All I Want For Christmas Is Hope

All I Want For Christmas Is Hope

As I sat in church this past Sunday, I was reminded that this time of year is supposed to be about hope.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the Nativity Story, the story of Jesus’ birth, is one about hope. Namely, that God came down in the form of a baby to save the world. What’s even more important to know, however, is that this is said to have happened in quite possibly the most awkward, unexpected, and improbably way possible: a virgin birth. This was beyond counter-cultural (and actually dangerous) in the culture at the time – both Joseph and Mary had some seriously difficult decisions to make and actions to take if this was to come to fruition without either of them losing their communities or quite possibly, their lives.

This got me thinking about mental health (yes, my brain goes there more often than not). It got me thinking about how I don’t often get excited about this time of year and wondering why that is. I think this year it simply crept up on me without notice and here I am, apparently in the Christmas season, and I haven’t even had time to think about it. I’ve written some of my thoughts previously, which you can find here. In short, I don’t get particularly excited about the holidays, presents, or otherwise. Some of it stress-induced, some of it is I’m not a particularly excitable person for these sorts of things, and some of it being I’m already thinking about January and it’s barely even December.

 

 

I’m Tired of Things That Don’t Last

 

I think part of my reticence around Christmas is that it seems to have turned into simply a gift-giving season where we give gifts that disappear shortly thereafter. Now, I actually really like giving gifts. When I have time, I tend to get creative and go all-out. I’ve never been one to get particularly excited about getting stuff. This goes for pretty much any gift, but especially the stuff we all give and get that lasts for a bit and ends up in the closet, only to be thrown out the next time we need to move.

Now, I should add to this, I always appreciate the gifts people give me. I appreciate the time that went into them, I appreciate how they taste (most people know I love chocolate and act accordingly), and most of all, I appreciate the time I spend enjoying them with others. For me, the real enjoyment comes with spending time with the people who gave me the gifts. This is what hits home, and this is what I remember.

 

 

All I Want For Christmas Is Hope

 

I haven’t been asked yet, but invariably I’ll get asked soon by people what it is that I want for Christmas. I honestly cannot think of a single thing I want for Christmas. For better or worse, I have every tangible thing I need – I’m very fortunate that way. This takes the discussion from needs to wants. That list is challenging because it’s very small, and generally, very expensive (i.e. I want to renovate my kitchen, there’s a laptop that could use replacing, etc.), and I would never ask for that for Christmas. And even in those areas, I’m fortunate in that I can usually find ways to get what is wanted, or I simply wait until it’s possible.

But there is one thing I both need and want. It doesn’t need to cost money, and it’s in plentiful supply if we’re all willing to give it.

“This Christmas, I need Hope.”

As I sat there in church thinking about anything but the sermon, tears came to my eyes as I realized what it was that I needed. Hope. It seems so simple, yet so difficult. One of the challenges of being a Registered Clinical Counsellor and running a growing mental health team is I am faced daily with the pain, heartache, and trauma that people experience within our community, and in our world at large. This takes a toll.

Before any of the people reading this who know me freak out, this is not a cry for help or a sign of burnout. I’m fine. I’m simply very aware of the degree to which people are hurting and are in need of hope.

This is simultaneously one of the things I absolutely love about my job, and about what we do at Alongside You – that is, we bring people hope, and often in times where they can’t see any hope for themselves.

 

 

Bringing Hope Can Mean Some Difficult Decisions

 

Part of what struck me about the Christmas story and the decisions and actions that Mary and Joseph had to make was how similar they were to some of the decisions we have to make when we’re recovering from mental health. It’s not an easy road, that’s for sure.

 

Relationships

This can be a hard one! Relationships are front and centre in any battle with mental health. Whether it’s depression, anxiety, PTSD, trauma, addiction, or otherwise, relationships are front and centre. Sometimes the difficult decision may be to tell a loved one about our struggles. Sometimes it may be to tell a close relationship that what they are doing is hurting us. Sometimes it may be that we need to end a relationship in order to pursue healing and recovery.

Sometimes, like Mary, it may mean telling someone something so personal, and even unbelievable, while simultaneously being scared that it will end the relationship and have significant negative effects on our lives.

On the flip side, sometimes, like Joseph, we’re the one being told something incredibly difficult to imagine or manage. What if our loved one tells us something so difficult that we have a hard time processing it? Staying present with it? Staying in a relationship with them, knowing this new information?

It’s difficult all around. The choices we sometimes have to make in mental health can be full of anguish, and even despair.

 

Consequences

There are plenty of potential consequences to the situation Joseph and Mary found themselves in. What about us? I know in my own journey with mental health, there have been many times where my battles have had very significant negative consequences on me and also those around me.

We don’t always make wise decisions when we struggle with anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, addiction, or other areas of mental health. In fact, more often than not, we can’t make wise decisions. It’s not that we don’t want to, it’s actually that we can’t. When we’re in fight or flight mode, our limbic system is in control and our cortex has flipped its lid. Other times, we’re simply human and we make bad decisions just like everyone else; it just means that sometimes the consequences are more dire or significant.

 

 

This Holiday Season, Focus On Experiences

 

I want to be excited about Christmas, I really do. I’m sure that once I’m off work (in theory) after December 20th, I’ll maybe start getting excited. My goal, however, is to get excited before then. I’ve decided I’m going to focus on experiences in my gift-giving this year, in the hopes that my gifts will last beyond the season, and selfishly, in the hopes that it gets me a little more excited even before I take some time off.

Why experiences you might ask? Well, because they don’t go to the landfill, for one. But the main reason is this:

Connection is what gives us Hope when we need it most.

As I sat with a client today, I reminisced a little bit about this, and it reminded me of one thing: In my entire history of working with clients, particularly with addiction, I can’t think of a single case where the connection wasn’t the solution. It doesn’t mean that medications, therapy, exercise, nutrition, and all of these other pieces aren’t important, because they are; what it does mean is that without connection, we don’t have hope. Without hope, we lose the point and the motivation for the other pieces.

Without connection, nothing else matters and nothing else works.

I truly believe this. Without connection, I don’t care if you have the best therapist, the best doctors, the best meds, the best exercise plan, or otherwise, it will not work.

Do you know why? Because without connection, the therapy won’t work, the doctors won’t work, the medicine won’t work, and it will all be for naught. The research shows us this fact.

 

 

What To Get Andrew For Christmas

 

So, this is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but I’m also serious. All I want for Christmas is hope. This is what I get excited about – people. People and hope are what drives me every day. It’s literally all I can think about in terms of what I want for Christmas.

I want people to have hope.

This is why all of my Christmas gifts are going to be experiential in some way. Not stuff. Things that will help people experience themselves, and the world in a more positive way.

So, if you want to get me something for Christmas, give someone an experience, a chance to connect with you in some way. And while what I’m about to say may sound like hyperbole, it really isn’t – you can change someone’s life simply by giving them this type of a gift. It may not categorically change their life at the moment, but maybe, just maybe they’ll believe that you care about them, that they are worth it, that they have meaning.

If you really want to get me something for Christmas, come to our conference in January called Let’s Talk Hope. This is a chance for all of us to get together and find hope for mental health in our community – through connection. If you’re stuck for a present for someone you care about, bring them too.

This isn’t me schilling another conference for the sake of a conference or selling tickets. Between you and me and the rest of the internet, we aren’t running this for profit. In fact, if we cover our costs we’ll be happy. Anything over and above our costs goes straight back into helping people with mental health struggles.

I’m asking you for this for Christmas because I truly believe it could be the start of something that changes the face of mental health in our community. Not in and of itself, not as a one-stop solution, but as a start to something that points towards hope.

If you are alive and are human, we need your voice in the discussion of mental health. It doesn’t matter if you’re a professional, someone who suffers from mental illness, a parent, or otherwise. Your voice matters.

If we sell this thing out, and we come together as a community to bring hope to Delta in the face of some of the most challenging times we’ve ever had, it will be worth it.

If only one person leaves and feels more worthwhile and valued, and loved, it will be worth it.

And I guarantee it will be the best $15-30 you will ever spend.

I believe in this so strongly that if being able to afford the cost of the ticket is keeping you from coming, please contact me directly. I will personally cover the cost of you coming to the conference because I believe it will be more than worth it, and I believe you are worth it. No questions asked.

“If I spend all my Christmas money on giving you hope, it will be the best Christmas ever.”

 

 

Christmas Is About Connection

 

As this is my one and only blog post about the holidays this year, I want to wish you and your loved ones a Merry Christmas, and happy holidays as you enter this special time of year. It is full of surprises, stresses, and joys. It is my hope that it will be full of connection for you.

The connection is what brings us together, reminds us that we are worth it, and reminds us that there is hope in all things and in all situations.

No matter what this season brings for you, know that we believe in you and your value, and I look forward to seeing you in 2020.

3 Reasons Why Valentine’s Day Doesn’t Suck

3 Reasons Why Valentine’s Day Doesn’t Suck

I’ll admit it right off of the bat – I’m a hopeless romantic; always have been, always will be. Little known fact about me is that while Meg and I were dating, I was voted Most Romantic Man in Vancouver by my friend who owned the local flower shop. But that’s a story for another day. Needless to say, I am indeed a fan of love. I suppose that’s why I became a marriage and family therapist – if we’re destined for love, I wanted to have a positive impact on the type of love we have.

Here’s the problem – Valentine’s Day kind of sucks. Or at least, that’s often the impression we’re left with. You’ve probably heard it all by now, “It’s too commercialized…it’s a scam by the retail industry…they just wants our money…I hate pink…,” and so on and so forth. Well, here’s the thing, the people saying these things aren’t totally wrong. Valentine’s Day is very commercialized, retail outlets do scheme to make money on the holiday, and they do want your money, and some people really do hate pink. I’ll even admit that as a self-proclaimed hopeless romantic, I sometimes get tired of the hoopla around a single day, and the fact that I’m often behind the 8-ball and running around last minute trying to figure out what to do.

So, I reflected on Valentine’s Day this year while I was making some of the preparations, asking myself what it is that I find important about Valentine’s Day, and why I make the effort. Here are the three reasons I came up with this year:

 

  • Relationships are important, and it’s okay that we celebrate this. Furthermore, it’s so easy to overlook relationships when we get busy and the advantage of having Valentine’s Day is that it forces us to remember the importance of our relationships, and particularly our romantic ones.

 

  • Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about romantic love. Every year, we give our kids Valentine’s Day cards and gifts, but I wanted to do something slightly different this year. I am fortunate to have an incredible wife and two amazing daughters. This year, I gave them each a journal and inside, I wrote a message to each of them about something specific that I believed about, hoped for, and appreciated in them and that my hope was that the journal would be a place where they could reflect on these things in the coming year. I wanted to make sure that each of them knew how special they were, and uniquely so. This is something we can do for anyone special in our lives – a repurposing of the original intent perhaps?

 

  • Being reminded of love reminds us of the importance of connection. Attachment and connection are two of the most important things in life, and a reminder to us that we are indeed relational beings who thrive on relationships with others. Also, by loving others, we remind ourselves that we, too, are worthy of love. If we are enamoured with someone we think is incredible and know that they choose to be with us, then either we must also be special, or they must be delusional for spending time with us. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure the former is more likely and true. Sometimes we need this reminder in life, especially if we are struggling.

 

Now, for some of you, Valentine’s Day is a painful reminder of the romantic relationship you don’t have that you long for. I can only imagine what that’s like. What I do know, is that you are worthy of love, romantic or otherwise. My hope is that while your Valentine’s Day may not have been about romance this year, perhaps there was a reminder of how someone in your life values you.

To take a slightly different spin, some self-compassion can go a long way. I’m going to suggest an exercise here, both for those in romantic relationships and those who aren’t, and it may sound a little weird. I’m going to suggest writing yourself a love letter. Yes, I said write a love letter to yourself. Why? Because self-compassion is simply taking the compassionate stance we find so easy to give to others, and turning around and giving it to ourselves. Most of us are our own worst critics – it’s so easy to see, and pounce on our own faults. We’d never say half the things to someone else that we say to ourselves.

To flip it around, I find it so easy to write a letter to my wife or my kids. I can immediately think of so many things I think are incredible and unique about them, and my hopes and dreams for them. I find it much harder to do this for myself, but it’s an important exercise because it affirms our own worth, our uniqueness, and our status as worthy and deserving of love and compassion.

I know it may sound weird, but I’m going to challenge you to try it. It may sound like a strange counselling exercise that only a Registered Clinical Counsellor or therapist would suggest, and you may be right – but that doesn’t mean it won’t be helpful. If you do try it, I’d love to hear your experience and how it impacted you. Please feel free to contact me through the website with your feedback, even if you just want to reiterate how much Valentine’s Day sucks. That’s ok, at least we’re connecting. But I would be very surprised if you could do this exercise and not find something helpful in it.

If you’re struggling with your relationship with your significant other, or your relationship with yourself, we’d love to be of help. Please contact us or give us a call, that’s what we’re here for.