By Lori Okami
That horrible incident in Connecticut has gotten me thinking even more about this time of year and dealing with one’s mental wellness. It is a time of year that many of us have an expectation of joy and happiness, when the reality might be quite the contrary. I’m no psychologist or counselor but I have lived through many depressing Christmases.
I also realize, it’s all relative—meaning that it all depends on how you look at it and on where you are coming from.
I come from a small family (though the extended family is huge). We gather for lunch with the immediate family, but that’s about it. Being divorced, we split the kids on holidays, so I just have them for part of the day. Typically, Christmas and other holiday nights are spent alone.
Adding salt to the wound…after getting laid off from a company after 19 years of employment, money also became an issue so I had to tell friends and relatives that we couldn’t afford to exchange gifts. That’s what life looked like for years thereafter.
Perhaps it was even more challenging being a private person and not wanting to impose on others. At any rate…this was my life year-to-year.
Here are my totally unprofessional and unsolicited suggestions for coping and how I’ve made it through so many difficult holiday seasons:
- Talk to someone…a friend, family member, professional counselor, pastor, etc.
- Rethink your expectations. Change your mindset. Don’t carry on thinking that everyone else is happy and you’re the only one feeling sad. This is actually a stressful and difficult time for many so you aren’t as alone as you may think. Going through my job loss years ago also helped to lower my expectations and really distinguish between necessity and luxury. Nothing other than food, shelter and basic needs are “necessities,” so anything else is a bonus! This really made me appreciate things that I somewhat took for granted in the past. Look at the bright side. I know this sounds rather cliché but you can shift your perspective. It isn’t necessarily ‘fooling yourself’ but it is about seeing something positive amidst all the negative. I.e. when my relationship sucked, I lost dear friends, I lost my job, my house was burglarized, I fought with my mom, I almost lost my house, I had no money, and life all-in-all through the holiday was terrible, I also realized that I am in good health, am capable of doing a lot, and have great children. So that is what I built on and continue to till today.
- You don’t need money to share holiday wishes. Some of my friends were happy to just to exchange well-wishes and skip the gift-giving. It was actually a relief on both sides.
- Talk frankly with the kids about money. I did and they were perfectly fine adjusting their expectations to gifts that were a lot more affordable.
- Give back. Do things for others. There are countless ways to keep busy and help others during the holiday season and throughout the year. Not only will you fill your time but you will probably feel good doing things for others.
- Find a constructive way to cope with the loneliness (assuming you don’t have friends or family to be with). For me, it was time to read and write—which I really enjoy. It is still difficult to go through all of the holiday nights alone but there are ways to keep busy and the sun does come up again in the morning. I’ve also learned to just be at peace with myself. It’s not ideal, but there could be worse company. LOL.
- You have options. For me, I realize that I can go to a bar or restaurants and be with other lonely hearts but I choose not to. Somehow, 'choice' already makes me feel better. I.e. being alone is really a choice and a preference…over other alternatives.
- I also concluded that I have more power and control over my destiny. I took people up on invitations to parties (which I’d never do before because I’m such an introvert). It took a LOT to get me to go but I looked at it as a chance to see how the “other” people live. I’m still not comfortable but have been able to make new friends and be okay just being by myself even in a crowd,
The bottom line is to control what you can: who you are with, where you are, what you do, and even how you think.
I believe this originated with the serenity prayer and words have been changed here and there but this is what resonates with me…“Give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, change the things I cannot accept, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
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