“The most wonderful time of the year” isn’t a sentiment ripped from the stomach of a classic Christmas anthem, it’s a stigma. If you don’t adhere to the social standard for festive cheer, society has cute words for that too. “Grinch”, “Scrooge” — popularized icons known for their unsavory approach to Christmas. By the end of their tales, these figures have seen the error of their ways, and realize how they had been so utterly wrong. In hindsight, the Grinch had a social anxiety disorder, Ebenezer Scrooge faced abandonment-based trauma — maybe they, like so many other people were just trying to deal with their issues? As much as we think we love the reform of these characters, maybe we love the fact that they mirror what lives inside of us, a certain somberness around the holidays? A refute to participate. A need to admit hardship.
Our traditions are the bare-bones cornerstones of each year. Regardless of what your family celebrates, the overview of what people expect from these rituals tend to remain consistent. To lay it out: the notion of togetherness, expectations of happiness, a remembrance of the past, prior traditions, how things have changed and how other things have stayed the same. These celebrations can generally feel bittersweet, but the line between stingy nostalgia and sinking depression is a fine one.
What happens when It’s Christmastime, and you don’t feel like yourself? Maybe you’re undergoing inner adversity and every day, and it’s your constant struggle? How would you feel if you couldn’t afford to buy a nice gift like the one your sibling bought you last year? How would you deal with being suddenly single, lonely and feeling lost? What is the protocol to follow if the twinkling lights of your tree illuminate the oversized chair, left vacant by a loved one who is no longer with you?
The secret that really isn’t a secret: people are hurting all around us every day. Mostly in silence. Maybe you are one of those people. If you are, the holidays are hard. It’s not a time for levity, they’re something to get through. A marathon of stress and sadness. You are not alone, you are loved. I wrote this for you.
What I say next is not a professional opinion, I’m not a doctor, but I am a human. Take a moment to breathe – you deserve the space to feel your emotions, even if it makes other people uncomfortable. That does not matter. You matter. Do your best to understand those who reach out to you, those who try to uplift you. Even though their actions may feel mentally jarring, they’re trying to help. Don’t push yourself. Find your limits, know your limits, and stand by them. Try to practice kindness when you can. Be kind to yourself. Be kind to others. Remember that even getting out of bed is a step in itself in the process to feeling ok. Celebrate the small stuff. Did you eat? Did you have a restful sleep? Did you talk to people who love you? Every day is filled with tiny victories, use them to champion yourself through your current situation. It won’t be easy, but the most pivotal life moments never are. There is no secret sauce or magic advice. Baby steps are big steps. Keep breathing.
Most importantly, as you try to navigate the holiday season keep in mind that feeling ‘sad’ or ‘bad’ or ‘imperfect’— those emotions are part of the human experience. There’s nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with people who feel joyous and warm, either. If you happen to fall into the category of “cheerful during the holidays”, enjoy the ride. Look at the loved ones around your table and cherish those moments. Make beloved memories, laugh freely. To those who feel disjointed, take solace in the sentiment that holidays are annual. Maybe the most special holidays aren’t memories, maybe the best are yet to come? Until then, give yourself the gift of blameless healing. It’s free and for the taking, even for a “Grinch”.