Darkness during the holidays

As we enter the holiday season and the end of year, I would like to talk about unpopular, heavy subjects – self harm, seasonal affective disorder, and triggered feelings. Before you think that I should talk about all the lovely beautiful things during this season, I want you to know that not everyone feels the same way.

**TRIGGER ALERT: If you are triggered by talks of self harm ideation, please skip the end of this post.**

Triggered Feelings

In the Filipino culture, we celebrate the holidays with the entire family, like eeeerrrbody. We will pack 50 people in the smallest space possible. Its the only way to spend the holidays, amirite? Seeing family you haven’t seen since the last “family party” or even the year prior is my favorite parts of the holidays. Its always a time when I love to catch up with cousins and eat all the delicious staples dishes of the holidays until an Auntie says, “come on, eat some more.”

This season also brings inappropriate comments, questions and unsolicited advice. Lord help me, this was the hardest part of theses get-togethers.

“Ay nako (OMG), you got fat/gained weight!”
“When are you having kids?”
“Are you going to try for a girl/boy?”
“When are you guys going to get married?”
“Anak (baby), tell Tita (Auntie) about your job?”
“How much did you buy your house/purse/car for?”
“Why are you breastfeeding? Bottle feeding is better.”

“Why aren’t you breastfeeding? It’s free milk.”
“Who made the [insert dish here]? Mine is better.”
“Why don’t you become a nurse? It’s a good job.”

“You put your kid(s) in daycare? Why?”
“When are you going back to work?”

While your Aunties, Uncles, and Grandparents mean well, these statements can be internalized negatively especially for those of us who were not born in the Philippines. Contrary to western culture, where we would never bring up touchy subjects such as weight, socioeconomic status, and marital affairs, it is common practice to talk about when everyone comes together. I would like to offer you some help to enjoy the holidays despite the hurtful conversations.

How to survive hurtful conversations

  • This is how they show their support.
    • I will create an entire post – in the near future – about how I internalized comments/statements/questions from relatives. For now, I want you to understand that theses statements are how our family members show their support. While this doesn’t erase the hurt you receive, know that this is their way of showing they care about you. I promise, it is true.
      • My husband is a great at doing this! He has heard many times that he has “gained weight” or “you got fat”. He just politely says “thank you” gives them a kiss on the cheek or a hug and makes his way towards the food.
  • If a conversation becomes too much, it is ok to politely excuse yourself from the conversation.
    • Setting boundaries is important especially when the conversation becomes uncomfortable. While you cannot change the relatives’ words towards you, you can control your reactions and responses towards them. If you are not able to continue in a constructive way, excuses yourself as politely and as quickly as possible. Even better, have another person be your scapegoat for excusing yourself from the conversation – your partner, sibling, or cousin. In this way, you will be able to have support while setting a boundary.
      • I’ve done this by excusing myself to tend to my kids and it works like a charm. It is one of the perks of being a mom since kids always need something. I have also been the person to “rescue” a relative from an uncomfortable conversation by asking them to help me with something.
  • NO. – Is a complete sentence.
    • As I stated in the last bullet point, you are allowed to set boundaries around conversations and ‘no’ or any form of it is an acceptable answer. You are not required to explain your life decisions. While I absolutely understand that Auntie wants to know why you are [insert life decision here], she does needs to agree with how you are living your life right now. Again, this is their way of showing they care but an explanation is not warranted.
      • When the husband and I decided to move to Arizona, we were grilled by almost every relative imaginable. In fact it was probably a daily occurrence once our house was on the market. “Don’t you want to stay in California?” “No.” Over time, the husband and I became very good at just saying no or a version of it. It wasn’t easy but it was a great way to practice boundaries.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

I only learned about this mental disorder when a relative reached out and talked to me about their symptoms. While I am familiar with depression, I never knew that individuals would experience this disorder during certain seasons. Here is some great information from the Mayo clinic:

Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having low energy
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Fall and winter SAD

Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include:

  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Tiredness or low energy

Spring and summer SAD

Symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression, may include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety

Seasonal changes in bipolar disorder

In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania), and fall and winter can be a time of depression.

When to see a doctor

It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is especially important if your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.

Treatment

Treatment for seasonal affective disorder may include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy. If you have bipolar disorder, tell your doctor — this is critical to know when prescribing light therapy or an antidepressant. Both treatments can potentially trigger a manic episode.

**TRIGGER ALERT: If you are triggered by talks of self harm or suicidal ideation, please skip the rest of this post.**

Self Harm

While the CDC reports that suicidal attempts are lower during the holiday season, I have experienced first hand that these ideations increase in frequency during this season. Last year, sadly a relative took their own life days after Thanksgiving. This year, I had a friend reach out after one of their relative’s attempted to take their own life. So while this is a very difficult conversation to have, please know that self harm is prevalent and needs to be talked about.

If you or someone you know needs help getting to a more positive mental space, please reach out immediately.

  • Call your local law enforcement or dial 911
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
  • Veterans Crisis Line 1-800-273-8255, press 1
  • Lifeline Chat
  • Hospital Emergency Room
  • Mental health facility

I also talk about tools and resources on a previous series, Asking for help. Please feel free to read through that series on all the ways you can help yourself or others.

There is hope

This post was quite heavy and may have triggered negative feelings or past hurtful experiences. For those who are triggered, I offer you a virtual hug and the notion that you are still here to help others who are in need or immediate crisis. Know that you are not alone during the holiday season even if it feels that way. Please reach out of you are in an unsafe mental space. You can even reach out to me, I am more than happy to be a supportive person for you. I am thankful for you and appreciate your support of this blog and most importantly, bringing awareness to mental health. Together we are stronger.

And remember… it is ok to not be ok. Tomorrow is a new day!

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