It’s that time of year again when retail outlets start counting down the days to Christmas and deck their stores with holiday cheer. For many people, this time of year feels magical. Yet for others, it is a consumer competition to buy the absolute best gift at the lowest price. While both these groups love the holidays in their own way, there is a third group for which the holidays can be a depressing season. Perhaps, a loved passed away and you’re missing them. Being surrounded by people cheerful over being able to spend time with their family can be hard. Sometimes, there is great pressure to pretend to be filled with cheer when you are suffering. But, it’s OK not to love the holidays.
I often get sad when I hear other adults preparing to spend time with their parents. Just flipping on the TV you’ll see the shows with the perfect family get together where people fall in love and everyone comes back to their beloved home for the holidays. The truth is that many people do not have these beloved homes or are not filled with happy people. I know this first hand growing up with an alcoholic abusive father so many of my holiday memories are reminders of great fear and terror. Leaving home at the age of 18 because I wanted to survive and not be murdered in a fit of rage, there was no going home for the holidays.
For years, being surrounded with happy joyful people (unless you were trying to check out at the mall) was actually quite depressing. Until I learned that I don’t have to be happy in the same way as other people. We don’t all need to make gingerbread houses and drink eggnog with our elderly parents to be happy. We get to define how we can make our own holiday happy.
How do we overcome sadness around the holidays?
Reflect on what makes you happy. If you like going to the movies, go to the movies. You don’t have to listen to Christmas carols 24/7 and you don’t have to celebrate in traditional ways. Make your own traditions.
Try to replace bad memories with good ones. Yes, flashbacks hit us without our control. But, try to pull out a few happy memories to redirect to when these flashbacks happen. And it doesn’t have to be holiday related.
Be around others. People often want to be left alone when they feel down. Try to force yourself to be around those close to you.
Tell others how you feel. I know this is easier said than done. It took me almost 20 years to speak up about the horror I experienced as a child. You don’t need to spill out your guts. For example, if someone asks to go to a holiday party which you know you will find depressing, ask to do something else. Or do something with someone else. Spend more time with people who lift you up during this period. And it doesn’t have to be a blood relative.
Learn to say no. After leaving home, there was no going back. I would have to enter that dysfunctional world again and possibly be attacked. With psychopathic people (which I truly believe my father was), there is no predicting the behavior. I wanted to live more than I wanted to risk my life. Did I feel bad being alone sometimes for the holidays? Absolutely, but I did not live in a TV Christmas special house. And I recently learned that my father maintained his violent streak until the day he died; in fact, was arrested for it. So don’t do things you know will make you feel worse.
Decide what you want the holidays to mean to you. For me, it is about God and giving my kids a much better life than I had. We have our own traditions and they know why they don’t ever see their grandparents. And it is happy that way. But, your holidays can be about what you want it to be about.
And for those who find the holidays a jolly time and you like to spread cheer, be aware that some people are really suffering this time of the year. You shouldn’t change what you are doing but just pay attention to signs that someone is not so responsive to your message. It probably has nothing to do with you. There are many ways to bring holiday cheer to others.
Linda Girgis is a family physician who blogs at Dr. Linda.
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