As Halloween approaches, monsters, cobwebs, and black crepe streamers line our streets and stores. We stock up on horror films and scary stories, and ready ourselves for a night of fun and fright. It is my favorite holiday–the single one that still leaves me with a glimmer of excitement, even though as a low-income mother I don’t have the means to wear an extravagant costume or celebrate among adults. Even if I can’t go to a dance party or flamboyant costume party, I still get to dress weirdly without being judged for it, and watch all the kiddos run around in their silly costumes while traipsing my kids from creepy house to creepy house.
Among the fun and excitement of Halloween, however, I can’t help but think about the real monsters that walk among us all throughout the year. Monsters who, by their very existence, make this world a sadder and more fearsome place. These monsters come in all types and shapes. Some of them are sociopaths, like my ex, who care only about themselves. Some of them are narcissists, like Donald Trump–even my daughters call him “bad scary monster”–who are so infatuated with themselves they can’t see past the length of their own shadow. Monsters can be bullies, or rapists. They can be wanton cheaters or jealous manipulators. Or, they can be a “mental illness monster,” and walk alongside us within our community.
I was a mental illness monster for years. I still have some lingering attitudes and habits. When someone hurts me, I became enraged. I don’t take kindly to being abused (who does?) and I lash out. I am working on these things, if slowly. For that reason, I don’t consider myself a “mental illness monster” anymore. Because I am working toward change–but there are those among us who refuse to even try to change. And that is what makes a monster.
October is coming to a close, which means the holidays are getting started. Soon, we will all be in the thick of it. For those of us in recovery from addiction and/or mental illness, the holidays can be notoriously difficult. It’s not just the fact that alcohol appears at many holiday gatherings. Holidays are also typically associated with family gathering and bonding, which can be a touchy subject for those of us with addiction or mental illness histories.
Mental illness is so heavily stigmatized in our society that if you have anything but the most well-educated, open-minded, and compassionate family members, you have probably experienced some share of stigmatizing from the people who are supposed to protect you. Even if your family is lovely, your own erratic behavior during an active addiction or symptomatic flare-up may cause you to feel shame and embarrassment, whether or not your family did anything to contribute to those feelings.
Relapse doesn’t just mean taking drugs or drinking alcohol. It can also mean relapsing into a dangerous depressive episode, mania, or other symptoms of your condition that were in remission. It would be impossible to specifically address every single potential holiday trigger for every single mental illness. Instead, I’ve put together a list of ways to avoid having a major breakdown during the holiday season. It doesn’t matter what holiday it is–this can even be applied during your birthday–any time when you have extra social, familial, financial, and emotional stressors burdening you is dangerous. Hopefully applying some of these tips can help.