Giving Thanks and Letting Go

Apparently you can’t put a candy thermometer in a turkey and then back in the oven… who knew?!?!

When I was growing up, I remember seeing all my friend’s parents preparing for the holidays.  There would always be family coming in town and that meant lots of food to prepare, sometimes days in advance.  I watched the mothers in the kitchen and around the house, getting everything ready for their guests and I was always filled with a sense of sadness that no family would be joining us for the holiday season.  I grew up as an only child with a half-brother and half-sister growing up on the opposite side of the country where the rest of our family was located.  The result was usually a lonely holiday season magnified by what I saw all around me – other families coming together to celebrate.  I vowed that when I grew up, I’d have a big family and cook and get things ready just as the mothers I saw as a child.

Fast forward a few decades and here I am with my big family – 4 rambunctious boys, a husband, and usually another relative or two coming into town.  Sticking true to my promise, I’d start preparing weeks in advance.  I’d buy food, prep, cook what I could beforehand, and map out what needed to go into the oven and get made the day of.  Every year I’d make it through but instead of loving the holidays, I began to dread them.  My stress level and anxiety would go sky high and when it was all said and done, I’d breathe a huge sigh of relief and thank the stars that the holidays only came once a year. 

I was not the glowing example of what I had seen in my childhood.  I was irritable, high strung, and well… let’s face it… miserable.  But every year I kept at it, hoping it would get better and I would find that inner peace and joy for the season.  Spoiler alert – it never came.

So this year I decided to do things differently and take what I have come to learn, and ultimately accept about myself, to heart.  For starters, I don’t handle stress well.  Extreme stress will usually trigger an episode.  So rather than fight this truth about how I am wired, I decided to work with it and do what I could to reduce the amount of stress I put myself under this year.  This meant letting go of one of my biggest dreams – cooking dinner for the family.  It sounds simple but for me this was a major loss and humbling experience.  I wasn’t going to be that glowing woman who got fulfillment from cooking.  I decided to order out from one of the local markets and got an entire meal (including breakfast!) for Thanksgiving.  The day before, my dad and I went to pick it up and I was already seeing the benefits.  I wasn’t panicked.  I wasn’t irritable and upset.  I simply felt prepared and ready for the next day.  Imagine that!

Thanksgiving turned out to be enjoyable, relaxing, and fun.  I had more time to spend with my family, a delicious meal, and the sense of failure I thought would come for not cooking up a storm all day never came.  The next day I didn’t feel a huge wave of relief that it was over nor did I deal with the dreaded exhaustion that always followed.  I was simply at peace for getting to enjoy Thanksgiving rather than survive it.

So I guess the moral of my story is this: Don’t be afraid to let go and redefine what you consider to be success.  Yes, it was a little bittersweet to let go of some of my dreams, but if I had continued to rigidly hold on to them, I’d only have gained another miserable holiday for the books.  Mental illness, and life in general, come with certain limitations – this is a truth.  And as often as I feel like I fight being bipolar, I am continually learning to make small adjustments in my life to help myself lead a more balanced life.  The result is gratitude in, frustration out!  And isn’t that what Thanksgiving is all about?

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