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How to Enjoy the Holidays with Your Mentally Ill Loved One

Enjoying the holidays with your mentally ill loved one can seem like an enormous challenge. But even if you have to alter your expectations and change a few traditions, it is still possible to have a great holiday together. Here’s how to enjoy the holidays with your mentally ill loved one.

Enjoying the Holidays Can Be a Struggle, Especially Families with Mental Illness

The holiday season is a time for families to gather together and reconnect, often traveling long distances to share living space, rituals, and meals together. For people who don’t have a mental illness, this time of sharing and caring can be challenging as tight quarters, family dramas, and lack of personal space and sleep can often bring out the worst in us. For those of us with a mental illness, these holidays can be downright detrimental (Mental Health Relapse and Family During the Holidays).

Enjoy the Holidays with Your Mentally Ill Loved One — Focus on His/Her Wellness Plan

The ongoing togetherness during the holiday season is a lot for anyone, let alone someone with a mental illness. Even though it is a natural instinct to want all of your family under one roof, it may not be the healthiest thing for your family member with a mental illness. A  few things to consider are:

  1. Is your mentally ill loved one healthy enough to travel alone for the holidays? Often, it is so difficult for your mentally ill loved one to leave his or her comfort zone and travel by car, train, or bus, that he or she will arrive at your family celebration depleted. Sometimes having a friend or family member accompany your loved one may help make the trip less taxing. Either way, your mentally ill loved one’s ability to make the trip needs to be carefully assessed by a psychiatrist and therapist beforehand. Do not, under any circumstances, try to persuade them to travel or participate in family events against medical advice.
  2. If your mentally ill loved one can travel, what will the accommodations be like once he or she arrives? Oftentimes, those of us with a serious mental illness need our own space to sleep and recharge. We need down time just to recover from the trip and adjust to different time zones and sleeping accommodations. If your home is chock-full of guests, everyone sleeping four to a room, your mentally ill loved one will not get the rest they desperately need to stay stable. If at all possible, prepare a quiet place for them to sleep and escape when they need to.Even if you have to alter your expectations and change a few traditions, it is still possible to have a great holiday together.
  3. If your home will not be the healthiest environment for your mentally ill loved one, is there another option? Would it be better for him or her to stay in a hotel close to your house? Can he or she afford that? Can you offer to pay? Giving him or her the option to get the sleep and alone time needed in a hotel nearby while still being able to participate in family activities on his or her own terms may be a great way to include him or her without sabotaging his or her wellness routine.
  4. Would it be better for your mentally ill loved one to come visit at a non-peak time? If your family member has a mental illness, it may not be beneficial for him or her to stay at your house for an extended period of time during the holidays. Maybe you can invite him or her to come before the other guests arrive, and then just stay for a day or two of the hectic family holiday. Or, you can invite him or her at the tail end of the holiday whirlwind, and enjoy your time together when everyone else goes home.
  5. Are you pressuring your mentally ill loved one to participate in the holidays when it is not in his or her best interest? Often times, families want everyone to be together even when it is not best for every member of the family. But pressuring a mentally ill family member to try and act “like they used to” on important family holidays will only hurt him or her. Honoring your mentally ill loved one’s wellness routine is the best way to ensure your family has a happy holiday (Dealing with Bipolar During the Holidays).

You Can Enjoy the Holidays Despite Your Loved One’s Mental Illness

Mental illness alters the family dynamic, often making it impossible to continue holiday traditions in the same way. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find a meaningful way to spend time with your mentally ill family member this holiday season (Helping Someone With A Mental Illness Through the Holidays). Changing up your traditions to accommodate your loved one’s mental illness during the holidays may feel like a loss. But if your loved one succeeds at staying healthy, it’s a win for the entire family.

For more on how to have a great holiday season with your family even with a mental illness, watch this video.

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