As the holiday season begins and the year is about to come to an end, I am taking this time to reflect on holidays while living with schizophrenia. The holidays are a time that is supposed to be filled with happiness and joy, but for some of us, it can be stressful and not so pleasant.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness noted that 64% of people living with a mental illness felt that their conditions worsened around the holidays. Many factors contribute to worsening symptoms during the holidays, like feeling overwhelmed due to a packed calendar of travel and events, the financial burden of gift-giving, and feelings of loneliness for those of us who have lost someone or can’t spend time with loved ones. It is especially important that those of us living with schizophrenia take care of ourselves during this time of year.
I have always had mixed feelings about the holidays, but since being diagnosed with my disorder, those feelings have become amplified. Many factors affect me and my symptoms during this time of year. The stress of finding the perfect gift for everyone and coming up with the finances to do so creates anxiety for me. Meeting the expectation of appearing excited about the holiday season also can take a toll.
I have lost loved ones, and I think of them even more during the holidays, making this time of year bittersweet. Death is a huge stressor for me, and the thoughts of loved ones I’ve lost often make my thoughts race and my auditory hallucinations louder.
Social media posts from friends and online influencers often add to my sense of loneliness and intensify my negative feelings of sadness. I often envy what others have, and feelings of shame manifest as I compare my life to theirs, which lowers my self-esteem.
To be honest, this is the first time that I have ever spoken about how the holidays affect me and my symptoms. I am always trying to appear happy and centered at this time of year, and I repress how I really feel to everyone. The pressure to have and create the perfect holiday season for yourself and others really takes a toll. I often fantasize about having the perfect party with all my loved ones in attendance with a special someone in my life to share it all with.
I also limit the time I spend on social media. This can be easier said than done, but when I do, it helps me to avoid getting caught up in daydreaming and fantasies that do not really exist. This helps to protect my mental health so that I don’t compare my holiday experiences to those of others. I have to keep these fantasies in check, because if I don’t, those thoughts can lead to delusional thinking.
Processing how I feel and allowing myself to feel the pain of the loss of loved ones and any negative feelings during this time is a good thing. When I allow myself to feel those feelings of loss, envy, sadness, and loneliness by talking to my therapist or journaling, it really helps me to release and stay rooted in reality. It also helps me to identify people, places, and things that stress me out during this time of year. Knowing my stressors helps me to come up with action plans on how to deal with certain situations that may arise during holiday gatherings.
I’m grateful that I have my therapist, because without her, I wouldn’t make it through this time of year. We have come up with a plan to help me to protect my mental health throughout the holiday season. Taking my medications and sticking to a routine are very important during this time of year because I can get swept up in the season, lose track of time, and forget to take my medications. So, setting a timer to take them helps. Being patient and showing self-compassion for myself are also key. I have to remember to treat myself the way I try to treat others in my life – with kindness, affection, and love. Reaching out to my support network of professionals, family, and trusted friends helps me to get through the holidays.
I count myself lucky to have my therapist, psychiatrist, and support network in my life, especially during the holiday season. Some of my peers are not so fortunate. Do your best to set boundaries and talk in advance about expectations on gift-giving or holiday plans. Create a game plan for how to deal with toxic people and stressful moments and how you will respond. Practice gratitude, but allow yourself to grieve those you have lost as well. Most of all, ensure you are taking your medication and meeting your basic needs.
Remember that if you are living with schizophrenia and struggling through the holiday season, you are not alone. Practice self-care and reach out for help when needed. You can call or text the NAMI HelpLine at 800-950-6264, Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET. In a crisis, call or text 988.
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