President’s Note: It’s not a holly jolly Christmas for everyone

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For what is often referred to as the most wonderful time of the year, the holiday season can also be one of the most isolating and difficult parts of the year for people to get through.

There’s a reason why some of the most beloved Christmas songs are depressing  — the holidays have the tendency to make any existing feelings of sadness worse and potential loneliness more noticeable.

When I was younger, being surrounded by joyous people at school who would be contentedly partaking in festive occasions with their other friends and family, only served to make me more miserable.

To me, it seemed as though everyone was actively trying to shove their happiness in my face, and it just made me realize how alone I felt.

Growing from a person who used to alienate themselves from anything to do with Christmas, and who felt incredibly depressed during it, to a person who actively enjoys the holidays now, has definitely been a difficult transition for me, and one that is still challenging to navigate.

There is a momentous amount of pressure around the holiday season to put on a happy face and participate in the traditions that are supposed to be fun, regardless of whether or not your home life reflects that.

For me, and other people I know who have grappled with this in some way or another, it can feel immensely stressful trying to please all the people in your family, while trying to be a version of yourself that you think will make everyone the happiest — often to the neglect of your personal wellbeing in the process.

Whether it’s gritting your teeth and bearing through the uncomfortable, intrusive, overly-personal questions from extended family members, suffering through awkward small-talk with people you barely know, managing their expectations or navigating other various family issues, it’s no wonder why the holidays can be so depressing for some.

I often felt like all of my failures, the things that I wasn’t doing right, or doing enough of, were on display for everyone to criticize and question, and I felt cornered because of it.

I couldn’t retreat to my room like I wanted to, and I had to plaster a grin on my face and pretend like I wasn’t intensely uncomfortable and anxious.

When my grandmothers, the two people in my life who were always kind and made the holidays as enjoyable as they could for me passed away, I felt like there was even less of a reason for me to care about Christmas.   

It hit me harder than I could process at the time, and there was a void that couldn’t be filled with the Christmases that followed it.

They always knew what gifts to get me (an extremely difficult task), how to make me smile and feel comforted in their presence and they just generally gave me a sense of calm during what I considered to be an anxiety-inducing and very stressful time.

 There was no pressure from them to act a certain way or be anyone other than myself — they loved me as I was.

I think, when one of the biggest expectations around the holidays is to be “happy,” failing to meet that standard just makes you more conscious of your own supposed shortcomings.

There are so many reasons why seasonal depression impacts people differently, and I understand how absolutely crippling it can be around this time.

A Spotted at Laurier tweet that was shared recently really resonated with me: “This is something I feel like a lot of people need to know. You choose who you call family. If you have a mother, a father, or even siblings who are psychologically damaging to you, get rid of them. You deserve better. Stay strong out there, everyone. I know how much it hurts.”

In many ways, my family dynamic is by no means “normal,” but I consider myself lucky.

For the people I don’t have, I still have my sister, the person who was closest to me growing up, and who endlessly supports me no matter what.

I was also welcomed into another family when I entered my current relationship over five years ago, and it really opened my eyes to a different way of experiencing the holidays. That it could be done  with people who unquestionably accept me and want what’s best for me, not the opposite.

Being in a different home where decorating, playing music, hanging out, eating, drinking and talking becomes fun and stress-free, was enough to make me realize that I have a choice now in who I spend the holidays with.

It feels natural, and organic —  I want to be a part of it and be involved with these things again rather than sitting on the sidelines and waiting for it to be over.

As an adult, I have the ability to surround myself with people who build me up and bring me joy, not the opposite.

The only true obligation that you should have during the holidays is to treat yourself with kindness and do what’s best for you.

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