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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