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.”

 

I Found Peace

beach calm clouds horizon
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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.

 

Drained and Fatigued

By Michael W. Raley

I was going to be productive today,

But my body made other plans.

After a night of rest,

I awoke drained and fatigued,

Only to realize an entire day lies ahead.

Every time I begin to emerge from the pit,

I am thrown back down into the darkness.

I try to stay active and move,

But my joints do not want to cooperate.

I get one of life’s wildfires under control

Only to notice two more are starting.

My deepest, most inner spiritual man cries for help,

Only to be silenced by the oppression of my mind.

I try to remain hopeful and move forward,

Only to have my progress stifled.

However, I will saddle up like a hardened cowboy

And get through this day,

Riding toward the horizon,

Hoping tomorrow will be better.

 

 

The Overwhelmed Facade

 

By Michael W. Raley

I feel so overwhelmed that I don’t know where to begin.

I am doing my best to maintain the facade

While going through these difficult life transitions.

I feel so inadequate,

So not up to the challenge.

However, I know that’s not me.

Heartbreak and grief have overtaken me,

Rendering me helpless and hopeless.

I find myself fatigued and out of breath

As I try to remove the ever increasingly difficult obstacles in front of me.

If only my advocate would intervene and say, “That is enough,”

Then my heart would rejoice and my spirit would be victorious.

 

 

 

This House

brown and white concrete house surrounded with trees
Photo by Malte Lu on Pexels.com

By Michael W. Raley

This house was once a symbol of love,

A sanctuary from the problems of the outside world.

This house was a home where faith ruled,

Where challenges were met and conquered.

Love has now been replaced by brokenness

And faith has been met with thunderous silence.

The sanctuary has become a prison,

For I am bound up with chains of failure.

This symbol of hope has become a monument to folly.

As I live alone in my thoughts,

I find myself in the throes of misery and depression,

Still trying to make sense of this new normal.

I seek to be freed from this burden of wood and concrete,

So that I may begin life anew.

That Elusive Hope

light candle hope
Photo by Iarlaith McNamara on Pexels.com

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.

 

 

 

 

My Compounded Grief

monochrome photography of person on dark room
Photo by Akshar Dave on Pexels.com

By Michael W. Raley

I thought I could stay a step ahead of my grief,

But it ran me down.

Grief was the ferocious lion

And I was the helpless gazelle.

Grief has permeated every area of my life,

Even to the core of my identity.

My grief is compounded by the weight

Of depression and anxiety,

Which are enough on their own.

I pray desperately for a light

To pierce through this dark night of my soul,

However, the darkness remains.

The harder I push through,

The tougher the resistance.

The greater my cries,

The more resounding the silence.

 

The Ever Encroaching Reality

adult alone backlit black and white
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By Michael W. Raley

Things weren’t supposed to turn out this way.

Yet, I find myself dealing with the fallout

Of my life to this point.

I am fighting for sanity and survival,

While God remains silent.

My prayers bounce off the walls and ceiling.

I face another day without help from on high.

My spirit is laid low and my mind is clouded

To the point I can’t think straight.

I am hesitant to trust my decision making process

Because a few of my choices led me to this place.

There are positives, but I must remain focused

On the ever encroaching reality of today.

 

The Ghosts of Decisions Past

night building forest trees
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By Michael W. Raley

Haunted by the ghosts of decisions past,

My life of late has been filled with regret

From one fateful choice,

Which set off a chain of events

I cannot undo.

I saw the problem on the horizon,

But I chose to look the other way.

My instincts warned me,

But I refused to listen.

I now find myself here,

Trying to rebuild a shattered life,

Attempting to climb out of this bottomless pit.

I now ponder how I can forgive myself

For what has happened,

Forgive myself for the series of failures

My life has become.

Step Out of the Boat

silhouette photography of boat on water during sunset
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

To start off the new year, my church is doing a 90 Days with Jesus Bible study, where we read one chapter of a Gospel each day Monday through Saturday. One of this week’s readings I found intriguing was Matthew 14:22-32.

Matthew 14:22-32 tells the story of Jesus walking on the water. Jesus earlier in the day had taught, healed, and miraculously fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fish. After the events of the day, Jesus tells His disciples to get in the boat and go to the other side. After Jesus dismissed the crowd, He prayed late into the night on a mountainside.

While the disciples were in the boat, a storm came up on the lake. Just before dawn, the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water toward them, but they were fearful, saying,”It’s a ghost.”(Matthew 14:26, NIV).

“But Jesus immediately said to them:”Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27, NIV).

Peter throughout the Gospels is often portrayed as the most impulsive disciple in the group, as he often speaks and acts without thinking, is not waiting for Jesus to come to him, as he says:

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”(Matthew 14:28, NIV).

“Come,” He (Jesus) said. (Matthew 14:29, NIV).

Peter gets out of the boat and starts walking on the water. However, Peter takes his eyes off of Jesus and notices the storm around him, in which he begins to sink. Peter cries out for Jesus to save him, which he does, and rebukes Peter for his lack of faith. The wind dies down and the two men get into the boat, where all of the disciples worship Jesus, proclaiming Him the Son of God.

In my twenty years of being a Christian, I’ve heard this story taught numerous times. The teaching always boils down to rebuking Peter for his lack of faith in taking his eyes off of Jesus. Peter, of course did so, but what if were to look at the story from a different perspective?

The text tells us that only Peter called out to the Lord and went out on the water- not James, John, Andrew, Thomas, Bartholomew, or anybody else-only Peter got out of the boat. Yes, maybe Peter’s thought process was rash, but he was the only one who stepped out. Peter took a literal step of faith when no one else would. I would like to think over time, Peter internalized the times he fell short with Jesus and it strengthened his faith.  The Book of Acts tells us it was Peter who stood up at Pentecost and proclaimed the Gospel, to which 3,000 souls were saved. Not bad for a fishermen who couldn’t walk on water.

What I glean from this story is that no matter the obstacle around us, we must be willing to take the first steps toward change. We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable and face the possibility we will not get it right the first time. This lesson can be applied in any aspect of our lives. Are you wanting to get back out and date after a divorce or break-up? We must step out. Are you changing your diet and exercising to improve your health? You have to get started. Are you trying to advance or change your career? You must take the steps to put yourself in the best position to succeed.

If we seek to grow deeper in our relationship with God, Jesus is telling us “Come,” the same as He did with Peter. Jesus could have easily teleported Peter out of the boat, but He didn’t. Jesus watched Peter make the effort to come to Him. Remember this day that Jesus is in the midst of your storm, but you have to take the steps. God bless you.