Guest Author - Evelyn Rainey
As my minister Dick Huggins said during his sermon Sunday, “’Tis the Season for Depression.”
Between the week of Thanksgiving and the sixth of January, we as social beings put ourselves through absolute emotional torture. Add to that the agony of dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and is it any wonder why so many veterans dread the holidays?
You have to unpack or buy and decorate the tree and possibly the yard and house, prepare for the Winter Concert, Christmas Cantata or Pageant, earn more money for three major meals and presents and travel and added electricity due to the weather. You’ve got to put up with relatives you don’t necessarily like and mourn over relatives who have passed away and deal with the changes all of us face with aging parents and maturing children and every relationship in between. You’ve got to find time to go shopping and deal with the traffic and crowds and expectations swirling around you. Work always seems to amp up at this time and everyone wants you to take time off, except your boss.
Just reading about this, you’re probably clenching your teeth and feeling anxiety coursing through your veins.
It's time to act like a Christmas tree: Lighten up.
Schedule your time wisely. Use a huge calendar divided into hourly slots. Put it in a visible place for your family to see (and hopefully respect). Pencil in breaks for yourself and extra travel time.
Let things go that can be ignored. Delegate responsibilities. You do not have to be in control of everything.
Buy things throughout the year and put them in a safe place. (Write a note to yourself to remind you where you put these things.) That way, by Thanksgiving, all your presents should be taken care of and just need to be wrapped. This will help with finances, too.
Think up a really nice compliment for every person you have to deal with. When you feel they are making unfair demands on you (or just plain getting on your nerves), pay them the compliment. Honestly, “a gentle word turns aside wrath” has helped me through many a negative spot. Where your natural warrior instinct would have you blast them with righteous and deadly force, a gentle compliment undermines most viciousness. It works really well with whiny brats, too!
Bubbles of grief. Have you ever tried to keep a belch from escaping? Grief bubbles up the same way, and needs to be allowed to escape. Holidays are ripe with reminders of those who have died or are no longer in your life. Accept that your late father would have carved the turkey “the right way” or that your ex-wife always loved to sing Christmas carols. Let the intensity of the memories wash up and out, don’t force them to stay inside. How do you release a bubble of grief? Take a deep breath and allow the memory to come. Smile and relax your chest and shoulders. Say something to the memory:
“I miss you, Dad.”
“The war is over, but I still remember the Christmas we spent in the bunker with paper snowflakes and a cactus for the tree.”
“You sang Away in a Manger like a frog.” (No, you don’t always have to say something nice!)
Stay away from triggers: fireworks, booze, sparkling tree lights, massive crowds, snarly traffic, addictive situations like gambling, wild shopping sprees, booze, promiscuous parties.
Do something nice for others. This is the perfect time to bake a cake for a neighbor or send a five to your favorite charity. Everyone is stressed during this time, so saying something nice to a stranger, even just giving them a smile, goes a long way. Leave the parking spaces near the stores for people who are not in as good a shape as you are also helps you by letting you walk away some of your anxiety. Send a Holiday Card to everyone you know. Yes, postage is expensive, but cards are fun and pretty and might be the only thing they get this year. Doing for others helps you forget your own wounds. And doing for others helps heal your wounds, and possibly theirs.
I’ll be singing Oh Holy Night as a solo on Christmas Eve. As I sing it, I’ll be thinking of all our veterans. I’ll be singing it for you. So if you hear it on the radio or over the store speakers or even just in your head, embrace the thought that this is supposed to be the Season of Joy. And for at least the duration of the song, embrace the joy.