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Forums / PTSD & Trauma / Coping with Christmas when things aren't jolly?

Topic: Coping with Christmas when things aren't jolly?

8 posts, 0 answered
  1. romantic_thi3f
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    romantic_thi3f avatar
    3151 posts
    15 December 2020

    Hi,

    I couldn't seem to find a post like this so I thought I'd make my own. Christmas is a time for a lot of families to get together and a lot of gift giving and happiness- but I don't really have that, and I'm hoping I'm not alone in it.

    To stay anonymous here I'm not going to give much detail but basically every year I go and see them as family tradition.

    Breaking that tradition is going to cause more harm than good even though I've thought about that a lot. They live further away so it's not really possible for me to leave early either, and I can't afford to stay at a motel - so I end up staying overnight with them.

    It flairs up my trauma like no tomorrow and there's no real gap in between so it's so hard to stay grounded. I also tend to forget that I'm kind of an adult now and I end up feeling like I'm back there again. I'm in therapy too but it feels like all of that goes out the window. I might be logically in a better place (because I don't live there anymore), but it's almost like I forget everything.

    Does anyone have any coping strategies? While it's still a couple of weeks away the anticipation of it all is so painful right now.

    Thank you

    rt

    2 people found this helpful
  2. sunnyl20
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    15 December 2020 in reply to romantic_thi3f

    Hi rt,

    Please know that you are definitely not alone - for many people, for a variety of reasons, the Christmas period is not a joyful or relaxing time. It can be traumatic, distressing, isolating and/or painful. Acknowledging that it is a difficult time and putting strategies in place to make the time feel as manageable as possible is a good idea and can help alleviate that anticipatory anxiety (even if just a little bit).

    I think I understand what you mean when you say all you've done in therapy "goes out the window" when things get overwhelming. You can feel like you've somewhat got a handle on things and can keep things together, but going back to a place where your traumatic memories/experiences either occurred and/or are triggered can be so awful and make it much harder to engage in those skills that help you ground yourself and you can feel completely hopeless. If you haven't already, I would really encourage you to discuss this with your therapist i.e. your concerns around forgetting everything from therapy and everything going out the window when you are acutely distressed or at a particularly low point. Having a range of coping skills (& grounding strategies & distractions) is always better so you are not relying on one thing and have a few options to fall back on. I know this is easier said than done. Maybe writing down a list of what you have found helpful in the past so you can visualise the things that help you. Is there anyone that will be there that you feel comfortable around or talking to? Can you schedule time while you are there to get outside and away from your family for short bursts to ground yourself e.g. walk outside with your headphones in (or whatever you find takes your mind away from the past and back into the now)? Maybe also writing a list somewhere you can have handy of people/crisis support lines you can contact if things get really distressing - so that you know that you have someone to talk to if needed (whether this is a friend or a confidential crisis phone line).

    I'm really sorry that the Christmas period and seeing your family is bringing you so much stress and anticipatory anxiety. I really hope that you can get through it as painlessly as possible. Please feel free to chat more if/when you feel like it. I hope this helps.

    Take care.

    1 person found this helpful
  3. Elizabeth CP
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    15 December 2020 in reply to sunnyl20

    I think identifying what aspects of Christmas work for you and what doesn't. Then were possible make choices based on those ideas.

    I'll give a few ideas I have done. Obviously we are all different so pick ideas that work for you & discard the rest.

    We used to meet with my brothers family each Christmas but I started feeling overwhelmed because there were too many & food was often overcooked & it was too stressful as everyone tried to deal out so many meals. I decided to arrive in the afternoon after they finished eating. I was able to avoid the stress of the meal prep & dealing out & could eat what I preferred but still had chance to meet up with family without the stress.

    After one Christmas with my immediate family which I found stressful because I'd had to fit in with all my adult children's other commitments. Since then if they can't all come at lunch time we meet Christmas eve instead so I don't have to deal with tired grumpy grandkids.

    Instead of cards I now write a Christmas letter which I email to everyone. It is then up to the recipient if they want to read it but it takes the stress off writing individual cards & the expense of postage.

    I have one difficult DIL so if things get too much I find some excuse to do something I know she won't want to join in. I go into the kitchen to help others or suggest the grandkids come for a walk or have a water fight or similar.

    Recently I was at a family event when things became very difficult. I asked someone to show me what they'd done in their garden. This gave us an excuse to get away from the situation without offending anyone.

    If you have to stay overnight can you go for a drive or a walk to somewhere to have a needed break. Find any excuse and take the time you need to have a break

    1 person found this helpful
  4. romantic_thi3f
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    romantic_thi3f avatar
    3151 posts
    16 December 2020 in reply to sunnyl20

    Hi sunnyl20,

    Gosh, thank you for your reply. Totally nailed it and it definitely feels lonely at times. My therapist does know what it's like for me- but I think she's a bit stumped in things to try. Luckily my next appointment after Christmas is not tooo far away.

    Unfortunately my contact list is a little short - and it's a place with no service so even when I text my friend it can take hours to go through. So it's hard, and pretty isolating. I will try and think of some other things though.

    If you're open to it, I'd love to hear some of the things that help you?

    rt

    1 person found this helpful
  5. romantic_thi3f
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    romantic_thi3f avatar
    3151 posts
    16 December 2020 in reply to Elizabeth CP

    Hi Elizabeth CP,

    Thank you so much for your reply as well- not gonna lie, I was a bit nervous about posting since a lot of the times I just post to support others.

    I really appreciate you sharing what works for you. I'm guessing that over the years you've kinda developed a system?

    I think it would be really helpful to try and get out of the house or go for walks; unfortunately leaving the house doesn't go down well sometimes with a 'where are you going' and a 'why are you leaving' and 'what's wrong with being here'. All the questions feel intimidating at times.

    Thank you

    rt

    2 people found this helpful
  6. sunnyl20
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    16 December 2020 in reply to romantic_thi3f

    Hi rt,

    I'm glad you have an appointment scheduled for after Christmas with your therapist - I always find it is reassuring to have that planned so that you know you will have someone to talk through everything with and try to decompress. Maybe even plan something nice for yourself to look forward to for when you get back from Christmas? It is tricky with no service, I'm sorry, it definitely does make it feel more isolating, I get that. If you do manage to get any service/wifi, there is also these forums that you can check in with, even if it is just to offload what is happening and going through your mind to externalise it.

    It can be tricky to leave and go outside, especially when people start questioning you, and there is only so many times you can say "going to the toilet"... But maybe having some things prepared to say like "I'm just going outside for a walk to get some fresh air/sunshine", "I'm feeling a bit stuffed, I'm just going to go for a stroll", "I've got a bit of a headache, I just need to go outside for a bit". Sorry that sounds weird typed out but hopefully you get what I mean.

    Everyone's different but I have a list of things on my phone which I personally find can help to look to when I'm low or anxious or overwhelmed... including listening to music, going for a long walk outside, journaling (doesn't have to be pen and paper, just something to try to organise your thoughts a bit into words and get them out of your system), wash/submerge face with/in cold water, organise cupboards, clean/vacuum (I know this is an odd one), slow breathing down to 8-12 breaths per minute and try to focus on breathing, grounding techniques (sensory, breathing, physical). Sometimes these don't work well, sometimes they do help a bit. There is also the Smiling Mind app (I think there are some parts that you can access with no service/wifi) which you may also find helpful to ground you.

    It is difficult though, I'm sorry if this is a bit of a ramble. But hopefully you can find some things that help you to get through this period. Again, please feel free to chat more if/when you feel like it. You're not alone.

    Take care.

    1 person found this helpful
  7. romantic_thi3f
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    romantic_thi3f avatar
    3151 posts
    28 December 2020 in reply to sunnyl20

    Hi sunnyl20,

    How did you go over Christmas?

    I really appreciated everything that you said here - for what it's worth, I'm so grateful for your ramble!

    I did try and think about yours and Elizabeth CP's advice- we have dogs there so I went outside to say hi and at other times tried to sit in a corner of another room where we might or might not get reception! I had so many different reasons lined up. Unfortunately though it totally backfired on me, I ended up getting into trouble (?) for leaving and instead of ending all the yelling I ended up somehow making it worse. It was a mess.

    Do you have anything nice planned for this time or the new years?

    Thank you again :)

    rt

  8. sunnyl20
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    29 December 2020 in reply to romantic_thi3f

    Hi rt,

    I'm sorry that your Christmas was a bit of a mess, I hope you've been able to put some distance between yourself and what happened and that you are able to move forward as much as is possible - I get that it is easier said than done! I didn't do a lot on Christmas Day, and was working the days leading up to & after the day itself which was a good distraction. No plans, I am in Sydney so there are still quite a few restrictions in place. Do you have anything planned?

    Take care.

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