For auld lang syne, my friend we’ll take a cup of kindness yet. As we close out 2018, I look toward a new chapter in 2019, so let's do some reflecting together. We who share mental disorders, know that Holiday time can and always will be a huge trigger for most of us. The majority of us do not share in warm and fuzzy Norman Rockwell moments or memories of holidays past. Our symptoms, no matter what disorder we live with, are typically on overload. Add in the pressure and stress of trying to comply with society's norm of hustle and bustle during this time of year, a lack of sleep, presenting ourselves at functions, being “on” more than usual, eating more sugar or drinking alcohol more than usual, it can all lead to ingredients for a major meltdown in our mental health stability.
Over the years, I have found that it is my responsibility to prepare and understand what this time of year can do to me physically and mentally. There is a tendency, for those of us who suffer, to indulge with indifference as a way of self-medicating or wanting to escape the “joys of the Holiday season”. I admit to many years of being guilty of this. Where it leads however, is to an exacerbation of my symptoms and a prolonged hangover of physical symptoms from putting stress and strain on my body. Let's peek at what might be a better way of managing ourselves during this time.
I made a conscientious effort this year to manage my symptoms and not repeat my ways of old. It was a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute struggle, to enforce these new ways of setting boundaries on myself. The first was my attitude. I was determined that it would not control me and I would not use it to manipulate others into ruining family gatherings. This was the hardest. Those of us who live with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder) are cognizant of the fact that our mood swings and splitting between black and white are something we deal with on a daily basis. In order to control the effect this symptom can have, I went into every gathering with the attitude of making things better for those I love. That was my simple motivation. Were there times I went black? Or times where someone made a statement or a trigger stood to bring me to tears to heighten my emotions to a display that would draw all attention to me and away from the participation as a group? Were there feelings that cascaded over me like a tidal wave, where I felt an anxiety attack coming? All of this and more oh, yes, yes, yes. Therefore, what was to be done? I put myself in timeout.
An example of this is where my husband and I volunteer at our church. He is an usher and I am a door greeter. Our daughter manages and is very involved in the flow of the service and our son in law preaches as a pastor. For me to go “down” into a spiral moment is virtually impossible as I would not have family support at that time. They would not be able to give it to me due to their responsibilities. I would have to make a scene or call in others to control my symptoms. To me this was unacceptable and would be very selfish on my part. We volunteered for all four services held during the holiday weekend. I made it through the first service greeting and welcoming those attending with candy canes and a huge smile. The actual service went without a hitch. Then suddenly after the service, I felt a wave of emotions trigger inside. Those who do not have Borderline do not understand what this can mean. Our emotions rule us. Our brain’s amygdala never formed properly during the infant stages of development. Therefore we suffer from a damaged brain part, if you will, that is supposed to control our emotions. I have said before that whether it is an unreturned phone call or the death of someone we love, we with BPD respond the same, as we have no filter to discern the difference in the depth of emotional response as a normal person would. I came out of the service hit with an onslaught of emotions. The Christmas carols, the family atmosphere - all of it brought back memories, triggers of holidays of my youth. A video played in my mind of my mother passed out on the couch from overindulgence in too much alcohol and my father abusing my brother and me sexually or physically. As well came the memories of the lack of love, the absence of presents under the tree, and the inability of my very dysfunctional family to conjure up a holiday atmosphere. It all came rolling in wanting to take me over and I could feel a panic anxiety attack coming on.
Finding the most secluded place I could at the moment, I went into the church library/resource center. I sequestered in the corner by myself and started doing Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) 101, DISTRACTION. I pulled out my phone and began immersing myself in cleaning out my email and such things that got my brain thinking on a different track. This was imperative immediately, or I knew I would soon be in full panic attack mode. I did deep breathing, trying to soothe myself repeating, "that was then this is now", as my mantra. Instead, I focused on the family my husband I built together. Our precious daughter and son-in-law and all the good holiday memories we have been able to make as a little family. I focused on the blessings God has bestowed on me in my adulthood versus the hell of my childhood.
Before I knew it, the next service was starting and I had missed my shift for greeting at the front door. When you are in this state of mind, time has no meaning. This is dissociation. We are not actually “there” when this comes over us. Immediately guilt started to set in that I had missed my scheduled volunteer time at the door. I had to shove that down and realize that it was a sacrifice needed in order for me to continue to be present with my family and church for the next service. I am happy to report that all the other services went through without a hitch. I was able to greet and be around people and share a smile, a handshake or a hug. The other things I will list quickly and simply. I had absolutely no alcohol, as I know the dangers of mixing alcohol with my medication. As to intake of sugar and indulgence in overeating, I chose to monitor very carefully each and every thing that went into my system. I was very transparent and vocal with my husband as my partner when it came to talking through triggers. I allowed him to speak the grey and to my mind if I were splitting black and white. I respected the boundaries of my children when they needed to replenish after church services… not insisting that they spend every minute with us.
After all was said and done, we got to spend a couple more hours with our kiddos before they left to visit my son-in-law's family in North Carolina. I was surprised and blessed that our daughter asked me to help her pack. In years past, I was very overbearing and manipulative as to her choice of wardrobe and presentation. For that reason, she normally would not want my opinion. Not only did she include me in on this process, but also we had the most fun choosing her outfits together, laughing, saying no to this, yes to that, it was a cherished mother/daughter time I will always remember. The fact that she loved the presents I chose for her this year, with her in mind, not me. That she allowed me to express my opinion without getting the hairs on her neck up or starting a fight was a Christmas miracle!
As we hugged good night, we parted the four of us, on a healthy and solid time spent enjoying the holidays together. What a blessing. Was it hard work? For me, yes it was sometimes overwhelming. What I want to share with you who live the life I do, as I also have complex PTSD and several other disorders, is that we can have victory over our symptoms. We can choose to not be selfish and allow our symptoms to rule us. We may remember that there are tools for us to use like DBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but we must choose to put them into action. Our attitude or emotions do not need to rule us. We do not need to self-medicate to drown out memories and put ourselves in a worse place in the end. The self-medicating, imbibing in alcohol and/or recreational drugs are behaviors that we must realize can lead to tragedy and even suicide. They lower our ability to process and sink us deeper into depression leaving us believing that death is the only door out of our suffering.
I pray my transparency in this blog will allow you to think a new thought in 2019. The thought that we are more than our disorders. We are Fighters, Warriors, and survivors of things that nobody should have to go through. We went through them, yeah, and we came out the other end, and we can be victorious in spite of the hand we were dealt.
May God bless you and be with you in this New Year. As always, I am with you on the journey.