Mental Illness and the Holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, the New Year, Festivus (my spell check recognizes that word, huzzah.) I celebrate Christmas, Jolabokaflod*, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. I also have several disorders that I’m coping with. And I’m an introvert…or maybe just very shy.

OCD + clinical depression + social anxiety disorder + more = a tangled ball of Yuletide Fear.

At a party, OCD’s all like, “Hey, I wouldn’t drink anything. You might have to use someone’s bathroom. And you know what could/will happen if you do.”

Depression’s all, “Stay home and sleep,” as it puts on its PJs and cuddles up with a box of chocolate. “You don’t matter and nobody cares.”

Social Anxiety agrees with everything OCD and Depression say, ‘cause it will say ANYTHING to keep me away from people. “Stay home, sleep. Everyone hates you, yes.” It bobs its ugly head. “Toilets. Dirty toilets.” It is only thinking of itself.

So how do I enjoy this festive season? The answer: joy.

Last month and the month before, my pastor was doing a series on joy: how to have more and what it looks like. Joy is the confident assurance that everything God says He’s going to do for you, He will, and that all will work together for good. It sometimes looks like happiness, but happiness is based on your circumstances. Joy is a choice and a perspective.

Okay, how do I have some of that this Christmas season? It’s not very joyful thinking about socially awkward moments and dirty toilets. Here’s a surefire way that Pastor Brian pointed out, one that has been proven true throughout my life: put the focus on God and others.

When you focus on yourself, your mind is going to go to the negative. And it’s going to become selfish, and we’re not wired to have joy when we’re thinking only of ourselves. Heck, I don’t think that’s how we’re wired to have happiness either.

But when you put the focus on someone else, you stop thinking so much about your problems and start thinking of ways to reach out and help the other person. So next time I am invited out for a Christmas soiree or New Year’s shindig, I’m going to try to think of the other person. It’s not my job to make them happy. But I want outside of myself. That’s the way I’m going to escape the darkness inside my own head this year.

Do you have any advice for me? Any coping techniques that you’ve come up with when you attend holiday get-togethers? I’d love to hear them!

Keep your nose in a book, and have a wonderful Christmas!

*Jolabokaflod (Christmas Book Flood) is an Icelandic tradition that has people exchanging books on Christmas Eve. Folks will go to bed with their new read…and some chocolate!

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