Well, here we are, all stuffed with Turkey and nursing the aftermath of over indulgences of one kind or another (#pie). I wrote this blog in my head yesterday, but never had a chance to put it in a format that was accessible to anyone else.
Thanksgiving. We are long past the idyllic days of old where tables were set in the school hallways, covered with brown butcher paper, and adorned with turkeys made from tracings of our hands while we wore pilgrim hats or Indian bonnets made from construction paper. Now we must face reality. The Pilgrims were horrible, malicious marauders who forced the hapless Indians ... wait - Native Americans, no FIRST Americans ... anyway, those nasty Pilgrims (can we still call them pilgrims??) ... oh who cares. Let's just forget history altogether because someone will get their feelings hurt and goodness knows we can't have THAT. Besides. The stuff we would eat at those feasts wasn't gluten free, bought from a store or had a label. I'm not sure how we survived. Anyway, Sorry kids, no more cool fringed Indian outfits made out of paper grocery bags. Let's do some MATH.
Yet we persevere ... each year at this time, we briefly take a time-out from bashing each other on facebook, waving our arms about the injustice of forcing those poor people to work on Black Friday ... or waving our arms about the people who wave their arms about the injustice ... I can't keep track ... and get around a table with people we may or may not like. It's all well and good for those who have some sort of Normal Rockwell experience, but what about people in the thick of it?
It's hard to hear about being thankful when all you can see is what is going wrong.
Human brains are hard-wired to pay attention to problems. In 20 years as a therapist, not one person has ever reported to me that they are obsessed with thoughts of how GREAT things are, and how WELL things are going. "I keep thinking about how AWESOME my life is. I can't get anything else done! I can't work, I can't sleep, all I do all day is think about all the things I'm GRATEFUL for!! Can you help me with this?" Said no one, ever. And if they did, I would immediately start screening for mania. That's just not the way things work.
Life is HARD these days. That is just fact. If you're not struggling, congratulations. If the little bubble you live in is intact, good for you. If you manage to be untouched by the horrors and tragedies in the everyday lives of so many people, I mean beyond the sympathetic "oh golly, isn't that AWFUL??? Those poor people! BLESS THEIR HEARTS . . . " then it's easy to find things to be thankful for and let that gratitude just ooze from your pores. There's your thankful right there. In my humble opinion, you now have a responsibility to get out of your bubble and go help someone.
We DO have things to be grateful for. We may not have as much money as we want, but we did get to take that vacation 2 years ago . . . .and maybe there's no money for vacation, but we have a home and enough food .... or maybe there's not home and food, but we have our health ... or maybe we don't have health, a home, any family, or like a family in a small Texas town where my high school BFF lives, maybe they lost 5 of 6 kids in one terrible night. Harder to find gratitude in times like that.
We have the platitudes. "God is in control," "Everything happens for a reason" "Yes, you lost both your legs, but aren't you super excited you still have arms???" Reality?? Those things bring little comfort when you're grieving a loss, or wondering how you will pay your medical bills, or how you're going to afford the new"affordable" healthcare plans with double the premiums and half the benefits. In those times, brains believe that the way to solve a problem is to think about it. A lot. And brains fight us when we try to take a break from balancing the checkbook ONE MORE TIME to see if we missed something somewhere and indeed things are going to be all right. Replay the tragedy ONE MORE TIME to try to find a way to make it un-happen. Brains don't know that solutions aren't easy these days. Brains keep trying.
In those times, gratitude helps us find balance, yes, but it is unreasonable to think that some goofy gratitude journal will somehow take the sting out of losing 5 kids. So if you're one of the millions out there who are finding it hard to maintain an "attitude of gratitude," take heart. You can still get through the holidays.
1. It's OK to say no. Evaluate whether social gatherings are helpful. Sometimes it's like getting over a speed bump. Once you get there, you actually do feel better for a while. If that is the case, persevere through the speed bump. Sometimes a good enough reason to do something that will be difficult is that you know that later when you're feeling better you'll wish you had. You can go to a gathering, and then beg out after an hour too. If anyone gives you a hard time, tell them to call me. I will explain it to them. Conversely, don't be a hermit if feeling alone is the problem, and BEING alone makes it worse. Spend time with people who feed your soul, even if those are total strangers in a coffee shop and you never say one word to them. Shared experience is healing.
2. Self Care. Do things that make you feel better. Get the responsibilities taken care of, yes, but otherwise get enough sleep, don't OVERindulge in vices (my favorites include peppermint ice cream and red wine). Go to the dollar store and get one of those massager roller thingies and use it on those shoulders that are tired from carrying the weight of the world. Go sit in the massage chairs at Bed Bath and Beyond. Those things are AWESOME. Paint your toenails. Here's Someone else's cool list.
3. Don't be a Grinch. If you can't go out and have fun, stay home and have fun. Go to a movie and escape reality for a while. Yes, even by yourself. No one is looking at you. They are way too wrapped up in themselves. Don't expect the whole world to slow down because you're struggling. Many people are having fun this time of year. It isn't a personal insult when others are happy.
4. Don't Mope. Taking time to rest and regroup is one thing, out and out wallowing in self-pity is another. Now don't get me wrong, having a good wallow has its time and place, but healthy wallowing is time-limited, and while you're wallowing you know you will stop in a while and resume problem solving. Trying not to acknowledge things that are going wrong is like trying not to breathe. We are humans. But we are at the top of the food chain because we can think about the future and plan for things. Do it.
5. Give back. This does really help. Find a charity and go volunteer, if you have the time. If anxiety, or a crazy schedule keeps you from going to a soup kitchen, donate a coat. Or mittens. Or something. Bake cookies for a military unit overseas. Go read to someone at a nursing home. Give back with the click of your mouse. Shovel your neighbor's walkway and let them wonder who did it. Or heck, just send a nice card to someone you know.
6. Look to the future with at least one squinty, jaded eye. It won't suck forever. If you're going to think about how bad things are, spend some time making plans or taking action that will make it better. Get a better job. Ask for help. Join a support group. Read a book on whatever you're struggling with. Pick ONE THING that might make a difference and do it. Feng Shui says if you simply MOVE 20 items in your home, it will release stuck energy. So re-arrange that living room!!
Most of all, hang in there. 34 days till January 2. You can make it till then. After that, the lights come down and we get busy forgetting our New Year's resolutions and hunkering down to get ready for taxes, and everyone is grumpy again. :)