The Holidays and Mental Health

2019 has flown by and Thanksgiving is approaching quickly. In the United States, Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the holiday season. While it’s easy to get caught up in shopping, gift giving, holiday parties,and decorations, the holidays may not be festive for everyone.

For those who struggle mental illness and/or grief, the holidays can be a stressful time.

When I was married, Christmas was difficult for me because of the infertility my ex-wife and I experienced. Though I love my nieces, nephews, and little cousins, it grew increasingly difficult to watch them open presents year after year while there were no children at our home Christmas morning.

The holidays can also serve of reminders of grief and loss. Maybe you lost a loved one around the holidays as you remember past family gatherings. I personally have lost three grandparents around the holidays. Going to the homes of my grandparents was always what made the holidays special, as the entire family would gather together. However, loved ones pass away and family dynamics can change due to divorce or other circumstances, leaving us with grief and loss.

The 2018 holidays were tough for me. My Grandma passed away the day after Thanksgiving. My Grandma’s funeral was on Tuesday and I received notification on Friday the same week that my divorce was finalized- a holiday double whammy.

In the coming weeks, I hope to share tips for dealing with mental health during the holidays. I just wanted to bring awareness that the holidays aren’t fun for everyone. Before you accuse your spouse, family member, friend, or co-worker of being a “Scrooge” or a “Grinch,” be mindful the holidays may be a difficult time of year for them.

Also, another aspect of holiday stress for some is the costs of gift giving. If someone bought you a gift that wasn’t as extravagant or costly as what you gave them, don’t belittle them, show appreciation. Maybe that gift is all they could afford. Maybe your gift giver didn’t have as good of a year as you. I personally dislike the commercial and financial aspects of the holidays as it becomes more about comparing checkbooks than celebrating the precious few moments we have to share together in this life.

I know this is a Christian blog, but I believe the words of the Dalai Lama ring true:  “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

 

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I Found Peace

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I am at peace. I am at peace with myself. I am at peace with my circumstances. I am at peace with the past and with God.

I didn’t have a mountain top experience nor was it a sudden revelation, I just came to be. A coworker this week mentioned that I have a different look on my face than I had in recent months. I believe my period of mourning has lifted and new life has sprung forth.

I have to say the last six years of my life have been the most difficult I’ve ever experienced. I have detailed these struggles on this blog and I believe this period of darkness inspired some of my best work. If you’re new to the blog, I briefly recap what the last six years has been like- I left a church I had been apart of for fourteen years and the changing spiritual dynamics left me wandering and questioning God. I was hospitalized with anemia,which I found out a year later was caused by Celiac disease. I was laid off from a job, which sent my career in a tailspin. Recurring flare-ups of my Ulcerative Colitis, my nephew’s suicide, my battles with anxiety and depression, and being blindsided by a divorce after eighteen years of marriage.

I was a broken man. My mind, body, and spirit were broken. I felt so hopeless and alone. I know that I wasn’t alone because I had the support of my family and my family of coworkers. I went back to church and joined a men’s group and heard the stories of men who were in my same situation. I sold the house my ex-wife and I built together, which was a burden off of my shoulders and a boost to my mental and financial health.

When I think about my struggles, I’m reminded of two Bible verses, Philippians 4:7 and Romans 8:28. To summarize, Philippians 4:7 discusses a peace that transcends all understanding, while Romans 8:28 talks about how God uses all things to work together for our good. These Scriptures don’t say that everything that happens to us will be good, but we can have a peaceful heart in the worst of times. I memorized Romans 8:28 and Philippians 4:7 when I first became a Christian, but the truth of those verses have really sank into my heart.

At the beginning of the year, I posted about this year being a year of restoration, and it has become that, a period of restoration. Being at peace doesn’t mean that everything has worked out and is resolved like a sitcom, drama or movie. Finding peace means that no matter what happens, you’ll be okay. You’ve made it through previous hard times and you’re going to get through this.

 

Yesterday’s Choices

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By Michael W. Raley

“If I had only known then what I know now.”

Oh how this statement keeps us tied down

To regret and our perceived failures of the past.

We go through life lamenting our choices-

Relationships, finances, and spiritual matters to name a few.

However, we fail to realize that we made our decisions

With the information we had at the time,

As hindsight was not available to us.

Even if we knew that we were making a bad choice,

It was still a lesson learned.

A hard lesson,

But we are wiser nonetheless.

As you go forward on this new day,

Realize that today is all you have

And it should not be wasted on yesterday’s choices.

Learn from it, seek forgiveness if needed,

And learn to forgive yourself

Finding Your Balance

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By Michael W. Raley

Life isn’t always fair

And there are times when equal opportunities are rare.

There are those who are born into wealth and privilege,

But since they didn’t earn it, a king’s fortune is squandered.

For those who struggle to exist, this is pure sacrilege.

There are those with obvious talent and skill who waste it,

While there are those who spent their lives wandering,

Searching in the wrong places for fulfillment and meaning.

There are those who spend their lives in a self-imposed cage,

While others seethe with self-righteous indignation and rage.

There are those who walk the well-worn path,

While others seek to blaze a trail.

There are those who will not take a risk unless they do the math,

While others will make a plan only for it to go off the rails.

Somewhere in the midst of these dichotomies

Lies the individual answers, the balance,

For which we seek, knowing that it won’t be easy.

All of us travel with burdens on our backs,

Fighting the night, the cold, and our fear of lack.

However, we must continue our journeys through the dark nights

To find the harmony within our spiritual lights.

 

The Countdown has Begun

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The house has been sold.  This house represents seventeen-and-a-half years of memories, but it is now symbolic of a broken home. My ex-wife and I built this house together and that is why staying here was taking a toll on my mental health.

After speaking with family and a few close friends, I decided the best thing to do would be to put the house on the market. The real estate market is hot in my area and my house sold in three days. While cause for celebration, the quick sell accelerated my timeline for finding a new place.

I am happy to be moving and beginning this new journey of my life. I’ll be moving into an apartment for the next year so I can figure out the next steps. I have no problem in living in a smaller space or downsizing my stuff because I’ve learned not to measure my value or success by the things I own.

I never thought I would be starting over at this stage of my life, but here I am. If you think about it, each day gives us a chance to start afresh. While the thought of the additional packing and cleaning wears me out, I am balanced with the expectation of a clean slate. Yes, selling the house does not change the personal circumstances- the divorce, the toll on my mental health, or what the future holds, but this is for the best. I had to do what was best for me.

 

A Delightful Spring Day

By Michael W. Raley

The curtains open,

The sun, at my back,

Beaming through the windows,

Dissolving my stress.

I take comfort

In the familiar bed

That helps ease the tension

Of the every day life.

This simple, seemingly monotonous act

Of a delightful spring day

Restores my soul

And reinvigorates my spirit.

That Elusive Hope

light candle hope
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By Michael W. Raley

Hope- a desire or expectation for a certain outcome-

Can remain as elusive as a treasure out of reach.

Even when the hope seems reasonable,

The path is still fraught with difficulty.

This constant difficulty, in turn frustrates our hope.

A vicious circle indeed!

We pursue hope in faith, in our hard work, in fortune, and a lover’s embrace,

All of which can be taken away,

Leaving us empty once more.

Reality has a nasty habit of sucker punching us,

Whether it is the doubt, the layoff, the disease diagnosis, or the lover’s departure

Or all of them at once.

“It has to get better,” we say to ourselves.

“There must be more to life than this,” we muse during a frustrating moment.

Hope, even in the most realistic appraisal of a situation,

Still flickers in the darkness and calls out to us.

By the grace of God,

I arose from my nightly slumber

To face another day.

Therefore, there is still hope.