With the holidays quickly approaching, I want to remind family and friends that there are those of us who do not embrace Thanksgiving, Christmas Kwanza, Hanukah or whichever holiday you culturally celebrate.
I begrudge no one their happy festivities and celebration of customs. We are all different and happily, free to embrace and pass on our chosen religious or non-religious traditions. However, I and millions like me, choose not to celebrate them for myriad reasons. I cringe at the first sight of snowmen and Santa’s adorning store windows along with the garish pre-Christmas holiday blowout sale signs for electronics and cookware. It truly is the only time of year I suffer from severe anxiety. It takes me back to a childhood of sadness and despair.
I have no fond memories from my childhood to cherish and recreate although I tried for years and failed miserably. Not because I did anything wrong, quite the opposite, I over-thought and over-did everything in trying to present the perfect ambiance and perfect meal in hopes a perfect family would show up. They never did.
Be mindful of those of us who prefer to remove ourselves from traditions of norm and not partake in these celebrations. We love you, we do and we understand your love for Thanksgiving and Christmas (and all the cultural holidays celebrated) but for us, they are something we just want to navigate through quietly and without attention.
I have long since realized it does no one any good for me to ‘play the game’ or ‘just get through it’ by sitting at the seasonally decorated tables adorned with great-grandmother’s best silver and china. It’s a strong trigger for me and my childhood traumas which lasted long into my adult years. I much prefer to see my children for a visit or go for a walk the next day. This comforts me and removes the pressure for me to submit quietly and feign enjoyment.
I have people who have only the best and most loving intentions for me at this difficult time who still feel it’s their job as my friend or family member to tend and include me, and I so love them for that. They come from a place of kindness and caring.
I have, at this point in my life, hopefully made them understand that it isn’t anything personal against them, their customs, their religion, their choice of foods or the way or place they choose to gather.
To them I kindly say: This isn’t about you, this is about me putting my needs first.
It’s ok to be selfish when it comes to protecting ourselves and for me, the little girl inside who held all my pain and secrets. It’s she who cannot cope. I will not force her to bow her head, sit quietly, and smile politely at a table where she is afraid, anxious and completely out of her element because that’s what is expected of her. I, and she, hear ‘what’s not to love about the holidays’ and ‘stop being such a baby’ and ‘just make an appearance, otherwise everyone will think there’s something wrong with you’ all the while screaming inside so loud she’s sure everyone within ear shot can hear her. For me (and her), it’s oppressive and suffocating: it involves submitting to something daunting and overpowering, much like the abuse I endured and had to just ‘take’ as it was served up quietly and enjoyed by others.
So no, I will not. She will not.
I implore all kind, loving and well-meaning friends and loved ones: please respect our decisions. Please know we love you but we must love ourselves more at certain times in our lives and for me, the holidays are one of these times.
I wish everyone a joyous season full of love and happiness. Rest assured you will not find me at home curled up in the fetal position crying, for were this the case, concerns and fear for my mental health would overshadow the celebrations my friends and/or family have worked so hard to provide. I’m much happier on my own, relaxed and comfortable in my own skin and company. I understand and appreciate this is their favorite time of year: family gathering, incredible food, lovely music, dressing up, children playing, opening presents, and celebrating their love for and with one another. And everyone deserves the holiday happiness they have come to know and love.
But for those like me, remember, we deserve the holiday we know and love: one of quiet reflection, walks in the woods, a movie, a luscious glass of red wine and peace in knowing our family and friends love and respect us enough to understand that although there is an empty seat at the table, we are there in the spirit intended: love.
About the author: Mary McLaurine is a writer and blogger living in Maryland. She blogs at The Heart of Sassy Lassie, mainly about trying to find humor in all of life’s ups and downs. She has strong ancestral ties to Scotland and knows that, although she has never been there, she has lived there all her life. She has been published on First Day Press, Washington Post, Huffington Post, and several other sites. Follow her on Facebook Twitter Google+ Pinterest