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What a Friend Helped Me Learn About the Holidays and Mental Illness

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My friend and I were in a car a couple of weeks ago when I learned that the holidays are not always happy, nor do they have to be.

She was driving us and I was gazing out the windows, admiring the red and white tinsel strewn across the polls and street lamps.

“I love this time of year. The decoration is just so pretty.”

She replied thoughtfully, “I don’t love it because of trauma-related things. It’s hard.”

It was in that moment I realized not everyone looks at Christmas decorations the exact way I do: with childlike wonder. Better yet, I began to understand why.

Just how Easter decorations bring up bittersweet memories for me — I had a dear aunt pass away around Easter a few years back — Christmas decorations can have that same affect on others. It doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate traditions or appreciate the meaning of the holidays or enjoy ourselves. It just means we can’t fully find joy around some parts of the holiday due to circumstances beyond our control. By holding space for something that hurts, we bring it to the forefront and honor it. And we allow the healing to begin. So I really appreciate my friend acknowledging that seeing Christmas decorations is difficult for her. I really respect her being open and honest with me. And I love that she’s open and honest with herself, too, as that initiates healing.

It’s such a cultural thing to celebrate the holidays like we do and to meet this time of year with excitement. While this may be true for many, there are others who may be mourning a loss or coping with a past trauma that occurred during the holiday season.

I also think about how Christmas is associated with the words “jolly” and “bright,” but there are without a doubt people out there struggling with depression and other mental illnesses this holiday season. There are people mourning losses this holiday season. And there are people coping with trauma associated with the holidays.

It’s OK to not be happy during a holiday that typically exudes joy and excitement. We are all going through something and it’s OK not to be OK. Learning that not everyone gets in the “Christmas spirit” like I do (if you celebrate Christmas) helped me process my own struggles around other holidays and gave me a better understanding and respect for another’s feelings and experiences around the holidays.

If you’re struggling like my friend is this holiday season, I see you. You’re not alone. It makes sense why the holidays may be difficult.

Getty Images photo via Daniel Besic

Originally published: December 3, 2019
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