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By Chandrama Anderson

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About this blog: About this blog: I am a LMFT specializing in couples counseling and grief and have lived in Silicon Valley since 1969. I'm the president of Connect2 Marriage Counseling. I worked in high-tech at Apple, Stanford University, and in ...  (More)

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Appreciating Holiday Letters/Emails that Include Challenges

Uploaded: Dec 24, 2022
I received two holiday emails this year that surprised and pleased me. The couples/families that sent them both included challenges that they’ve faced this year. I found them to be refreshing, and honestly heartening.

Generally holiday letters are much like social media: share all the good and positive things, and ignore the rest. This practice has actually caused much harm to people’s self-esteem and mental health.

A life is filled with challenges. For everyone. Whether young or old, regardless of ethnicity, gender, and financial status.

Some challenges I’ve faced in 2022 are health-related. Migraines, which have plagued me since 1985, continue to wreak their flavor of havoc in my life. My husband has severe cervical and lumbar issues. Surgery has been suggested. We get through struggles together. We listen, get curious, ask questions, research options, cry now and then, discuss feelings, and comfort one another. We bring each other ice, heating pads, and meds as needed.

I’m going to share a snippet of one couple’s holiday letter, and a lot from the other (I’ve changed names to protect their privacy). My goal is to normalize that we all struggle, and to share ways others have worked through them. Not talking about struggles isolates people, at the times they most need the support of their friends and family. I hope you take time to think about your own struggles this past year, and consider breaking the silence. We’re only human after all.

Here’s the short clip: “We are beyond grateful that our family is thriving. It's a challenging time in our lives as parents, with always too much to do, and not enough time. The house is messy, the weekends and holidays are packed, and it's always tough to find that balance of time with each other as a couple, time for our own mental and physical health, and quality time with our kids.”

I know how much parents struggle to make couple time; to make your marriage your top priority. Doing so creates a roof of secure functioning in which your children grow up. It teaches them to prioritize their couple relationship when they grow up. I know there’s always too much to do, no matter how much you each do. Getting out of the competition -- of parenting, career, etc. will free up a lot of time and mental energy. Good enough, not perfect, is what to shoot for. I’m not suggesting you do things half-assed. I’m suggesting you figure out what will be good enough, and then get on to what’s next. I definitely suggest cutting back on “doing” so you have time to “be” as a person, a couple, as parents. Over-scheduling doesn’t make life better. Don’t be afraid of downtime, quiet, or alone time. That’s when you can rejuvenate, it’s when ideas and solutions have time and space to surface. Experiment. Have fun. Don’t require that everything be structured or efficient. Look at the clouds. Smell fresh air. Get out in nature. Read poetry. Listen to music as a family instead of individually with headphones. Play.

Here’s the second letter:

“Dear friends,

Life was getting back to normal in 2022, another year, similar travel and activities as in previous years. We spent a number of lovely weeks visiting grandchildren and friends around the US, went to art exhibits, museums and concerts. Life has been very good.

And then… Nathan had a “heart event” after a lovely weekend with family. He had tightness in his chest on and off for several days, then took our suitcases out to the rental car, and got extremely out of breath, to the point of nearly having to lie down. He’s okay now. It was a “heart event” according to our doctors, not a “heart attack.” His physical stamina is very low, although his mental energy level is good.

Nathan spent one night in the hospital while they ran tests. His heart function is strong. Nathan is increasing his cardio levels to try to increase his stamina. It seems to be working, as his recovery time from today’s exertion seems to be less than yesterday’s, and he has not felt that tightness in his chest again.

The important story, though, is what we learned about ourselves and how our relationship has grown through this.

Nathan did not tell Suzy about the tightness in his chest over several nights, nor about his exhaustion when moving suitcases into the rental car, until we were sitting in the airport. As we have “unpacked” this, we found there were two issues. First: Should Nathan have gone to the ER? The answer is no, he didn’t have that serious an event, and his recovery time was very quick, only several minutes. Second: Should he have told Suzy earlier? The answer is yes. Suzy has promised not to insist that he go to ER when he tells her next time. Nathan doesn't want Suzy's fears to take over as long as he is capable of making such decisions for himself.

While Nathan was in the hospital, he recognized that hospitals take agency away from their patients. Our take-away here is that agency is crucial, as long as a person is able to be his/her own agent. We are now committed to talking it out when required, so that neither of us takes agency from the other. We also recognize that micromanaging takes agency away from the person being micromanaged!

We have talked about loss, and fear of loss. In the hospital, while various tests were being done, Nathan did not recognize having any fears. It may be more fearful for the support person than it is for the "identified patient" (IP).

In the future when Nathan has a health issue, he will communicate to Suzy. Then Suzy has to recognize her fear of loss and let Nathan maintain his agency. As we discuss this, we make a point of being kind to each other. Otherwise, our different fears and anxieties can be difficult for each other. We are endeavoring to remain loving through our fears.

And a silver lining: Suzy has discovered how much support she has from family and friends, who were concerned not only about Nathan’s health, but also about Suzy’s mental health. Two families invited her for meals while Nathan was in the hospital, several people offered to fly in. Suzy is learning to accept the support graciously. We love our friends and our community. As we are supportive to them, they are also supportive to us.

May you have as much love and support as you need.
May you have a wonderful new year.
And as many new years as you wish.”

Readers, you will figure out how you want to handle agency and health issues. In order to do that, you have to talk about it. And we are a society that is averse to discussing health scares, and especially mortality. We might all hate death and taxes, but none of us are exempt from either.

May you have wonderful, relaxing, healthy holidays.
Democracy.
What is it worth to you?

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