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(2020)
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.
The challenges(and advantages) in 2021
This year, while we still are concerned about Covid-19, Al and I and most members of both of our families are now vaccinated. We are getting together, though there are fewer people celebrating in both households than usual.
With my family, both of my step-siblings are not coming up to celebrate on the 25th. My step-brother is in small-group housing, and my mother and her husband are going out to see him shortly after Christmas to celebrate. He normally stays in a hotel with an aide and they decided it was better for everyone for them to see him instead. My step-sister and her husband are also going to celebrate with mom and her husband later, and stay together to celebrate new year’s. It’ll be just six of us on Christmas day, rather than 10, and none of us are quite sure when/how we will celebrate with my other sister.
With Al’s family, it’s a more emotional reason.
His uncle was diagnosed earlier this year with colon cancer, and so he has to stay home to undergo treatment. On top of being concerned about his treatment and recovery, his absence is a big hole in our celebrations.
Our focus for this year is to be supportive of Al’s mom as she grieves her brother’s absence while doing our best to still have the family enjoy this holiday season.
What I am doing to protect myself emotionally(2020)
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 nieces 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.
2021: Things have opened up somewhat, so I am seeing some friends, but larger holiday parties have generally been nixed.
I’m looking forward to actually seeing my family this year and celebrating with those of us who are gathering, and I’m enjoying the time I am spending with friends.
As usual, I’m tending to be slow and low-energy, so I’m being kind to myself and trying to keep my expectations low.
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.
2021: It’s safer this year, with most of my friends and family vaccinated. I’ve been able to see(and hug) friends and family, but I’m still wary of large events and groups. While the reasons for the low are a little different this year, I’m still making my way through it. I planned December as a transitional month for my business, closing out sales on healthcare coaching and starting to talk about my medical care coaching program. Since I did so much work on my medical care coaching last year, I again can take it relatively easy during this season, then ramp things up again in January.
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.
We didn’t get a choice of how to spend Christmas this year, as households were banned from mixing (and still are, well, except the rule-breakers, of which there are many). Here’s hoping 2021 is a little more ‘normal’ for us.
I’m thinking that yes, 2021 will most-likely be better, that low expectations going into the year isn’t that bad of a way to ease from this stressful year.
Katie-absolutely! I’m doing my best to break out of the blahs – and expecting less of myself helps me not trip myself up! 2020’s been rough for a lot of people, and while I’m very glad we have a vaccine now, it’s going to take a while to get it out to everybody who needs it- 2020 might be the year of Covid-19, but 2021 may be the year of vaccination!
I think low expectations are definitely a better way to handle things. I don’t celebrate Christmas, but I do celebrate Diwali, which comes around October/November every year. And because my mum and I usually so low on energy that other than the usual lighting of traditional diyas and prayers, we have never done anything. So this year didn’t hit us hard as it does for many who does visit family. I guess we managed fine. There was a time though when holiday season whether here in India or in London did pull me down, but thankfully the lowering of expectations of the years has been helpful.
Wishing you and Al a lovely 2021.
And thank you for sharing about Diwali! I think all holidays can be hard, especially when traditions get broken due to things outside your control(like our current pandemic). Smaller gatherings as the usual definitely makes it easier to follow the traditions(which was the nice thing with Al’s family – there were only 10 of us total, as opposed to my family, whose gatherings are a bit larger(5 adult children(plus partners/nurse) instead of two, and 4 grandkids instead of two).
Deciding that I’m not responsible for anything except for showing up with gifts really takes a load off for me, and it sounds like keeping your Diwali celebration just you and your mom does something similar for you.
Wishing you a wonderful 2021 as well!!
Sending lots of hugs. Sorry it’s always such a depressing time for you. I think not expecting anything helps me too.
It’s all good, thank you! *hugs* Low expectations can be super helpful. I don’t like that the holidays tend to get me down, but I have accepted it. Usually, it’s just a few hours here or there because I am able to fill in the time with positive distractions(like celebrating with friends), and use the anticipation of those things to keep me going. Since that really wasn’t an option this year, it was a bit harder than usual. However, I did really enjoy our Christmas celebration with Al’s family, and we had a great couple of hours on Sunday celebrating with mine! New Year’s doesn’t have the associations, so I’m kinda taking this week to start pulling things back together with the intention of being all-in again next week 🙂