By Tina Turvey
So many of us grow up with an image of what the holidays are “supposed” to be like. It starts after Halloween and then the next biggest days of the year hit in rapid succession. Santa Claus appears in shopping malls shortly after Halloween and Hallmark tells us how “happy and joyful” things are from Thanksgiving through New Years.
For many though, these are not the happiest days of the year–whether its financial pressure that comes with gift buying, guilt over not having “the holiday spirit”, broken families, or those who are suffering from physical or mental illnesses. Currently I am still depressed over not spending the holidays with my grandmother who passed away two years ago.
Needing to compare oneself with others is also a big stressor. Whether who has the biggest turkey or gift, many evaluate themselves on “measuring up”. I learned early that I could not keep up with expectations. It started when I was 14 years old at my family’s Thanksgiving dinner. While others were eating, I had bombarded myself in the bathroom to cry in “private”. I did not know why I was crying at the time. I learned a few years later that I had untreated bipolar, and I think maybe it started hitting me during those holidays. I learned that I was not alone.
Being kind to myself and not expecting magical perfection seems to help. I have learned that I cannot impress everyone, that I feel best when I can be kind and supportive without trying to reach a difficult standard. Also I need to check in with myself and remind myself that many other people have difficulties with the holidays. It helps to also “get out of my head”, by helping and supporting loved ones but not at the expense of myself.
Things have gotten better for me. I am now getting treatment for my mental illness and I am no longer hiding in bathrooms in order to cry in private. Optimism helps when nothing else does. This is the biggest mantra I can say to myself.