As a mom with OCD, this is how I deal with Christmas overload

Jennifer Sizeland, 37, a journalist, lives with her husband and two-year-old son in Manchester. She used to work in television, but quit after she was born to become a writer. Here, she shares how she controls him OCD at Christmas.

Jennifer Sizeland was diagnosed with OCD in her 30s, which helped her understand why she found Christmas so overwhelming. (with)

The festive season can be triggering, but there are ways you can make it less anxiety-inducing. While enjoying my son is the most important thing, I know that I also need to take care of myself.

“You can’t have children until you’ve solved your mental health problems,” a friend of mine said bluntly a few years ago on a country walk together. I told him about my subsequent diagnosis of OCD, which I had just received at the age of 30. I had no choice but to agree, even though I didn’t feel good about the subtext that I was too “crazy” to have those kids. everyone else was allowed to get.

Fast forward to now and I’m 37 and live in Manchester with my long term partner and our two year old son. So yes, I ended up in a much better place, but like many women who become mothers, her arrival seriously tested my sanity. Now, big events like Christmas and birthdays threaten to overwhelm me more than ever before.

While I’m aware that the phrase “I’m a little OCD” gets thrown around, I’m not sure people understand how truly terrifying it is to be controlled by intrusive thoughts.

When I was 30, Id had similar thoughts to my friend, but the idea that I should put off motherhood until I was “mentally good” made me feel like it would never happen.

At the time, I was working in a high-pressure role as a broadcast assistant in a TV news gallery, making sure the releases ran on schedule. The stress from work was a huge trigger for my anxiety, making my OCD symptoms the worst they’ve ever been.

I had a four-hour commute by public transportation every weekday, and I couldn’t get out of bed on the weekends. The shifts were long, and between being at work and traveling there, I honestly felt trapped in my own life. So in the end I had to admit that my friend was right and I couldn’t bring a child into my world when I was in such a bad place mentally.

Jennifer Sizeland gave up a stressful career in television to become a writer after the birth of her son.  (with)

Jennifer Sizeland gave up a stressful career in television to become a writer after the birth of her son. (with)

Face with OCD

While I’m aware that the phrase “I’m a little OCD” is thrown around happily, I’m not sure how many people understand how truly terrifying it is to be ruled by intrusive thoughts and compulsions. I always say that OCD is a shape-shifter, every time a thought or compulsion loses its hold on you, another one morphs in its place to achieve the same effect.

As a child, I didn’t eat any food that I touched with my fingers. When I was in my twenties I had a severe knife phobia and threw away all my sharp knives because I couldn’t be in the room with them. There have been times when I have not been able to eat a meal if swallowing it meant agreeing to something bad happening.

I have always been open about my mental health issues, even as a teenager when I had depression.

I’ve always been open about my mental health issues, even as a teenager when I had depression and some of my friends thought I was weird for being open about it. One of those friends told me to meditate to get over it, so I’m relieved that the conversation about mental health is much more nuanced and understanding now than it was then.

I’ve known my partner since I lived with him in college, so he’s always supported my struggles and I know it’s been hard for him at times.

After I had my son, it took a few days for the anxiety and OCD to kick in. I panicked because I just didn’t know what my life looked like. I was afraid of him drowning and avoided going into the bathroom with him even when the bath was empty because my fear was so strong.

I was five months pregnant when we moved into the house so I didn’t know the area very well and the overload hit quickly as I suddenly had no time to myself as well as very limited ability to earn money. Needless to say, I wasn’t looking forward to Christmas at all when I felt like it.

Jennifer Sizeland's anxiety and OCD worsened after the birth of her son.  (with)

Jennifer Sizeland’s anxiety and OCD worsened after the birth of her son. (with)

Christmas pressure

In my twenties, I really started to hate Christmas because of the change in routine, traveling, trying to get all my work done, getting a new freelance job for the next year, buying presents with little money and not doing my time. these things were a big anxiety trigger. Family arguments and lack of soothing alone time didn’t help either.

When I was 29 I had a flat tire and it wasn’t replaced properly so the new one went down and then the power went out due to the washing machine leaking. My partner was already down south with his family, so I had to deal with all this alone on Christmas Eve. I was heartbroken and desperate for someone to tell me I didn’t need to party and give me permission to stay home.

One Christmas I had heart palpitations and was desperate for someone to tell me I didn’t need to celebrate and I could stay home.

When I was finally diagnosed with OCD in my 30s, it all started to make sense why I hated this “most wonderful time of the year” so much.

I spent one Christmas away in Sri Lanka and it was such a relief to avoid Christmas stress and admin, because the truth was I didn’t have the time or energy to put into it.

Jennifer Sizeland spent Christmas 2018 in Sri Lanka to escape the stress of the festive season.  (with)

Jennifer Sizeland spent Christmas 2018 in Sri Lanka to escape the stress of the festive season. (with)

We create our own Christmas

We also went away every New Year as it was one of the few breaks away from our relentless work schedules as my partner also worked in TV. However, I knew that when I had my son, everything would change because it would be all about him and not us.

Now I set more boundaries to prevent myself from becoming anxious and overwhelmed.

When we had our first day of Christmas with our four month old baby, we ordered a sushi plate and stayed home, which I highly recommend. We watched a Christmas movie and didn’t have to travel anywhere or worry about cooking, which made life a lot easier.

Now that he’s older, I see the family as I used to, but I set more boundaries to keep myself from becoming anxious and overwhelmed, both of which make my OCD worse. My partner is also for them because he is happy to do anything to make Christmas go more smoothly.

Jennifer Sizeland says one of her happiest Christmases was when she and her partner stayed home and ordered sushi with their son.  (with)

Jennifer Sizeland says one of her happiest Christmases was when she and her partner stayed home and ordered sushi with their son. (with)

Have a peaceful Christmas

Of course, feelings of anxiety or stress are not related to OCD, as Christmas can be an overwhelming time for many parents. So these are the changes I’ve made to my party preparations and the day itself to better manage or prevent feelings of overwhelm:

  • I give myself permission to be alone for an hour after my son goes to bed so I don’t have to feel obligated to “perform for the family” because I find that too exhausting.

  • I keep my son’s routines as similar as possible, building the holiday momentum but not letting the inertia of Christmas creep in as people start to get bored and frustrated.

  • I plan and wrap my gifts in advance because it’s easier to budget for and allows me to choose them from a list.

  • My friends and I have little “Christmas parties” where we spend a few hours doing something silly or fun, like an escape room, before returning home for our family duties.

  • I’m only asking for affordable gifts because I can’t afford to buy anyone expensive gifts and the holiday season is a time of financial stress for me as a freelancer. It is also important not to assume that people want a lot of presents at Christmas, especially children, as they can sometimes be overwhelmed by all the presents they receive.

  • If I give myself enough time, I can involve my son in cooking or cleaning, such as making stuffing or loading the dishwasher.

  • I make a packing list of everything I need to take with me when I travel to avoid stress when I forget something my son needs.

  • I’m going to do things on my own like take a 30 minute walk so I can enjoy some time without responsibility.

  • I do ‘tag team parenting’ with my partner so one of us can do the cooking, packing or housework while the other takes care of the baby.

  • I forgive myself if I feel anxious or anxious. It’s impossible to control every emotion and you can’t plan everything in advance, so I accept it if I do instead of judging myself.

Jennifer Sizeland gives herself pockets

Jennifer Sizeland allows herself pockets of “me time” at Christmas, such as short walks alone. (with)

Accepting imperfection

The way I approach Christmas now is that the changes I make mostly affect me, so I think the family will generally be happy as long as they get to see my son. The advantage of being a parent is that during the party the focus is on the child, not on you!

Although it’s not easy being a parent with a mental illness, it’s still very possible to make lasting Christmas memories for your children without having to suffer unnecessarily for the rest of the year. Motherhood can be painful with OCD, but I feel like her parenting gets better when I accept the imperfection, vulnerability, and unprocessed emotions it reveals in me, that it’s an opportunity to let go and I do my best to seize it.

#mom #OCD #deal #Christmas #overload
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