By Kevin J. Sabo
For the Advance
Somewhere along the way the holiday season lost its magic for me.
When I was a child, I loved Christmas. I loved the family. I loved the food. Most of all, I loved the gifts!
It was upon my entrance to teenage hood that Christmas started losing its allure. The commercials were starting earlier and earlier. The Christmas music was starting earlier. The holiday season just became noisy.
One tradition we had in my family is that we would open our Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve, saving one or two from Santa for Christmas morning.
As I got older, I asked my mom if we shouldn’t open our gifts on Christmas morning in the spirit of the season, and she told me that we couldn’t, because my grandmother, who lived with us, was too excited and wanted to continue opening them on Christmas Eve, which we did.
As I grew from teenager to adult, the Christmas season for me was less a celebration and more something to endure. Part of the feeling is in part to the mental illness diagnoses I was eventually diagnosed with. Part of it was the noise of the season.
As a young-adult I would often seek out opportunities to work at Christmastime to take advantage of overtime pay.
Things came to a head in the fall after I left the ambulance service, with my moods drastically falling, and the fall months becoming my worst time of year as far as the depression and suicidal feelings went.
I left the ambulance in 2013, and each holiday season has continued to challenge me, and my coping strategies. Over the last couple of years though, as I’ve progressed through mental illness recovery the holidays have been less dark, and the joyous season has become more of a celebration than just something to endure.
What are the reasons for this perspective shift?
There are a couple:
First, I am getting way better at using my coping strategies, and there are many, varying from frequent time outs when I’m dealing with large crowds, to throwing on my headphones and just relaxing to music frequently when I start getting overwhelmed.
Second, I’m becoming more aware of my triggers, and doing what I can to avoid or prepare for them. I don’t listen to the radio very much towards the end of October or November just because I don’t want to be sick of the holiday songs well in advance of the Christmas season actually arriving.
I do what I can to stay out of shopping malls, and the crowds, in the six to eight weeks before the holidays as well.
Third, I’ve reconnected with my faith.
My wife and I have gone back to attending church regularly over the last few years, and my church family has been a huge support in my recovery. Celebrating the season with my church family gets me back to basics and celebrating the actual reason for the season.
Reconnecting with my faith helps me cut through the noise and commercialization of the holiday season.
The holiday season is still not my best time of year, and the end of November and beginning of December are still hard, though they are no longer as tough as they once were.
Every year, I find myself getting into the holiday season more and more.
I’m hoping that in time, as I continue to grow, and move further through mental illness recovery, that the trend will continue.
Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year!