Give Your Mentally Ill Loved One this Gift for Christmas
If you are a member of a family dealing with mental illness, you'll probably agree: dreams of a perfect Christmas hardly ever come true. We look backwards to before the mental illness, wishing, once again, for a life without meds, doctors and the mental illness rollercoaster. But looking backwards instead of focusing on the present sets unreal expectations for the Christmas at hand. The best gift you can give your mentally ill loved one this Christmas is not more unrealistic, nostalgic expectations. Rather, focus on making choices for this present Christmas that will help move your loved one and your family further down the road of recovery.
Give Your Mentally Ill Loved One the Gift of Not Comparing the Past with the Present
I have been keenly aware throughout my bipolar disorder journey of the disappointment I have caused my loved ones. So many times they just wanted me to be “the old Taylor.” “The old Taylor” didn’t have to put boundaries around her time, especially during the holiday season. She didn’t disappoint people by showing up later than everyone else or leaving early. She didn’t have to say "no" to invitations. She was fun, easy-going and sweet.
I tried for years after my diagnosis to just buck up for big events and pretend I was the old me. It never went well. I couldn’t stuff myself into that old package, no matter how much I wanted to. I couldn’t handle the bustle and noise of my family in full-fledged party mode. When I tried to be something I couldn’t be, it always left me feeling like a failure. This failing contributed to my negative self-image, exacerbated my chronic depression, and set me back months in my recovery progress.
Give Your Mentally Ill Loved One the Freedom to Set Boundaries This Christmas
As I began to take charge of my illness, I realized I might have to say "no" to big events and holidays in order to maintain my stability. If I wanted to become as healthy as I could be in the long run, I had to give myself the opportunity to be as healthy as I could be now. Honestly, disappointing my loved ones often feels like a setback. But every time I construct boundaries to protect myself from getting overtired and sick, I find a little bit more of the old, happy Taylor. I gain a little more self-confidence when I go to a party for less time than everyone else, but am a blessing instead of a sideshow.
With every positive experience, it becomes much easier to silence the negative thought patterns in my head telling me that I will never measure up to the “old me.” I’m never going to be the “old me” again. Still, I keep finding shards of that earlier version of myself in every experience where I can be the “new me:” healthy, balanced, and measured.
Your Mentally Ill Loved One's Success This Christmas May Lead to Happier Holidays in the Future
So, if this Christmas is an in-between Christmas for your family and it feels like your holidays will never be the same again, take heart. It may be the disappointment this Christmas that leads to a healthier, more stable family member next year. Maybe your loved one struggling with mental illness can’t come to the big, raucous family dinner, or maybe they can only come for an hour or two. Your loved one succeeding in not ruining the family’s holiday, of attending and not being carried out screaming drunk, of maintaining their dignity and of being a blessing instead of a burden will add to their overall wellness. And every holiday season where they feel they have succeeded will move them further down their road to recovery.
I will forever be amazed and angry and brokenhearted at how much my mental illness has affected my family. But the more I succeed in my exchanges with them during the holidays and throughout the year, the healthier I become. Whatever disappointment I may cause them this Christmas, I want to be well for them for a lifetime.
So, please try to give your loved one struggling with mental illness the gift of seeing them in the bigger scope of their recovery journey. Choose to look to the present and hope for a better future. If this is the Christmas to set up strict boundaries to protect yourself and your family, set them. Choose to view the little steps your family and your loved one painstakingly take toward wellness as stepping-stones instead of roadblocks. Celebrate with them when they are able, instead of forcing them into a situation in which they cannot succeed at this time. You never know what may be possible a year--or 10 years down the road--if they feel success for the first time this Christmas.
And, if all else fails, watch National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and laugh at the big fat mess of all of us trying to loving each other. Like Clark Griswold said,
I don't know what to say except it's Christmas and we're all in misery.
Merry or miserable, have the happiest Christmas possible.
Arthur, T. (2015, December 23). Give Your Mentally Ill Loved One this Gift for Christmas, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2021, August 2 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/mentalillnessinthefamily/2015/12/give-your-mentally-ill-loved-one-this-gift-for-christmas