The holidays are rough, but you’re not alone

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Illustration by Elena Kim

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I hate the holidays. While my reasons are personal, I believe they’re important to share. If the holidays are hard for you too, know you’re not alone.

I’ve often struggled with depression between October and January. I’m not talking about little bouts of sadness, but a consistent, heavy inner disparity that lasts from the moment I wake up until I finally manage to fall asleep. The holidays make all of this harder to deal with; in fact, I think the holidays cause these feelings in the first place.

I’m not naive enough to believe Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s should look like pages from Martha Stewart Magazine. And I fucking hate the movie Love Actually, so I’ve never wanted a Hugh Grant love story. The holidays are difficult because life is already hard enough. It can be difficult to balance two jobs and full-time college classes with feelings of loneliness, stress, hunger, sleep deprivation, and an empty wallet. And while family and friends may only be a text, call, or 30-minute drive away, it can be a struggle to find time to contact them. Being a self-sustaining “adult” can feel impossible at times.

So imagine trying to navigate this struggle every year with divorced parents, while watching your older siblings getting married, having children, and hosting celebrations that your part-time job(s) won’t allow time-off for. You might not need to imagine—you may already know.

The guilt is complex

The guilt is essentially self-blame. You blame yourself for not acquiring more scholarships and grants, for switching majors, for having debt, and for procrastinating self-care. The guilt says you’re ungrateful, or that you owe it to parents or other people to do something with your life, rather than owing it to yourself.

For me, the guilt also involves post-traumatic stress. Although I’ve worked through these issues and have come to a mature understanding of the past, I still absorb the pain and grief of other family members who haven’t. I’ve never let go of my desire to make everything OK, but I know I can’t, and it kills me.

I’ve always hated choosing between parents for holiday functions. No matter what, someone gets upset. No matter which presents I receive or what we eat; neither house is home anymore, which leads to feelings of displacement. And don’t even get me started on the guilt related to the expectations that come with a religious upbringing. My brothers still joke about the year I refused to attend church and my mother announced, “THANKS FOR RUINING EASTER!”

While I don’t have any answers for those with similar feelings and experiences, I can tell you with certainty that you’re not alone. Sometimes just knowing that is enough, and if it’s not, know that helpful resources are out there. I’ve tried many, and they have helped. These feelings used to feel worse.

How I cope

Here’s some advice I’ve found helpful: Do not shut down. Share your thoughts. Don’t believe everything you think. Do something for somebody else. Work toward a goal that scares and excites you (I’m not talking romance; I’m talking personal achievement).

Additionally, it might sound lame, but when I feel the absolute worst, I make a list of my feelings. I do not include any explanations whatsoever; just the recognition of each feeling. Next, I go through every emotion and add a couple of sentences about my associated actions. Then I free-write about the possible reasons for these feelings and associations. Finally, I go through each feeling and write a one-sentence solution. I push myself through it, no matter how difficult it might be.

It looks something like this:

  1. Lonely
  2. I feel lonely when I come home at night after work and school.
  3. I’m lonely because I haven’t spent any quality time visiting friends and family since September. I miss them, but I can’t justify missing a deadline for a social date.
  4. Find a way to schedule one friend or family date per week and stick to it. One is better than none.

Resources

Counseling services are available through the Center for Student Health and Counseling. 

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, you’re still not alone. But you should know that suicide is never the answer, and you can overcome these feelings and find help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It’s not a cheesy service. There are people out there who truly care and will assist you.

You’re never alone.

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