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Posts Tagged ‘seasonal affective disorder’

Historically, I am an emotional basket case from Halloween through New Year’s Day. I am not entirely sure why. I suspect one reason is because, as a child, the holidays meant that school was not in session, which cut me off from all of the safe people in my life. I also suspect that some of the ritual abuse tied into the holiday times, but I don’t have specific memories tying into specific dates, so I can’t be sure.

Because I know that the holidays are a tough time for me, I made the decision last year to listen primarily to Contemporary Christian music. At this time of year (when I am susceptible to depression), I’ll latch onto a song with a melancholy tune & lyrics and “go down the well” of my pain. For the most part, the genre of Contemporary Christian music does not lend itself to melancholy tunes, although there are a few that I could use that way. I make sure to skip over those. (I mostly listen to Pandora.com over the Internet.)

I found that I struggled less with depression last holiday season. It was still hard, and I was still depressed on and off, but it was improved from prior years. So, I am sticking with that same strategy this holiday season.

This year, I have added the change of not drinking any alcohol. At this time of year, I like to kick back with a glass of wine at night, which is fine in the moment. The problem is that alcohol is a depressant and seems to encourage that depressed part of myself to grow stronger the next day.

I have had plenty of nights where I really wanted that glass of wine, but I am staying “on the wagon” for now. I have no issues with substance abuse, so it’s not an issue of craving alcohol. I just like “taking the edge off” in the evenings. I have decided that tonight’s “taking the edge off” isn’t worth the additional struggle with depression the next day.

So, I have made both of these positive changes, but I still feel “off.” I see both listening to melancholy music and drinking wine as ways I have added fuel to my fire. Removing the fuel hasn’t stopped the fire, only prevented its acceleration.

I don’t know what my expectations are. My hope is that I can get through the holidays without feeling out of control emotionally. I am feeling less out of control, but I still feel like I have anxiety and depression geysers going in my head. I am ultrasensitive right not to any form of criticism, even reading criticism into where I know objectively that none is intended. I am trying to be aware of my feelings without reacting to them.

Can I just go to sleep and have all of you wake me in January?

Photo credit: Hekatekris

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I know I have a good 350 days or so to prepare, but I really want to know what I can do differently to make Christmas bearable when it rolls around again. Now that the holidays are over, I am starting to feel more like myself and much less “crazy.” However, the holidays were a different story.

My offline friends assure me that I did much better this past Christmas than I did the year before. One pointed out that I was triggered from October 1 through the New Year in 2009, which is true. However, I felt every minute of the two weeks of triggering in 2010, and I really have no desire to relive that experience for Christmas 2011. So, my question is what proactive steps can I take to make Christmas more bearable this year?

I cannot even tell you with certainty what triggers me about Christmas, which might be part of the problem. I can tell you that I have very few memories of Christmas throughout my childhood (through age 23!!). I have always remembered having Christmas dinner at my grandparents’ house, but they did not move to our city until I was nine or ten. Those memories are only with my sister, cousins, and grandparents – I have none of my parents, even though I know they were there. After my father died, my mother had a rift with my grandparents (his parents), and we stopped going to their house for Christmas. All of those Christmases are blank. I remember things **around** Christmas, such as my sister and me going to see Godfather III when it premiered on Christmas Day, but I have no memories at all of being with my mother.

Through flashbacks, I have recovered a terrible memory of abuse by S & L (my most sadistic abusers) abusing me in front of their Christmas tree. However, I wonder if there is more that I have yet to remember because it doesn’t seem like that one incident of abuse would account for 23 years of “lost” Christmas memories as well as my intense triggering that continues even after so many years of therapy and healing.

I was really freaked out when I recognized that I had “lost” my memories of Christmas when I was 23 years old. I had just gotten engaged and was sad that my fiancé and I were going to spend Christmas apart. I remember getting angry with my sister for leaving me alone with my mother on Christmas Day, and I cried and felt really hollow and sad. I have memories around that time, such as going to try on wedding gowns and visiting a gym to work out, but I have no memories at all of Christmas. I have consistent memories of Christmas beginning the next year, when I was married and spent each Christmas at my in-laws’ house.

Clearly I have more work to do on this, but I don’t even know where to start. I guess I will remember when I am ready. I am sure it will be a doozy.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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It looks like I survived the holidays again. I wonder if I will ever reach a place where this fact is not a complete surprise to me. I have been surviving the holiday season for over four decades, but, in the moment, each holiday season seems like the one that will finally break me.

From the outside, this holiday season had much less drama and should not have rocked me in the way that it did. If you consider that I had to see my mother/abuser combined with a cancer scare during the holidays in 2009 and dealt with my mother-in-law’s sudden passing during the holidays in 2008, the holidays for 2010 had a lot less going on. No big drama happened in 2010. Nevertheless, I was still completely triggered and wigged out, so much so that parts of the holidays are a blur because I was so dissociated. I was either drinking wine or popping Xanax for a good portion of the holidays. I went through half a bottle of wine myself on Christmas Day and awoke with a bad cold on the 26th. I suspect that the dehydration of drinking so much wine didn’t help with trying to fight off a cold.

I spent most of the holidays either on the verge of a panic attack, feeling suicidally depressed, or sick. From the outside, there was no external cause for any of this. From the inside, the holidays were simply unbearable.

One big problem was really seeing the dysfunction on both sides of my family. My sister’s family (her and her children) are dysfunctional in one way, and my husband’s family (him, his father, and his brother) are dysfunctional in a completely different way. Each one’s version of dysfunction is glaringly obvious to the other, which magnified both sets of dysfunction to the point that it was nearly unbearable. I love all of them, but the dysfunction (especially when in contact with each other) was enough to make me want to claw my way out of my own skin.

Then there is my son, who is growing up seeing all of this dysfunction. I try to provide him with the healthiest environment that I can, keeping in mind that I can only provide as “sane” of an environment for him as I can manage for myself. I felt so badly about “checking out” on him through dissociation, but I simply was not strong enough. He says he had a great holiday other than Christmas Day (long story – part of why I went through half a bottle of wine myself), but I worry about how much of this dysfunction will be passed along to him. (I have money to pay for his therapy in adulthood!)

I wish I could figure out a way to make the holidays more bearable for next year. I hate feeling like I am crawling into a foxhole every December when the holidays roll around. I get so incredibly triggered, and I have yet to find a formula that works to make it bearable. I just keep reminding myself that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and I try to believe that I won’t always feel this out of control and miserable. There has to be a better way, but I have yet to figure out how to get there.

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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I hope all of you mean it that my “downer” posts are as helpful as my inspiring ones, but I am simply not in an “inspiring” place right now. My offline friends are trying to be encouraging, reminding me that I got triggered on October 1 last year and pretty much stayed triggered until mid-January. I didn’t kick off this year until right before Thanksgiving, but it feels unending right now.

I just want to have a good old-fashioned cry, but I haven’t been able to get the privacy to do it. It feels like if I risk letting a little out, emotions are going to explode out of me. That would be okay if I could get one friggin’ moment to myself, but I have had hub or child with me just about every single second for almost three weeks, and on the rare occasions that they haven’t been right there, I have either been sick or frantically preparing for that job interview.

Hub is pretty much perpetually depressed, but he also pulled his back, which is making it even worse. So, he is a downer. My son is making up for being so sick by being extra hyper these days (he has ADHD), which is wearing me out. And now even the dog has a swollen paw, which I am  treating with meds from the vet. It’s like it just doesn’t end.

The thing is that I know in my head that my problems are not that big of a deal compared to what so many other people are going through at this time of year. I talked with a woman today whose husband was laid off right before the holidays – that’s got to be incredibly stressful. My husband has a secure job. My part-time job is going very well. We can pay our bills (although our health care costs are killing us), we have a roof over our heads, etc.

And yet, even knowing that I am blessed with all of these things simply is not quieting the wounded little girl inside. All she can see is that the holidays are here, and that means that all of her positive influences and support are going to abandon her while they tend to their families and holiday hoopla. It happens every year. Group gatherings (book clubs, Bible studies, etc.) go on hiatus. Play groups get canceled. People are too busy to do the things they enjoy year round. I don’t understand this because I spend my time throughout the year in a way that works for me. Why on earth would I want to stop seeing my friends and doing the things I love doing just because there are Christmas lights everywhere?

And I know this is going to sound really stupid, but the little girl inside even feels abandoned by fictional characters! Even the TV shows I enjoy go on hiatus at this time of year and are replaced by never-ending, sickly-sweet “family is what matters” propaganda movies. You know what? My family SUCKS! My issue is not a lack of appreciation for my family – My problem is that they abused me during the holidays. They cut me off from anything positive (school, friends, etc.) and left me to their insanity 24/7. That is what the holidays mean to me.

Believe it or not, I am writing all of this on my maximum-prescribed Xanax dosage. So, you can imagine the level of anxiety I am experiencing right now without it!

Photo credit: Faith Allen

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