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.”

 

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

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Thousands of thoughts course through our minds each and every day. Some thoughts can be routine, such as What am I going to eat for lunch? or I need to get the car in for an oil change. However, thoughts can be a destructive force when dwell upon the negative, the resentful, and the angry.

I’ll never be successful.

How can anybody love me?

I’m a failure.

How could she do that to me?

I’ll never forgive myself/him/her.

The list goes on and on.

Have you ever found yourself in a thought cycle of negativity? How did you respond? If you suffer from a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, does negativity thinking make it worse? The truth be told, you didn’t gain anything from the negative thoughts other than the loss of an opportunity to enjoy life.

The more you look around the more you notice how society gears us toward the negative. The continuous negativity of the news cycle, the gritty and violent nature of popular entertainment, and even religion, which tells us we are all fundamentally flawed, in combination with our own life circumstances overwhelms us into thinking we will never crawl out of this mental and spiritual abyss.

As a Christian and as someone who lives with depression, anxiety, and multiple chronic illnesses, I find my thoughts swirling down the drain so to speak. I have dealt with thoughts of resentment and anger over circumstances while I fumed at myself for putting myself into that situation. I believe Christ has forgiven me of my sins, but I have a hard time letting go of my mistakes.  My inability to forgive myself is my thought struggle. What’s yours? So, what are some practical ways that we can overcome these constant negative thoughts?

Eliminate the “Woulda, Shoulda, Couldas”

As the cliche goes, “Hindsight is twenty twenty.” Ah,the past. “If I know then what I know now, I would have done this.” “I should’ve seen this coming.” “I could have done it differently. We must understand the past is gone. We can’t do anything about it. Doc Brown and his DeLorean aren’t showing up, neither is Doctor Who and the Tardis. We have to cut ourselves some slack here. We made a decision based on the information we had at the time. If we had different information, yes, we probably would have chosen differently, but that’s not the case. We can only go forward from here.

Focus on what you can control

We can’t pick our circumstances. We can’t manipulate people into doing the right thing according to us. We had no control over the country or family into which we were born. The only thing we can choose is how we respond to the events around us. Our responses can help determine how we overcome the obstacles we face. The best way to dealing with events is to look at what is directly in our control and don’t worry about what is not in our control.

Temper your expectations

There are things in life we just expect or assume to be true. For example, we may believe that life should always treat us fairly. We may believe that people should always do the right thing. We may think that if we dedicate our lives to God, then our lives should be free from pain and suffering. If you have lived for any significant amount of time, we know that we cannot live by these assumptions. Life is not fair. People can’t be counted on to do the right thing because some people’s ideas of right and wrong are different from yours. Finally, following God does not guarantee a bed of roses. Jesus said to take up your cross, not exactly an east feat. Tempering your expectations does not mean to walk around hopeless and cynical, but be realistic in how you view the world and people. If we understand that the best laid plans can go awry, then we are better prepared to handle problems as they arise.

This is not a complete list by far, but I hope this helps you throughout your day. God bless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Needless Reminders of the Past

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By Michael W. Raley

I try to move onto a hopeful future,

Only to find others continuously reminding me of the past.

Every failure, every misstep, and every mistake,

Is recalled  with ultra high definition memory.

I’ve had to battle my own thoughts and anxieties on the subject

And I don’t need to be piled on like this.

I know what happened was traumatic and sudden,

But I can’t do anything about it.

We must adapt and accept the new reality,

My current scene in the great cosmic play of life.

Those old wounds will never heal

If you keep messing with the scabs.

Let us learn to dwell in the present

Because I don’t live in the past anymore.

 

This House

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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

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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.

 

 

 

 

The Ever Encroaching Reality

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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.

 

Hitting Life’s Reset Button

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Electronic devices have changed the way we live, work, communicate, entertain and inform ourselves. However, a tiny glitch, freeze, crash, or virus in our laptop, TV, phone, tablet, or gaming console can temporarily disrupt our lives and cause us frustration. When these issues arise, we can always reboot the device and hope that takes care of the  problem. The manufacturer, knowing the fragility of the devices, provide us a way to reset when problems come up.

Wouldn’t be great if life had a reset button?

No matter what you are facing in life- the death of a love one, a divorce, a chronic sickness, job loss, depression, anxiety, or anything else life throws at us, we have a chance everyday to reset. Though we can’t change what has happened, we are able to change our perspective and response to the problem.

Instead of asking, “Why is this happening to me?” we ask, “What can I learn from this?” What if we were able to look at our difficulties as opportunities for growth? I’ve spent a lot of time in my life bemoaning “woe is me,” and wondering why events happened the way they did. If you are going through that, let me save you some time- that thinking is a dead end street. We always want to look for reasons or try to figure out where our situation fits in with a divine plan, but we are better off moving forward.

Changing our perspective and growing though life’s difficulties involves a lot of work- dirty, sweaty, grimy, yucky work. When we come to that point, we have to examine ourselves and work towards making today better than yesterday. You will have to face some truths about yourself, but you will also discover an inner strength and resolve to face the world.

The work doesn’t have to take years. If you are willing to work at it, you can get through it in a matter of months. You set the pace. In the months since my wife filed for divorce, I have spoken to a therapist, began the process of dealing with my depression and anxiety, I find time to meditate, and I have gone back to church.  I don’t say that to brag, I know I have a long way to go. I am also dealing with chronic health problems as well, which affect my energy and mindset on a daily basis. Every morning I hear the alarm or the dogs whining to go out, I attempt to see the day as a chance to improve upon yesterday.

Thanks and God bless.

Living Life with UC

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Living with Ulcerative colitis is a lot like trying not to disturb a bear- the consequences can and will be painful. I have lived with UC for almost twenty years and I have managed to build a life in spite of the disease. I was twenty-two years old and a senior in college when the symptoms first appeared.

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease which affects over 900,000 Americans of all genders and races.1 Ulcerative colitis is inflammation of the colon, which can cause the following symptoms:

-Diarrhea (with blood or pus in the stool)

-Stomach cramps

-Bloating

-Joint pain

-Fatigue

-Anemia due to the loss of blood

-Weight loss

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, please seek medical treatment as soon as possible. If you are referred to a specialist, the specialist will want to perform a colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis. As of now, there is no cure for Ulcerative colitis or any other inflammatory bowel disease, it can only be controlled through diet, medication, exercise, and managing stress levels.

UC is a lifelong diagnosis and a lifelong adversary, due to the flare-ups you may experience. In my particular situation, my UC went into remission for years, and I was able for a period of time not take any medication. However, my symptoms came back and I currently take two medications to control it- one a biologic I have to inject and new pills I am waiting to take effect. My last medication stopped working after three years.

Concerning the treatment of flare ups, your doctor will more than likely provide you with a steroid to help get the inflammation under control. Always make sure you study up on the medicine your prescribed, because all medicines have side effects, as do steroids.

Another way to help control the flares is to manage your diet. Test to see if certain foods trigger your symptoms- foods such as dairy products, caffeine, carbonated drinks, alcohol, high fiber foods, fried and fatty foods, breads, etc can affect UC.

Taking care of your mental health is also essential in dealing with UC. The constant sickness and pain can make you fatigued, which can lead to depression. The fear of having a flare up can cause anxiety about going out in public or even going to work. If you must, talk to a spiritual or mental health counselor concerning your situation.

UC has changed my life and it has changed the lives of my family. My UC recovery is also complicated by other autoimmune diseases such as hypothyroidism, Celiac disease, and osteopenia. However, in spite of these circumstances, I am determined to live my life to the fullest and to try and help others who are facing this problem. It is possible to live a satisfying life, even with UC.

Paperwork and Boxes

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By Michael W. Raley

I never thought it would happen to me.

I never thought that I would become a statistic,

But here I am.

You are ready to move on and leave me here.

Alone.

After every trial we faced,

Every obstacle we overcame,

This life we built together

Comes down to paperwork and boxes.

I thought we communicated well,

Yet our problems accumulated like the clutter

That has piled up in our home.

I didn’t want this,

I didn’t ask for this,

And I certainly don’t deserve this.

Yet here we are,

Deconstructing a life into paperwork and boxes.