"Holidays in general breed unrealistic expectations. The minute you start wondering, 'is it going to be wonderful enough?,' it never will be." --Pepper Schwartz
"...If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart..." --Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
It's that time of year where we're all supposed to be full of joy and light and love, with sparkly fairy lights illuminating the darkness.
But for a lot of people, it's not "the most wonderful time of the year" - rather it's a time of deep depression and anxiety. We might see all kinds of Facebook and Instagram posts of happy families and lovely trees and Hanukkah menorahs. In fact, it really doesn't matter to which faith you may belong, or even if you're atheist - the darkness and cold can be felt deep in our psyche.
The pressure to be happy is intense.
For those of us living with HIV, there may be that sense of "how many more holidays do I have?" which increases the pressure to be "merry" even when we're wondering if that little skin rash is the sign of our next brain tumour (especially after consulting Dr. Google). I wonder if all this strain plays havoc on our immune systems. Perhaps we should all avoid blood work until mid-January. Our CD4s could plummet from all the happiness we're forced to endure, while inside we're hurting.
Every year I put up the tree and decorate my place and have a small party for a few close friends. This really is my Christmas (or for anyone reading this insert holiday of your choosing). I really do enjoy having people over and laughing and sharing food. After that gathering, I become a Christmas orphan; I have no family and everyone I know is doing the dinner thing with their partners and relatives. I'm not really overly depressed about this, I have my own small dinner and I don't really want to be invited to supper where I don't know anyone. I'm an introvert and that can just cause more anxiety.
"When reality smacks us squarely upside the head many of us are faced with our own aloneness/loneliness and we can sink into the disappointment that our lives are somehow not as wonderful as the lives of others."
I'm no Scrooge - I don't feel all "bah, humbug" about the Season. In fact, I get all verklempt even watching TV commercials, in that "isn't that beautiful" kind of way. It's a nostalgic time - I remember good and sad times, but for me it feels more intense at this time of year. I get weepy over all the warm, holiday fuzzies being spread like Nutella on English muffins.
I don't get teary over the Easter Bunny.
Perhaps part of the problem with this time of year is the nostalgic expectation of warmth and love. We have a picture postcard Currier and Ives vision of snow and fireplaces and joyous gatherings and Santa Claus. When reality smacks us squarely upside the head many of us are faced with our own aloneness/loneliness and we can sink into the disappointment that our lives are somehow not as wonderful as the lives of others. The expectation of happiness is quickly stuck in the morass of depression and anxiety and our own quiet selves. Yes, Virginia there is no Santa Claus.
I wonder if we can shift our thinking about holidays and see that the real purpose of Winter festivities is not to be happy, but to find belonging, to recognize that all year long, not just one or two weeks of the year, we are connected to people who love us and who we love in return. Then we can relax and just let it be what it is.
We can know that after it's dark it becomes light and that after the Winter the Spring will return again. And then, if we listen carefully, we can hear the birds singing as they always do...