This post is going to come out of nowhere. Think Nowhere Man from The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine movie. Jeremy. There’s quite literally a million and one things traveling at light speed through my brain right now. And that makes organizing thoughts and cohesion nearly impossible.
Truth: it’s fucking impossible.
I wanted share some of my holiday experiences while struggling with mental illness. But I cannot seem to wrangle a single thought. Not one. And you would think, with a million and one rolling around in there, it would be easy. But it’s not.
In fact, the chaos of the holidays is somewhat symbolic.
While everyone is floating on air with the magic of the season under wing, some of us are struggling more than usual because of mental illness. I am sure the stress levels are heightened for everyone, but my anxiety hits records highs with all those people out there and all of that busyness. It can be crippling. And that is why I try to get everything done WAY ahead of time.
Some folks roll their eyes, “of course you have it all done,” when I mention that my shopping is finished by mid-November. But what they don’t realize is that if I didn’t it simply wouldn’t get done. This isn’t to take away from the stress others feel during the holidays but think about someone who plans weeks in advance for a coffee date or who panics (like has a toddler-esque meltdown!) when they have to make an unplanned trip to the grocery store.
The louder the soundtrack of the season gets, the more muddled my thoughts become. And the more anxiety I feel.
Parenting with depression and anxiety is daunting on the best days. During the holidays I find it to be a whole new level of challenging. That mix of rewarding feelings and formidable festivities is a struggle to navigate.
My sweet kiddo knows all about my mental health struggles. My husband and I made the conscious decision to be open with him about my issues and my Type 1 Diabetes. We felt it was important. It was a decision that was right for us. It may not work for everyone.
He didn’t attend daycare of any kind and I was the primary caregiver until he entered school. And now that he has left school, I am in charge of homeschooling. Symptoms are hard to hide. And kids pick up on way more than we think.
Even though us grown folks have the audacity to assume that a white lie here and there along with some smoke and mirrors is enough to throw them off our scent. So. By the time he was about two he could test my blood sugars. And he knew that Mommy’s brain sometimes makes her sad.
Nearly a decade on, he knows and understands a lot more. His compassion and comprehension often make me feel unworthy to be witness to his wonder. His presence will always be the only gift I ever need but it also intensifies all my worries and fears. Especially around the holidays.
For example, he is a true believer. And hits double-digits in February. He was sure to write and mail off his letter to Santa early this year (before December even hit). And he has been patiently waiting for a reply. Usually it comes mid-month. But every day we check and every day he is devastated by the lack of colourful envelop. And I haven’t been sleeping. And inside I’ve been panicked. And scrambling.
What if this is the last year he subscribes? Is it really going to end like this? With no letter from Santa?
Sure, there were ways to navigate the situation. But he’s a smart kid. He would have picked up on an impostor letter (even though we are fortuante to have lovely pals who offered to do the Santa scribing), so there was a great wash of relief in the house a few moments ago when the mail carrier placed that enchanted envelop in our mailbox, along with the fucking gas bill.
I have never tried to hide any of my illnesses from my son. I couldn’t imagine the upkeep that would require and am exhausted enough that I personally don’t need that piled up on top of things. But I am extra mindful of my mood around the holidays. And I do attempt to curb those fears and worries, the best that I can, when he is around.
Focusing my attentions on my family and concentrating my energies on making things magical and joyful for all of them helps keep me out of my own head. It isn’t a perfect science and I still linger in the grey zone 80% of the time. But it has gotten me through many a holiday season.
Blood Sugar Blahs
Another thing that makes the holidays difficult to navigate is my Type 1 Diabetes.
Fuck that makes daily life difficult to navigate. As if dealing with life alone isn’t a struggle add being a fucking organ on top of that…and the math, oh my lord. So. Much. Counting.
Being around family means being around a lot of different opinions about everything. And that often means misconceptions arise. And unwanted advice. Fortunately for me, most of family keeps quiet about my T1D (though they sometimes keep to quiet, forgetting to give me 20 minutes notice so I can pre-bolous). But that isn’t the case for everyone.
Funny, as I typed that I thought back to a time where I dabbled in a relationship with my biological mother and she refused to acknowledge my Diabetes. Once she even accused me of using a pretend illness to get attention. FUCK. I don’t miss those holidays.
But thoughtful and positive folks are not a cure. Neither is insulin. And sometimes it just doesn’t matter how much you fine tune your calculations. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if you pre-bolus, run an extended bolus and an increased temp basal. Sometimes Diabetes just doesn’t give a fuck that it’s the holidays and will sabotage that treat you’ve waited all year to devour.
Those are the instances where I struggle. Not just with the whole food thing but the Diabetes and food thing. I cannot tell you how many times I have denied myself that delicious little something at a party because I fear running high. High blood sugars scare the fuck out of me.
But they didn’t always. Before my CGM, I used to let them coast (most times not even testing) until it was time to take a meal dose. Then I would correct. Not before. My needle phobia was in the driver seat of my management for nearly two decades, and many times I would simply comply with that shit feeling, riding it out until I could muster the courage and energy to take a shot.
But now, my CGM has me constantly aware. Watching and waiting for that number to creep and climb. Some people might say that’s unhealthy and an unnecessary added stress, but I manage it. And I physically feel better with my sugars in normal range.
I have found ways to deal with my anxiety.
Sticking to a routine is tremendously helpful for my mental well being. And it greatly helps my T1D too. Things like waking up at the same time every day. Mixing up my chia seed pudding for breakfast. Getting in my daily walk or yoga. Little things that make a big difference.
So during these busy times, I try my best to hold true to those routines.
I am hyper aware of my limits and fight to uphold my own boundaries. I never force myself to endure more than I know I am capable of, and I do my very best to limit the servings of guilt on my plate.
I can be fucking glutton for that shit. It’s like a drug for me. If I’m not feeling like guilt riddled shit something must be wrong…
But my depression is a more unruly beast. And gratitude can be a supremely dirty asshole sometimes. I try to take stock of how lucky I am, and I am lucky, but it can often make things worse. The support and love of my family creates this undeserving feeling deep inside of me. And it’s there that my focus goes.
I have cried more times that I care to admit in the last few days. Thank goodness for the cover of cathartic movies! But that’s the truth. I internalize all of my anxiety and depression until it builds up and quite literally spills out…
I’ve said it before, but it warrants repeating: for some of us happy isn’t a choice. And if it were, I would bet most of us would choose it.
Mental illness is a different experience for each of us who suffer. What I do hope is that my experiences will help you know you are not alone, that your version of Happy Holidays is okay too.
Even if it is absent of the happy.
**Please note: this time of year can be overwhelming for those navigating depression and anxiety disorders, an increase in symptoms may signal a need to reach out…please do not be afraid to do so. If you have a therapist, get in touch. Call a friend or family member. If you need or want anonymity, call a hotline (see my Resources). Or message me.**