Holidays are stressful. Anyone who tells you that they don't get stressed out around the holidays are lying or they know a secret that they need to share with the rest of us.
Holidays with a first responder are a juggling act. There's the shift work schedule, call-ins, and overtime.
Holidays with a first responder spouse who has PTSD are a stressful juggling act.
Here are my 3 pieces of advice for holiday time when navigating PTSD (based solely on my experience).
1. YOU CANNOT HAVE EXPECTATIONS
Things are going to be different. During our first Christmas after "that day", I had no idea how things were going to go; things were literally decided hour by hour. Plans were made, plans were changed, and plans were cancelled. It was hard.
It was hard not being able to truly understand why a family dinner that we've had hundreds of times before is now such a daunting task. It was hard to try and explain to others why we had to back out at the last minute without giving away more information that needed. And it was hard to feel like I was constantly needed to put on a brave face.
Try to leave as many expectations as you can behind. Going into the holidays with an open mind will result in so much less stress for everyone involved.
2. YOU MUST BE FLEXIBLE
This isn't going to be like past years where you could count on exactly how things were going to go.
Even if it's the exact same plans or traditions you've done for years.
You might think that keeping things the same as years past might bring some comfort, but that won't always be the case.
Our first Christmas, which was only 3 months after "that day", I ended up going to a couple family gatherings alone with the kids. And it was ok. I had to respect what my husband was telling me he needed. I wasn't mad. I wasn't disappointed. The kids were still going to get to make memories and have fun and in the grand scheme of things, they probably won't even really remember that Christmas.
Focus on the small moments, the small joys.
3. BE GENTLE
To yourself and your spouse. You are navigating unchartered waters. You often aren't going to know how either of you will feel about a situation until it presents itself. If you are finding yourself with conflicting feelings, acknowledge them. But try not to act on them until you've had time to understand why you're having them. If your spouse is having a hard time understanding the feelings they're experiencing, give them the space and time to work through them. These times are hard enough; it's harder if you forget that you're on the same team.
Remember, the whole point on the holidays is to focus on what is truly important. If I have been able to find a silver lining to this pandemic that we are currently living it, it's been that it has forced us to slow down, rediscover activities that we love, and sit in the quiet moments.
If you are reading this around the holiday season, I am wishing you nothing but love, grace, and small joys.
Be kind to one another,