My thoughts are currently with those who are struggling this holiday season. Having a happy holiday or a merry Christmas will not come easily to everyone. There are those who are suffering more than celebrating. While some shop for gifts, others mourn. While some receive presents, others will get divorced. Some of us will be full of joy and love this Christmas. Others will be managing disappointments or weighed down by grievances. Not everyone is attending holiday parties. Some are visiting hospitals or cemeteries.
After my mother died, every supposedly joyous occasion had a pall thrown over it. Without her, it was hard to celebrate. Without her, everything felt empty. This will be the first challenging Christmas for some. They will struggle through this holiday season—perhaps the first without the presence of a loved one.
It’s okay to have an unhappy holiday. Just because all is merry and bright around you, doesn’t mean your feelings have to match. If you’re depressed, be depressed. You can be blue when everyone else has donned green and red—or silver and gold. Don’t let the happy hype of the holidays prevent you from being true to what you’re feeling. It’s not easy to go against the dominant emotional current, but it’s harder to loose yourself in false feelings—and potentially damaging.
Your emotions matter. They’re relevant. Just because they’re not pretty doesn’t mean they don’t belong in this season. Don’t feel compelled to cover up your feelings with tinsel and bows. Don’t smile if you want to cry. Don’t sing along if you’d rather mourn. Acknowledge your emotions. Find a safe place to explore or share them. Unwrap your feelings this Christmas; don’t bury them.
This goes both ways. After my mother died, I struggled with holidays and special occasions. It was hard to feel sad while everyone else was celebrating. But on those days I found happiness, it seemed too soon and I felt guilty. Either way my feelings felt wrong. I felt out of place among revelers when I wanted to mourn. And if I joined in the merriment it felt like a betrayal of my bereavement and sorrow.
There is no right or wrong way to feel. It’s as valid to have a cheerful Christmas as it is to have an unhappy holiday. Just as we can share in each other’s bliss, we can also empathize with one another’s sorrow, pain, or sickness. We can make room for the doleful, the ambivalent, the ecstatic, and the confused. We should all feel free to express our true inner selves, even if our emotions contradict the feelings of everyone else.
As someone who knows what it is to be depressed, this holiday season I am grateful to be happy myself. But as I celebrate Christmas this year (and in the future), I want to be present to those for whom happiness proves elusive.
I hope you have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. But more than that, I hope you have a safe space full of loving companions—and that you can express all of your emotions there.