Category Archives: self compassion

Life Hacks for Surviving the Holidays

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Life Hacks for Surviving the Holidays

Geezus it’s barely December and I’m already feeling the anxiety swell. So many events, gifts, decorating, cooking, cleaning and our family calendar is exploding. Trying to take a deep cleansing breath to prepare myself for the madness. Here are some things I may or may not do to get through the next month.

Refuse to get offended. That’s right, I won’t get offended over much of anything. Parties I don’t get invited to (phew I needed a night off), gifts I don’t get and people that say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”. I think you need to tuck your privilege in if you get insulted by a salutation that doesn’t start with “Hey @sshole”, just my opinion.

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I will not force traditions. Traditions are great, until they aren’t. I make seven fishes for Christmas Eve. It’s a nod to my Mother in law who passed away in 2007. I am not Italian by birth so I was excited to embrace this as something my kids will reflect on later in life (thankfully they like fish). That one is a keeper. Seeing some variation of “A Christmas Carole” or the “Nutcracker” every year is repetitive and expensive so we gave it up.

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Speaking of traditions….maybe you are one of the millions who has that Elf on the Shelf creature living rent free in your home. Sick of moving it? We watched this in mid November, oddly enough the kids have lost interest in Dash.

Just say “No.” No is indeed a complete sentence which does not require further explanation. You really don’t have to go to every event that crosses your path. Or scale back if you are so inclined. I go to a cookie throw down each December. It’s a great time and people that bake need to bring 10 dozen cookies. It’s a fun competition and I still attend the party I just don’t bake 10 dozen cookies to cross the threshold. The hostess has cleverly turned this into a charitable event by encouraging non-bakers to donate to a local Ronald McDonald House. Everyone wins and there are still cookies.

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Back up gifts. This one has saved me a thousand times. Have some back up gifts on hand, already wrapped and ready to go. I keep extra gift cards, bottles of wine and a few generic toys and books on the ready in case it’s needed. It doesn’t have to be expensive just something to ease that awkward moment when someone  hands you an unexpected gift.

 

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Meditate. This always invokes an image of the Dalai Lama sitting crossed legged, breathing in exaggerated “Aaaaaaaaaaaaahs”. Sure that works but it isn’t the only way to meditate.

According to Psychology Today – Meditation is the practice of turning your attention to a single point of reference. It can involve focusing on the breath, on bodily sensations, or on a word or phrase known as a mantra. In other words, meditation means turning your attention away from distracting thoughts and focusing on the present moment.

Yesterday, I worked on a 1,000 piece puzzle. It calms me and clears my head. Your meditation can be anything – walking, knitting, exercise – as long as it takes your full concentration and shushes your brain.

Whatever and however you celebrate, I hope it’s great!

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Mourning the Living

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Mourning the Living

Grief isn’t just for the recently deceased. Sometimes it’s for those we must purposely leave behind. We’ve all experienced it at some point….a bad break up, a friendship that can’t weather a bad storm, or a relative that is doing more harm than good. Grief paints with a broad brush.

Anger is my emotion of choice when dealing with the hard stuff. Some would call it a crutch, a better description is a shield. It protects me from the deeper, darker emotions that come from grieving the still living. My shield is past it’s expiration and the wear and tear is breaking it down, leaving me with profound sorrow.

Perhaps you have been there. Maybe you’ve experienced a relationship so broken or toxic that it is beyond repair. That’s the spot I’m in right now. The fact that it involves a parent, makes it especially harsh. So many missed opportunities for myself and my children, displaced by someone who is either incapable or unwilling to care. It’s sad and I need to allow myself a moment to acknowledge that.

Grieving the living is tricky business because it is ultimately a choice. It may be the most healthy, sane choice you can make for yourself. Self preservation doesn’t come cheap. I have spent years trying to fight the undertow of my mother’s mental illness. The constant tug to take me under while I continue to tread water is causing my head to bob up and down. It’s at my chin now and I refuse to go under any further. That leaves me with one option, to pluck myself out of the water and walk away.

Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

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Trying to balance compassion and self preservation…..

I’m trying to balance compassion and self-preservation and it’s a bitch. My mother has certifiable mental illness. She has a long history of mental illness issues including hospital stays for suicide attempts and alcoholism. She is generally miserable and unable to maintain long-term relationships. She has seen doctors and specialists by the dozens, she’s had inpatient stays in psych wards, has more than 3 decades into 12 step recovery and has tried every pill known to big pharma to treat depression. She has been on disability for at least 25 years for her depression so it’s well documented. Sometimes though, the lines blur between her mental illness and her just being a shitty human. Other times she is amazingly thoughtful and generous, mostly to strangers or acquaintances. She saves the gnarly stuff for my brother and me, we are the only relatives that have stuck it out.

I’m not sure when her mental health issues began. She has told me a lot about her life (too much if I’m honest) and I know she always had a terrible relationship with her brother. In fact she had a rough go of it with both of her parents as well. Was that due to their treatment of her, her mental illness or some other sad combination….I don’t know. I do know this, misery is her most frequent companion. If there isn’t something to lament about, her razor-sharp mind will find something obscure and mold it into a formidable monster.

She’s smart, so very smart that it makes pitying her as a sick person near impossible at times. Master manipulator and rationalizer extraordinaire, check and check. She can twist the most innocuous situation and turn it into filth and wretchedness. She has left a wake of destruction behind her. When she goes, she goes big, in a huff…..a cloud of confusion, hurt and anger swirling around her like her own personal tornado. It’s sad, infuriating and exhausting.

I have to mentally remind myself that she is sick. Like cancer, diabetes, MS, lupus, fill in the blank…..except it isn’t like that at all. If your mom has cancer she doesn’t typically say “I wish you were never born” repeatedly to you as a young child. Diabetes doesn’t abandon you in the state of Florida to go to New Jersey when you are 9. MS doesn’t call you a “whore” because you over did the eye shadow and lip stick at 14. Cancer won’t leave you and your brother homeless at 15  because mom doesn’t have it together. Lupus doesn’t tell you that you’re a bad person because your husband bought his dream house, the one he worked his ass off for, but it’s too big so you’re all horrible people. Mental illness and alcoholism does that, not the other diseases. So I’m a bit tired of the mental illness is just like any other disease line, no it fucking isn’t.

So now I have a 72-year-old broken down mentally ill mother who has basically treated me like shit most of my life. And as much as I want to let go of past bad experiences, they keep reinserting themselves into present day. Every time she makes an unreasonable demand or is inconsiderate I am haunted by the ghost of reason that says – “seriously, why are you doing this for her?”

Why indeed. I’m a good person and I don’t want her to haunt me when she dies and she would. I have had my share of obstacles that I have overcome and I basically cheer for the underdog. At this point I’m not sure which one of us is the underdog. I think it’s me today. Yesterday I told my mother to “fucking move then”.  What got me to this point beyond the cumulative effect of 49 years of insanity?

I bought a house at the beach in New Jersey in 1999. It was a struggle to purchase it and I did it on my own before I got married. That house was a testament to my financial and emotional independence. It was one of the most empowering things I ever did as a young woman. Fast forward 14 years and I no longer needed the house. We hadn’t lived there in years. My brother and his family lived there for 5 years and they moved away. My husband and I have a beautiful home in a neighboring state. After Hurricane Sandy, we began to worry that at some point it would get destroyed in a storm and we would lose the financial appreciation. I sold the house a few years ago and tripled my investment. As someone who had been a reluctant, accidental SAHM for a decade it felt great to make a financial contribution to my family. I also used a portion of that money to buy a small house in a nearby adult community. I bought a place for my mother because she was so unhappy where she lived. For nearly 10 years she complained about her living situation.I also thought it would be more practical to have her closer to me as she aged. My brother moved to Maine so he can’t help with medical or other issues that require hands on assistance.

Fast forward another 3 years and there isn’t a week that goes by that she doesn’t complain to me about something. Some of it is normal life stuff, a few ants, a nosy neighbor, the air filters. The air filters get to me. My mom smokes about a pack a day but INSISTS that the air filters in her house get changed on a monthly basis. She complains a lot about her financial situation which has always been awful. I bought the house so there is no mortgage but there is an association fee that she pays. She also has utilities and other bills. It is a stretch for her and I help with some of it.

The other day she called to tell me that I “had to pay” her Comcast bill so she could pay out-of-pocket to see an eye doctor that isn’t in her plan. If she said “can you help me” or “I want to go to….” that isn’t how it was presented at all. It was a command given with a bitchy tone and she went on and on about how horrible Pennsylvania Medicaid is compared to New Jersey and……..I just snapped and said “fucking move then”. Granted I could have delivered the message in a calm tone minus the expletive but she wouldn’t have heard me then. I’ve tried that approach for two years, no luck. She heard me this time.

Later I got an email from her telling me how she doesn’t expect me to pay ALL her bills. She then went on to describe how she is the victim of a corrupt government of evil ne’er-do-wells. Blah blah blah I’ve been reading and hearing this crap for years. I’m worn out I tell you, worn out. She has never taken financial responsibility for herself and she is seemingly incapable of any consistent emotional stability. This life long inability or disregard (not sure which some days) has left her facing her “golden years” pretty much broke and alone.

The biggest barrier for me though is her complete lack of interest in me or my family. She has two kind, funny, smart, beautiful grandchildren 10 minutes from her home and she could not care less. Soccer games, shows, Sunday dinners she is frequently invited and rarely shows. When she does attend a dinner she is consistently late. She shows absolutely no regard for how her actions or lack there of could have an impact on others. Again, I don’t know if this is part of the mental illness or just someone so self-absorbed that they are incapable of basic consideration. Either way the end result is the same.

So here I am again trying to balance compassion for her with my own self preservation. This isn’t new territory I know what I need to do. Take a break, don’t call her for a few days or minimize interaction until I can fortify myself enough for the next round. Once again I remind myself that this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. I just hope I can make it to the finish line.