Hosting Christmas With A Mental Illness

I twisted my knee a few days before Christmas bad enough I could barely walk.  Fortunately after a few days of rest and ibuprofen I’m as good as new.  Since I couldn’t navigate stairs over Christmas, my parents came to my apartment on Christmas.  They brought Christmas dinner and a few gifts.  I hosted them for a few hours and they then went to Oklahoma to visit my brother’s family for a few days.  I was glad they left some left over turkey and pie.  Those were my meals the day after Christmas.

I didn’t get much for Christmas.  But I might be getting a FitBit in a few days once the crowds settle into the winter doldrums.  After my car accident I got lazy about exercising and dieting.  As a result I gained back most of the weight I lost in the previous two years.  I’m starting over.  I hope the FitBit can help in this regard.  I found out my general practice doctor retired recently.  So I’m in the market for a different doctor.  My psych doctor and therapist are also older men who are starting to think retirement too.  I’ve had my current psych doctor for over ten years and my current therapist for two years.  One of the problems of having a chronic illness like schizophrenia is that the illness outlasts even the best doctors because schizophrenia doesn’t retire.  Sure in my case the problems have gotten less severe over the years.  I don’t know if it’s because I’ve mellowed as the years have passed or I’m just getting better at managing the illness.  Either way I’m glad I have a routine that more or less works and has kept me out of the mental hospital for three years.

Another holiday season has come and passed.  I did pretty well mentally but I think that’s because I avoided crowds and shopping malls.  I’ve learned what I can and cannot handle over the years through trial and error.  It was a successful holiday season as far as I’m concerned even though I didn’t get to see my extended family.  It actually felt pretty good hosting a small gathering over Christmas this year.  I might have to do this more often if I can limit the size of the gathering.

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Routines

I did go and do some shopping on Black Friday.  That is, if grocery shopping counts.  Bought enough food to last several days.  I haven’t eaten fast food in a few days as I’m doing my own cooking again.  I’ve also had some of my psych meds doses lowered as I’ve been stabilizing for a few weeks.  I sleep a little less now.  I’m staying up later again but I really don’t drink that much caffeine.  I have all but given up coffee and I usually have only one or two soda pops a day.  I notice I feel less tense and short tempered since cutting back on the caffeine.

I’m back to eating less too.  For several weeks I was practically living off fast food and I have no doubt my health suffered.  Now that I’m back to cooking my own meals and eating healthier I am gradually noticing small improvements.  My stamina is beginning to come back, I am not as irritable, I am not as short tempered, my flare ups aren’t as bad, and I’m getting better sleep.  I think I have also lost a few pounds as my clothes are fitting a little looser.

I’m looking forward to winter even though I missed the summer with back problems and had more stress than usual during the fall.  I love the chilly weather, I don’t mind shoveling snow, I love spending time with family over Christmas, I enjoy watching college football games all day on New Year’s, and I like making cold weather food like potato and cheese soup and chili.  My Christmas shopping is done as I just did everything online this year.

I didn’t get what I wanted accomplished health wise this year.  I gained back much of the weight I had lost in 2014 and 2015.  Some of this came after I hurt my back and lost a summer’s worth of exercise.  Some of this came as I was more depressed and unstable this year than some of my previous years.  But for the last few weeks I’ve been having more of a sense of stability than I have had for months.  I’ve actually gotten some of my more healthy routines going again.  I still don’t socialize much in my apartment complex as I’m trying to avoid negative and depressing people.  I’m gradually getting back on Facebook.  I avoided it as much as I could for most of the fall.  But now that winter is almost here I’m getting to where I want to socialize to break up some of the colder, slower days.

Stability and Moving Into Summer

It’s been three months since I had my last psychotic breakdown.  I have been on a different medication since.  It is working better than my previous medication.  I am more optimistic, more social, less depressed, less irritable, and I haven’t had hallucinations in three months.  The only true negative of the last several weeks was the back injury that made me inactive for three weeks.  I can lay on my stomach and get up now.  But I won’t sleep on my back in a traditional bed until I no longer have back pain.  I’ve gotten used to sleeping in a recliner.  I’ve gotten used to going to sleep earlier and waking up earlier.  I’m usually up by 6:30 in the morning.  When I was in a bed I usually wasn’t awake until 8:00.  I haven’t pulled any all nighters in a month.  I think part of my stability comes from more consistent sleep.  I know problems are coming when my sleep patterns change, especially when I get less sleep.

Traditionally late summers have always been tough for me.  I usually start feeling more irritable than usual in early July.  Usually it builds until I have a break in late summer, often in late August to early September.  Both times I went to a mental hospital I went in early September.  I have always been anxious, short tempered, and irritable from late July to mid September.  I don’t know if it’s because of the heat or if I subconsciously have bad memories of going back to school.

Last year I had a mini breakdown in early July but got through August without much problem.  The major break last year came in early October.  I also sometimes have a breakdown a few days before Christmas.  The holidays are traditionally an overwhelming and stressful time. I intentionally avoid malls and box stores in November and December.  I can’t stand the sensory overload from the decorations, bell ringers, and piped in Christmas music.  I have had to skip Thanksgiving at least twice in recent years.

I am not sure why traditionally happy times always make me depressed, sad, and irritable.  Maybe because I don’t like being told how to feel or think even on a good day.  I didn’t even like teachers telling me what to think in grade school.  Perhaps I have too strong of an independent streak.  I have never been capable of just gone along to get along. That has caused me a great deal of grief over the years.  It has caused me lots of problems in school and the workplace.  I never understood why people accept things they know to be questionable, senseless, and wrong.  I have never been able to accept something I believe to be senseless or false.  That alone has gotten me labeled a malcontent and having a bad attitude.  But I am simply unable to shut down my mind and just be an obedient sheep.  I’m sure I was quite a headache to some of my teachers, bosses, and parents when I was growing up.  I just had to know why things were done as they were.  I was that precocious child who was always asking ‘why’, even with complete strangers.  But somebody has to keep asking questions and challenging the status quo.  And I guess that I am one of those somebodies.

Thoughts on the Holidays with Mental Illness

The end of the year holidays are upon us once again.  For some it means going back to the old childhood hometown and gathering with family.  Others will go out in the pre dawn hours to fight the hordes in one of the greatest and time honored of American traditions, buying junk.  Spent one holiday shopping season working as a retail store clerk years ago.  It gave me a renewed appreciation for store clerks working at such a hectic time.  We were often understaffed and running out of popular items.  Not very fun.  I was quite a cynical Scrooge when it came to the holidays for several years afterward.  To a degree I still am cynical about the holidays.

The holidays have long been a stressful time for me.  I really haven’t enjoyed the holidays since I was ten years old.  By the time I got to high school I saw the holidays as little more than a series of senseless rituals and activities attempting to capture an unobtainable ideal of happiness and joy that exists only in fantasy.  Part of my stress comes from watching others strive for this fantasy ideal of the perfect Christmas or Thanksgiving and they try to include me in that nonsense.  The holidays aren’t going to be perfect and to expect them to be is insane. So is going to any store on Black Friday.  I can imagine just observing the mob mentality in any major mall or box store would be a good case study for any psychology class.  But maybe in the future the crush of crowds in stores will be replaced with online realtors’ servers getting overloaded during the holidays.

For me going to even the supermarket between Halloween and Christmas is stressful.  Too much sensory overload and stimulation from all the decorations, piped in Christmas songs, and Salvation Army bell ringers.  Too bad there aren’t any really cool Halloween or Labor Day songs.  And the only places I ever heard St. Patrick’s Day Irish songs or Cinco de Mayo Mariachi music were in pubs, Mexican restaurants, and bars.  For me, the real fun of the end of the year holidays come after Christmas and watching college football bowl games every night for two weeks.  My New Year’s Day ritual is pretty much grilling steaks or brats and watching football all day.  So it’s not like I’m a total Scrooge.  I’m just selective about being Scrooge.

The sensory overload and overstimulation while working with schizophrenia during the holidays often make the holidays tough for me.  Anymore I’m just happy with going to my old hometown for a couple days and enjoying the extended family.  Actually the family gatherings aren’t that stressful even though I enjoy the Easter gatherings more because of the better weather.  But to all my readers, Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Winter Solstice, Happy Saturnalia for any student of ancient history, and Happy Birthday Sir Isaac Newton for my scientifically inclined friends.