I’m starting to feel the numbness creep in that I thought I would avoid this holiday season. It’s Chanukah, and, even though I’m not Jewish, I keep that holiday. The burning candles comfort me and bring peace in to my life. That’s worth celebrating. Tonight is the last night. The entire row will be lit. I’m hoping the warmth of the candles will take away some of this numbness. It’s a feeling that you can’t feel anything. Does that even make sense?
This year, I have done festive things. I have participated in a Chanukah Shabbat service, attended a gift swap, and even have two Christmas parties on my weekend agenda. These are better efforts than I’ve made in years past. But the numbness is taking over now.
I have to be very careful with this numbness, as it tends to lead toward self-injury. There’s a need to see blood for proof that I’m alive. The warmth of the blood against my cold skin awakens me. It’s a sick process founded by a sick mind. I have to be diligent and aware.
As the numbness creeps in, the happiness and feelings of family and love begin to fade. I am in a fight against my mind, once again, and I don’t know which of us will win.
That’s exactly what my therapist chanted at me as I left her office this afternoon. The past few days have been terrible, with nightmares and gruesome flashbacks every day. I’m exhausted, annoyed that it seems I have to choose between mental and physical health, and becoming paranoid. It’s a lovely combination.
She told me that her goal for me this holiday season is to fight against my emotions. That might seem odd, coming from a therapist, but I take her point. My emotions aren’t always rational. This sense of foreboding doom and paranoia comes out of a nightmare. The thoughts of self harm that keep cropping up stem from the flashbacks. None of these things are ‘normal’ events that spark ‘normal’ emotions. These are the emotions I need to guard against. My therapist says sometimes we have to lead our emotions rather than following them, and I know exactly what she means.
We’re coming upon the dates for my sister’s birth and death, trying to cope with the more recent loss of my best friend’s brother, and generally fighting to keep from spiralling out of control as the various emotions come up against each other. But, I will fight. I will fight to get through my sister’s death anniversary without shutting down. I will fight to get through the holidays without bowing to grief. And I will fight to be present. To enjoy the holidays, even when what I want to do most is cover my head and forget to exist for a while.
Looking through the window, you would think you were watching a family. Two people are playing video games. A baby is walking about with toys, showing his cars to everyone who will look. Folks are gathered around the table, still strewn with dishes. All of the people are related by blood or marriage. Family.
Then there’s me. The lone person in the room who isn’t actually attached to anyone. This is the Thanksgiving celebration of my best friend’s father and family. To some extent, I feel out of place. A Pagan vegan amongst diehard Christian carnivores. I used to think of myself as easy to throw away. No divorce needed. No separating the family in to factions. They could just point me toward the door and send me on my way. Little by little over this past nearly two decades, I am changing.
This year is different. This year, I am trying to connect. I’m trying to drop my well-honed guard long enough to let these people in. And I am bloody terrified. Immersing myself as part of the family feels dangerous. The more people you love, the greater chance you have of being hurt. The greater the chance for betrayal and pain. Is it worth it just to be part of a family? I’m still trying to answer that question, but I’m leaning toward ‘yes’ these days.
We have plans for most weekends in December. Family plans, and it’s just assumed I’ll be there. These people don’t consider that I won’t be part of family situations anymore. It’s so odd. I have no biological family, but I seem to have acquired a great deal of family somewhere along the way. I sit surrounded by these people, terrified that they’ll see whatever it is in me that those who hurt me saw. And then my best friend’s father nearly crushes me in a warm hug, telling me he loves me. Part of me loosens a bit inside. Part of me enjoys that. Who would have thought a girl with no family coming from a history of SRA and garden variety abuse would find herself surrounded by the love of a family someday?
So t his is my struggle this holiday season. I want to be present in the celebrations, rather than so mentally-guarded that I miss out on things. I want to talk with people, even when I feel they’ll just judge me anyway. I want to function as part of the family, comfortable in the knowledge that that’s how they see me. I want to take this chance for once and hope things don’t come crashing down. My past says this will end in heartache and loss. My current mindset dares to hope it won’t. Here’s to trust!
As an English immigrant, I did not grow up celebrating Thanksgiving. For that reason, it became a favourite holiday of my mother. We had no bad memories or rituals associated with it. We were able to make it our own. I wish that kind of love for all of you. Thanks for reading.
Here in America, my home of late, we’re preparing for Thanksgiving. I have loads to be thankful for. My FOC, my cats, my good health. All of that. For a girl who grew up in a cult and nearly died escaping it, having a good life at all is miraculous. Yet here I sit, typing away, confident in the knowledge that I am loved and wanted by a wonderful group of people (and wonderful cats). Yes, I am thankful.
I am not, however, thankful for bipolar disorder. It will be the unwelcome guest this holiday week. I’ll miss my nightly chat with my best friend Tuesday and Thursday due to his family obligations. My work schedule is different. My adopted grandmother of sorts and I will spend a day cooking together (great, but still out of the ordinary). And all the while, I’ll have to monitor my mood for shifts caused by the lack of routine.
If you have bipolar disorder, you know this dance. Your mood is stable. Friends and family arrive. Your anxiety rises. Partway through the new terrain that is this holiday week, your anxiety peaks just in time for everyone else to settle in. Your thoughts start racing from the anxiety, and pretty soon you start to feel the deliciously dangerous tug of mania. This is what a significant change in routine can do to me.
Self care is so important during these times. If I feel my thoughts start to race, I just go to my room and write or breathe or meditate. Whatever it takes. I check in with my best friend via text just to say goodnight. Even if we can’t actually chat, that brief connection makes a major difference. I force myself to go to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each morning. That part of my routine remains intact. I used to think of this sort of care as selfish. Now, I see it as necessary. Without taking care of myself, I have nothing to give to others.
So this is my takeaway for all of you out there dealing with mental health issues this week: take care of yourself. Your family, whether biological or just in the heart, wants to spend time with you. Don’t let your disorder take your place.
If I had to pick a single adjective to describe my life, ‘bittersweet’ would be the one. There have been so many losses over my life that it seems every memory is tinged with sadness at times. The happy memories of those I’ve lost are always there, but the sting of their absence is, as well. And so it is with this holiday season.
My best friend’s brother died very suddenly in early August of this year. Having been part of their family for almost seventeen years, I feel this loss acutely. We’re all working through in our own way, sometimes even with each other. When we’re together, though, there is an absent presence. We gathered a few weeks ago to spend time with each other, and it was clear someone was missing. My best friend and I, along with his two surviving brothers, sister-in-law, parents and nephew all came together for games and a meal. It was a wonderful afternoon full of love and laughter. And unspoken loss. Bittersweet.
Death has a way of bringing everyone together before splitting them in to separate groups when the public mourning is done. Last year, my best friend’s grandmother died. It’s been quite a time for his family. This year, they won’t all be together for Christmas. With the matriarch missing, the siblings have decided to gather with their own families of children and grandchildren. No more big family Christmases to be had, now the centre point is gone. Everyone will be with their separate families, and there will be love among all, still. They just won’t be together as they have been in the past. Again, bittersweet.
The thing we have to remember about the word ‘bittersweet,’ though, is that it is a compound word. Separately, the words are opposites. Brought together, they are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have sweet without bitter, simply because the sweet of any relationship will end. Whether by lack of compatibility or by the separation of death, the sweetness ends. The trick is to enjoy the sweetness so much that, when the time of bitterness comes, its sting won’t be so bad.
I include the question mark because so many people struggle this time of year. For me, issues with deep grief and ritualistic trauma frequently permeate the lighter side of the season. This year I have made a concerted effort to participate, rather than hide myself away somewhere. I have gone Christmas shopping and made plans for both Christmas and Chanukah celebrations. This has helped, to some extent, but I find my agita spiralling as the holidays near.
My sister’s death from suicide on 7 December 2000 is the most painful thing I’ve ever been through, and its sting is still just as sharp as it was that day. I have had quite a few other losses, and they all still sting. My sister’s death, however, still drops me to my knees sometimes. She was my second self. We were rarely separated, and I still hold myself partially at fault for not seeing the signs in her. That day was just as painful as ever this year, and it started my mind down the spiral of grief and fear. I’m trying to bring it back up.
If you are struggling this month, please hold on. Somewhere out there, someone needs you more than you know.
In the UK & Ireland: Contact the Samaritans 116 123
In the US: 1-800-784-2433; TTY: 1-800-799-4889
Everything feels unreal to me at the moment. The holiday season is so bittersweet, and whilst I’ve had a few triumphs this year, I still feel overwhelmed by it all. I’m really trying this year, but I truly do not feel connected to a single person, pet, deity, or object. I feel like I’ve settled in to nothingness. On the outside, things look fine. I function as I always have, stand in for friends when they need me, and take care of all the practical things that make a life. Inside, though, I feel a sense of blackness and nonexistence that’s so deep it’s almost an ache. Whatever this is, I just hope it passes soon.
So we survived the Mayan apocalypse and are spiralling quickly towards 2013. This year certainly brought changes for me in terms of mental health. I started with a new psychiatrist and re-started with quite possibly the most amazing therapist in the US. That took effort and financial debt I’m currently paying back through ‘volunteer’ work. It’s been worth the difficulties, though.
Therapy took a few twists and turns along the way. There were milestones; sharing the name of the cult that my family belonged to, exploring some of the darker SRA memories, expressing strong and open emotion. There were also major setbacks; a relapse of bulimia, the ‘formal’ attitude to distance therapy, the consideration of abandoning therapy as a whole. All of those, however, average out to what has probably been my most extensive and forward-moving therapy experience to date. I’ll keep moving forward. Very little has changed in other terms.
Friday was the Long Nights Moon, the most powerful Full Moon of the year. During my rite, I considered what I might need for the upcoming year. The answer was simple: peace, healing, and fruitful endeavours for myself and my FOC. I need to focus more on physical, spiritual and mental health for myself, and I need to learn more about how to project energy to those I love. We’re scattered about in two different countries, afterall.
Wishing peace and happiness to all of your for the upcoming year. May we all work together with love and harmony as a global society. We can still fix this bit we call the Universe. It’s all in our power.
Not long after my mother died, I went on a spiritual quest of sorts. I talked to clergy from many denominations, telling them I didn’t even know whether I believed in a deity. The one person who responded in a way of comfort was a rabbi. He answered my statement by saying I didn’t have to believe in a deity. Rather, I had to live my life the way I believed in fairness and compassion to others. Having done that, he said, there will be no worry about what’s on the other side.
We talked for hours that day. The sanctuary truly felt like a holy place, and I relaxed my control more than I intended. After that, I went through the process of conversion classes, set before the beit din in what was a very uncomfortable judgement period, and joined the congregation. It was an extremely personal experience. I kept it relatively quiet.
Whilst I no longer follow that path, I do hold some of the beliefs quite dear. Chanukah is still very much a holiday of peace and light to me, and I still observe it every year. This year, on the last night, I lit memorial candles alongside the menorah. The lights surrounded my daughter’s urn and the little angel statue, making a beautiful glow. Beauty out of tragedy. Lights of memory in every sense of the word.