The end of the calendar year is like the opening lines of Dickens’ “Tale of Two Cities”, the best of times, the worst of times.
For many who gather together to celebrate the winter holidays and festivals of light it can be a time of warm nights by the fire, reminiscing over egg nog and mulled wine, card games and board games, buying just that perfect gift, and spending time with your favorite people. For others, it can be a time of forced togetherness with your least favorite people, a reminder of past traumatic holiday experiences, and loneliness.
And we can be fine every other day of the year, and the end of the year rolls around and suddenly we feel miserable! Because—we are told we should be happy, and we compare ourselves to Netflix Christmas movies and happy families we see at the mall.
Full disclosure…that’s me. I have a Ph.D. in wanting everyone to be happy. And this time, end of year family togetherness time can often be the worst of my times. Because in the midst of the darkness, as I am trying only to be happy and generous and easy going, I shove away my more challenging sides and treat them like unruly untrained unwanted animals.
And as the darker feelings get bigger, I fear them even more.
I am coming to terms with the fact that I have always struggled with depression. Situational? Acute? Chronic? I don’t know…I’ve had big-T and small-T trauma in my life…who knows…I just know that sometimes are harder than others. And sometimes I get really dark. And it’s hard. And thankfully, I have good friends and a very supportive mother and loving husband who hold my hand during these times.
And many of these really bad times are when the family gathers. Often not because of anything that happens but because of what I fear may happen. Because I fear failure. Rejection by my children (hello…like isn’t that just part of being a parent???), getting it wrong, whatever it is and whatever wrong is…But this is exhausting.
So I’ve started taking Pema Chodron’s advice and just doing something different. Like, instead of fearing the fear, shoving away the fear, I welcome it, give it space, invite it in for tea and cake. Have a conversation with it. Ask it what it wants to say. And usually it just wants some love. A hug. To be heard and told it will be ok. To be reminded that darkness and light are both necessary, both part of the whole human experiment. To be reminded that it is actually in the darkest of dark night skies that we see the most stars. As Rebeca Elson writes in “Let There Always be Light (Searching for Dark Matter)”, For this we go out dark nights, searching for the dimmest stars, for signs of unseen things.
I wish you all a beautiful holiday season, and mostly a season of welcoming the dimmest of stars.