Heartache...and Surviving the Holidays

It took me everything, E-VE-RY-THING not to burst into giant sobs while sitting in the back seat of the car, as my friend's mother drove my friend and I to our destination. It was holiday time, Mariah Carey's "I miss you most at Christmas" was playing and the words punctured my soul and left me with a crippling heaviness I wouldn't wish on anyone. I was devastated. While my physical body went through the motions of celebrating the holidays, my heart was consumed with immense grief and sadness over my first real break-up. 3 years is still a long time in young people years. And I really thought I was going to marry this person. What happened? Why wasn’t I enough? I was plagued by questions of disbelief and self-doubt. And yet, despite every unpleasant emotion - betrayal, shock, anger, confusion, etc., the most painful one of all...was that I missed him. 

I would have taken a solid beating over that emotional torture phase in a heartbeat. 

It’s hard to believe that was about 17 years ago. I learned from that Christmas on that, no matter how pretty the snow is, how excited other people are or how festive the malls and neighbourhoods look, the holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of the year. Some years, it’s anything but wonderful. 

And Then There Was 2020

After the year we just had, this holiday season will bring with it a lot of sad “firsts” for many. The first Christmas without a loved one. The first Christmas not being able to see/visit a dear family member. The first Christmas after a separation (let’s call it the covid effect). The first Christmas without financial stability. And I imagine an even lonelier season for some, after what was probably one of their loneliest years to date.

If you fall into the category of people in pain and/or dreading the holidays this year, I thought of some helpful points for you to keep in mind this season. Consider it a pep talk or "cheat sheet" of sorts, to help you survive the Holidays; in those moments when your head is enthusiastically saying yes to eggnog, but your heart is longing to hide in the bathroom and cry in the fetal position...till it's all over.

Stress-Defusing Holiday Reminders

Here are some helpful points to keep in mind this season:

💜 The pressure is BONKERS. Fun parts aside, the holidays are basically a shitload of SHOULDs that gets dumped into our laps once a year. You should be happy at this time. You should put your feelings aside for the kids. You should spend ridiculous amounts of money on gifts. You should go to this party. You should participate in the ugly sweater contest at work. You should do volunteer work. You should have New Year's Eve plans. You should cook an 11-course meal for the family. Like OMG- can you stop!?! 

Shoulds suck in general but are even more damaging at this time because it's easy to feel like there's something wrong with you if you can't keep up, if you don't give in to the pressure and if you aren't ecstatically grinning like a lunatic through it all. Companies want our money so they will use every psychological trick in the book to get us to buy their products. So, pushy consumerism + family expectations + social obligations + your own needs/wishes- it’s a miracle anyone can remain sane at this time, really. The holidays can be stressful under the best of circumstances. Please remember that. Add grief, loneliness, heartache, etc. to that and you have what could very easily be a recipe for an emotional breakdown. Go easy on yourself.

💜 It’s Not You, it’s This Society. Western society acts like a Fairweather friend- it loves to celebrate and embrace the "positive", and peace-out ✌ as soon as it perceives anything negative or uncomfortable ahead. Success without failure, feeling amazing without crediting therapy or medication that helped (you're encouraged to keep that stuff on the DL), praising our heroic war veterans and yet, when they survive the unthinkable and make it back, their mental health funding gets cut or is insufficient at best. Our culture likes to downplay and gloss over the difficult or non-glamorous parts of any given journey. That's so unhealthy! 

"It's okay to not be okay"- yeah, no shit. The fact that that even needs to be a slogan says a lot about our society. The decades and decades of "put on a brave face" messaging had the damaging effect of making it weak or wrong to be human and have normal human emotions. What’s worse than feeling like crap is being made to feel like you shouldn’t be feeling like crap. Or that you shouldn’t be showing it, at least. Well, society be damned! You’re entitled to your feelings and the time and manner in which you need to process them. It’s not your job to rush through your grief or minimize your pain in order to accommodate others and what they’re comfortable with. Yes- EVEN at Christmas. And YES- even with children, to an age-appropriate degree. They need to learn about grief too. I'm not saying cancel Christmas, I'm saying it's okay for them to see you sad and struggling. So take your time, sis/bro. You are on nobody’s healing schedule but your own.

💜 Triggers are Rampant. To my surprise, my mother recently told me that just hearing Christmas music stresses her out. I asked her why, since there is nothing to stress about this year (no gatherings, only one gift to buy, etc.), and she didn’t have an answer. I suspect it hearkens back to a time when she had a lot of stress and pressure over the holidays, and had to “put on a brave face” so our family could have a Merry Christmas. Triggers are everywhere for a lot of us at this time. They vary- for some it’s in the form of a relative who questions our life choices non-stop, a parent or sibling who always pushes our buttons and brings out the worst in us (I just chuckled from remembering comedian Nicole Byers saying she thinks her uncle being able to call her fat every Thanksgiving is what’s keeping him alive 😂🤣 ), a specific date like New Year’s where you feel reminded that you're single/alone, or yes- even innocent, “joyful” Christmas music. If you find yourself judging your feelings or “overreactions”, keep in mind that there is likely more to it than just what’s in front of you- you may have been triggered. None of us act like the best versions of ourselves when we are triggered (think people who have run into their childhood bully, and just freeze and feel themselves morph into an anxious 13-yr-old again). So, ----deep breath----, try your best to talk yourself through whatever comes up this year. Or just flat out avoid your rude uncle. 

💜 Optical Illusions are Still Going Strong. If I had to guess, I would say about 70% of social media is pure BS (filters, attention-seeking, cryptic posts, etc.), 20% is people either embellishing or telling one-sided stories and the last 10% is reality. A funny example of this is when a friend asked me how my weekend was, and started laughing when I said that it was “okay”, after I explained that my husband and I got into a big argument that put a damper on it. When I asked her what was funny, she said she saw our pictures on FB of us going to 1000 Islands on one of their boat tours and was giving her husband shit for not being more spontaneous and planning fun family trips like that. See how misleading one-sided stories can be? Don’t get me wrong- we had fun moments and took beautiful pictures. But they were interspersed with sitting on a scorching hot boat for 3 hours while I very consciously monitored my personality, so as to not accidentally offend my mother-in-law with my sense of humour. And it was topped off with a grand finale fight that I did not capture online (our angry faces are just not as cute as our smiling selfie faces). She had seen a mere glimpse of our weekend, as is what most of social media is- glimpses.

Anyway, brace yourself because it’s coming- 'matching family onesies' season is here and there are going to be pictures galore of this, and of fun NYE gatherings and of whatever else people very specifically feel like sharing. Just keep in mind that it’s rarely the full picture. People are less likely to post about their crappy marriage, how they're drowning in debt, how average they look like in the morning, how they might be in a depression or have a chronic pain issue, etc, etc. etc. And yet, we see shiny pics and take them at face value without considering that there's so much more going on. Our minds can play tricks on us when our insecurities are activated. It helps to stay mindful of this- that everyone on planet earth has problems.

Same goes for perfectly happy couple pictures. Sure, some are authentic. But I watch a lot of Dateline and sometimes those beautiful, "perfect life" couples are plotting each other's murder. Okay sorry, that was morbid...but you just never know.

Another point is many people in actual relationships feel lonelier than people who are single and searching...which is so much sadder if you ask me. A lot of people just settle and end-up with crappy partners because they don't want to be alone. So don't forget the optical illusions this year. It's not just Santa who can use magic!  

Speaking of Santa, here's your cheat-sheet to help you survive the Holidays:

Self-care is your #1 priority. NOT seasonal shoulds.

Accommodate your grief, your process, your inner space. Not society or anyone else's way of doing things. 

Never mind the magical world of Facebook and Instagram. They be lying.

Triggers are as abundant as snowflakes...but way less pretty. Be aware of them.

Anticipate better days ahead. They are coming, I promise.

Fast-Forward to Today 

I just got off the phone with my husband, who is getting slammed at work (UPS driver), but still thought to call and say: "I'm just checking in, I love hearing your voice". Next week will mark 10 years of us being together ❤. We laugh way more than we fight. We have a beautiful home that is stupid with Christmas decor, because he’s a holiday decorating fanatic. And although 2020 has been a terrible year for many...it was a pretty wholesome one for me. We will all have our turns.

Which leads me to my last and favourite point: your "why am I not enough" now, could very well be your "I dodged a bullet" or “Thank God that didn’t work out” later. 

So, take heart.

Here's to trusting that better days are ahead 🥂

Here is a poem I wrote a few years ago that sums it up well:

The Story of Your Heart


Please take good care of yourself this holiday season. My heart is with you if you lost someone special this year.

God bless.






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