really cared about you.”

Jordan has no idea how much that has helped heal my heart. I had a hard time figuring out how Jake truly felt about me sometimes and this has always stayed in my heart.

His words helped me come to terms with not fully knowing how Jake felt about me, along with therapy.

But how would I deal with what I didn’t get to say?

I wrote.

Of course. It’s the main way I deal with things.

I wrote in an online journal, in a letter from, like I was talking to Jake as I wrote. This helped immensely through my grief process.

Letting Go of the Words

How do you let go of the things you don’t get to say?

A few tips:

  • Just say it. Saying three small words would have saved me a lot of heartbreak. I could have gotten hurt afterward but at least I wouldn’t have the regret. I’ve often said on social media to not hold back and say how you feel.
  • Don’t hold it inside. If something happens and you are truly unable to tell the person what you need to, don’t hang onto it. This might set you up for emotional distress.
  • Write a letter and then destroy it. This can help you get the feelings and thoughts out, then you can let them go (safely)
  • Talk to someone. Verbally expressing your feelings can be extremely helpful, whether this is a friend, family member or even a therapist.
  • Distract. Sometimes our brains like to mess with us – either with “what-if” thoughts or replaying the situation repeatedly. Finding a good distraction, like music, cleaning, or even a funny movie can help.

We can’t fully avoid things we regret, as much as we would like to. We can, however, try our best to deal with it in a healthy way. This can also help with words left unsaid.