By: Danielle Workman
If you’re anything like me, the mere thought of the 4th of July, Chinese New Year, or even smaller firework related holidays and events make your skin crawl. These holidays come with a wide range of emotions, and all of them royally mess up what little stability my already unstable mind has. As fireworks boom in the distance into the wee hours of the morning, my sleep schedule is totally out the window. The surprise of the deep boom that rattles in your chest doesn’t ease as the days before and after the holiday linger, and your nerves quickly become shot. To make matters worse, there are crowds of people everywhere you go. While usually I love being around my family and friends and celebrating every chance I can… these holidays really mess with my mental illness.
Over the last few years I’ve had to find coping strategies to make it successfully during these holidays and figure out how to manage without going to manic or depressive. I’m still working on it, but I wanted to share a few of these with you today.
I freaking love fireworks. They’re beautiful, magical and just light up my inner child as I watch them. Many people opt not to participate in the fireworks shows and cozy up indoors with a loud TV and blankets. For my family and my life, it wasn’t an option for me. I had to come to terms with fireworks and my family’s love of them. It’s been a few years of really having to dig deep and self evaluate, but I have found coping skills that work for me.
Firework Safety - This may seem stupidly obvious, but a lot of my anxiety was triggered by people being unsafe with fireworks. Too young children handling sparklers, people drinking and lighting the firecrackers, and even the screams from scared children as the booms are much louder than expected are all things that trigger my anxiety.
Knowing what makes you anxious and approaching it head on is what really helped me the most. I discussed my fears and anxiety with my husband and we set some ground rules for fireworks at our home and our families home, including sobriety when lighting fireworks, the really little kids not having sparklers and keeping a clean and safe area for fireworks. Not only does this help me, but it helps our family keep safe.
Noise - You can’t escape the noise of fireworks. They’re loud, the booms echo in your chest and rattle your ribs, and can even hurt your hearing. Many people have PTSD and the mere noise from fireworks can set off panic attacks. If you are one of these people or feel a panic attack coming on, don’t be afraid to step away and take care of yourself. Our dog and I will sometimes take a break from the fireworks to cuddle for a few minutes and we calm each other down. If you will be at a public fireworks show and are worried about it, don’t be afraid to put on earphones or earplugs to help with the noise.
And most importantly, if you know this may affect you don’t be afraid to take your meds!
Sleep deprivation - I live in Utah, and here we have two holidays that we can light fireworks on in the month of July. Not only this, but we also allow them up to three days before and three days after. Many people utilize this like its no ones business and fireworks begin going off all night before July even begins. For me this means that one of the biggest factors in my stability with Bipolar Disorder is out the window - I am getting next to no sleep at all in July. This also means I can easily fluxuate to manic or depressive and spiral out of control easier.
To combat this, I check in with my psychiatrist in June, and make sure to ask her for refills on my meds as needed. We work together to set up a plan to medically manage the mania or depression, as well as get me set up with anti-anxiety meds to manage the holiday itself. One year I even got set up on a sleeping medication just for the month so that I could remain stable. Watching my sleep and approaching it early on with my doctor has changed how I manage my illness, going from daily rapid cycling during the month of July to only one controlled cycle a few years later. Don’t ever be afraid to talk to your doctor!
Maintaining Healthy Habits
During the holidays I have tendency to really just let all my healthy habits go. It’s easy to do with all the food, family and lack of sleep! We’ve really had to take a hard look at our families habits and dissect them, but trust me when I say, it’s worth it to maintain health and stability!
Healthy Eating - It is SO easy to binge on junk food during the holidays. It’s everywhere! So maintaining a healthy diet during the holidays became part of my mental health and self care plan. Being mindful about what you are eating and taking the time to eat slowly and really feel yourself enjoying the food is what helped me the most (check out the basics here). Doing the mindful eating exercises really helped me out, as well as helped me make better food choices when preparing food for potlucks and for meals with my family. I highly suggest everyone at least try it.
Overwhelming Family - I’ll be really blunt about this one, but we all have family that overwhelms us at times. If your family may challenge or effect your mental health, don’t be afraid to just say no. Your stability is way too important to challenge it by being around challenging people! Of course I’m not suggesting to be rude and tell them how hard they are to handle, but wiggle your way out of commitments. I’ve blamed my dog for the reason I can’t go to my families house, or even blamed needing to do laundry or shower on reasons to miss family dinner. They didn’t need to know that I needed a mental break! You can say no to your family to say yes to yourself!
Comfort Items - This may sound silly, but it works wonders for so many I know with mental illnesses. Allow yourself comfort items while you’re out of your comfort zone. If you’re going to a firework show, bring your favorite blanket to sit on. If you’re going to be around family, wear your favorite top. If you have a favorite toy or item to fidget with, bring it with! Allowing yourself a comfort item can help you navigate totally uncomfortable situations and even help you while you may be teetering on a panic attack. Fidget spinners, fidget cubes and even worry stones are all socially and totally acceptable - but don’t let that stop you from bringing a coloring book and crayons or even a teddy bear to help!
The Most Important Tip I Have…
Be open with your family about your limits. Tell them the truth and be honest. It’s a vulnerable place to be in, but when you admit that you’re worried about something and talk openly with them, it helps them so that they can help you. Allow them to help you if you would like them to… and if not, its okay.
Do your best to take care of yourself openly, and don’t be afraid to opt out of events for the sake of your mental well-being. Nothing is worth going manic or depressive for. Take care of yourself, and most importantly, take your meds!