Standing naked in front of the page — emotionally speaking — isn’t exactly how I expected to be entering the festive season this year but at least the page does not judge. For all my forward planning, there are many things I expected to happen — such as my stepmom’s chemo on Dec 23 and all it entails — and some I did not. The latter have taken me quite by surprise when I realized that my inclusion in anyone’s plans wasn’t implied and I would therefore have to make my own if I wanted anything to happen.
I do not, not really.
I had much rather hole up somewhere remote so I can work as much as possible without interruptions for a month and reappear in January with a renewed sense of purpose.
When you’ve spent the year to date living out of a suitcase in motion between two continents and several countries on very limited funds despite working nonstop as I have, December feels like a slap in the face. Like everyone else in the Northern hemisphere at this time of year, I’m exhausted. And like everyone else, I could use some rest, some respite, some relief, and a chance to regroup, catch my breath, and bask in the glow of human warmth.
Only it cannot be.
One of the downsides of juggling so much for so long is that people tend to believe you are a tank. It doesn’t even occur to them that you too might enjoy the same things they do or that something to look forward to might lift your spirits as it does theirs.
Thus, the entire month of December becomes something to be endured rather than enjoyed, requiring an approach that neutralizes all the things that prevent you from joining in.
Lest they should annihilate you.
This sadness gets so unspeakably heavy it takes over, shrouding every moment into the molasses-like fog of despair. For me, it is a screen fading to black, a form of temporary blindness that incapacitates me but what happens during the holiday season goes way beyond chronic depression and owes a lot to childhood. There is an automatic expectation of sweet gentleness that smells like tangerine peels and feels like twinkling lights, an anticipation of awe.
As my mind struggles to find any data that might support the standard definition of what the holiday season is, my heart desperately scrambles for a way to keep moving forward regardless.
Self-inquiry is necessary to identify the issues so you can find a patch that’ll see you through the holiday season. However, self-pity isn’t that patch and the further you stay away from it, the better. Acknowledge the slap in the face, let it sting, shed a few tears, then wipe your eyes, blow your nose, and keep going. If acknowledging sadness helps us understand where it comes from and what it’s made of, self-pity is a form of indulgent apathy.
And apathy is stagnation, the very opposite of the forward motion you need to navigate December. Several boxes of tissues later, I know this from experience.
Whatever it takes for you to keep moving, do it.
If you’ve got a job you can disappear into by volunteering to work during holidays so others can enjoy theirs, why not do that? If you’re into sports, why not train more, set yourself goals, and start the new year in top shape? If you’re into creating, why not throw yourself into some new project or tie up loose ends? If you’re into reading, why not dive into books with abandon and let them take up all your spare time?
Plus there’s always something new to learn and no shortage of free online courses if you’re curious and dedicated enough. The possibilities are endless but the idea is always the same: Find something to do, especially if you have no people.
Keep looking outward and forward rather than within and back, one tiny step at a time, even if it feels like you’re crawling. I am crawling and perhaps you are too if you’re reading this; we’re two strangers painfully going from one word to the next on the opposite side of a screen.
It may have taken you only a few minutes to get here but it took me many hours and yet we’ve hopefully both advanced our understanding of what it means to be human.
We get through the holiday season by dragging ourselves forward, conjuring up momentum self-pity would deny us. For me, momentum is words although I’m not clear about what they might look like, or even if anyone will ever see them.
It doesn’t matter.
Setting intentions is enough. You can then follow through in whichever way you see fit, deriving as much satisfaction from the process as possible, whatever your definition of satisfaction is.
Even if it’s a temporary synonym for distraction.
Take heart, the holiday season is finite.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.