Happy Holidays, or Is It?

Posted by Nurse Linda in Daily Dose on December 21, 2022 # Mental Health

candleHere we are at the end of another year. Many individuals and families revel in their holiday traditions, whatever they may be. No matter how you celebrate, or if you celebrate, the end of the year can be a challenge. It seems funny that a human-made date can mark the end of one time period to another. Dates, calendars, and timekeeping are all human-made. We end a year and begin a new year in the middle of a season. That always seems odd to me. Why not follow a calendar that matches changes in nature? But this is the way we humans do things.

This is a time of year when most people gather, celebrate, and enjoy life. It can be a challenge for some of us who have had significant losses. For me personally, if I hear one more news commentator remark about the empty chair at the table, I just want to say, ‘what is the matter with you?’ Like a verbal reminder of sorrow will make it better. Or perhaps they feel they are expressing their grief, thinking those grieving will feel their sorrow for us? This is a trigger for me. It may not bother you, but other statements might. Take a moment to learn what triggers put you under stress so you can prepare for your concerns.

Grief comes in various forms. It certainly includes the loss of loved ones, but it can also be the loss of a home, job, or body function. No one can or should tell anyone else how to feel. However, everyone has losses in their lives. When it is your personal loss, it is the worse loss of all because it affects everything you think and do.

People will understand the loss of a loved one. That is a clear loss that almost everyone recognizes because everyone experiences it. Loss of function is different. People do not often recognize the loss of function because they have not experienced it. Any change in function is not fully understood by people without experiencing it.

Loss of function can lead to feelings of sadness or even extend into depression. For some reason, the loss can be much more overwhelming during the holidays, as it is supposed to be a time of fun, family, and friends. But it can be challenging when you are doing your best to participate mentally and physically.

Taking away loss is not going to be possible but dealing with it is possible. The first step, which can be very painful, is to look at your situation. Recognize and identify the core issue. Discover the issue that is bothering you. It might be your injury or disease, or it could be just a subset of it. That does not mean you necessarily have to welcome your injury or disease, but the real issue is not being able to …. (insert your own thought here). This will be defined by you. Perhaps your loss cannot be regained at this point in time, but what can you do to improve your situation?

Think about your personal reaction to your loss. Sadness is an appropriate reaction to any life change. Sadness includes disappointment, loss, grief, and helplessness, among other feelings of emotional pain. After a significant loss, sadness is an appropriate and challenging feeling. It can result in changes in your usual state of well-being and even include changes in health. These issues can lessen or even resolve as you learn to deal with your loss. Depression or ongoing and persistent sadness that affects your daily living is more severe as your ability to cope with your sadness overtakes your whole being. As sadness continues, the chemicals in your brain can be affected, making recovery almost impossible without professional intervention. Depression is a medical condition, not a lack of willpower.

If you find your mental health is being challenged, seek help from your health professional. Sometimes, people cannot see depression in themselves. If you have a trusted loved one that tells you that you might be in trouble with your mental wellness, listen to them. Treatment for depression is available. It can take some time, but there are options that can assist with dealing with depression. If you feel your situation is more urgent, contact your health professional, phone the national helpline, at 1-800-662-4357, or you can now dial 988.

Perhaps, you feel isolated. People with and without physical or mental challenges feel isolated, especially at times of the year when there is a lot going on, but you do not feel a part of it. Humans are social beings. Think about how you can successfully expand your social circles. Expanding your contacts with other people is a step toward wellness. If you are an introvert, try just one or two increases in your socialization. If you are an extrovert, more contacts will be welcome.

If physically getting into homes or places is an issue, some individuals purchase portable ramps. These can be placed on a few steps. Several types are available. Some are foldable ramps or even tracks for each side of the wheels on a chair. They can be pricey. They can be heavy, requiring assistance for placement, but they go where you go.

If these are not for you, think about places where your group or family can meet. Accessible rooms are available at civic centers, churches, or other public spaces where you can gather easily. There may be a rental fee, which might also be waived if your community supports it.

If funds are tight, as is everyone’s these days, have a potluck, or try something more novel, such as a sack lunch party where everyone brings their own meal with something to trade. That is a bit more novel and adds a bit of nostalgia to a party.

Look around your community for activities that are open to the public. There are many civic center options (usually, you need to sign up early to reserve your spot), senior centers, clubs, organizations, museums, and religious centers. There are many places that are open to the public that you can begin to attend. At first, people will say hello but continue to attend. You will find individuals who will have similar interests to yours. It takes several attempts to fit in with a group. Do not overlook religious organizations even if you are not religious or of that particular faith. Most welcome visitors and religion is not an issue. A local church in my area offers a Wednesday night dinner. For an extremely reasonable price, a home-cooked meal is served. The majority of people in attendance are not members of that church or even religious people. But it is a delicious meal with great conversation and entertainment.

Some groups will play cards or board games which is a nice ice breaker as chatting is at a minimum while playing, but there is plenty of time for conversation between hands or at a break. If you are concerned about the movements of games, people are happy to help, but you decide what choices are made in the game. If you want to play cards, you can have someone make or purchase a cardholder.

Use a marker to number card slots on both sides of the holder. Then you can keep your hand private while asking someone to play card 4 on your holder, etc.

If the weather is challenging and you cannot get out, there are always options for groups online. These can be based on your personal interests or support groups, but you will always find individuals with similar interests to yours over time. Be cautious of online predators. This is so unfortunate. However, never provide personal information other than your first name, specifically where you live, or any financial information. Some predators will take their time to become ‘friends’ before taking advantage of you, so you must always be on alert. Use moderated sites and stick to discussing only the topic of the session.

Once you identify the issues that you wish to change or improve in your life, you can move ahead with a plan to make that change happen. It might be best to start with just one or two changes. Realize that a one-time outing or doing something different once will probably not make that change effective. It takes time to make changes. Also, realize that the holidays are not everyone’s thing. Some of us like to stick close to home during the rush of the end-of-year activities, and that is ok, too. Nurse Linda

Pediatric Consideration:

Making a change can be harder for children and teens as they do not have as many options as adults. They may have interactions only with their siblings and peers in school. Outside activities can help expand their social circles. Setting up play dates with children in the class that they do not know well can help build friendships.

Teens are very aware of ‘fitting in.’ Work with your teen to help them become an expert in a topic. It can be a game that is popular or knowledge about something that interests their group, such as movies, music, or even folklore (teens love a scary story). Have them participate in extracurricular activities to widen their social circle. Nurse Linda

Linda Schultz is a leader, teacher, and provider of rehabilitation nursing for over 30 years. In fact, Nurse Linda worked closely with Christopher Reeve on his recovery and has been advocating for the Reeve Foundation ever since.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.