For a lot of people, the holidays are not the most wonderful time of the year. In fact, they can be pretty rough.
It’s hard enough dealing with trauma, let alone a whole triggering season going on for a solid two months every year that has its own very distinct set of decorations, foods and music — on top of the expectation of being happy all the time. The good news is that no matter what other people say, you don’t owe it to anyone to get into the so-called “holiday spirit.” Seriously.
Not enthusiastically participating in the holidays is so socially stigmatized that there are established names (Scrooge, Grinch) and a catchphrase (Bah, humbug!) reserved for those who don’t exhibit sufficient levels of cheer.
Then there’s the fact that occasions calling for mandatory fun are basically just a setup for disappointment. This includes birthdays, anniversaries and the great-granddaddy of all overrated holidays, New Year’s Eve. These required celebrations put pressure on you to act and feel a certain way (hint: happy) and if, for whatever normal human reason you don’t, you feel like you failed at something you’re told you should enjoy, in turn making you feel even worse.
Even if someone isn’t particularly triggered by the holidays, but is living with depression, this time of year can still be difficult. Please remember that pretending to be happy is physically and mentally draining, and being surrounded by festivities can make people already feeling low, feel even worse.
It’s beginning to look a lot like PTSD
So what can you, someone who counts down the days until you can decorate the tree, do for loved ones who are triggered by the holidays? Actually, a lot! For starters, don’t force people to be festive against their will. No one owes it to you to be jolly. If you want to see a Christmas show, put on the Hallmark channel. Don’t expect it from your friends or family members.
Someone deciding not to celebrate a holiday shouldn’t impact your enjoyment or ability to celebrate it, and if it does, making the holiday defector feel guilty about it is not going to help.
Let me be clear: This doesn’t mean that we don’t love our families and friends or want to spend time with them — it just means that we’d prefer to do so without the enforced levels of cheer. And yes, of course we want our loved ones to enjoy themselves, and we won’t begrudge you that — whether that means decking the halls, frying up some latkes or staying in ordering takeout and pretending you’re part of a culture that does not celebrate a major December holiday.
An Irish exit
After spending basically all of my 20s living in Dublin, Ireland, and creating a nice little life for myself there, the economy totally tanked and — along with a lot of the population — I couldn’t find a job. In the months running up to having to reverse-immigrate at the end of December 2012, I experienced several difficult events, including almost losing someone very close to me and being a primary caregiver.
A chill in the air, coupled with strings of lights and a department store Muzak version of “Jingle Bells” takes me right back to Dublin during the holidays — trips back and forth to the hospital, sitting through a court’s decision not to prosecute a man who almost murdered my friend, not to mention having to crisscross the city trying to say one last hurried goodbye to the people I had deliberately chosen to be part of my life.
Everything Christmas-related is a tangible reminder of a particularly rough time, on top of the fact that I felt as though I had failed and was forced to pack up and start over. Again. Christmas makes me sad.
But that’s just me. Everyone who is triggered by the holidays has their own reason, and the best gift you could give them is to respect that.