Holidays are hard AF.
And that is okay. It isn’t our fault. It isn’t something that we need to be filled with shame about.
There are a lot of people who really enjoy all of the holidays this time of year. Canadian Thanksgiving. American Thanks-taking. Hanukkah. Christmas. Kwanzaa. New Year’s. There are also people who really enjoy the cold temperatures, darker days, snow, and/or rain depending on where you live. There are even people that really enjoy spending extra time with their families during the holidays. I’m here to tell you that, at least right now, I am not one of these people. Who knows what the future holds.
Looking back, it seems I’ve always had a complicated relationship with this time of year. When I was a kid, holidays meant hosting dinner at our house, which meant a lot of anxiety about cleaning and getting the house ready for our relatives. If we weren’t hosting, we would go to my rich Aunt and Uncle’s house, which resulted in comparisons between them and my working class family. All of these gatherings meant having to deal with extended family dynamics on top of my immediate family dynamics. That meant conversations about who my grandma liked best and why, who had lost or gained weight, who thought and said what about my body, if someone was going to drink too much, all of this while acting like we were one big happy family. As someone who is highly sensitive and values peace and authenticity, these were stressful times. Being aware of most everyone’s feelings in the room in addition to mine was a lot to manage. I don’t think it was until I was 20 and had niblings, children of my siblings, that I had much fun at family get togethers.
Then there is the season change. Winter has always been harder for me to navigate. Between the cold, darkness, and snow, winters felt never ending growing up in Northeast Ohio. February, the shortest month of the year, somehow felt like the longest. March might have had some hope in it if the snow lightened up, but sometimes we’d still get a flurry in early May. So, you really never knew. Now, I live in the Pacific Northwest where it can start raining and not stop for weeks at a time. I do enjoy the warmer temperatures here, but that comes at a cost. The thick, gray blanket of clouds that usually insulates the city from the cold, keeps us warm but without sunshine. For a few days this blanket feels really cozy and supportive, and when it is a lot of days in a row, it feels suffocating and restrictive. These cold, dark rainy days make me want to hibernate a lot, but our world doesn’t really allow for that. Nor is being depressed embraced or honored in our culture. It is typically treated as something to hide or fix instantly by avoiding white food or going for a run, as if either actually fixes depression.
And then there’s the expectation of spending more time with family during the holidays. This has always been complicated for me, too. I mean, I’m queer, and I refuse to leave my dating life out of these gatherings. I am a whole person. I no longer practice the religion that I was raised with and that my parents and sister still belong to. I moved across the country to pursue a doctorate degree that they didn’t really understand, and I often feel punished for having done so. Oh, and now, I’m fat, more so than when I moved. My eating disorder began when I was 16, and I’m now recovered. Not only did the combination of people and food stress me out, but now that I have no interest in talking about diets or how to take my life back through clean eating and exercise, I feel even more discounted. If all of that weren’t enough, I no longer know how to have long conversations without bringing up anti-oppression or social justice oriented topics. My politics are pretty different than my family’s. I am about 95% positive my father voted for 45, and I still don’t know if I have it in me to talk to him about it. I say this with regret. It’s been over a year now since the US presidential election. And honestly, I’d rather not talk to him than ask if he did in fact vote for him and how on earth he could he vote for someone who brags about sexually assaulting women. I even forgot to call him on his birthday this year, for possibly the first time ever. I left him a belated birthday message on his cell phone. He hasn’t responded. I don’t expect him to.
So, what’s my point? My point is that holidays are hard as fuck for some of us. And that is okay. It isn’t our fault. It isn’t something that we need to be filled with shame about. It isn’t something that we can fix in ourselves nor that we need to. You can google and find many articles that list how to get through the Holidays. They’re nice, neat lists. I’m sure these lists have been helpful for me in the past. But right now, they just feel so cliché. What I want you to know is that you’re not alone. You are not the only one feeling the heaviness of the winter and the holidays. What gets me through now is allowing myself the permission to introvert at home with books, Netflix, sleep, or podcasts, and to extrovert with close friends or chosen family as needed. Connection really is a magical thing. It doesn’t erase the hurt, pain, or grieving that comes with having a disconnected family. But I think connection is key to surviving (and thriving through) the cold and darkness of winter.
My hope is that you’re able to practice going easy on yourself as we navigate the next few weeks of holidays and months of winter. Recognizing when I need to hibernate versus when I need to grab lunch with a close friend took time to decipher. Giving myself permission to not be brimming with holiday cheer took time. Allowing myself to not buy gifts for every single person I love took time. Understanding that it is better to visit my family when there isn’t the added stress of the holiday took time. Sometimes these things are easy to recognize, and other times, I don’t see what is happening until I’m extremely distressed. I’ve learned all of this over time, and have to remind myself of all of these things. Here’s to learning how to trust what works best for us this time of year.
Resources for Connection
I really love what Emily McDowell has created on her website! Check out this Kept Going Ribbon Pin (see photo) and this Conquering Depression Card. They are really great at normalizing our situation, and rewarding ourselves during stressful times!
On the chance that someone reading this needs someone to talk to, but doesn't have a person they trust - I am including many different avenues to access someone in a crisis. Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Sexual Assault, En Español, Veterans, Trans, People of Color, and International phone numbers, websites, and app below! Click highlighted text for website links.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 24/7 availability. 1-800-273-8255
- En Espanol: 1-888-628-9454
- For Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 800-799-4889
- Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE (4673)
- National Organization for People of Color Against Suicide
- Trans Lifeline: US: 1-(877)-565-8860
- CANADA: 1-(877)-330-6366
- Crisis Text Line: Text 741741 from anywhere in the USA to text with a trained Crisis Counselor.
- Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 or Text 838255.
- They also provide help to loved ones of veterans.
- List of International Suicide Hotlines from the International Bipolar Foundation
- List of International Crisis Centers from the International Association for Suicide Prevention
- Suicide Prevention App
- Refuge Recovery
- National Eating Disorder Association Helpline: 1-(800)-931-2237
- For crisis situations, text "NEDA" to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line
- The Click-to-Chat option is another way to speak with a live, trained Helpline volunteer, should you prefer instant messaging the Helpline instead of speaking to a volunteer over the phone.