Christmas Unplugged

handmade greeting cards, collage art,Phew!  Well, that’s over.

Unplugging from Christmas felt a little like traveling through a foreign country.  After 55 years of doing Christmas, undoing it was just weird.  I was able to see how much anxiety and stress the holiday generated in me from the time I was tiny (sleepless and hysterical, watching for a magical man with presents to land on my roof) through my years working retail and still making all the family gatherings, to buying presents I couldn’t afford and eating food that made me sick, to the sensory and emotional blitzkrieg that ultimately triggers a fierce bipolar storm.

Thanksgiving was a trial run, choosing not to attend the family dinner.  I had to navigate some pretty big potholes of guilt and shame, feelings of being mean, selfish, anti-social, unloving, ungrateful, etc.  It was about as difficult not to go to Thanksgiving dinner as it was to go.  But, I knew I was carving a new path, and that it would get easier.

It did.  As a whole, my family was supportive.  They missed me at the celebrations, but didn’t pile on any additional guilt (I still had some of my own to manage).  My brother and I are starting a new tradition of meeting for breakfast the morning he starts back for home (he lives nine hours north).  This is perfect.  I can still enjoy him without getting overwhelmed.  My sister took me to a darling little coffee shop last week where we could do the same.  Now, I need to figure out some new tradition to do with my mom.  Hmmm…

Jimmy Stewart, It's a Wonderful LifeIt helped that I was still enjoying fair mental weather this week.  So, cooking a pot of delicious, vegan soup yesterday was a joy instead of a stressor.  Listening to my holiday music and snipping new captions for cards felt relaxing and calming.  And then watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” and getting weepy over the sweet Frank-Capra-isms was fun and kept me connected to the holiday.  I still ate too much yesterday, but all in all, it was a success.

And as a side note, my therapist gave me a tool I’d like to share with all my neuro-diverse friends.  It’s called The 14 Days of Christmas and is a way to navigate the stress the week before and the week after the holiday.  Here’s how it works:

The following activities are written on little slips of paper and put in a jar.  On each of the fourteen days, a slip is drawn and the activity carried out.  This helps in a number of ways:  each day has a small, doable goal; each day holds something to look forward to; and each day provides a small self-soothing or pleasurable activity.  All these benefits could mean the difference between losing one’s mind and keeping it.  Of course, there are times when no tool can keep the episodes from happening, but I like to have as many guns in my arsenal as possible.

Here’s the list.  Of course, everyone will have others to add that will make the list more personal.  I’m also going to fancy-up a jar and pack this with my Christmas decorations for next year.  That way I’ll have it ready to go.

The 14 Days of Christmas Activities

  1. Make an Alphabet Gratitude List (A is for Aunt Tootsie, B is for Biker-Chic boots, etc.)
  2. Make a list of ten things you like about yourself or skills you have when you are feeling good, then keep it to read when the bad times come.
  3. Do at least one activity that appeals to each of the senses (visit a flower shop, light a scented candle, etc.)
  4. Make a collage with pictures/words cut out of old magazines.  Let it be about what soothes you.
  5. Write down a New Year’s Goal—something you have control over and is reasonable.
  6. Go to a cafe or coffee shop.
  7. Journal.
  8. Turn on loud, fast music and dance.
  9. Read your favorite book, magazine, paper or poem.
  10. Read a trashy, celebrity magazine.
  11. Go for a drive.
  12. Write a letter to someone you haven’t heard from in a while.
  13. Watch an inspirational or funny movie.
  14. Get a haircut or pedicure.
  15. Play a video game or card game.
  16. Make a scrapbook.
  17. Make a list of people you admire (real or fictional) and why.
  18. Blog
  19. Try cooking a new recipe.
  20. Get a massage or go to a spa.
  21. Pray or meditate.
  22. Go to the library or a bookstore.
  23. Do something with your hands (knit, crochet, build models, make art, etc.).
  24. Have sex (alone or with someone you care about).
  25. Do your favorite exercise.
  26. Talk to a friend on the phone.
  27. Go to a museum or art gallery.
  28. Find something funny to do (read the Sunday comics, visit “I Can Haz Cheeseburger” on the net, etc.)
  29. Take a nap.
  30. Write a Bucket List.
  31. Chat online.
  32. Invite a friend to your home.
  33. Sing or play a musical instrument.
  34. Make a simple meal and invite someone to join you.
  35. Watch TV.
  36. Go for a walk and take a picture of whatever catches your eye.
  37. Have a little chocolate.
  38. Go outside and watch the clouds or the stars.
  39. Visit your favorite Web sites.
  40. Go to the movies.
  41. Learn something new (a new word, new skill, idea, information about a friend, anything) and write about it.
  42. Give a gift (bought, made, an experience, time together, etc.).
  43. Join an Internet dating service.
  44. Shop (virtual or real).
  45. Go visit a friend.
  46. Listen to gentle music.
  47. Play a game with someone else.
  48. Sell the stuff you don’t want on eBay or
  49. Draw or paint a picture.
  50. Add to this list.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pegoleg
    Dec 27, 2012 @ 09:02:43

    Great list! Looks like more than 14 but math was never my strong suit. I’m so glad tho new approach worked for you.


  2. Fork in My Eye
    Dec 27, 2012 @ 10:34:46

    As luck or the universe would have it, my family and I are spending the holidays apart. I left for a week before Christmas to go stay with my mom who had fallen and broken her wrist so badly she had to have surgery. But I had to be back home in time for my partner to take our boys to see her parents (especially her father who is very ill) for the week after Christmas. (And some one had to be home to take care of the dogs.) So we spent just Christmas Eve all together and exchanged gifts then.

    It’s kind of working for me. Christmas is a stressful time and my partner hates it which makes it more so. I wasn’t sad to miss that week before at all (even though I had to drive 1600 miles – that was okay too). Now I have several days left and I don’t have to take care of anybody but me and my dogs. I did the yoga routine this morning for the first time in months and am going to get my hair cut now. Then I’m going to walk my dogs and then rewatch Battlestar Galactica episodes on Netflix.

    Good for you for having the courage to do things differently (and helping others do the same by sharing your experiences and tools). I think I’ve spent too much time just letting my life happen to me lately. Just got lucky that it gave me a break and forced me onto a different path for now.

    So glad to hear the weather is still fair.


    • Sandy Sue
      Dec 27, 2012 @ 17:40:40

      I hope all the parents are recovering now. I’m sorry you and your partner have to deal with that as well as the holiday madness. The boys must be with her, then (?) Why can’t we all relax, walk the (insert pet of choice), and watch TV science fiction? Anything else is just dopey.


  3. littlesundog
    Dec 28, 2012 @ 21:20:27

    Each of my siblings and I have made the decision at times, not to participate in Thanksgiving or Christmas. I think we all understand that there are times when self-care is necessary and most important. It’s always been easier for me not to join in the festivities as I’m 450 miles away. I go when I choose to and stay here when I need to care for self.

    Isn’t it wonderful when family is supportive? That’s the best gift of all!


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