Tag Archives: holiday stress

Adding Stress to the Holidays

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops her new construction project, her way of dealing with depression and grief during the holiday season.“Are you sure you won’t mind if your kitchen is a construction zone over Christmas and New Years?” the carpenter asked me, as he ripped at a rotting water-damaged wall in my house. The job had grown to include the demolition and replacement of my cracked concrete countertops. A huge project. My preferred method for dealing with holidays, grief, depression, and major problems seems to be to get totally distracted with something else.

“Oh, it’ll be fine. It’s just me and the dog,” I replied, grateful the carpenter was available, and not yet considering holidays without a kitchen.
“But you won’t have a sink or stove. Your kitchen’s gonna be wrapped in plastic to contain the dust and mess,” he said.
“Well, I’ll still have the fridge and microwave. And a toaster-oven. I can use paper plates. It’ll be a good excuse not to cook. I might even lose a couple of pounds,” I merrily told him.

“What about all your holiday parties?” he asked, and I shrugged, shaking my head pathetically. No parties. However, with people working in the house, I would certainly not be lonely.
“Oh, next week, my Un-Holiday meal for the bereaved parents group,” I said, remembering the event I’d scheduled months ago. Having no kitchen that evening would present a challenge.
“Think about it,” he said. But I didn’t want to think. I just wanted to obliterate the holidays.

In seconds, the Un-Holiday meal idea morphed into plans for a picnic dinner in my living room. And suddenly, I could visualize my Christmas and New Years. I’d have feasts of Chinese take-outs. By candlelight. In front of the TV.

The carpenter drill-blasted the concrete all day Friday. When he left for the weekend, I gulped as I surveyed all the plastic surrounding the heart of my house where I write, cook, eat, play my horn, and watch the digital frame flash photos that light up the memories of my father and daughter.

Sometime, on the other side of Christmas and the New Year, my kitchen will be recovered, fresh and beautiful. But for now, I’m stuck with this big ugly plastic tent in the middle of my house, dust and debris flying around inside. I’m wondering how I can possibly create a happy situation around this. All I can think now is, Oh My Gosh. What have I done!?!

The only bowl that wasn’t packed away for during construction was the dog’s dish. So this morning I ate my granola out of a wineglass. I am going to survive this. It just may entail a constant mustering of creativity.

 

What was the worst holiday you ever had? If you had to abandon your kitchen for the holidays and could only keep a few items, what would be the most important?

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How to Handle Holiday Stress

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, photoshops a cumulonimbus cloud of holiday stress, grief, sadness, and fear to illustrate how to handle holiday depression.
This is supposed to be a time of joy. Miracles. Magic. But for some of us the holidays are like dark cumulonimbus clouds gusting with severe turbulence, powerful updrafts and downdrafts, lightning, thunder, and large flying lumps of hail. It’s a season of stress. Sadness. And maybe even fear. It feels like something big is going to happen.

It’s not like anything has to happen at all. If you don’t want to face the festivities you can treat yourself like you have a cold: acknowledge your pain and pamper it. Curl up in a cozy blanket with a good book or a movie. Take a long nap. Have tea and cinnamon toast. If you tell people you have a cold they gratefully accept your regrets for not showing up and sharing. And those who love you might understand if you tell them the truth: holidays hurt and you just don’t want to do them this year.

No one needs to do the regular holiday routine, the shopping, decorating, baking, gifting, … partying. On these shortest, darkest, coldest days and longest nights of the year, go easy on yourself. Give yourself permission to opt out of the whirlwind of activity. Find what brings you comfort. What will give you peace, or some small private joy?

Have a Blue Christmas. Buy a box of chocolates just for you. Light all the Chanukah candles at once and plant them in the snow. Write a letter to someone you miss. Get out to see the stars, a sunrise or sunset. Sit with a ninety-five-year old. Watch a sleeping newborn. Give a dog a belly-rub. Take a walk in the dark with a friend and flashlights. Clean out the household catch-all drawer. Help serve food at a local soup kitchen. Or stay in bed with a hot water bottle. Celebrate whatever and whenever you get inspired.

So let the holidays begin. And when they get to be too much, do them Your Way.

 

What would you do on your ideal holiday?

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Coping with Halloween

Robin Botie of Ithaca, New York, Photoshops her daughter's face painted as a cat, into the mouth of a carved pumpkin.“Mom, I wanna be a cat,” my daughter said, the year we saw the musical, Cats, on Broadway. Marika loved dressing up. Halloween was her favorite holiday, and every year I’d sew gowns and paint her face. She’d sit stock-still-serious with only her eyes roving, occasionally meeting my own eyes as I painted whiskers or pink clouds of rouge across her pristine porcelain cheeks. There were only a couple of years out of twenty that I did not transform her into a fairy princess, a garbage-monster, a witch, a genie…. After she died, it took a long time before I was able to apply makeup or wear a costume myself.
Saturday, friends invited me to carve pumpkins. The same friends had had my family over for holidays since our children were little. But four years out from the death of my daughter, my heart still sputtered when confronted with holiday traditions.
“Do you remember if we carved pumpkins when you were a kid?” I asked my son, hoping to extend the invitation.
“Mom, I’m sure we carved pumpkins,” he said, and buried himself under his blanket, uninterested. Alone, I joined my friends and two of their grown children, aware that I had only vague memories of drawing faces on pumpkins.

The old familiar kitchen table was covered with pumpkins, bowls for the seeds and scrapings, and tools for cutting and scooping. After drawing on the bumpy orange surface with Sharpie markers, I picked up a tiny serrated pumpkin-carving knife.
“How cute,” I said, turning it over in my hand. That’s when I realized I had no idea what to do next. Someone else had always taken over for me at that point. Squeamish around knives, I’d always let a husband, or a friend, or a friend’s husband do the carving. But now, my friends were busy with their own projects. With quivering hands, I made a hesitant stab and started to saw. Before long I surprised myself, gouging and sawing the pumpkin’s flesh with vigor.

I carved my own pumpkin.

I am free, I thought. I’m strong. I can do this. No one would need to carve for me ever again. Maybe I could even carve a Thanksgiving turkey.

Last year I wore a costume. This year I carved a pumpkin. Who knows what I’ll be able to do next! But I’m pretty sure I’ll never, ever be able to paint on a child’s face again.

 

Cheers to my friend’s son Andrew whose cat-pumpkin was much friendlier than my own. What stresses you about Halloween? How have you surprised yourself lately?

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