Holiday much? Wassel around on what to do on a Friday night? Noticed a change in the color of the streets, the hue of the bulbs, the tenor of the music dripping off the bells of the season? Keenly aware of the sweet smells of pine boughs, baked goods and peppermints? Maybe people have started to greet you with salutations marked with words like, “Merry”, “Happy” and other superlatives geared towards eliciting feelings of joy and connection.
If this is all cool with you, and your totally hyped and geeked and ready to rock around the Christmas tree, then go enjoy! Wrap yourself in the most ridiculous decorative paper you can find, grab a caroling book and broadcast your cheer to the four corners!
If, instead, you find yourself twitching in annoyance every time you hear carolers traipsing down your street and can’t relate to the heightened level of serotonin that EVERYONE ELSE seems to be literally sweating, read on.
Sometimes this can all be too much. You find yourself wanting to rip the head off the singing lawn ornament next door. You don’t want to go to that party or put an ugly sweater on yourself or your dog (not your cat though, just don’t, cats don’t like that). You would rather be alone, not reminded of what is, what isn’t and what could or couldn’t be. It’s a hard thing to explain to someone who isn’t indoctrinated in the sadness and loneliness that only a time of celebration can create.
“Why aren’t you happy?” “What’s wrong?” “Why didn’t you show up?” “Why do you have to be so selfish?”
These questions become the new holiday greetings of the sad, lonely, addicted and lost. Pushed aside, depression amplified, every interaction becomes part of the –insert negative feeling here– and moves the heart in a direction of isolation. Where do we go from here?
Long, drawn out solutions can be difficult. We have heard the advice, the books, the manuals, self-help audio, meetings, sessions and tons of well-meaning friends and family. Most of us have an information-overload when it comes to modern psychological ideas, help and implementation. Typically, gathering the energy together to move forward on “what we know we should be doing” is such an overwhelming task that we don’t initiate. It’s easier to do what we are doing, it is protective. At least we know the evil at hand vs. the feelings of failure if we try something new and fail.
A possible solution?
Start Small – Focus On What You Can Improve, Not Where You Are Failing
Start small and don’t focus on what is wrong, what is failing, the areas that need improvement. Instead, focus on something accomplishable, something you can look at and say, “I did something that felt good!”, “I took action”. Identify something that is healthy, that you like to do and makes you feel good. It doesn’t matter what other people think or say. Depression plays the trick on us of making us feel that we are not worthwhile and that “nothing will change”. Things can change. They can change just a tiny bit at a time. I had a friend say this it is a “James Bond Moment”. “When James Bond gets poisoned, he uses all of his remaining energy to make it to the ‘antidote’”.
Don’t go big. Go small. Do what you can accomplish without much effort. Follow it up with something else small, rinse and repeat.
In marriage therapy, you sometimes watch couples focus on their problems and the problems get worse and worse. A simple shift can sometimes change everything. Having the couple focus on what they enjoy together and building on those experiences to create joy and love. Sometimes there are issues that need to be worked through, roads that must be walked. We aren’t discussing those issues today, we are focusing on finding a little joy, a small sense of accomplishment on which to build.
I remember being a kid and driving by one of my teachers homes. My dad was the local pastor and I saw the concern on his face. There my teacher was, throwing all of her husband’s possessions into the yard. We drove by and my dad dropped me off at home before returning to help (I assume). It was winter, close to Christmas. In Michigan. Snow on the ground. The kind of brown, mud infused snow that ruined every item it touched. I felt her pain. She was a great teacher and always had nice sweaters, a smile on her face and was kind.
We treat ourselves the same way at times, we throw our possessions on the muddy ground, we scream at ourselves and don’t notice how wonderful we are. We don’t notice that maybe we have elevated some awkward kids’ life by being kind to him. We ignore all the positives we have put into the world and our relationship with ourselves looks very much like a divorce.
You are wonderful. You deserve to be loved. Begin to heal the relationship with yourself by displaying a little appreciation. Do something you feel good about. You are worth it.
In the immortal words of arguably the best psychotherapist of all time (Dr. Leo Marvin), “Baby steps, take baby steps”.
Clinical Director, Maple Mountain Recovery