Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mean Coping Skills

As you know if you've been reading for a while, our family therapist who is active in the ED community with a particular passion for working with male eating disorders, coined the term "Mean Season" in referencing the holidays.  That resonated with me.  Because, as I've said before, for someone struggling with an eating disorder in particular, it's a nightmare time of the year.  There are so many occasions which are centered around food, and not just food but really threatening stuff for someone with eating issues:  cookies, cakes, egg nog, rich casserole dishes smothered in cheese or whatever, gravy, breads, and so on.  Then there are the family members you don't see everyday who don't have a clue about what you're going through who come up to you with the best of intentions and inadvertently say the very worst of things!  And that's when they are sober.  Alcohol flows freely through all of this in many households. It can be a veritable nightmare.   For everyone.   I struggled to balance what my daughters needed with what their grandmothers needed and wanted, and the two very often were not compatible.  That meant life was pretty miserable for all of us.  And the societal pressure we feel to make nice and be happy on a particular day of the year just made it that much harder, I think.  As a result, I wrote a piece I was pretty passionate about a couple of years ago right before Thanksgiving that is probably worth dusting back off and looking at again:  Welcome to the Mean Season.  I was thinking about it yesterday because I was reading the posts by some of the moms in my support group.  I made a couple of suggestions here and there, but finally I had to just navigate away because it was just breaking my heart too much.  A lot of it was just all too familiar.  In a way there is a comfort in that because I can now tell you I'm not the only one who deals with this stuff.  Or, in my case, dealt with it.  But I just ache for all those mothers and their sons and daughters who struggle through this time of the year.

It's not easy for others out there either.  My daughter's boyfriend, for example, struggles with the holidays because his dad died around Thanksgiving a couple of years ago.  He hasn't even bounced back yet when he got more bad news this year, so the holidays are a poison for him.   I get that to an extent.  I miss my dad the most during the holidays.  I think I've told you before, for a seasoned war veteran, he had this child-like love of Christmas - any holiday really - and that was a pretty grand thing to grow up with, so I miss that around this time of the year.  But, on the other hand, I know that our parents don't want us wasting our lives mourning for us, because they would know that this is the natural order of things - we all hope our children outlive us, and we want their happiness above all else.  That's the way it's supposed to go.  So, I always hope for him he'll realize that life is too short to be this unhappy and let his grief relax more into fond memories.  But, for now, it hasn't.  Therefore, we'll all be together on Christmas potentially more or less feeling way sorry for ourselves.  I think I'd like to break the pattern for my family anyway.  And I've really worked to do that this year, with some mixed success, so I thought I'd share my top five coping skills.  They have absolutely no scientific basis, and I am not a professional (although I certainly have paid enough of them over the years), so take it for what it is worth, but if any of them help you even a little, then it will be my holiday gift to you:

5)  Cry a little when you need to.  I had a rough moment yesterday when I got a piece of junk mail addressed to Kelsey.  It's happened a couple of times in the last few months.  I can't figure out how companies - Pittsburgh based companies at that - get her name, but it's the height of insensitivity and really drives home the hole in our household.  That gets worse at the holidays.  Society tells us to celebrate the season.  Well, sometimes we're just not in sync with that.  And that's okay - don't make it worse by feeling guilty over it.

4)  Don't try and be perfect; prioritize and then accept the rest.  Always the biggest stressor for me long before the girls got sick was that normal life keeps going and the holidays just pile it on.  Shopping, wrapping, shipping all of that, addressing cards, functions to attend, great movies coming out because it's awards season.  If you try to be Super Mom you'll end up being super stressed.  And that's exactly what always happened to me.  And I'd end up having a little meltdown - okay, okay, a big meltdown - at some point.  Now I'm trying to tell myself if the house doesn't get cleaned to the max because I'm wrapping stuff, we'll all survive.  If cookies I always bake don't get baked, it's like Marissa told me on Sunday:  we'll bake them for another holiday.

3) Plan in advance.  It comes every year.  We all know it's coming, so it's always puzzled me a bit when people are scrambling at the last minute for Christmas gifts (and by people, I generally mean men).  I start shopping for Christmas in the spring and squirrel away things all year long.  So I was able to wrap the presents I needed to ship, which was almost everything, right after Thanksgiving and we made a run to the post office that took three of us to pull off two weeks ago.  People got their stuff absurdly early, but I'm done with the "heavy lifting", if you will, of the holidays and can concentrate a little more on Tip No. 2.  Plus I spread the expense out.

2)  Take the time to enjoy life a little.  I struggled how to list Tips 2 and 1 - they are almost neck and neck in importance for me.  So, maybe really this is Tip 1.5 because I am serious about this one.  At some point, I had to give myself permission to actually savor some of the things that do happen around the holidays.  And I said it that way very purposefully.  If you have suffered a loss, it's easy sometimes to feel like you are guilty of something because you're still alive.  As a parent in particular.  So, you feel unworthy of anything enjoyable in life.  Please don't.  I believe truly that there is a reason we remain.  So while we figure out what our purpose is, don't let the life you have pass you by.  Take a moment or two every day to relax.  For me, I take a few moments in the morning to read a few pages of my book.  Today I took a couple of minutes after I shoveled the snow to slide down the hill in our backyard.  Childish maybe, but the dogs and I had a lot of fun before we buckled down to work for the day.  But I've also taken in some events around town instead of addressing holiday cards or baking those cookies like part of me worries I should.  This is an amazing city.  Missing out on the wonders it presents doesn't bring Kelsey back to us.

1) Accept help.  None of these coping tips would have mattered, and I would be in a rubber room right now if Marissa had not helped as much as she has this year.  She's wrapped gifts, gone to the store for me, baked a couple batches of those cookies I keep fretting over, cleaned the house repeatedly, done my laundry for me, cooked for and fed me, and kept me company above all else.  I think the tendency is for people (and in this case I mean women) to think they have to do it all themselves to truly pull off a good holiday for their family.  I'm trying to accept that it's just not the case.  And as a matter of fact, your family members may enjoy helping.  I hope that's true for Marissa.  But, either way, she's the greatest Christmas gift of all.

I can't tell you this is the best holiday we'll ever have.  We're scattered across the country. Money was tight, so the gifts are modest.  But it's not going to be the worst.  And sometimes, after a year like this one, that's plenty good enough for me!

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