I don’t know about you, but I tend to feel a bit depressed around the holidays.
I definitely know that a big part of it is how strongly I associate this time of year with my father’s death.
I’ve got a long history with depression and have learned that I tend to mentally string together all my emotional pain and losses. So losing my father was huge—in many ways, it was a realization of my deepest, darkest fears.
On top of that, his death occurred just before Thanksgiving and his funeral was literally held on Thanksgiving eve.
The pall that hung over that Thanksgiving and Christmas is imprinted pretty deeply in my psyche, and so now most Christmas and winter holiday songs, images, and ideas reverberate into this dark sense of loss.
What my holidays are usually like
Most years, I distract myself by celebrating with others. Al and I tend not to decorate our living space or otherwise aim for “festive” because (1) neither of us has a big drive to and (2) we tend to do our celebrating at others’ homes.
We also have cats who are sometimes a bit destructive, and the idea of putting up more things they may eat (and then vomit up) or destroy just isn’t particularly appealing.
Both Al and I were pretty much in the background in our family’s preparations and just haven’t felt the desire to decorate.
We also don’t really identify as Christian.
Al’s an atheist and if I use a religious identity, it would be pagan/Wiccan. Since many or most Christian traditions are based on pagan beliefs and traditions, I haven’t really wanted to put emotional energy into any of it.
I normally spend December celebrating with friends and family and using those events as emotional touch points to keep my depression in check.
I try to always have something to look forward to—seeing these particular friends in a couple of days, or having dinner with Al’s family, or spending the day with my family.
Why this year is harder than usual
This year, however, any in-person event is fraught with risk (and most of my friends have sensibly decided not to hold gatherings due to Covid-19).
Even if something is happening, it’s not as comfortable or easy to join in as it normally would be.
In last week’s post, I analyzed my options for celebrating Christmas this year.
Al and I are facing a bit of a lose-lose situation, as my family has chosen not to get together this year (a safe and wise choice, but emotionally painful) while Al’s family is celebrating together as usual (which greatly increases all of our risk of catching Covid-19, but is a sense of normalcy during a very stressful time).
Al feels that he’s already taking similar risks by going to work daily, but respects my concerns. I want to go, but have felt that it may be too great a risk.
I’ve worried that Al’s sense of risk is more accurate than mine. I’m feeling some social pressure as Al’s mother is framing it as my not wanting to go as opposed to feeling that it isn’t safe to go.
We have decided to go and do our best to enjoy everything. I know I’ll be that extra bit worried about Covid-19 exposure because we went.
What I am doing this year to protect myself emotionally
I think the most important thing that I’m doing, and that might help anybody else struggling, is to repeatedly remind myself that it’s okay not to be okay.
This year has been exceptionally stressful and emotionally fraught, and I know that I’m among the more fortunate on this front.
I’m worried about getting Covid-19 and worried about the possibility of giving it to others, but so far nobody in Al or my immediate family has caught Covid-19 (at least that we’re aware of) and we haven’t lost anybody close to us to Covid-19.
I know that I tend to feel a bit low and depressed this time of year, and that my usual supports aren’t available—so it’s only natural that I have minimal desire to do stuff, and don’t have a lot of energy or enthusiasm.
I’m doing my best to practice self-compassion and be okay with the fact that I don’t want to do much and don’t feel like celebrating.
I’m not going to force myself to pretend to be full of holiday spirit when I’m not, and I’m not going to beat myself up for not feeling happy.
It really is okay to not be okay—right now, my job is to get through this low period and be able to get my energy back after this tough period passes.
I don’t need to be a ray of sunshine right now—my goal is just not to fall into the pit of despair as I get through the month.
For the most part, I’m ignoring the holiday this year.
Al and I got presents for our neices and nephews and a few other family members, and we’ll make sure they are wrapped before we bring them over.
We’re not listening to much holiday music, though, or watching holiday movies.
Honestly, we’ve been sitting up watching Stargate SG-1 because I had never watched the series before.
I recommend it for fellow sci-fi geeks, but mainly I’m enjoying it because of the serial nature, fun characters, and that because it is such a long-lived series. We’ve been bingeing it for a few weeks now and we’re still only halfway through.
I’m not saying that escaping into a TV series or other distraction is the right or best way to manage the holidays; I’m just sharing that that’s how Al and I are managing it this year.
Choosing to take some time off and do a distracting thing that you enjoy can be a really good way to recharge and recover.
The power of lowered expectations
Every year, I do my best to make the month of December as easy on myself as possible, and operate with lowered expectations.
By lowering my expectations of myself and accepting that this is a tough time of year for me, I’m giving myself space to rest and heal.
I’d like to do some work toward preparing for January, a time of year when many people resolve to improve themselves or their lives, which makes it a great time to offer coaching and support.
However, I know that I can reuse many aspects of the sales I ran in November to make it happen, so if I just do a few key things, I should be able to still run a successful campaign in January even if I don’t put a lot of energy in right now.
There is always something you can do when running a business to improve it or make it run better or try to get more clients.
For me, part of getting through December is recognizing that I can just do the bare minimum that month to get by, and to plan my business as much as possible so that I don’t urgently need to do too much in December.
There are always things I can do if I have extra energy, or want to get more done, but I don’t want to put extra pressure on myself during a month that’s always emotionally challenging for me.
Also, knowing how much (Al and) I hate housework of any sort, Al and I don’t even pretend that we want to host any kind of celebration in our space.
We don’t worry too much about cleaning in general—and we’re certainly not going to increase that pressure on ourselves while I’m in an emotional low point.
Knowing it will likely be better next year
Part of what is helping me is the knowledge that this too shall pass. The covid vaccines are out now and it’s likely that next year things will be safer.
I need to get through the challenges right now, and it’s really okay to just get through for a while, especially when there’s a good chance that things will improve.
My family isn’t getting together this year in order to improve the chance that we all can get together next year and for many years to come.
I’m not seeing friends in person for the same reason.
Hopefully, Covid-19 will be better controlled by next year and we won’t have another international pandemic.
Recognizing that, I’m okay with the sacrifices that I am making this year, hoping that next year it will be safe to see (and hug) my friends and family.
Knowing that I tend to feel low emotionally and energy-wise, I recognize that that happens in December. It doesn’t mean that I’m going to continue to feel low in the long term, and most years I regain my stride pretty soon after New Year’s.
By recognizing my seasonal low points, I can better run my life and business through planning for my bad months.