Written by Alexandria Pizzola.
“To everyone heavy with the weight of things missing or fractured today, it doesn’t mean you’re ungrateful or unthankful. It only means you’re human. And you’re not alone in that.” – Jamie Tworkowski, Founder of To Write Love On Her Arms
This Thanksgiving, I woke up and immediately did a Google search for that line. Just as I have since 2011 when it was written, I read it and let it sink it. That year was one of my most difficult and strange and while I’m doing better these days, this line continues to give me comfort and perspective every time we launch into another holiday season.
Something shifts in the universe as the holidays begin to approach…
As the world turns her eyes and heart toward hope and joy and magical feelings, beneath the snow and the layers of glittery, tree-decorating magic, those of us struggling with mental illnesses or an empty place at the table are often having a different experience.
While tidings of comfort and joy are being lifted up onto their seasonal pedestals that we are all culturally expected to aspire to, those of us who can’t simply think ourselves happy may experience the exact opposite. Feelings of discomfort, exclusion, and even burden may creep into our hearts and minds at all-time highs and cast long shadows over the celebratory nature of these days.
It’s nerve-wracking to see these words written out, to recognize the potential that I’ll be taken as a dissenter against the “pure” joy of the season. My purpose here, though, is to address two distinct parts of the holiday equation.
First, for those who aren’t struggling, I hope for a heightened awareness of all those around who are struggling. If we, ourselves, are not suffering, it is easier to forget that suffering exists than to face it head on. Second, for those who do struggle, are struggling, and very likely will struggle throughout this season, I hope that you will find comfort in the fact that you are not alone. That there are others struggling with you. That you aren’t the only one who feels the way you feel.
I feel the need to address both pieces of this because we are lucky enough to live in a world where we all live and work and relate side by side. This brings its own set of issues as often we find that people in our own workplaces, families, and friend groups are experiencing this season differently. It takes energy to relate compassionately from where we stand, but ultimately, I’d argue, that is really what the holidays are all about: coming together, understanding compassionately, and experiencing empathy both for those we love and those we’ve never met.
Because our brains are all magnificently unique, there is no one formula for making it through the holiday season with our mental health and wellness intact. Below are some tips, reminders, and gifts to give yourself in hopes of a lighter, healthier season – regardless of where you are in your journey and whichever side of the equation you land on: suffering or supporting.
Practical Tip #1: Get enough sleep. It is very acceptable to sleep the holiday stress off.
Practical Tip #2: Self-care is the last thing that we should forget about. What is your self-care routine? Stick to it as much as possible regardless of where the holidays bring you.
Practical Tip #3: People love the question: “How was your [insert specific holiday]?!” after any said holiday has come to pass. If yours was difficult/painful/bad and you’re not comfortable discussing it, turn it around and ask specific questions about theirs. “What did your family do,” “Do you have any fun traditions,” and “What was your favorite part?” are all great starters.
Reminder #1: It’s okay to feel how you feel. As I’ve said before, “should” is an unhelpful word. You are the very first you that there has ever been. There is no way that culturally significant days can dictate how you are supposed to feel.
Reminder #2: Not everyone will understand. You will encounter people who cannot fathom why you are not feeling joyful. Some of them are intentionally rude, but most of them are simply uneducated. If you have the energy to teach them, do. If not, walk away.
Reminder #3: It’s okay if your holiday is less than fantastic! There are so many variables at work. Keep your expectations realistic.
Gifts to give yourself – for free!
Gift #1: Radical Acceptance – for a day or two or the rest of them, try accepting how you feel regardless.
Gift #2: Time – as much as you need to work and walk through all that you’re battling. There is no need to force it and no need to rush the process.
Gift #3: Connection – as tough and scary as it is to reach out and connect with others, connection is a gift that you deserve. You don’t have to go it alone.
The holidays come and go and tomorrow always arrives. My hope is that this season can be a season of light for you someday if the shadows are still too dark this year. For more information or to find help, please visit The I’m Possible Project’s Resource Page for national help and TWLOHA’s Find Help page for resources specific to your area.