Happy Holidays?

My hardest moments come around the same time each and every year. Ironically they fall during the happiest time of the year, the time we apparently all look forward to most. The time between pre-Christmas and post New Year’s Eve is meant to be one of celebration, happiness, sharing, drinking, eating, and joy.

It’s usually the time when friends, family, and loved ones come together to smile, laugh, reminisce, and switch off from their usual routines. Throw in a birthday to top it all off, and it should be the happiest time of the year.

So what happens when you aren’t happy during the happiest time of the year? You feel like a husk of yourself going through the motions; you smile, laugh, drink, eat, but something is missing. The joy that you see on everyone’s face isn’t being felt. You know you’re meant to be happy, but you just aren’t.

It’s almost as if you’re only allowed to feel happy, and if you don’t… Well, no one talks about that.

I felt this most when I was depressed. In fact, it was always the worst time of the year for me. Whatever judgement I experienced for having depression, it was most felt during the end of year holidays.

I used to love this time of year. How can I not be happy?!

As isolated and alone as I usually felt, it was now being highlighted. Not just from all the joy I saw around me and simply couldn’t feel, but from the questions.

Oh, those beloved holiday questions. What are your holiday plans? Are you going away? Aren’t you excited? What are you most looking forward to? Have you done your present shopping? What’s your New Year’s resolution? Add to this the birthday questions. What are your birthday plans? Who’s coming? What present do you want?

It’s as though if you don’t have some extravagant plans in place, or something to look forward to, then something must be wrong with you.

Nonetheless I always smiled, gave an answer that they wanted to hear, all while deep down thinking; am I allowed to say I’m most looking forward to it being over? That my plans are to keep as quiet and off the radar as possible until the New Year? That all I want is to be happy?

Honestly, if I could have run away and avoided it all, I would have.

That was then. So let’s fast forward a few years to now.

By no means is it a miserable time of the year, in fact I actually enjoy the build-up. There’s a bounce in everyone’s step, people are friendlier and smile more. Kids are looking forward to the break from school, and the hoped for presents. Even the music seems more upbeat than usual.

Despite the painful amount of traffic (seriously, someone needs to fix this!), and the chaos that ensues at every shopping centre, it is far from the isolation, despair, and loneliness I felt when I was depressed. However, as the time comes rolling around, there’s still something there.

So what is it?

Regardless of belief, age, gender, education, career, or any other demographic, this time of the year has an underlying representation. Family, belonging, tradition, and an end followed by a new beginning.

It comes around each and every year, we see the same people, at the same time, doing more or less the same thing. For better or for worse, we have our end of year traditions.

It is the consistent annual benchmark, for virtually everyone.

This is why it’s hard.

It’s a reminder of all you have, and haven’t done. What has changed, and what hasn’t. What’s been gained, and what’s been lost. The good, and the bad.

It isn’t as if we come to some realisation of reality, it’s more we now have time to stop and take-in the year that was. With that, comes a seemingly endless list of what can bring a smile to your face, or a tear to your eye.

The heart ache, and the potential love lost. It might be your first holidays single, or the reminder that once again, you’re alone.

Work might have slowed, or a job may have been lost. The final exam results weren’t what you expected, wanted, needed.

Friends that you couldn’t imagine life without, now aren’t being spoken to.

A loved one passes on, and these are the first holidays without them by your side.

Family might bring more fear than joy, or they may never have been. Sometimes family is just out of reach, or on the other side of the world.

Being diagnosed, knowing, and believing that these holidays will be your last.

A year ago, the ideas, plans, hopes, dreams, for the year that was, never came to be.

Alternatively you could be celebrating with a new love, or the one you’ve come to know.

A new career, a promotion, a new business. Your exams went better than expected.

New friends join your circle.

A new life has arrived and is about to celebrate their first holidays.

Over-coming an adversity that not too long ago, never seemed possible.

Writing that book, losing that weight, achieving all the goals that were imagined one year ago.

Nonetheless, even with every fortunate outcome, this time of year can still be hard. You can still have your moments of doubt, fear, regret, guilt, loneliness, and sadness.

I guess it’s a sensation I’m all too familiar with.

The situation where you know you should be happy, you’re meant to be happy, but you’re just not. Sometimes it’s rational, other times it makes no sense. Either way, you pop on the ‘everything’s okay’ mask, and soldier on. After all, you don’t want to be that guy, who brings everyone else down.

So now what? What do you do when the happiest time of the year, the time we’re all meant to look forward to, really doesn’t feel all that happy?

Don’t be scared – As strong, and as in control as we think we are, sometimes it can come out of the blue. It can happen when we least expect it, for reasons that seem trivial; stuck in traffic, buying presents, eating dessert, drinking, a certain song, an old photo.  A smell, song, taste, an innocuous moment can unexpectedly bring a wave of emotions. Breathe. There’s nothing wrong with you, you are not broken. Emotions aren’t always rational, sometimes they’re just there.

It’s okay to feel – Part of being human is feeling the full range of emotions. Don’t get caught up with the ‘I should feel this’, ‘I shouldn’t feel that’. You’re allowed to feel. It’s one of the many beautiful things about being human. It’s okay.

Acceptance – This can be complicated. Depending on what’s going on, accepting the situation might take more time and work. You might not be ready, and that’s okay. What needs to be accepted is that you’re feeling what you’re feeling. I used to resist and ignore the uncomfortable emotions, I pushed them down, denied they were there. The more I pushed, the more I didn’t let myself feel, the worse it got. It didn’t go away, it just sat there, bubbling away under the surface. If I have learned anything, it’s that the sooner it’s accepted, the sooner it will pass.

Give yourself time – It’s easy to get swept up with everyone else’s needs, make sure you have time for yourself to process what you need to. This can be easier said than done. However, sometimes the holidays are the only break we get from the usual routine of commitments. Whether it is 5 minutes, or an afternoon, if anyone deserves your time, it’s you.

It will pass – I know it doesn’t feel like it will, but I promise it does get easier. If this has happened before, you know it will go. It’s hardest when it’s new, and unfamiliar. There are times when it can be all consuming. It feels as if the cloud won’t go away. You smile, and laugh, but the joy isn’t felt. It will pass.

Re-focus – Whenever I got told to just ‘think positively’, or to ‘focus on the positives’, it felt like a slap in the face. However, it can become easy to get stuck. Whether they are in abundance, or somewhat harder to find, seeing the positives is important. This does not mean you can’t feel sad, it is just one way that can help the sadness pass. It puts our emotions in perspective.

Talk it out – I’ve always been more of a talker than a writer. Whether it be with a friend, a loved one, a professional, or even yourself. Find your own place; your bed-room, at a park, the beach, or even in your car. Just start talking, describing what you feel, where it’s located. It may surprise you just how much flows once you start.

Write it down – Sometimes talking isn’t the easiest option or even an option at all. Write down how you feel, let it all out. Type it out, or go old school and find a pen and paper. Keep it, burn it, tear it apart, re-read it. There’s no right or wrong way to do this. It’s the way that best allows you to get it out of your head and off your chest.

Cry –It can be hard to understand where emotions come from. When talking, writing, and thinking, doesn’t quite shift the feelings, crying is quite cathartic. Even if you know where it all comes from, and everything else helps, sometimes all you need is a good cry. Sometimes a single tear down your cheek will be enough.

Plan – I know this time of the year will have its harder moments, and so I make sure to have systems in place to make it easier. This doesn’t mean the hard times won’t happen, it just makes them easier to manage, and keeps them as moments not days. Simple things such as buying presents a month earlier, reducing stressful situations, avoiding people (including family) who drain energy and push buttons. Having something (big, or small) to look forward to. If you know it’ll be hard, plan for it.

Pray – This one isn’t for me, however it can be a really powerful way for people to express themselves, acknowledge their emotions, feel heard, and safe to move forward.

Watch a Christmas special – This is cliché as anything, but I love a good Christmas movie. Love Actually is my go to, feel good, end of year movie.

Distraction – Feeling can be hard, and sometimes we just aren’t ready for it yet. Find positive distractions to help the lower points. Surround yourself with good, easy people. Play games, volunteer your time, work, exercise, get creative, paint, sing, dance, cook. I know it is tempting, and as much of the holiday spirit as it may be, avoid turning to excessive amounts of alcohol or food. It might seem like a good idea for present you, but future you will definitely disagree.

Start a new tradition – As important as traditions are, they change. Change can be hard, it can feel impossible, but all traditions start somewhere. Whether it be modifying an old one, or starting a new one from scratch, take the time to start something special.

You’re not alone – Loneliness is the hardest feeling I ever had to sit with. Loneliness can come from literally being by yourself. It can also happen when you feel like no-one else understands you; that you are alone in your thoughts, with your ideas, within your emotions. Sometimes it creeps up on you when you are surrounded by the people you love most. As much as it can be a lonely time of year, as much as you feel you’re the only one, as much as you won’t believe me, you are far from alone.

Support – If it ever starts to feel too tough and over-whelming, support is only a phone call away.

Lifeline                 13 11 14

Kids Helpline       1800 55 1800

As joyous and celebratory as the end of the year can be, I will always have my harder moments. Honestly, I’d be more concerned if I didn’t. They help me start the new year with a clean slate. I guess it's part of my tradition.

Not everyone will feel this way. There will be many of you who breeze through the holidays and genuinely find this to be the happiest time of the year. Because it just is, and that's okay. This wasn't to dampen the holiday spirit, it's just a side to the holidays that doesn't get spoken about.

For those who have their moments, remember they’re just moments. You are human, and you are allowed to feel.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and the best wishes and strength for the year ahead.