I posted this last year but I have about 1,000 new readers since then and I’ve been getting a lot of mail regarding the stress people are feeling regarding Christmas. I decided to post this again and I just rewrote a few things. Merry Christmas is almost here to you all.While Christmas and other holidays can be hard for many people, I believe that those with trauma have some extra challenges. That said, I’ve always believed that when you understand something, that issue gets easier to deal with. It rarely takes it away but for me, knowing that something I am experiencing is common amongst trauma survivors helps take much of the pressure off of myself. I feel as though I am one sufferer amongst many and that we all coped the same way rather than it is just a “Heather thing”.
Here are a few things that you may be dealing with at this time of year.
Surviving trauma can have a negative impact on your outlook. Your life feels forever changed. Some survivors deal with anger on multiple levels. Anger at some of the lucky people who have been fortunate enough to have avoided trauma and tell us to just get over it, or it’s our own fault that we suffer. And, paradoxically, we may feel anger at ourselves for having these issues too. It is also not unusual to become angry at the fact that we are angry.
Guilt and Shame
Some trauma survivors can feel guilty or shameful because we survived while others did not. I feel this way about my sisters very keenly on holidays in particular. You may no longer feel worthy to enjoy the mundane giving of gifts and time with friends.
This is also a time of year where those who struggle with spirituality feel somewhat “force fed” the baby Jesus or other biblical things that happened at this time of year. God seems to be everywhere and not in a comforting sense for many.
Trauma survivors are often susceptible to noise.
Noises (and smells) can overwhelm us and often take us back to memories or places we would just as soon forget. I tend to choose the furthest chair away from the activity but even then, a cheerful gathering can often still feel very overwhelming.
There are times that I have tried to just take some time alone for a few minutes but there always has to be that one person (at least) that say “Where’s Heather?”. It is a kind gesture to show that they care for you but when you are trying to hide? It’s counterproductive. LOL
Memories and Triggers
As a trauma survivor, I really don’t want to remember Christmas past. Sitting around while other regale tales of childhood or “the good old days” just makes me want to jump out of my skin. I am truly happy for them. I really am. Hearing it all just reminds me of what I do not understand or have memories of. Add in the sounds, smells, people, the hustle and bustle, money stresses, time crunches, and folks that don’t tend to behave well at Christmas? Well? It all makes me want to hide. You?
Major holidays and personal days of importance are days I want to avoid. They tend to heighten the trauma survivors penchant for isolation. Quite often, the people who matter to you are either dead or distant. Often those who you do love and who love you are kept at a “PTSD-Distance” almost against your will. You want to be more open, you want to be more feeling and receptive, but your trauma smothers you. Sometimes the best you can do is just be in the same room with your loved ones, not because you don’t like/love them but because your trauma has crushed your ability to interact the way you used to. If your loved ones tend towards selfishness or they just plain don’t get it, they can make this very hard on you.
People thinking their shopping carts need to be on to your heels or in your back, other people pushing their way through you or past you, kids crying, adults arguing, long lines, busy stores… you can’t even buy milk and bread without facing Christmas crowds. When your nerves already feel like they are on fire? This added pressure just makes me want to run away to a deserted island somewhere. Okay, I always feel that way but it is worse at Christmas. 😉
I know I have painted the holidays as very grim and if this is what they are for you? Please just know you are not alone. The day WILL pass and you won’t have to face it for another 365 days. I prefer to say 365 days rather than 1 year. it sounds longer.
You can do some things to help you through the season though. Find out when your local stores are at their least busy and shop then. Where I live that is 6-8pm. You could go bowling down the aisles. PERFECT!
Try to take some time to just relax. A day here or there that you do not have any plans will do you wonders. I try to follow busy days with a “do nothing” one. That way, when I start to feel pressured, I can remind myself that tomorrow is a day off.
Make life easier on yourself. If that means paper plates, pre-stuffed turkey, going out for a meal rather than cooking it, saying yes to only half of your usual yes events, saying no when you really don’t want to go, if you have a bit of extra cash, let someone else wrap your gifts… whatever it takes to make your holiday easier.
If certain traditions trigger you or just remind you of too many hard times, come up with new ones. I never do my celebrating on Christmas Day. That was when my birth family celebrated it. Now we have friends over before Christmas and do our Christmas dinner then. My husband’s family celebrates together several days after Christmas and we can do our visiting on any day. It really helps to switch things up a bit.
I think sometimes we all just need to accept that certain days will be hard but head towards them with the knowledge that we’ve lived through them before and will again. Lean on friends that understand and do your very best to have a happy holiday.