22 Handling the Holidays Alone, Part 1

Beth Luwandi LPC outlines how to handle the holidays when you’re single. She goes over tips on how to handle it, how to talk about it and who to talk to about it. Beth gives examples for different ways to make the experience better for yourself including feeling your feelings, telling the truth about those feelings with the right people, and exploring your options. Don’t make it worse for yourself. Beth gives tips on how to avoid the stuff that makes it all worse and how to make it a little better.
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Bonuses to being a holiday orphan with someone else’s family:
•    No family dynamics investment. (These are not your crazy family. You‘d be amazed how free and fun it can be to experience someone else’s family without being part of it. Believe me, everyone’s family has STUFF.
•    Freedom to observe.
•    Different experiences/traditions., including maybe some luscious food!

1. Feel your feelings
2. Don’t judge it. Just allow it and observe it.
3. Tell the truth about it to the right trusted person.

How to talk about it:
1. Tell the right person. Avoid those who will say you shouldn’t feel bad. Avoid telling someone who will try to fix the feeling or gloss over it. Choose someone who will empathize with you, not feel sorry for you.
2.  Use Beth’s trademarked CNBC communication  format:
a. I feel … (3 words only)
b.I want… OR I don’t want… (without using the word “you”)
c. negotiate or not
d. Observe what is the response.
3. Talking with acquaintences
a. tell the truth as much as possible
b. prep some phrases ahead of time
c. remember these are YOUR holidays, not someone else’s

How to make it better:

1. give yourself permission to OWN the holidays for yourself.
2. Do something different if you want. Get creative if you want.
3.  Acknowledge the truth of your reality in all the ways you think about it, feel about it and what you decide to DO about it.
4. Look inside yourself to discover what is really going to work for you over the holidays, including changing the expectations YOU have for yourself.

Caution: don’t set deadlines for when you’ll have a mate. If you’ve done this previously, let those declarations drop away gently. Hold that expectation very lightly.

Alone for the Holidays

Is it disgusting how early we promote the holidays and plan for them and contemplate them these days?

If you’re once again dreading the stretch from Halloween through March (including another Valentine’s Day) as a single person, you are not alone.

There’s a reason the chill of autumn signals a downturn in mood and an influx into mental health care. And it’s not all about Seasonal Affective Disorder or the lack of light threatening to undo us all.

It’s the space in the bed and the empty table setting and that we are alone on our snowy hike. Again.

And this state feels permanent. (Just as this present moment so often feels permanent.) Therefore, its foreboding is not really a surprise. How to handle it can feel pretty daunting, though. Even when you’ve done this before. Especially, sometimes when you’ve done this many times before or when you used to have a partner and you’re still healing from the heartache.

First, let’s explore what many people do -including the stuff you may have done before-  to “get through the season.” Then let’s look at how you can add even more helpful and effective methods to your approach this year.

Maybe you’ve tried some creative approaches

Some singles volunteer to feed the less fortunate. They might head up a Toy drive or another fundraiser or work more at church, synagogue, or temple. (There’s nothing like helping people worse-off than you, or reflecting on the deeper meaning of the season to float your boat long enough to bob through the dark and dreary winter ready to emerge on the other side gasping for the fresh air of springtime.) If it’s still working for you, do it. Do it some more.

Some people skip the holidays. These people either leave town on an alternate escapade or they hang out alone, hibernating away the season, resisting all doses of holiday engagement including the commercials sparkling across TV and our hulu and Netflix channels where we’ve gone to escape the constant reminders that everyone else has a partner but us.

Some of us take up the role of perpetual single among family and friends with a hearty bravado and we prep ready retorts for the time when Auntie May asks again if we’ve met anyone special or Cousin Rudy wonders aloud why we don’t just go out and bag all the single ladies in an effort to mend our broken heart. He would certainly be living it up if he had the chance, after all.

Maybe your family and friends treat you differently

Are you the family single guy or gal who elicits expectation from other family members and friends? Maybe your sister-in-law expects you’ll get the tree, haul everyone to the family gathering twice, and go get Granny from the home, because, you know, well, you don’t have a schedule or anything else to do.

Or maybe your friends are doing the pity dance trying to set you up with Everyone and his brother. Does it feel like it’s just to get you off their hands (and maybe feel a little less bad for you.) Worse yet, are they making plans to introduce you to another Thanksgiving orphan at the festivities?

That alone would be enough to make anyone want to fly to Mexico or otherwise escape the whole season.

You probably know exactly how your season is shaping up. You know the particular challenges you face and exactly why they seem so painful. Maybe this year, facing the coming weeks and months is worse than usual. You know precisely what you’ve tried in the past. You might even know exactly why your approach seems not as effective as it may have once been. You don’t need an analysis.

You need new ideas that truly help

Here are my top three:

  1. Tell a trusted someone just how you’re feeling. Hard stuff often loses much of its impact when we’re able to share it honestly. Choose wisely. You’ll want to pick someone who responds by listening instead of trying to fix things. It’s okay if they don’t do this automatically. You might need to say “I feel bad. I want someone to listen without trying to solve my problem. Can you help with that?” You know which friends or family members will respond in a positive way. And if you don’t know for sure, testing by asking the above question is a really Clean, Non-blaming Communication ™. You might already know who will really listen when you ask them to listen. If you can’t think of anyone you’d take the risk with, consider a therapist or helping professional. It’s what we do. 😉
  2. Make space for the reality. Allow it instead of skirting it. Look it square in the face, sit down with it and go ahead and feel the weight of it. Scared the feeling will linger, take you over, be difficult to escape? That’s okay too. It’s normal to have the fear. In fact, fearing the weight and power of our feelings is one of the things that drives us to avoid them or medicate them with (well, medicine) or food, alcohol, or activity. Honestly, the nature of emotion is that if you allow it and feel it fully (even experiencing it in your body) it will change and drain away. Try it. Worried about emotional overwhelm? Again, seek support from a friend or family member using Clean, Non-blaming Communication ™ like this: “I feel so heavy. I don’t want to get completely overwhelmed with this bad feeling. I want someone to sit with me in it and help me get out of it if it lingers too long. What do you think?” And if there’s no one who can keep you steady like that, pay someone to do it. You’ll be glad you did.
  3. Try something completely new. If you’re harboring a heartache or just facing one more season of holidays in the same old manner, mix it up. Try something different. Do skip the holidays if you haven’t done that before. Stay put if you’ve tried the escapism route before and see what it’s really like to experience every element of what you’re dreading. Start a tradition of your own, different from what you did with your ex or different from what you’ve done with family and friends in the past. Instead of thinking how you can help everyone else, think of what is a great gift to yourself this season. Have you been on the pity pot? Go ahead and see what it feels like to invest time giving to others.

You can do this

You’ve already weathered a good deal of pain and suffering in your current state. You’ve survived this long. And no matter what your path getting here, you did manage to get here, to this place, reading this information. Now, be encouraged. You have skills. You have choices. Implement both to find a way through the season. It just might surprise you how good each one of the days of the holiday season can actually be. Even if only a few of them are lighter than you were first anticipating, you’ll be ahead of where you started.

Don’t go it alone if you feel it might get to difficult or overwhelming. Need to know more about choosing the right therapist? Here’s a great place to start, including links to other resources. And, as always, feel free to drop me a line and let me know how it’s going.

 

 

drops of water tears of loss

Grief sucks; this helps

One woman’s Grief Story:

“The other night in my dream, my sister wasn’t dead. She came back into town and had found a way to live with her terminal illness. She had aged in the ten years since I last saw her, but she was obviously healthy.

I couldn’t understand why she had simply gone away to find this cure instead of taking us with her. She left her husband and a daughter too and the husband had since remarried. In fact, he married someone my sister had suggested.

The daughter had been angry about it and still struggled with her relationship with the step-mother. I felt so conflicted after spending years trying to help my niece adjust only to learn my sister had basically abandoned her. And me.

Grief Gets Complicated:

“In the dream, I felt happy to see my sister and very lost. How could she possibly have just gone away and been living elsewhere happily? It was a betrayal, though a soft one, tempered by my relief at seeing her.

I wanted to tell her all the things I’d missed telling her these past ten years, the epiphanies and revelations I had had growing older as a woman, a thing we always thought we’d do together. And yet, it felt hollow thinking that all that time she had, in fact, been a phone call away, not dead and in Heaven or wherever else I’d been telling myself she was all along. She just had not given me her forwarding telephone number.

When I woke up, I felt even worse, remembering she was no where on this earth. We were permanently separated by an impassable chasm, a chasm I didn’t any longer know if I even believed would be bridged after my own death. I carried that empty feeling with me all the rest of that day.

I swear, it has been years since I had one of those dreams where she is alive in it and then I have to wake up and lose her all over again. Every other time I’ve dreamed of her, I’ve been simply happy to see her in the dream. For as far as I’ve come after losing her, I would think these kind of painful things would stop happening.”

This story (used here with permission) highlights some of the realities of bereavement.

Realities of Grief

Even after what seems like a long span of time, the subconscious mind – here at work in the form of a nighttime dream – expresses its anxieties. If you’ve lost someone important, you’ve likely experienced this as well. Even if that loss is through a break-up or divorce.

Dreams, songs, smells, emotional life events…all of these can trigger sadness, longing, and deep melancholy. As in the dream above, they can also trigger more complex emotions: bewilderment, betrayal, or relief tempered by anger and confusion.

It could be that when things like this happen, as my friend experienced, you feel like you “should be further along” or this kind of thing shouldn’t really be happening anymore. You may have expected this kind of thing (and even been told it would happen) during the first year or so after a loss.

But if it has been a significant amount of time since you experienced the loss, this could feel like a senseless intrusion and it might make you wonder if you have “gotten over” the loss.

Helpful Reminders in the Grief Process

Whether you had support when your loss was fresh or you just got through it and it got gradually better, it’s never a bad time to remind yourself of a couple realities that can help you through the grief process.

  1. Grief has many stages that do not occur in a linear fashion. Kubler-Ross’s Denial, Bargaining, Anger, Sadness, and Acceptance don’t just happen once. Perhaps you’ve arrived at acceptance and thought you’d never see or smell or taste any of the other stages ever again. It’s okay. It’s normal.
  2. If you got to a place of Acceptance, you realized this loss was now part of your reality, a portion of your story the facts of which would never be altered. You probably breathed a sigh of relief when you experienced this. If you never have experienced this Acceptance, tell yourself it’s coming. And read on.
  3. Allowing, or letting something be is a technique in Mindfulness that can help with Loss. Briefly described, it happens when one allows pain, unpleasantness, ill-feeling (or good feelings as well!) to wash over one’s consciousness. One sits with the feeling and notices. One experiences how the feeling shifts…and it will. This can be a powerful way to learn that the human experiences of life do not have to wash us under.
  4. If you are past this stage of intensity in your grieving, remember the days when it was worse: when you could not stop crying, when you experienced more sadness than you felt able to handle, perhaps you could barely function. Maybe you were hit with wave after wave of those ill feelings washing over you and it felt like you might drown in them. If you ARE past those days, notice! It isn’t as bad as it once was, is it?
  5. If you are right in the middle of that wave-upon-wave survival, be assured, this will change. It will not stay this intense forever. And keep reading.
  6. If it has stayed too intense, do get some support, whether from a therapist who can give you individual attention and guide you through dealing with your specific experiences, or in a group setting. Being in one or the other does not have to last a long time. Many loss/recovery groups have a specific duration. If you’ve never done this, you will likely be surprised how healing it can be. If any of your feelings seem too big or not safe, get professional help.
  7. If there is a time to take good care of yourself, this is it. Be gentle with yourself. Be kind. Do things that are important and nourishing for you. It is not enough just to pay attention to others – children, perhaps other grieving family members- although many people do this. Care for yourself as a first priority.

The reality is that Grief and Loss sucks big time.

It hurts like no other human experience. And yet, it is a human experience. Many people navigate it and continue to live a rich life. All of us are vulnerable to the tenderness of Loss cycling around again when we least expect it. If you haven’t been able to get this far in your process, maybe now is the time to sit with someone who knows how to help.

I’d love to help you through your grief process.

Call. Email me. Scroll down and leave me a comment.

Is it time for help?

Only you can determine if now is the time to get professional help (for yourself or a child.) Your doctor, a family member, or a trusted friend might say so. They could be right and it can be helpful to get “outside” feedback from those you trust. Still, we are so accustomed to “doing it ourselves” or feel we “should” be able to handle this or figure it out that this strong belief can muddy a relatively simple decision.

Definitely get help if you or someone in your care is experiencing or expressing suicidal or homicidal thoughts no matter how “serious” you think they are or are not. Definitely get help if you or someone in your care is hurting her/him-self in any manner, no matter how “mild” it seems. Definitely get help if you recognize that you or someone in your care is hurting other people verbally, emotionally, or physically.

That said, sometimes it’s not that clear. After all, there are multiple things to READ and try on the internet or in books that are self-help and promise a cure. And you haven’t yet tried everything! Plus, you’re resourceful, smart, and have gotten this far.

So when is it time?

Any one (or more) of the following over a span of two weeks or more mean it’s worth finding a real, live professional to lend a hand:

  • your situation keeps you awake at night or
  • wakes you up in the middle of the night or
  • is on your mind first thing in the morning
  • your work feels significantly more stressful than normal or
  • you’ve received feedback that your personal life is interfering at work
  • a friend or colleague has tried to end a conversation when you need to talk
  • you don’t take pleasure in things you used to enjoy
  • your children become depressed or anxious
  • your children develop stomach aches or act out at school
  • you’ve been researching solutions on the internet
  • you purchased a self-help book or people are “gifting” them to you
  • people are giving you (solicited and unsolicited) advice about how to manage
  • anything you’re experiencing is uncomfortable enough to make it significant to you
  • you have a question about your specific situation (or a bunch of them)

Life happens to all of us. Loss happens to all of us. Unfortunately, you don’t get a gold star for handling it better than someone else or for NOT asking for help. You also won’t get a gold star for including therapy or coaching as your go-to resource.

You’ll get more than a gold star and you’ll get it sooner.

The rewards of good “therapy” are intrinsic: reversal of symptoms, access to a warm, knowledgeable, and specifically helpful human, validation of your process, skills to manage in the best ways known to man, an ongoing resource for any future disruption.

It can be risky. Growth can be painful. Change is hard. Trust is hard for some of us. Meeting someone new and sharing wounds is hard for nearly everyone. Pain is pain. Grief surely sucks no matter its shape or source.

The way through is not always simple or easy, yet it’s worth trying to find the right trained person.

Your resources of time, energy, and (probably) money are limited, so you want to know you will connect with someone you 1. like  2. trust and 3. know is skilled to help in your situation.

I wish I could wave a magic wand and help you skip to the perfect connection. (If you didn’t already see this, I’ve provided some quick guidance here with links to a couple other articles.)

I know I’m not the right person for everyone -though I wish I could be- so it’s also not a matter of me just saying, “come here; I can help.” But if you hear me saying that to you, well, then do come here and let’s connect!

Most importantly, if any of the above list fits your situation, then it IS time to find a professional someone to help.

Depression is a wily snake

Maybe you know you’re depressed.

Could be your doctor gave you the PHQ9 and expressed concern at your result. Could be people in your life have noticed a change and wondered aloud.

It’s also just as possible you “feel uneasy” are “not yourself” or are “just blah” and it may never have occurred to you this feeling has a diagnosis, much less a treatment!

All around the globe, common depression symptoms include low moods, sadness, crying, loss of appetite and trouble sleeping, but that’s just for starters. Other symptoms (like decreased concentration, illogical thinking, or physical symptoms) and the very nature of depression can make it one wily snake to pin down!

(Another tricky thing about symptoms is they can be shared by bipolar, major depressive episode, or chronic depression as well as other maladies and it can take a trained professional time make an accurate, specific diagnosis…but enough talk about symptoms!)

What sufferers want is to feel better. Duh!

Nearly all practitioners, whether medical personnel, psychologists, counselors, or social workers, agree there are physical factors involved in mood disorders which- in the VAST majority of cases- will respond well to medication even if some trial and change is needed.

Let me be clear: a good practitioner won’t force meds on you even when they heartily believe in them. A good practitioner will take the time to explore your reasoning or any worry you might have. You’ll make a decision together and she’ll continue to respect your position and concerns each step of the way. (For 50 signs of a good therapist, read here.)

The good news is there is MUCH you and a therapist can explore as additional ways to feel better, cope better, and hopefully GET better. Therapy is no guarantee your depression will be cured or that life will no longer hurt. Good, productive therapy aims to point you toward solution and support you as you walk through the challenges. Just having that support can mean a significant improvement in your life!

Yes, you could tough it out some more. You could just try the meds your doctor prescribed. Or you can do more to feel better sooner. And no matter what your current state of mind is telling you, the TRUTH is, you deserve a good life.

This Buzzfeed article makes some good points about the downward-spiral and vicious-cycle-perceptions that keep people trapped in depression. Gently intervening in these “thinking distortions” takes the safety and skill of a trustworthy therapist.

Of course I’m going to promote therapy as a solution. I’m definitely biased toward therapy! I’ve seen it make a positive difference again and again and again and again and again…

You get what I’m saying.

If you have energy to do just one thing this week, let it be reaching our to connect with a good therapist. If you’ve landed here and finished reading, it means you’re already well on your way.