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5 Things to Know This Holiday About Your Loved One With a Mental Illness

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The holidays showed up as if they were driving at warp speed. Invitations for family gatherings and holiday parties are starting to arrive with more guaranteed to come. For some, it will be a rush of joy and happiness as they bounce from celebration to celebration, laughing with friends and spending time with loved ones. People who haven’t seen each other in months or even years will come together once again to eat, drink and be merry.

While some people are almost giddy in anticipation, there’s another group dreading it. There’s a group of people who would love to crawl under the covers on the first of December and not emerge until every last bit of tinsel and glitter are securely packed away.

For the people in your life struggling with mental illness, the holidays are far from a celebration. Every party, get together, celebration or gathering serves as a gentle reminder that their struggles are real and rarely understood while also being a source of panic and anxiety. 

If you have a loved one or friend who is struggling with a mental illness such as depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), here’s a few things that they might want you to know this holiday season: 

1. We didn’t choose to be this way.

These mental health issues are not our choice. In fact, we hate them. We hate what they do to our bodies and our minds while destroying our relationships and jobs. Therefore, if we didn’t choose them, we can’t choose to just snap out of it. We can’t choose to just get out of bed and stop being “lazy” or not to have panic attacks. We don’t have a choice. 

However, we can choose to fight it, which we do each and every day. We got up today. We made a choice to keep living through horrible circumstances and pain. We’re probably full of anxiety and nervous about the holidays but we are showing up in the best way we can. Celebrate what we are doing and show us compassion when we struggle.

2. Accept our limitations. 

Limitations look different for all of us. Some of us can’t be in a crowded room; we need a quieter area to hang out if you want us to show up to your party or get-together. Loud noises, such as fireworks, are hard for some people. Let us know a start time for loud activities so we can politely excuse ourselves before they are set to begin. Some of us do not have the energy for gatherings. If you really want to spend time with us this holiday season, be open to meeting for coffee one-on-one instead and offer that as a possible solution.

Most importantly, ask what our limitations are and offer ways to help us. Don’t get your feelings hurt or incite drama because we’re not open to your set plans. Please be flexible and know we want to see you and celebrate the holidays with you but it’s harder than you realize. 

3. Plans matter to us.  

Last-minute changes may cause panic or anxiety. Chances are that if we know a big gathering is coming up with family and friends we haven’t seen in a long time, the plans for that get-together have been discussed with our therapists. We’ve spent time working through ways to cope in different situations or boundaries we need to enforce to keep ourselves safe. Things happen last minute and we understand that, but changing plans on a whim will cause chaos for us. Something as simple as changing which home will host the party might take us from a safe place to one of fear. 

If you have to change a plan, give us time to acclimate. Let us know as soon as there’s an inkling something might change and help us walk through those changes beforehand.

4. Accept us as we are.

We’re on a journey and it’s beyond hard. Sometimes that journey comes with mountains that seem impassible but one thing is for certain: We will get past them. Who we were in the past is not who we are now. We’re stronger, even if we seem weaker. Don’t tell us stories about how we used to be with an air of melancholy. We have a past and we have a future but that’s not where we are right now. 

Part of our journey is accepting where we are right now. We need you to do the same. Sit with us during our hard times and dance with us on our best days. Don’t expect the person you knew five years ago to show up; love us as we show up in the right now. 

5. Love wins. 

Once you’re able to let go of your expectations for us, you can simply just love us. If you exhibit pure love and support for us, others will too. Quiet hurtful gossip with love. Calm panic with love. Heal our broken hearts with love.

It’s simple. We can do this by ourselves; we’re strong enough, even if we doubt that at times. But pure love that doesn’t judge or offer distorted opinions is the best medicine you can offer us. Stand with us in love and it will make the holidays easier for us.

Mental illness is an invisible illness. It’s devastating and hard to experience, especially during the holidays. The holidays serve many times as a reminder of times past, either painful trauma or happy days before mental illness. Add on top of that the social aspects of the holidays and it’s a time for increased anxiety and depression. Just a few simple things on your part can help us stay in a healthier place this holiday season.

Photo by Tony Ross on Unsplash

Originally published: November 27, 2019
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