Christmas can be especially difficult for those living with BPD, and for their families who love them.   Rita Brown spoke to us about Planning for Christmas . She shared some great tips for managing the challenges of the festive season. Here are our notes, based on her talk:
It’s probably not realistic for us to continue doing the same thing while expecting a different outcome from our loved ones.  Change what you have done in previous years. For example, start something different, like a different day, time or venue.   Accept what you can change and what you can’t.  Remember you can’t change another person. You can change yourself or as suggested above.   Accept the person you care for will be as they always are, and then if things are better, you can celebrate the changes, no matter how big or small.   Planning is important.  What has worked well in the past? What hasn’t worked well? Don’t keep repeating what hasn’t worked, hoping it will work this time.   Break the event into smaller events if that is more manageable for you all   Invite people who will support your loved one, rather than those who might be critical and those who might ask a myriad of questions such as “what did you do this year?” (you could invite those others at another time)   Think about comments or situations that you anticipate may arise, and plan some responses.  For example, what if a relative thoughtlessly asks “Have you put on more weight?”  
  • The bluff-it response: “Yes! Thanks for noticing – I think I look much better too!”
  • The kind, honest response: “Yes I have, and it’s quite upsetting for me, actually. Can we please talk about something else?”
  • The don’t-engage/escape-fast response: “Sorry Aunt Hilda, you’ll have to excuse me for a minute.” (then just walk away to another room, quickly!)
  • The cheeky-turn-it-around response: “I have actually. Looks like we both had a few too many cakes this year!”
If someone dumps on you, politely excuse yourself and leave   If you need to take a break, excuse yourself – you do not need to give a reason.   Remember that you have struggled and survived through a year of family difficulties   If going out for a meal, perhaps take 2 cars so that one or more of you can leave, if things get difficult   Another strategy is to find an ally, or a child to play with, or a pet to pat.   Prepare a list of safe conversation topics and keep it close eg on a screen saver on your phone   Consider whether to disclose personal information – it’s your choice   Plan activities like charades, board games, outdoor games. Anything to lighten the mood and get some laughter.   Plan to reduce alcohol consumption   Have a signal that your loved one can give if they start to get overwhelmed and need to escape from the room or situation. Have a safe place for them to go, maybe to their room or go for a walk, or play with the dog or cat. Just let them leave. Neither you nor they need to explain why.   Ask your loved one what might help them to manage.  Strike while the Iron is Cold (in other words, discuss this when things are calm, not when they are emotional or dysregulated)  Adopt an easy gentle interested approach, asking curious questions and validating their feelings   Let your loved one make their own choices about managing Christmas.  Accept what they decide. It may not be what you would like or how you expected the day to go – but isn’t the most important thing that the person you care for is not distressed? which then means you are not distressed?  Acceptance, acceptance, acceptance. 
  Rita Brown is the Carer Consultant for Spectrum (the Personality Disorder Service for Victoria)   Before COVID hit us, she travelled throughout Australia talking to both carers and clinicians explaining how BPD affects consumers, how that affects families and other carers, and what we carers can do to make life less stressful for all.  She is the current President of the Australian BPD Foundation (and is a founding member). She is a co-facilitator of the Mind Australia BPD Family and Carer Support group.  Rita is gentle and compassionate with a wealth of practical knowledge about caring for BPD.

Photo by Olya Kobruseva from Pexels

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