When most people think of the holidays, they think of joyous times and warm thoughts. A time with family and a time with friends. A moment to reflect and a moment to be filled with gratitude. Most people are so preoccupied with happiness they don’t see sadness that might be affecting the loved ones around them. I was drowning in sadness that no one saw. I hid it so well but would cry at nights. I kept up with typical functions, made sure I answered questions and didn’t sleep too much to give off the impression that I wasn’t managing. Yeah, doctors used to call me a high functioning depressed person. Functional yet miserable though.
The two holidays so many people cherish are the same two holidays that brought me grief. Since I can remember, every year we would always gather at my grandma’s house for dinner and every year since I was 14 I have struggled with holidays silently. I mean sure, I would try to smile or play the part of someone just incredibly blessed but the truth is that most of those years I was filled with anger, most of those years I was depressed, most of those years I wanted to die. I kept telling myself to get over it. I kept telling myself that it’s family, be happy, be grateful I even have a roof over my head and family to spend the time with, you know the typical response people say when you try to express emotions. But those responses weren’t helpful.
To make things worse my son Kaykay’s favorite holiday was Christmas which meant although I had my own issues from before he was born I wanted him to be around family. It meant putting his needs above mine to ensure he felt love and not isolation. With him now gone it not only broke the spirit of Christmas for me but it also removed the obligations I had to show up to family functions. I felt like I was muted for so many years, controlled by the happiness of others. Wanting to make them happy and choosing to die to myself every single time.
See I suffered a lot of trauma in my younger years, a lot of the trauma happened in the same house we would celebrate in, some of the trauma happened by the same people I was celebrating with but I always tried to force myself to just forgive and move past. There’s a magicalness about holidays that seems like it’s supposed to wipe away all the bad and negativity in your life, but the truth is for me was Trauma + Grief + Holiday cheer = a recipe for melt down. Holiday’s were now used to amplify my misery and I was finally done being manipulated into a false happiness.
Even without trauma, the holiday season can be challenging for many people. Depression and anxiety have a sneaky way of making a bigger appearance during holiday months. It’s almost like two polar opposites fighting; when there is much happiness, great sadness somehow ensues, at least that’s what I used to think. I didn’t think I could be happy without immediate sadness. I thought the rollercoaster of emotions was a natural part of life and jus something I would have to get used to. But lucky for me, the way God has me designed is with a switch for override. A feeling of not accepting norms as norms and so I decided to create a new expectation and rewrite my sadness and traumatic moments.
It started by me expressing my desire to no longer be forced to attend family functions. To allow myself to make my own decision based on how I felt and not what was expected of me. When I first verbalized my wishes I was met with a lot of guilt and internal anxiety. What will people say? Will they want to know why? Honestly I didn’t fully understand my why, I just knew that holidays were painful and I needed a new narrative. The previous year (2018) I successfully opted out of thanksgiving but didn’t have the same liberty when it came to Christmas. I was guilted into showing up and as much as I love my family, I was now understanding that every time I allow myself to be guilted into showing up it was at the sacrifice of my own self.
2019 I successfully navigated and opted out of both Thanksgiving and Christmas. I am not gloating about not spending time with my family, but I am happy that I choose to put my own mental health first. Mental health is a journey and a process and I’m learning that not everything is processed all at once. By choosing myself I have begun to heal from the root and I have complete peace over my decision. There’s something so tranquil about being by myself physically and with God spiritually during a time that is supposed to be so busy.
So how to survive and heal through the holidays?
#1 acknowledgment. I had to accept and confess that I did not want to be around people during that time. Then I had to sit and feel the weight of those emotions and the feelings from the people around me who I was “disappointing”. Also acknowledge how your body feels and take time to meditate.
#2 Plan. I had to deliberately plan something else that I wanted to do instead. Weather that was watch movies, cook or stay in bed I had to be mindful and deliberate about it so that the time didn’t come and pass.
#3 Take Action. For last Christmas I decided to bake banana bread and watch movie and no matter how bad I felt that day I had already made a plan to myself so I had to take the action and complete what I started.
If the top 3 fail, cause they can, my last tip is to pray & play music. These will always be my favorite things to do when I feel unmotivated. The right song will shift my mood and atmosphere, same with the right prayer. Even if all I can do is lay in bed, certain songs speak to my soul more than anything else could. I’m still in the process of rewriting holidays, but it’s getting better. One day I will be able to celebrate with my family, but for now, this journey is solo. I’m growing, healing, and keeping my sanity.
I want to know from you, how do you balance health during holidays?
-Cola, co-founder of Unforgivingly Pur.
You can find this article on page 40 in our Pur. Magazine, vl.ii plus many other amazing stories and activities.