Winter Holiday Season, yah that one: Christmas. This has always been a really tough time of year for me. I know I’m not alone. This is probably the hardest part of the year for many people. SAD (seasonal affect disorder) is now recognized as a “common” disorder.1 This is (in my view) not a disorder in the colloquial sense, its a natural physiological event that occurs because our brains react differently when there is not enough light. Now couple the diminished daylight hours with these humungous expectations of behavior and overloaded sensations at the Yuletide, and there you have it. All I want to do at this time of year is crawl into my cave, pull up the welcome mat, get in front of a nice roaring fire with a glass of whisky and hibernate for the next four weeks. Grok it? I bet you do.
The hype about Christmas started getting to me when my children where very young. I noticed that they LOVED to open presents. They didn’t give two hoots what was in the box, they just loved the whole *let me unwrap it” thing. That’s when I started to clue into how I was experiencing uber anxiety and angst at this time of year. I noticed that my depression seemed juxtaposed to their joy. I wasn’t looking forward to the “unwrapping” like they were. Theirs was a pure joy. One that had more to do with tearing at colored paper and ribbon to get the stuff off the box than the things inside the box.
My anguish about whether they would like their presents evaporated in the joy they experienced in that moment. If they didn’t care about what was inside the box, well then, neither did I! Ok, so one part of the angst was solved. On to the second part.
I am supposed to look forward to this time of year and I don’t. Hmmm. Why not. Well, because I know the pattern all too well: the drama of where to spend the holidays. Remember, I just want to curl up in a ball with my glass of whisky and my faithful and loyal dog in front of the roaring fire. However, If I don’t put in an appearance at friends and relatives then they will think the worst and assume that I need to be fixed.
Then there is the drama: if I don’t go visit/call/write Aunt Sally, she will call my mother and tell her how awful a daughter she raised. She will then get to compare her beloved and perfect offspring to my mother’s, well: me. Never mind that Uncle Bert doesn’t like my dog. Or that I have to travel 16 hours to get there! Then if I’m late to my mom’s for dinner, she will think I spent too much time with my dad and get jealous and vindictive. Nope, that whisky and fire is sounding way better now isn’t it?
Then the competition starts: my brother tells me all the things he got his wife and that she got him. If I don’t chime in with my own version of the “one-up-manship” game, I lost. If I don’t admire all the cool (and stupid shit) my brother buys me then I am in the “less than” category for a long long time.
And then the actual cost in money, time and effort!! When I could be sitting curled up with a good book, a glass of whisky in front of a roaring fire with my loyal and faithful dog. Instead, I’m fighting lines at stores, post offices, freeways and airports with lots and lots of other people who would rather be elsewhere. How silly can we get?
Then there is the compare what the kids did this year: “Mine went to Hawaii for the holidays”, “oh how nice, mine went on a Brazilian outback adventure”. “We got tickets to the Nutcracker at the Met this year, the grandkids loved it!” No they didn’t Aunt Flo, they wanted a hotdog and to see the new Star Wars flick you idiot.
Oh shit, see how my anger just radiates to the surface with all this crap? Come on, admit it: whisky and a roaring fire are looking good to you right now, aren't they?
Then dinner: Never mind the extra calories, lack of exercise, indulgence of alcohol and other substances. There is the absolute facts: some of my relatives cannot cook their way out of a wet paper bag! Stuffing that is limp, shortbread that will crack your teeth, and tofu turkey?!? OMG give me a break! I want bacon wrapped steak, perfect roast turkey with fresh cranberry sauce and too much mashed potatoes with butter AND gravy! Is that too hard? Yuck, now I’m pouring a whiskey whether you like it or not!
Expectations suck. Drama sucks. Abandoned consumerism sucks. What’s this seasons’ saving grace? The fact that I’m not alone in my misery. Its not that I want everyone to commiserate with me. Its that I know, in their hearts most people are.
Yes, the holiday season can be nice. Operative word is “can”. However, it requires a lot of work. It doesn’t just happen. Its hard to park our blatant consumerism at the door at this time of year. I start on Black Friday. That’s my “Buy Nothing” Day. Then I focus on the meaning of the holidays: enjoying friends and family. I do love them and love being part of our wonderful family. We are misfits and dysfunctional jerks, but I love us, one and all.
That’s the biggest key to surviving the holidays: LOVE. I love my family. I love my friends. I don’t care that they might appear to be broken. To me, they are all whole, unique, cryptic, chaotic, psychotic, and unexpectedly enlightened wonders of joy who love to tear into packages for the sake of opening them. Its hard not to love that joy, isn’t it?
That is what I focus on at this time of year: Joy. I remind my friends and family (and now you), that this time of year isn’t about ignoring the screwed up pandemonium inherent in this dark season. Its about embracing it. Its not about glossing over the bumps of life, including depression. Its about loving each and every one of us just as we are and spreading that love as much as we can. That’s called hope and that’s makes it all worthwhile.
So, enjoy the season. All of it, warts and all.