The Festive period is a time for reflection, for joy and gifting and spending time with friends and family. That’s what we’re all told from an early age, and this is what TV shows us we *should* be doing. Putting on a large spread of delicious food, drinking and eating too much, looking after those we love, playing board games, chatting, socialising etc The supposed ideal of Christmas.
But for many of us, that’s just not the case. For many, it’s painfully remembering those we have lost, the things we don’t have, the fear of having to ‘put a brave face on it so that you don’t put a downer on others’. There’s the ‘forced fun’ aspect of the countless Christmas parties, which some people regard with abject terror, and then the feeling of loneliness that follows when you’re no longer invited to such soiree’s, and people stop asking if you’re ok.
We need to not stop asking people if they’re ok. Keep asking. You can never ask this too much – but you must mean it. Actually care enough so that if the answer is “no, I’m not okay” then you’re there for that person. Behind everyone’s smile is a hidden pain. As I get older, the more I realise this to be true.
For me personally, Christmas fills me with anxiety. Am I going to make it through this season without breaking down physically and mentally? Rheumatoid Arthritis is very painful and exhausting through the winter months, so saying yes or no to some of the Christmas fun takes a lot of pre-planning and careful curation of rest times, sleep patterns and of course ensuring my work is up to scratch. This often means I can’t make that mid-week party that actually, I’d love to go to. I have to make my choices, which some will take as a snub, unless I go through the rigmarole of explaining in detail what’s wrong with me and why I have to do what I do. Which then follows on with the ‘But you don’t look sick‘ conversation. Again, whilst I don’t mind this as such, at this time of year, it does become exhausting in itself.
And then, on top of this, the last few years have been tough. Like really tough. At Christmas, I’ve lost three grandparents and had an extremely physically and emotionally painful miscarriage of a long sought after baby. In the grand scheme of things, this is nothing compared to what some people go through, but in personal terms, there have been times I simply just couldn’t cope. The feeling of loss and helplessness has been so painful that I’ve hidden myself away and become that person who really can’t face the Christmas socialising, or even family socialising. It’s something I felt I couldn’t discuss with my family or friends because I’d be pouring iced water on everyone else’s perfect, Merry Christmas plans. I still feel this way – and I’m still debating whether sharing this post is selfish of me or not. However I am sharing this because I know I’m not the only one who is struck with pain and fear when it hits December. And I want those who feel the loneliness and isolation of it all to know, that you’re not alone, and it’s ok to feel what you do. You’re not the Christmas grinch, you’re a human being who feels pain, and that truly is ok.
Grief takes a long time to come to terms with. You never get over it, it doesn’t get any better, but you do learn to accept it. It becomes another part of who you are. Can you say pain makes you a better person? Wear it as a badge of honour that you survived? If it helps, then fine, but I’d say in reality, these experiences are none of those things. They just simply happened, through no one’s fault, and the pain of these things are left deeply within us, for us to deal with how we see fit.
The real point of my post, without going into further detail is that what you might believe is ‘the perfect Christmas’ is perhaps not perfection for others. If, you are one of the lucky ones for whom Christmas is the picture perfect Hollywood ideal, then please, do consider that if someone is not being themselves, or declining to attend your party, or rather lack-lustre about the season or your exciting celebration plans with your large, loving family and friends, ask yourself why. Ask them, “are you ok?”. Consider that this time of year might actually be a living hell for them, and perhaps just reach out gently. You might be the start of helping them to embrace the season once more, and bring some joy back into their life.
This post was inspired by LionHeart’s recent Grief and loss posts, and also much that I’ve seen on social media surrounding loneliness. Whilst friends and family are an important focus at this time of year, think of those with no friends and family, what will they do? What options do they have? You only have to do one thing to make a difference, and although you can’t save the world on your own, we can save it *collectively*.
If you wish to understand more, please do check out the LionHeart posts, and also if you need further help, do not hesitate to contact LionHeart if you are an RICS member, and the Samaritans and other wonderful organisations such as the Miscarriage association who were and still are amazing, Macmillan Cancer Support, and not forgetting that many companies will have an Employee Assistance Programme, for which there will be a free, confidential telephone number where you can speak to someone right away.
Whilst you may feel you want to be alone in your pain, and hide yourself away, when that loneliness becomes suffocating, and it will – I urge you to reach out. You can feel lonely in the centre of a crowd, you can smile and be the life of the party, but that doesn’t last in the end. But it’s not the end, there is help, and it is waiting for you to say “I’m not ok.”