Be Strong Live Long

Unhappy Holidays?

December 17th, 2012


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:

  1. Talk to someone…a friend, family member, professional counselor, pastor, etc.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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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7 Responses to “Unhappy Holidays?”

  1. MrK:

    AWESOME post, Lori! Filled with great suggestions and a more positive way to look at things. Mahalo!

  2. betterlatethannever:

    Hi Lori,
    Wonderful advice for all to heed. Being strong in the emotional and spiritual aspects are just as important as the physical. Thanks for the reminder of how fortunate we all are.

  3. Ukuhead:

    Hey Lori,
    Thanks for sharing such an introspective, deeply personal post.

    I too am a firm believer in the power of "choice". While we cannot control most things that happen around us, we can definitely control our responses to them. It is amazing how much easier and better life becomes when you "choose" to see the positive rather than the negative, appreciate what you have rather than resent what you don't, and look forward to what you can accomplish in the future rather than brood over past mistakes. It can be difficult at first (especially for a cynical bastard like me), but it gets easier with time and practice.

    There was a time in my life that I spent more than a few holidays alone (partly by choice, partly not). It was during this period that I came to realize that the holidays are a good opportunity to step back, reflect on
    accomplishment of the past year and to set goals and direction for the coming year and beyond.

    Anyway, what I really wanted to say is THANK YOU (and Casey) for keeping this blog alive. You are a TRUE INSPIRATION to all of us who drop by here in the never ending quest for self improvement and the balanced life.


  4. Bob:

    I think introverts can be surprisingly happy because they are often content with having their life uncluttered and don't try to acquire possessions they don't really need. As Thoreau said, one key to life is to "simplify, simplify, simplify." I am very introverted, and when I travel, even long distances, I often carry no more luggage than a Whole Foods Market insulated bag designed to keep food warm or cold. Observers are often surprised that I have everything I need, including changes of clothing, in that small pouch.

    Also, introverts are often very good in handling groups of people. One of my job duties for many years was to take visitors on tours of a local community college. When a psychologist who knew first-hand how animated and friendly I was on the tours gave me a personality test as part of her research project, she was shocked that I was so open with people I had never met yet scored near the extreme end of the introvert scale. Watching you give exercise advice to others, one would never suspect that you are introverted either!

    So there may be some hope for us introverts.

  5. Lori Okami:

    Hey Mrk! Glad it had some value. Happy Holidays!

    Hi there betterlatethannever! Keeping the hope alive!

    Aloha Ukuhead!
    Thank you ever so much for the kind words. All of you are the reason we do this! It wasn't always easy to see the positive through those tough times but it is a downward spiral to be caught in the negative and it really starts to eat you up inside. I'm still hopeful for better and better days. And wonderful people like you warm my heart. Many thanks!!!

    Hello Bob!
    I think you've got something. My father too is an introvert and I've seen him entertain a room full of hundreds. You'd never guess. From what I've heard, it is about where you get your energy. While we may be able to interact or even perform before many, we introverts may find it draining and possibly stressful. I.e. I've got to hide out to re-energize. Extroverts, on the other hand, likely thrive on people and the interaction and are energized by this. And that's what makes the world go round....

    I hope you all can take a breather and enjoy the holiday season. Savor your moments.

  6. Jeri:

    Hi Lori,
    Thank you for sharing this deeply personal issue as I can relate as I consider myself an introvert as well. I would've never thought you were one either.

  7. Lori Okami:

    Aloha Jeri! We probably hide it well. 🙂
    Happy New Year!