Holidays, Mental Illness, and Surviving Being an IRL Grinch
From around the age of twelve onward, my parents stopped having a Christmas tree, mostly because we were all tired of dealing with getting one, trucking it up the stairs, and decorating it, and then watching it die as we put off having to bring it down the stairs. It was around that time that I realized that, beyond the general act of holiday-sanctioned gift giving, I really disliked the holiday season.
Holiday depression is a real issue for people and especially for those like me, who suffer from depression and anxiety in general. The holidays can sometimes just exacerbate this because there’s a bombardment of advertisement telling you to be cheery, spend time with family and loved ones, and of course, shop.
As someone who loves to buy things for people all year round, the extra pressure to buy so much at once can seem especially daunting. After all, just a week later, the New Year comes, and that means the rent is due.
“Holidays are a great example of expectations exceeding reality for most people,” said Ken Duckworth, medical director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness in USA Today. “I encourage people to reduce their media dose if they’re sensitive to this idea of mismatch between reality and fantasy.”
For me, it’s not so much the mismatch between reality and fantasy in media, but the flashy need for people to pressure other people to “get into the holiday spirit.” All of a sudden we’re expected to parade around with fake joy, reach out to shitty family members and sit through a million questions about why we’re still alone, what our future plans are, and all sorts of invasive questions that people feel the need to ask.
As someone who has a history of anxiety and suicidal thoughts, the holidays have become the prelude to a time of the year that just doesn’t mesh with me. The cold weather and early darkness seem so foreboding and heavy, especially when you wake up at noon and see the sky is grayer than your favorite pair of sweatpants.
It’s okay to not like the holidays. I’m not saying you need to actively rain on other people’s parades or do real Grinch behavior, but it’s also okay to, instead, take some more personal time. That doesn’t mean isolating yourself, but it means building new holiday traditions that are more in line with your temperament.
Hanging out with other friends during the holidays is one of my new favorite things to do. Call up some friends, order a pizza or heat up some ramen noodles, and binge-watch something. Play hours of Smash. Be happy in ways that actually make you happy.
- Don’t make commitments that you don’t really want to deal with.
- Keep busy with fun projects that you are actually invested in.
- Be honest with yourself financially. If you don’t got it, you don’t got it.
- Don’t let anyone shame you for your relationship status or pressure you into some dates.
- If you have the strength be social with family, have exit plans. Never be reliant on anyone for your entrance or exit.
One other thing that’s important to remember is that it is 100% your right to cut off horrible family members. If you are already in a fragile state, there’s no reason to be around people who will gaslight you and expose you to homophobia, racism, and sexism.
Your family living room shouldn’t be more toxic than being on Twitter or reading Youtube comments. Despite what people will tell you, family isn’t everything, and it isn’t your job to teach your adult family members to be kind. Cutting them off Meghan Markle-style is valid.
Being happy is hard sometimes, but surrounding yourself with people who love you and taking the time to be kind to yourself can give you something to actually smile about during this holiday season.
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