The Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season has become a time of year I dread. This year I am having an especially hard time. I literally feel like the Grinch – which is so unlike me! Unfortunately, my mental illnesses have a grip on me this time around that no amount of meditation, yoga, baths, water, or wine has been able to remedy.
With so many commitments, the days fly by. Personally, this makes the time we spend with others feel less authentic and more like we’re just going through the motions in a valiant attempt to make everyone happy. Always watching the clock for the next place we need to be. Small talk. Eat. Small talk. Games. Next event. Repeat. Sound familiar? Not necessarily my style. Certainly not a series of events that is good for my mental health when I’m running on empty.
Some years I have the strength for this routine with a genuine smile on my face and in my heart. But to be candidly honest, this year is not one of them. My Advent Calendar is counting down the days until all of this is OVER, versus a countdown in anticipation of the magic of Christmas. With so many large group interactions on the calendar (my worst nightmare) paired with an already depressed outlook over the next few weeks I can feel my brain joyously preparing to overanalyze and vilify each moment, making me the bad guy in every situation. If this doesn’t happen to you, trust me, it’s the absolute worst and is only amplified by the weight of the holidays.
For me, getting through this period will require taking one day, one event, at a time. Attempting to be kind to myself following interactions that I have major anxiety about and reminding myself to be realistic about them along the way. I’m holding on to the hope that if I continue to come from a place of kindness with no intentional malice (it’s none of my business if someone reads it that way), no matter what I say or do should be OK. I’ll just have to show up as I can and give what I can. Which doesn’t feel like a lot at this point!
I wanted to share my experience with you before the holidays because I hope that it encourages a sense of empathy within you towards those in your life who have a known mental illness or are simply acting a little “off” this holiday season. We all carry a certain level of stress during this season, but for someone with a mental illness, that stress can trigger feelings that send them spiraling into a blinding black hole. <Slowly raises hand.>
Sometimes you can seemingly “have everything to be thankful for,” but when you are dealing with mental illness, gratitude for what you have can be hard to feel and express. Being surrounded by lots of family can be suffocating. Simple interactions can feel too heavy. A lot going on, in general and in the moment, can completely drain someone.
Here are a few things I’d love for you to keep in mind this holiday season as you spend time with family and friends who may have a mental illness:
Although my view of the holidays may be through tainted lenses right now, believe me when I say I do truly hope you all have a wonderful holiday season that fills your heart with happiness and joy!
One of the best things I've done for myself in this stage of my life is sign-up for the Master Gardener course through the Iowa State University Extension & Outreach Office in Black Hawk County.
Plug the word "garden" into the search bar of my blog and you will find that gardening has become a huge passion of mine. It has always been an interest, but until I had the space of our acreage, I didn't have a chance to explore it fully.
I wanted to start the Master Gardener journey now versus later (most members are 50+) because I thought having a formal education about gardening would benefit me tremendously as I continue to expand our little farm. Having "book knowledge" to combine with my practical knowledge and apply to my future experiences will be wonderful.
When signing up, I did not know what I was getting myself into. After taking the required pre-assessment before classes started, I REALLY didn't know what I was getting myself into. Essentially, the pre-assessment taught me that I knew NOTHING about gardening. I was a complete rookie. Which was humbling, motivating me even more to do well in this course.
Our classes were primarily in the classroom, watching educational video presentations by experts from Iowa State University. Sprinkled in were a few live classes ranging from private gardens of Master Gardeners to established greenhouses. Those classes were my favorite because hands-on experiences are the what my brain absorbs best. These trips were also the most inspiring to me, seeing how others were applying their knowledge about gardening in so many different ways.
Our trainings all led up to a hands-on class on the Iowa State University campus. Over 300 Master Gardener trainees from across the state came together to learn and share their knowledge. It was amazing! I got to know the people in the Black Hawk County group better (funny how we never talked in class but when put into a new situation we were inseparable!) which was very nice.
I loved every minute of the on-campus training. The dots started to connect for me when we were able to apply what we learned in a variety of different labs.
My favorite labs were Botany:
And surprisingly, Entomology:
I also really enjoyed Plant Pathology, identifying diseases in plants. I didn't snap a photo of that because we had to circulate through 10 stations really fast!
Overall, the experience was even better than I expected. It was nice to be with like-minded people who daydreamed about their gardens as much as I do.
I passed my post-assessment (WOO-HOO!):
So what this means is that I am now an official Master Gardener Intern. I'll complete 40 hours of volunteering and 10 hours of continuing education in 2019. In January of 2020 I'll officially be a Master Gardener. It will definitely be worth the work and the wait.
I will be honored to hold the title and share what I learn with others. I can already tell this is the beginning of a fulfilling journey! My heart feels full. Like I'm doing something I'm meant to do. And that's nice.
Hit me with your plant questions, I'd love to help you (probably learning a thing or two myself while I'm at it)!