“Fighting” Holiday Anxiety This Year

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Photo credit: Viktor Hanacek

The holidays are a stressful time for most of us, I would wager. At least most people I know.

If you have financial trouble, nothing puts pressure on it like needing to buy a million gifts, travel, or make a time extra magical somehow for your kids. If you are far from your family or have little family, holidays will shine a spotlight right on that sore spot. Let’s say you have money- are your gifts thoughtful enough? If you spend too much, will you make them uncomfortable? Are your kids learning the right lessons about giving?

On and on, the anxious mind can spin.

Did your mother-in-law hate your turkey? Is your racist drunk uncle coming to the Christmas party where he will certainly pick a fight with you? Will your flight be canceled due to a blizzard and you’ll miss Christmas altogether?

And, for those of us who identify as introverts, my big question every year- how do I build in badly needed “me time” to the nonstop holiday celebrations?

I’ve read list after list of ideas for fighting the extra anxiety that the holidays bring. They usually include things like this:

  • “Make sure you make time for workouts! Those endorphins will help bust through the gloom and keep you feeling great!”
  • “Don’t go into debt to give gifts. Give something handmade, or just trust that being together with your family is the most important thing.”
  • “Don’t go overboard hosting! Keep dinner simple and click THIS LINK for tons of inexpensive DIY decor!”
  • “Teach your kids that giving is better than receiving. Volunteer, adopt a family in need, and encourage them to make gifts from the heart for teachers or friends.”

The brilliant “tips” go on like this, full of ways to put your mind at ease that you’re doing your very best.

None of these are bad ideas. Nothing wrong with them. But let’s get real for a second.

I’m busy. I’m even busier during the holidays. While a trip to Michaels, hours on Pinterest, and even more hours creating an “inexpensive handmade” gift might sound like a good way to save money on expensive items, swapping my credit card for a perfectly lovely present from a department store is way less stressful.

Will I make time for workouts? I hope! But, honestly, eating a vegetable or two and getting six hours of sleep might be about all the wellness I have time for some days.

Will showing up without a gift, encouraged that the “present of my presence” will be enough really make for a comfortable situation in most cases? Probably not, let’s face it.

There will likely be family drama. My jeans will likely get tighter. The kids will likely not have a perfect Hallmark Christmas full of lifelong lessons about the magic of giving and the evil that is constant consumerism. I hope to teach them gratitude, how little others have, and how fun it is to give someone a gift. Here’s hoping.

Here is my point: this year, I’m leaning in. I’m just accepting that this is going to be stressful. I’m sitting in it. I’m going to organize as best I can, and spend too much, and miss some things, and probably not work out enough. I might get high strung. I might have a meltdown. I might forget a gift until the last minute, or not get holiday cards out this year, or spend too much, or too little, or gain weight, or not get out of bed some days.

So what?

Will the world end because I didn’t wake up an hour early every day to do yoga? Will my family fall apart because we had to say “no” to some events and invites? Will my husband leave me because I didn’t create a Pinterest-worthy spread for a Christmas get-together?

Nope.

Will I regret the credit card debt come January that will save me loads of time in December?

I don’t know. Maybe.

All I know is that I can’t do it all perfectly, and I can’t do it “imperfectly” perfectly, so, it’s not going to be perfect. It’s going to be real.

Try to stay present. Spend money if needed, don’t if it’s not necessary. Give myself a break. Constantly find reasons to be grateful and notice them as often as possible. Be prepared to fail some days, totally fail. Don’t miss the magic in the very small things, if you can help it.

This is my holiday plan, and probably just a decent plan for life, too. I constantly find that the best anxiety buster is accepting anxiety. It seems to dissipate once given into.

And, failing that, there is always, always wine.

 

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3 Types of “To-Do” Lists that Can Help When Depression Sets In

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Let’s get real. Making a “to-do” list on a day you’re struggling with depression can be many things, but “helpful” is not usually one of them. Most days I wake up this way the feeling is so heavy I can’t even find the tiniest bit of will to fight it. Or I stare at my list of goals I made the night before and cry, knowing I’ll never complete anything, any time, anywhere, because that’s what the voice in my head is telling me.

I can’t even get in the shower, but I’m supposed to create a thoughtful DIY gift for my anniversary, plan a party, work on a script I’m writing, and make three phone calls?

Um, not happening.

Honestly, when depression sets in, I usually forget why I wanted to do any of these things in the first place. Nothing seems important. Everything feels impossible. I just want time to stop so I can hide under my covers and cry or sleep.

However, over many years of dealing with depression in the various forms in which it visits me, I’ve learned that at certain times, there are things I can do to cushion the blow. Mostly, I’ve developed tools that prevent it from hitting me so hard or so often- though these don’t always work. Once it comes, it’s generally out of my hands, since I’m not exactly “myself” during those times.

When I am able to get a small ledge to hold onto, one of the things that can help me is, believe it or not, a to-do list.

Generally, depending on where I am mentally, these lists fall into one of three categories. I’m going to share them here in case one or more can ever help anyone else when they are slipping down into that deep hole of sadness or numbness.

And please remember, sometimes the best thing to do is nothing, if that’s what you need. Sometimes we just need to stop and be as gentle as possible with ourselves. There is no shame in having to stop.

Here are the types of lists I use. These aren’t in order of “feeling best to worst” or anything like that. Depression simply hits differently sometimes.

List #1: The “Things I Know Will Make Me Feel Better and Start to Move Me Out of a Depressed State” List

This is one only accessible to me when I’m just starting to get a bit “off” or when I’ve been feeling depressed for a bit and can see the light, however dim, at the end of the tunnel. Continue reading

3 Ways Social Media Makes My Depression Worse

Social Media addict

I am not trendy.

I know, when it comes to social media, a lot of millennials love to hate it. It’s cool to bash Facebook and take “breaks” or swear it off altogether. (Yeah right, Karen. See you back here posting in a week.)

I get into Snapchat and Instagram, too- I’m not completely unhip. But I’m not as cool as my younger friends and family who don’t even need a Facebook page, who may barely ever check my hilarious Snaps of my cat (their loss!), who post one perfect selfie #ootd Insta a week, with an inspirational quote here and there to mix it up.

I still use emojis when I should be using a little person that looks like me and makes the proper expressions, according to my 13 year old step-daughter. (An avatar, maybe? I just imagine myself all blue having weird hair sex…)

Social media suits me. I’ve moved to six different states. I’ve lived the actor’s life of having a “show family” you love with all your heart that you may never, ever see again. I travel for work. I also “network” for work (UGH).

Here is my point- I need to, and enjoy, keeping in touch with great people I meet all over. I LOVE knowing what my family in Indiana is up to and how everyone is without making thirty phone calls a day. I like getting updates on college acceptances, post-op progress, and finally getting to see when your baby goes from “gross alien you love anyway” to “cute!”  Continue reading

Why Sharing Our Mental Health Stories is SO Important

I’m writing this blog from the side of the road. Seriously. I was listening to NPR, a piece about a shortage of psychologists. Turns out the baby boomers need mental health care just like they need regular health care, and the increased population means there aren’t enough psychiatrists and psychologists to go around at the moment.

Side note- if you’re looking into these fields, apparently you will find yourself quite employable!

I was sort of half listening when the guest said something that caught my ear. (Definitely half listening, or I would have some name or title more specific than “the guest” to share with you….) He mentioned how mental health discussions are so often buried under the rug, explaining that if you have a surgery, as an example, people bring flowers and you post updates on social media and everyone is very supportive.

If you have a panic attack, however, we don’t share or handle it the same way, and we don’t expect people to react with unbridled support, either.

This kills me, and goes back to a point I’ve reiterated so many times on the blog you may be sick of hearing it, but it is worth repeating:

We HAVE to share our mental health stories in order to slowly chip away at the stigma surrounding these issues.

After all, doesn’t someone suffering a severe bout of depression deserve just as much support as someone who broke their leg? Might it even go further with the person struggling with the point of life in general? Continue reading

Eating Disorders, Anxiety, and Facing Ourselves Honestly

I’m taking a class on Anxiety Disorders right now, and it’s absolutely fascinating. It’s an online class from Universal Class. If you like to learn, I highly recommend checking out that site. Some libraries offer free tuition to cardholders, as I know the LA library system does, and there are hundreds of classes on a variety of topics.

Tip of the day, I guess? 🙂

Anyway, I’ve noticed that “eating disorders” is actually listed as a form of anxiety, which I would have balked at before I started recovery, but it’s amazing how true it is! Whenever I’m in a high-pressure situation for a sustained amount of time, I either want to binge or starve, depending on where my mind is at that time. Thinking of it this way, as anxiety, minimizes the problem to me in a good way.

This might not speak to everyone, but for me, it’s helping.

If I can think of my eating disorder as being in the same category as my OCD or social anxiety, then it just feels like another little annoying thing that I can overcome. It feels like something I can take a few deep breaths through, something that will wane after a few days of yoga and good sleep.  Continue reading

Great Podcast: Finding Comedy in Tragedy and Mental Illness

Marc Maron

I had to take a second to share this amazing podcast I just finished! As someone who has navigated depression (even back when it was called MMD), anxiety, and an eating disorder most of my life, I consider myself pretty well educated on the subject, if only by necessity. One topic I’m just starting to learn more about is Borderline Personality Disorder, also known as BPD.

If you’ve never listened to the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast, it’s worth checking out even if you don’t care about this stuff. He interviews a diverse group of incredibly interesting people, and I always find myself laughing and learning a lot. It’s the kind of podcast where you start to drive home more slowly just to be sure you have time to finish it, stopping at yellow lights, that kind of thing.

Continue reading

When You Feel You’re “Missing Out” on the Bigger Things

Being the age

I dropped out of college after about two and a half years. I say “about” because I sort of just stopped showing up somewhere during my fifth semester. I wasn’t being lazy or giving up- quite the contrary. I was working several jobs to make ends meet, so when I started booking paid acting and modeling work, I didn’t have time to fit in everything. I figured I didn’t need a theatre degree for my career as an actor if I was working as an actor, so I let the need to finish school go.

(Side note- I am not advocating the idea that one should take dropping out of school lightly. However, I also don’t think anyone should finish college and get up their eyeballs in debt if it doesn’t make sense for their lives. Another blog post for another day.)

Since I left school before most people I knew at the time who were pursuing the acting life, I suddenly had this feeling that I was a little bit “ahead.” Not as a person, or an actor, definitely not in experience or financially, but just as far as time was concerned. It was like I had two “free years”, where all acting credits and experience were “bonus”, where I could slack off or not, and it didn’t matter. Continue reading

Open Letter To My Husband, Who Lives With Both Me and My Depression

 

Dear S,

I should start by making two things clear. One- you are a wonderful, kind, supportive, loving man, and I hope to be married to you forever. I pinch myself when I think about how lucky I am to have found a husband like you. You set the bar very high in our relationship.

Two- I know you can’t possibly understand what it is to live with depression. I know that. You can learn about it, listen to me talk about it, read about it, study all you can. But you’ll never really know. You just can’t. You’ve come a long way when it comes to being sensitive and knowledgeable on the topic. (Remember when you used to say things like, “I understand, I felt depressed when I went through this or that”?) You simply can’t know because unless you experience it, you just won’t.

I could not be more thrilled about this, actually, because I wouldn’t wish these feelings on anyone, let alone the man I love most on this planet. My heart nearly bounces with joy knowing that you’ll never go through an episode like this. Yes, you will have times of pain, of grief, of heartache, of deep sadness. I can’t stop that. I wish I could, but that’s life.

However, I’m happy to know you won’t have to wake up some days and just want to die, even though you were perfectly happy the day before. You won’t sit down on the couch under the weight of a soul crushing sadness that leaks out through your tear ducts and literally not be able to rise up under the weight of it. You won’t lash out for no reason, after spending days feeling terrified of nothing at all, snapping because you can’t take that pain a minute longer.

You won’t lose days of your life without realizing the time has passed. You won’t know what it is to fall to the bottom of an emotional well and not even want to climb out because the light at the top doesn’t seem remotely worth it somehow. You won’t spend hours and days and weeks feeling worthless for no reason and wondering what the point of all of this is, anyway.

You won’t do that. You are as you should be, as I love seeing you. Full of life. Full of joy. You wake up each day ready to take it on. You’re a nonstop ball of energy, a source of light, an Accomplisher of All Things Necessary.  You’re an extrovert, a dad who plays on the floor with the kids, a husband who works sixty hours a week and still finds time to travel and do half the housework.

I’m in awe of you. Continue reading

A Good Cause & A Sad Fact

https://www.gofundme.com/bretts-treatment-fund

So, I don’t know the above people. I clicked on the link because a good Facebook friend shared it, and I usually find myself caring about causes dear to my friends’ hearts.

Normally I simply donate what I can, click to share on Twitter, and move on with my day.

Today, a line from this page hit me so hard, and I had to write about it for a minute.

This campaign is to help a woman struggling with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder, who recently had a situation requiring serious hospitalization and needs help. Of course, she has to fight and beg and plead with her insurance to help cover the cost of this treatment, because health insurance has a long way to go in the treatment of mental illnesses. Which is a whole separate blog post in itself. (Sigh.)

But this is the line that stabbed me in the heart:

“Brett’s very nervous for a lot of reasons–not the least of all because depression can make you believe you don’t deserve help.” Continue reading