Holidays, and the Coping-With Thereof.

February 4, 2009 at 10:51 pm (Tabitha) (, , , , , , , , , )

I have a pretty bizarre relationship with holidays. I pretty much hate them. Please forgive me! I know most of you wish you were on holidays right now and would die to be in my position. But, most of the holidays of my life have left me more stressed out, sleepless and unhappy than my exams or placement or work (although there are definitely some exceptions). Lately I’ve been trying to understand why this is so that I can maybe do something about it.

I’m gonna take some time to first explain what makes holidays so damn lame for me. I hope it doesn’t come out as a great big whine.

Mental Health.

I have had double depression pretty much since I became a teenager, as far as I can tell… it kind of crept up on me. Basically this means that my usual state of being is dysthymia and involves chronic, but mild low motivation, low opinion of my capabilities, high levels of anxiety and dissatisfaction and just an inability to become enthused by or enjoy anything that I used to. On top of that chronic, mild depressive state I also, from time to time have episodes of major depression or anxiety attacks and/or paranoia.

Holidays exacerbate these problems by removing most obligations for me to leave the house and do things. This brings on a horrible cycle of boredom, restlessness, a severe feeling of dissatisfaction, frustration or having failed to achieve anything… that my life is passing me by, wasted. I sleep poorly and at all the wrong times. Lately I have been waking up at around 6pm, which means that I see very little of my housemates and fiance and have even fewer things to entertain me throughout the late night hours, due to things being closed, nothing happening and tv sucking even more than usual. It also triggers my anxiety when everyone’s in bed. I start hearing noises and assuming bad things are about to happen. I stay away from the doors and windows. I’m too scared to be downstairs alone and cook, or sew or watch DVDs or play on Alan and Ing’s computer. So I just find myself sitting, doing nothing,  for hours and hating it. It makes me needy and clingy and dependent on Andrew for stimulation, which is just BAD. Andrew calls it my Limbo State.

Removal from the Things that Satisfy Me.

Namely, Uni and Placement and learning and outside. These take me out of my mind-burrow and expose me to awesome shit and give me a sense of achievement and progress and self-improvement. They give me a little perspective, force activity and don’t allow me to reside in my Limbo Land.

Lack of Hobbies.

Until recently I had very few hobbies. I suppose this is because I spent so much of my time as a kid and teenager doing sport, talking on the phone and watching tv. I never developed the ability to entertain myself. I never played games, or read books, or made things or sought out things of interest. I find that, probably because of the whole dythymia thing, I often cannot keep interested in stuff long enough for them to become meaningful to me. A prime example of this is me and books. I usually get about 100 pages in, and if it hasn’t grabbed me, promptly give up.  I need to get up and move halfway through a film, to the great bafflement of my housemates. It just means that I never engage with anything fully, which just builds my feeling of failure and dissatisfaction and boredom. So, now that my massively time-consuming gymnastics addiction can be no more, and I don’t talk on the phone, and TV really sucks unless it is in DVD form… I have no idea what to do with myself. At first, I developed a clothes shopping hobby, but there was a major flaw in that plan in that after I finished my year off, and thus had to stop working full time, I hadn’t the funds to support this pursuit.

Aggravating Jobs.

Throughout high school and uni, my holidays have usually involved working a truly abhorrent part-time job. Unlike most of the people I know, I seem to be incapable of growing a thick skin and not caring that people will be horrible to me all the time at work. It deeply screws with me that it’s so normal for so many people to treat staff in the service industry as subhuman. Because of this, and the huge time pressure in cafe work, I stress about going to work the entire time I am not there, including in nightmare-form when I’m asleep! So, working in cafes amplifies all my aforementioned issues quite substantially. Especially the anxiety and dissatisfaction. But, it also serves to make me angry and bitter… yay!

I think that sums up the main things that make me hate holidays. I have actually been much more successful than ever at managing my loopiness over this Summer break. Here are some of the things that have really helped with managing the Holiday Blues.

Meds.

I am currently on Lexapro and have been for probably about 2 years. My doctor and I have come to the conclusion that I will most likely need to stay on them forever. I have had several periods of taking SSRIs since I was 14. Each time I recover to the point where I don’t need them anymore, and slowly wean myself off them on the doctor’s advice. Each time, I slowly return to my dysthymia/major depression over the months following giving them up. When I cease functioning normally, I go back to the doctor and return to my meds. My Dad has Dysthymia and is permanently medicated, and as it is a chronic illness, chronic meds are often necessary, in conjunction with strategies to deal with life problems more effectively.

I have found this medicine quite incredible. It makes me myself again. It makes me normal. It doesn’t make me happy, it just makes me not ill. I notice that my ability to engage with and enjoy things returns, and that my ability to force myself to do things that seem hard or unpleasant also returns. It allows me to actively manage my issues rather than deal with everyday stresses with added mental illness. The active strategies for improving the way I react to stressors are just as important, but the meds are vital, I feel. The way my doctor explains it to me is that I have a chronic physical illness, an imbalance of neurotransmitters. It can be triggered or worsened by life’s stress and my choices, but it is separate from not enjoying my work, or being stressed by a thing. It is a physical illness brought on by external and internal happenings which cannot be treated by removing the triggers alone. For example, having an awful family situation is hard, but not as hard as having an awful family situation and an untreated depression. The situation won’t change, but your fitness to cope with it can. In my opinion people should treat these meds like any other for any other sickness. I’m hugely saddened by the unnecessary stigma that surrounds them and depression, when a sufferer of this problem could have it treated and cope with life much more easily once they have been partially unburdened. I suppose, I just want people to understand that taking medicine is not the easy way out, it doesn’t mean you’re weak. It will not hinder your ability to develop coping strategies, but rather help you to do just this! And most people do not need to be on them for more than a few months, at which point, if you wean yourself slowly, your own brain will take over it’s normal functions and you will have recovered.

I stumbled upon this guy on YouTube, and found his views on loads of things really interesting. In this video his explanation of his experiences with Lexapro mirror my own very closely. I really relate to his wonder at the subtle amazingness of this medicine. When I watched it, I was really heartened to see that someone was openly talking honestly about what these drugs are like to take. Anyway here it is:

Doin’ Things.

And by ‘things’, I mean anything at all other than sleeping and staring at the ceiling like in my Limbo state. It may sound pretty obvious, but this a really hard thing for me. I have found that I have to make myself do things, and continue to do things even though I don’t like them and find it very hard to start or continue. Things I have been doing are, going to the gym, making/altering clothes, baking sweet things, cooking dinner, blogging, reading the SMH, subscribing to National Geographic and YouTube channels of interest (like the one above), playing WoW, playing board games, going to cafes with you all, frequenting street fashion sites, being a housewife to Andrew while he’s my workwife, watching Mad Men, Big Love and The United States of Tara, attempting crosswords and sudoku and researching wedding plans. Making sure I fill my day with things to do and actually follow through with them makes me more calm, stimulated and sleep better. It makes me a much better person to be in a relationship with as well! But, it is an effort considering most people spend their holidays relaxed, or relaxing. And that’s not really a concept I understand outside the context of after work/uni evenings when I find myself able to do so readily.

Removing Myself from the Service Industry.

Frees me from all the things I talked about previously. Even if it makes me dirt poor, I am much more sane this way! Only trouble is that Andrew has to be more poor as well cos I’m not contributing, other than my Youth Allowance. Luckily, I have a guy who understands all this and will actually be happier if he’s with a healthy partner than if he had heaps of spending money… when forced to choose.

Result!

Well, I’m still a bit… intense during holidays, but I can sleep (even if it’s not at night) and I’ve been really starting to enjoy some of the stuff I’ve been consciously make myself do. I’ve actually developed a variety of interesting hobbies and feel I’m a better person for it. I’m getting better at some of them too, like the sewing and the games. Funnily enough, pursuing my interests makes me feel more like I have things to contribute to conversations with smart people, which was something I always felt I lacked. I’m also not in Andrew’s face the second he gets home and keeping him up at night. I’m more fun and relaxed. So, yay! Progress on the Holiday front.

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5 Comments

  1. Danoot said,

    that sounds pretty crap, but I’m glad you’ve found things that help. Psychoactive medication is kind of weird, as if you’ve identified with the conditions that it treats it ends up feeling like it is changing your self, not helping your problem, which is difficult and I suspect is the reason some people don’t use them (apart from the ‘easy way out’ idea).
    I am glad this is not the case for you!
    [a lot of wandering ramble about the self and what it is and how we identify it/with it suppressed in the name of brevity and because it is late]

  2. juliadactyl said,

    This is really interesting, because many things are similar to the way Tom and I manage my mental health. I’m glad that you have a system that works for you – I know how completely crap it feels when you’re just sad, all the time. And yeah, mental health needs to be treated like any other chronic illness. Thank you for talking to us about it, I think one of the important things is for your close friends to know what the deal is, and what you do to cope.

    I totally know what you mean about having to do things. Before you go back to uni, you and I should make plans to hang out for a day.

  3. chromefist said,

    Yeah, quite similar:
    1. Removing removable sources of stress;
    2. Making sure there are escape routes from unremovable sources of stress;
    3. Making sure there are interesting things to do at home;
    4. Making sure we have a plan to do the more chorish stuff. And sticking to it.

    4 is an issue; but we do well at the others.

    But yeah; evenings are always easier to relax – there’s no pressure to do stuff, mostly, because you’ve already worked all day. There’s no “wasted day” guilt. I like my holidays; but I tend to “waste” the first half relaxing, and then pack the rest with projects that get half-finished, because I’m afraid I’ve wasted my holidays. It’s a fairly dumb way to do things; but each step seems logical, and not at all like a pattern – before it happens.

  4. Heather said,

  5. Back for my Last Year at Uni. « A Pleasing Fiveness said,

    […] been hell at my campus. On the other hand, Uni makes my brain stimulated, which helps me with all my Holiday Crazy, and I really like a lot of what I get to learn, especially in the practical […]

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