Untangling Your Holiday Stress with a Little Help from the Griswolds

December 10, 2018

Every year, sometime between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, my extended family watches "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation". It’s been a tradition for as long as I can remember. My parents, my brothers and their wives, my two grown children, my husband and I - we all know the lines by heart. In fact, to be truly inducted into our family fold, one must embrace the brilliance and versatility of the line “Save the neck for me, Clark,” as well as whole-heartedly agree that every holiday grace should begin with “I pledge allegiance to the flag…”

But for me, watching this Christmas comedy is about more than honoring a family tradition. It's a critical part of my holiday self-care kit. If you or someone you love lives with a mental health condition, perhaps you can relate. For many, the holidays can be difficult.

For me, the holiday season means one thing: Anxiety. I'm talking about the kind of free-floating anxiety that lurks overhead even while you sleep if you’re lucky enough to do that. It slinks in, thick as fog, right before “Trick or Treat” and doesn’t dissipate until well after “Happy New Year!” 

Perhaps, like mine, your holiday anxiety takes the form of a giant tangle of Christmas lights wound up and spun like a runaway snowball stuffed into a crumpled box in the attic. Each year, just after Thanksgiving, you retrieve the box, grab the ladder, and head for the roof. 

Teetering precariously ten feet above the ground, you reach into the box and try to unsnarl the madness, unravel the mayhem, while still maintaining enough balance not to land smack on your head in your front yard. 

If you’re lucky, eventually, you get most of the lights up and most of the bulbs illuminate, after a lot of trial and error replacing the duds. And if you’re lucky, you climb back down without any Clark Griswold moments involving dangerous staple guns, malfunctioning ladders, or minor zaps of electricity.  

You've managed to untangle the strands and replace any bad bulbs you've found. You're ready to reveal to your loved ones your sparkling display. But somewhere inside, you feel the tangle of nerves and you worry a few bad bulbs may remain, undiscovered. And you fear they may dim the display you've worked so hard to create. So by the time you’ve climbed down off that roof, you're hoping for illumination equal to your efforts, and that nobody discovers the truth. 

But, if you're like me, you're also hoping there's someone around who sees what you need and can help.

Like Clark Griswold out on his lawn trying to give his family a breath-taking spectacle, we are trying to light up, too. And, like Clark, we may be struggling with the cords and the switches and trying to convince those near us to "just wait, it’ll get better." 

We say, "hang on, I think I've got it this time." And we may say that over and over again. Maybe we’re even saying this to ourselves. And just like in the movie, it feels like it takes forever to show them the brightness, to prove that we really can do it.

In the movie, Clark’s complex light display eventually turns on…because, unbeknownst to him, his wife Ellen has flipped on the power from the circuit breaker inside the house. He never knew she did it, but we, the audience, know and we smile, relieved that she's got his back and his hard work has paid off. Ellen Griswold understands and adores her husband's complexities. She supports him. She helps keep him safe and she loves him unconditionally.

This holiday season, I hope you practice self-care that untangles you. I hope you seek out your own sources of inspiration, laughter, and fulfillment. Please stay safe and surround yourself with people who understand your complexities and love you for them.

Your energy, your enthusiasm, your hope, while sometimes a tangled strand of mayhem, can light up the world. Sometimes, though, you may need a little help, so keep your eyes out for your own Ellen Griswold. She's out there.

Oh, and “save the neck for me, Clark.”
Happy Holidays!

Based on the original post "How Christmas Vacation Saves Me Every Year" found at http://www.ibpf.org/blog/be-village

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