The “So what are you doing for Christmas?” messages have started streaming in and my body is slowly clenching day by day. By the time 25th December actually rolls around I may have cringed into another dimension.
For me and a certain section of the population, Christmas does not signal good tidings. It does not bring good cheer, the Herald Angels don’t sing and certainly all the joy in the world bleeds dry.
I’m talking about those of us with Christmas blues.
For one reason or another, for us, this time of year comes with negative emotions, most likely as a result of a past experience that occurred around the holidays that we’ve not yet healed from. Or even from the familial obligations that are associated with the season.The depth of my Christmas blues can be quite extreme and I’ll illustrate that with one of my worst experiences.
It was the year 2018. December. My mum had arranged for her, my two older siblings and I, to travel to Mombasa for a vacation. Something we’d never done before. I can’t exactly remember my feelings before the trip but I’m pretty sure I was at least fairly excited to have fun and relax. But it all came crashing down when we arrived in Mombasa.
I was unable to leave my hotel bed for the entirety of the three days we were there. I was overcome with this immense sadness and just spent my days crying uncontrollably. Much of it is a blur but I’m pretty sure my mum and sister came to check up on me occasionally to ask me what was wrong but I was not forthcoming because I didn’t understand it myself.
As the rest of my family went on boat rides into the ocean, ate, drank and made merry I was left languishing. I should mention that I wanted to be alone and they did not abandon me out of callousness.
I more or less did my best to forget what happened once I was back and we didn’t speak of it again. It’s only earlier this year when I was once again on a trip with my mum and I felt my mood begin to dip for no discernible reason that it occurred to me that traveling with family is a trigger for me.
That sounds crazy but once I put the thought into words, so many things made sense.
As a child our holidays were usually spent at my dad’s village. Any activity where he was involved was always very stressful for me so I hardly enjoyed these trips. And I went for them often enough that my body began associating family travel, especially during the Christmas holidays, with stress.
Luckily Christmas time is regarded as a family affair so very few of my friends, throughout my life, have had to contend with that version of me.
I’ve had situations where I’m traveling with friends during the holidays and even then, to some small extent the feelings seep out a little but are usually manageable so I can push through a day or two if I feel out of sorts.
2018 was the worst year in recent memory but even during the holidays when we’re just at home, I tend to shut down. Minimal interaction with others, feelings of deep sorrow and despair. Inexplicable. Until I had my eureka moment.
It’s a lot to contend with. Any time I’m reminded of it now as Christmas time approaches I feel a sort of sick anticipation. I know not the day or the hour, but I know it’s coming.
As a problem solver, it kills me that there’s no easy fix. I attend therapy these days but therapy is not a one-and-done deal. It will probably take years for me to condition myself out of associating December holidays with these wretched feelings.
My first step was being able to communicate this with my mum. You can imagine being told by your child that traveling with you causes them distress. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but it was important for her to at the very least begin understanding my nasty travel moods. She took it relatively well. I could tell she was glad to at least finally have an answer, if nothing else.
For now as the holiday season kicks in, I’m trying to keep to myself. Solitude has always been a great comforter for me. I don’t need to perform any particular emotion for anyone. I can just feel what I’m feeling freely and breathe through it. I live near a forest so I also intend to spend lots of time outdoors listening to nature and my favourite playlists.
As someone with no dependants, I realized I don’t owe anyone anything. Especially not the performance of happiness when that is not my reality at the moment.
As the season rolls in and the festivities begin worldwide, the only thing I owe myself is to just breathe. And I implore you too who may be going through something similar; find those moments to just breathe. It will pass.