Decking the Halls for Mental Health

As LGBTQ people, we usually end up picking our own family as we move through our lives. I have said it before, that was the single best lesson I was taught by my first boyfriend and I still carry it with me today. Each of us come from places where we may not have the best family life, in the beginning, be we can change it. However, this time of year can still cause trauma. Many of us go back to our families during the holidays and have to endure a toxic environment, we may have to hide who we are, not talk about certain aspects of our lives, or just spend time with people who judge us for being our true authentic selves. So, with the holidays coming, it’s important to take a look at that.

woman holding her head
Photo by David Garrison on Pexels.com

Holidays are emotional and stressful for people in general, but studies show that it can impact LGBTQ people more than non-LGBTQ people. Stress, anxiety, and depression magnify this time of year due non-supportive families. It can be a time in which we are reminded of how we were when we lived with our birth families, a time when we weren’t happy and filled with doubt. Families that are overtly anti-lgbtq make those struggles even more problematic. Family is so entangled in the holidays, that even if you choose not to go home, you are left thinking about it. Movies that show happy families, commercials that give this Norman Rockwell-esque ideal of what the holidays should be like, and the constant barrage of music and commercialism doesn’t let us escape. It leaves us  with this inescapable feeling of rejection, if we are alone, these feelings often times magnify.

In 2015, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) completed a survey that showed 15% of LGBTQ adults had an alcohol or drug problem. In 2016, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention performed a study that found LGBTQ youth are five time more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. The numbers only grow from here and add in the stressors of the holidays, they become larger issues for us to face. We often feel like we have nowhere to turn, that is where our self-made families need to become larger foci for us. We have to learn that we should not be able to ask for help and our community needs to foster unconditional love and support for one another. There are things that you can do, both personally and in groups situations, to help you get through the season with a little less stress.

adult alone anxious black and white
Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Ask yourself what you truly want to get out of the holidays. It becomes a way for you to create your own expectations of what you will accept or, better yet, what you will not accept. Asking yourself something like “what do you need to do or not to do, in order to feel good about myself once the holiday season is behind me?” This can help you prepare a little more for what is to come and now how/when to draw your boundaries. Dr Logan Jones talks about “the Bill of Rights as an LGBTQ Person” reminds us with this “I have the right to be me, I have the right to be treated with dignity and respect, I have the right to distance myself from people and places that feel toxic.” This goes for relatives as well, no one has to keep toxic people in their lives, if they feel that they are a threat.

Remember that microaggressions can be triggers and sting more through the holiday, than normal. Microaggressions are defined as verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.so what does that mean, exactly. Let’s say you are at your family for the holidays and you are talking about things you have done with your friends, they respond with “That’s fine, I just don’t want to hear about it.” Or “why aren’t you married yet?” Or even having your relatives introduce you as their gay relative. All of these are microaggressions. Don’t let these events that make you uncomfortable to go without a mention. No one has the right to make you feel uncomfortable, even family.

man and woman wearing brown leather jackets
Photo by Vera Arsic on Pexels.com

Take a break from the madness. If you are at a family event and its getting stressful, take a break. Extricate yourself from the situation and have a moment of “me time.” Find a quiet corner to have a seat and take a few deep breathes and try to calm and focus your mind. If you cant manage it in the house, maybe take a walk. Getting away from it combined with the exercise will get blood flowing and raise your energy, but it will also help in release endorphins to your neurotransmitters.

Use your social family as an alternative. If you absolutely do not want to go home or need a break from the drama that ensued from a family visit, reach out to your friends. Plan a holiday party that is to your own designs, to make up for the feels you didn’t get from your family. This will counteract the negativity, for a time, that the holidays always brings. You will be able to hang out and socialize with people who actually know and love the real you.

gayxmas

Remember to take breaks from the holidays. Look around you and the holidays are rammed down out throats 24/7. Commercials, movies, stores, decorations, bell ringers, people, and all are in overload this time of year. You an unplug from it all, even for just a few hours. This will give you time to reset. You don’t need to binge holiday festiveness 24 hours a day, it can be overwhelming. Turn off the holiday movies, listen or watch something non-holiday. Take some time to read to disconnect, go for a walk or donate some time to a good cause. All are things that can help take you out of the moment.

If it all becomes too much, remember you are not along and have avenues that you can pursue. Talk to a counselor, they will listen to you objectively and help work through the issues of the season. There is phone support lines that are staffed more for the holiday season so you can talk to someone in a more anonymous situation. Just remember that it is okay to reach out for help when things become too much. There is no reason to go it alone, especially when there is help out there.

The holidays are rough, but just remember to take it all in stride. If your family or an event gives you a lot of anxiety when contemplating it, don’t do it. You are accountable for your own health and well-being. You do not need to be part of a toxic situation where it can grind you down. If you or someone you know is struggling through this holiday season, remember there are lifelines in place for you. Please do not hesitate to reach out to a Crisis Line for support, if you feel you do not have other options. The Ohio Suicide Hotline can be reached at (216) 251-7722. You can contact the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland (lgbtcleveland.org) and they can guide you to proper resources. Some other resources you can contact are listed below.

If you are looking to be an Ally for LGBTQ people, through the holidays, be sure to sign up for the Plexus and MidTown Tech Hive sponsored event Don We Now Our Gay Apparel: Being an Ally During the Holidays. Click the link to sign up, its Free and will be held at the MidTown Tech Hive at 6815 Euclid Ave Cleveland, OH 44103

Want to party with the LGBTQ Community, why not check out the Plexus Holiday Party 2019. If you are a LGBTQ professional, you can always join Plexus. They are Cleveland’s LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce.

Riley Sober House – If you or someone you know is suffering from a drug related problem, please contact them for assistance.

Suicide Prevention Lifeline – They provide 24 hour confidential assistance for all people

The Trevor Project – The Trevor Project is a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline, they provide safe and confidential serviced for LGBTQ youth

For more options, you can visit my links page.

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