Jolly Old OCD
December 17, 2012 12:54 PM   Subscribe

Mefites with psych issues, do you have tips for getting through the holidays?

This time of year is really hard on my OCD. This is probably because at Christmas routines are different and there are family and traveling stresses to deal with. I am also still not 100% recovered from my last OCD "episode" which began around Christmas last year.

I'm in therapy (have been for quite a while) and on medication (trying to keep the dose low but it has helped enormously). I have read books, done the "homework", gone to support groups, tried CBT, ERP, talk therapy, exercise, yoga, meditation...I feel like I have tried everything. I still get the obsessions sometimes and even though I am much, MUCH better than I was even 6 months ago, when they happen, the obsessions are still really painful and terrible. Sometimes, I am totally fine. Sometimes, I just don't know what to do anymore, am desperate and in a lot of pain. I know many people have painful lives, I am grateful for everything I do have and am trying not to sound dramatic, but OCD has been very painful for me.

So, for people out there with psych issues, I've got three questions:

1. Tips for getting through the holidays? I love Christmas and I love my family but it's a time when my issues act up in a serious way. Especially with traveling (which is unavoidable unless I want to spend Christmas alone, which I don't).

2. What do you do when you feel you've done all you can and are still having symptoms? What do you do to help yourself get through the difficult periods?

3. Is it possible to be damaged (I hesitate to say "traumatized") by a particularly bad psychiatric episode? I feel like I still haven't fully gotten back on my feet almost a year since my last major episode started. I think since I had such a difficult time around this time last year, I am very worried it will happen again and I really don't know if I'll be able to handle it.

Any wisdom, guidance? Any help is appreciated. Thank you, thank you!
posted by Katine to Human Relations (14 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I too love my family very much. I also have bipolar. Something that really helps is taking walks either by myself or with just my husband. People tend to understand needing alone time and having some personal time to process and do what I need to calm myself down is immensely helpful. I also treat myself like a frightened kitten sometimes; I'll either hug myself or literally pet my own head and say "Shh, sweetie, it's alright, it'll be alright" over and over until I've calmed down. Also breath REALLY slowly sometimes; it's very easy to get overwhelmed with family even if they are awesome and literally slowing down can help with that. It won't be easy but make sure you know ahead of time that if you need to you can leave and take a walk or go sit in a bathroom and read a book and put cold water on your head or whatever and if you need to leave a situation, leave it!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 1:06 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Specifically towards your third question, a bad episode can DEFINITELY linger - I have anxiety and while for the most part it's under control, there are times when I have to avoid a place or a person for a time until I can get myself calm about it or finish dealing with my fears. Sometimes it's hard to avoid what I think of as an anxiety spiral, where I start feeling anxious about being anxious and I have to go take a shower.

Just to echo what Mrs. Pterodactyl says, never feel bad about leaving a situation that you can't handle. I don't know if there's any sort of science behind this, but a big temperature change often helps me - going out into cold air or taking a really hot shower, depending on how I felt before (too hot or too cold). It's like it hits a reset button for me.

Traveling can be really stressful for me too, and while I don't know how your OCD specifically manifests, one of the things that really helped me was figuring out what made my temporary space feel "safe". I like having a pillow I'm familiar with, and certain clothes to sleep in. Maybe scents or music would help you.

I hope this helps! I realize you're dealing with something very different but maybe one of the ideas will work out for you.
posted by brilliantine at 1:16 PM on December 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

I also do what Mrs. P does and talk to myself the way I wish someone else were talking to me. My OCD comes from feeling unworthy of love so when I take the time to love myself and show affection and tenderness for my own body, I find that I feel just as soothed as I would if my mother, therapist, or partner were the one treating me kindly.

I also have made a pact with myself that insists I not feel bad if I need to leave a situation and take time to recharge. I cannot be in a room with lots of drunk people for example and this sometimes crops up around the holidays for obvious reasons. So, rather than have a mini breakdown over being in an environment I can't control, I remove myself to a setting I can control and regain composure there. Having an out available is crucial for me now, though I am definitely working on dealing when I don't have an out and need to stay wherever I am.

Do what's right for you and maybe even let your family in on the deal so they know you are doing what you need. I try and be so self-reliant about my OCD because I am embarassed when I can't solve a problem on my own but it's more destructive than it's worth to not ask for help.

And yes, OCD is painful and traumatic and disruptive and you have every right to feel the way you do. I am using EMDR to unpack the triggers for my OCD so that the emotional trauma it has wrought over the years can lessen. It's really making a difference for me.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 1:21 PM on December 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

and on medication (trying to keep the dose low but it has helped enormously).

Try not to get locked down too much about this. If meds are working for you, it doesn't necessarily follow that more meds will work better for you (esp. with side-effect-rich psych meds) but don't preemptively decide to control your dosage regardless. Often a slightly higher dose really will help, especially when you anticipate the intensity of your symptoms to increase. Talk to your psychiatrist about it.
posted by headnsouth at 1:58 PM on December 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

I agree with headnsouth here; this might be a good time to up your dosage a bit, as long as that won't be too disruptive. I would talk to your prescribing doc about it.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 3:01 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

i deal with anxiety and some OCD issues (tending more to the O side of things) and i find that limiting carbs and booze really, really helps. lots of cookies and spiked egg nog can really torpedo your mood and ratchet up existing stress. try to eat some fruits and veggies and maybe take a B-complex vitamin in the mornings. i've had success contributing big salads to family dinners--i get to do something nice for people and i also get to eat some vegetables that aren't covered with cheese or bread crumbs.

not that i've ever made a very special holiday meal of candy cane ice cream and pie chunks or anything that would be ridiculous
posted by guybrush_threepwood at 3:13 PM on December 17, 2012

I have triggery/PTSD issues about this time of year (summer in Oz) and I hate most aspects of Christmas (commercialism, feminist objections to gendered giving, too much family interaction, so on and so forth) and after multiple meltdowns, crises, fights and whatnot last year my partner and I have brainstormed a few things to cope with this year.

- picking my 'drink' and sticking with it (martinis because I can't drink them very fast, have to alternate with water, but they have enough alcohol to smooth the edges without getting me hammered and therefore belligerent/maudlin)

- music!

- midnight mass (maybe, depending on childcare since it's my partner's birthday)

- doing presents/food the way I want (pared back, primarily handmade, opting out of most of the gift draws etc.)

I also focus on the things I really like - advent calendars, baking, fairy lights, non-tree christmas trees, that sort of thing.

So far it's working well, sort of. No meltdowns yet, feeling much better than any other year and I'm doing things in a way that doesn't make me feel like I've compromised myself. I've had a few bad nights/days and I just ride them out now - I haven't overextended myself so badly that I can't just take a day out of socialising or whatever to chill.

And it's okay to be unhappy with things - I just need to focus on dealing with them in a productive manner (aka just because our families go nuts buying for kids, and do it in obnoxiously gendered ways, doesn't mean I have to do the same thing and seethe with resentment as I hand over an appropriately masculine present to the baby boy because I'm being forced to participate in this nonsense - I'm not, I can opt out and have and Good Lord it is beautiful). Sometimes I can't, and that's okay, but I still need to be appropriate (no walking out mid-conversation, no matter how obnoxious someone is etc.).

But mostly I focus on the good and the fact it will be over soon.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:41 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, mental illnesses and specific episodes are traumatic events. Very much so.

I work really hard at sticking to my schedules and formal self-care stuff: getting up at the same time, going to bed at the same time, eating about the same amount of stuff at about the same times of day, etc. I take a ton of alone time, and my therapist is encouraging me to give myself rewards for doing the things that I'm trying to get myself to do.

And I stay in very frequent contact with my mental health team, go to all my support group meetings (though I'll have to miss one of them this year due to timing,) and so on.

Oh, and if you're religious, focusing on the meaning of the holiday really helps. I suspect that this works for anyone - just focusing on the why I'm doing this stuff.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 4:07 PM on December 17, 2012

Related to Mrs. Pterodactyl's technique of self-reassuring — in her recent book What You Practice Is What You Have: A Guide to Having the Life You Want, Zen teacher Cheri Huber introduced a simple practice tool that many people have found incredibly helpful. This is an excerpt from the book:
In There Is Nothing Wrong With You, the primary practice tool is a recording of "reassurances." Reassurances are true statements made by one's mentor, or center. The statements are meant to solidify the relationship between the human being (you!) and the wise, compassionate awareness (the "centered you"!) that is available to encourage and support us through life when we turn our attention to it.

In What You Practice Is What You Have, the primary practice tool for learning to direct attention is another recording in which the mentoring process expands. This recording may include your reassurances but that is not the primary purpose. Here is how to take the next step:

In your own voice, make a recording that reminds you of everything you need to remember so that you can make the choices you know you need to make, from center, to have the life you know is possible for you.

Many suggestions to inspire creation of your recording are given in a section titled "30 days of Exercises: A Self-Guided Workshop."

Put anything in your recording that speaks to your heart. Much of what you might choose to record may come from outside sources, but nothing counts until we take it in and get it for ourselves.
Many phones and MP3 players have some kind of Voice Memo app or function, which works really nicely for this. Especially because then when you're listening to your recordings, it doesn't look anything out of the ordinary.
posted by Lexica at 5:58 PM on December 17, 2012

I can relate and I feel for you. So here's what I do: I get a big stack of the latest novels and try to become absorbed by them. When you feel like you're starting to feel bad, crawl into bed or on the couch with a goood novel (if you enjoy reading). Other thing is if you are able, get a massage or manicure or some other kind of self-care. I rarely splurge on that stuff but at holiday time, a massage might really help. Lastly, I usually run about 5-10 miles before heading over to my family's for the holiday dinner (I live close to the toxic family and I am a runner). So if you can exercise vigorously before facing the family (or whatever trigger) you may feel a surge of endorphins that may help with the anxiety. I also advise talking to your doc about upping the meds until the stress subsides. Good luck - you aren't alone, others feel this too!
posted by BlueMartini7 at 6:06 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I take breaks. I love my in-laws but sometimes I feel overwhelmed by them. I'll take a few minutes in a bedroom and screw around on my phone. Sometimes I'll just hide in the bathroom for a few minutes.

When it comes to travel, I'll do whatever I can to make it easier on myself within reason. If I want a magazine or candy and I can't decide between two, I'll just go ahead and get both. If I want a big diet soda or an alcoholic drink, I'll get one. If something that small will help me out, what is the point in not doing it?
posted by kat518 at 6:53 PM on December 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

Can you get a hotel room instead of staying with family? That might go a long way towards getting the amount of sleep you need, and sticking to your own schedule and alone time.
posted by fermezporte at 8:03 PM on December 17, 2012

1. Tips for getting through the holidays? I love Christmas and I love my family but it's a time when my issues act up in a serious way. Especially with traveling (which is unavoidable unless I want to spend Christmas alone, which I don't).
Prepare, make lists, go through the trip in your mind to mentally practice. When you get to your family's home, try to stick to your routine as much as possible. Keep your expectations reasonable. Spend quiet time with your favorite people. Get outdoors and get exercise. Taking a walk with Uncle Whosis fulfills several of these, for example. You don't have to be with the whole group the whole time. Make sure you get good sleep and nutrition; not too much fat, salt, sugar, liquor, calories. It may help to keep the visit a bit short this year. My family was pretty nutty, and I reached the point where I didn't visit without an emergency exit plan, which meant knowing how to get a rental car, fast, and knowing which hotels near the airport were cheap but ok.

2. What do you do when you feel you've done all you can and are still having symptoms? What do you do to help yourself get through the difficult periods?
It's ok to have some symptoms, esp. when you are out of your home, with lots of disruption. You will be ok, even if you have some rough patches; remind yourself of that. Have an action plan; if you feel X, you'll take emergency meds/ take a nap/ go for a walk.

3. Is it possible to be damaged (I hesitate to say "traumatized") by a particularly bad psychiatric episode?
It's possible to have some PTSD, or to have a crippling fear of another episode. Remind yourself that you survived and have developed new coping skills. Again, the action plan can help.

and, go with a hopeful attitude, and be prepared to have a good time. Be kind to yourself. Be good to yourself. Take care of yourself.
posted by theora55 at 9:33 PM on December 17, 2012

If you take medication, then check that you have enough supplies of it to last you for the whole holiday. The last thing you need is to run out of pills on the morning of a big family gathering, and all the pharmacies are shut for the holidays and then you're forced to cope with feeling physically shitty from withdrawal symptoms at the same time as experiencing psychological symptoms from the stress of the holiday and family events, all at once.
posted by talitha_kumi at 12:28 AM on December 18, 2012

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