A Holiday Wish

By Anthony Rivers, COVID-19 Mental Health and Well-Being Group

This post was originally written for the NAACP’s holiday newsletter on mental health.

The holiday season can be festive and full of cheer. You hear the music, the lights, and the cartoon specials we love signal the season is here. But for some, the anticipation of the season begins long before the world is ready to accept the first ringing of Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas” on the radio. See, loneliness isn’t seasonal, and holidays don’t create isolation. They amplify it. For some, the anticipation turns to anxiety with the thoughts of mingling with family members in which we share secrets of an unresolved past. Others may not have the privilege of a chosen family, and instead suffer in silence, because no one is there to know. Also, there is the expectation that one will have a “normal” holiday and for some the stress to perform can be too much to bear. Depending on the time of year and level of trauma, it’s possible all these things are true at once. Some days, it’s ok to not be okay, but there are also tools available that can make the days a little easier and I dare I say, enjoyable.

According to Psychology Today, “helping someone else makes you feel good and can broaden your social relationships.” I have personally found this helpful when coping with the loss of my mother. After her death, I chose not to celebrate. Then, I began adopting a family for the holiday, providing gifts and a meal to support them. For me, this gave Christmas new meaning. Nothing will replace a loved one, but the act of kindness brought a familiar joy back to my life.

If attending the holiday function with the family means interacting with individuals who have traumatized, abused, or harmed you, it is ok to say no thank you to that invite. “You may send your mental health into a tailspin by pushing yourself too hard to participate in events or go to crowded places that trigger your symptoms,” says Mental Health America. Many in the LGBTQ+ community who have unmet needs from their traditional families have long found peace, love, and acceptance in close friends or their chosen families. A nonbiological kinship forms bonds, whether legally recognized or not, when they are deliberately chosen for the purpose of mutual support and love.[1] This can be a great remedy for loneliness and isolation.

While there are many tools to make it through the season, we live with an even greater amount of unresolved trauma. The winter months prove to be challenging to many. The addition of the holidays can be triggering. Another layer of COVID, isolation and loss of community and loved ones can be downright catastrophic. Our emotions and our experiences are valid. Emotional wellness isn’t eternal happiness, it’s a balance and ability to process a range of emotions in a healthy way. This season, that is the gift I wish for you.

For more mental health and well-being resources please visit: www.kingcounty.gov/covid/support

[1] SAGE Encyclopedia of Marriage, Family, and Couples Counseling

Originally posted on December 22, 2020.