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?