When 'Home for the Holidays' Isn't Good For Your Mental Health
Cause some families ain't shit and I am not here to tell you to spend time with ain't shit people. - Ashley Sharie
Yesterday for Blogmas, I shared some of my favorite holiday memories, both old and new. Reminiscing on some of my favorite times with my family and friends. But, the last two holiday seasons have been a bit rough mentally because of the loss of my Grandmother. Both times I traveled home for Christmas I had to have a crying fit in the car because her absence was, and is, definitely felt. No matter what I was in town for, or what time I got in, her house was my first stop. Whether I was there to hang with her for a few hours, or just stopping in for a few minutes, it was a necessity. It’s still weird going to Cleveland and NOT going by her place.The holiday season isn’t so merry and bright for a lot of people, for various reasons. Grief. Loss. Health. Childhood trauma. Toxic family. And the list goes on and on. Some of you don’t have a family home to return to for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. You may not receive invites to holiday parties and gift exchanges, and maybe some of you can’t even be in the same room with your relatives without arguments breaking out and past conflicts resurfacing. And I’d be remiss if I talked about the holiday season without acknowledging that.When this topic was suggested to me, I definitely felt a heart-sinking feeling because it is the reality for many people. Fortunately for me, blood relatives who I consider toxic aren’t around during the holidays. Don’t get me wrong, my immediate family isn’t perfect and we all have our shit to deal with, but I love the time I get to spend with them, especially around the holidays and have grown to interact in a way that is conducive to my mental health and healing.
All that to say:
I write this piece mostly from a place of empathy and not experience.
For some of you, going home for the holidays comes with A LOT of emotional baggage that barely fits in your carryon. It means facing demons, both figurative and literal, that bring about the presence of toxic relatives, unpacked childhood trauma, and an overall downward spiral of any joy you had before the day.It means sneaking off into a bathroom to cry and get through it. Or hiding the anxiety attack that is brewing up, threatening to show itself at any moment. Home the holidays may mean being in the continuous presence of some of the people who have caused (and may still cause) you the most pain, and yet because they are related by blood or marriage, you’re expected to deal.
So here are a few pieces of advice that I share, with love, that may make the holidays a little bit better for you:
Don’t be afraid to love from a distance.
This is something that I learned in therapy. Not everyone, regardless of relation, needs to be in your intimate space. You don’t have to involve them in your everyday life.
Be open and honest about your needs.
[Read: if you can] This is a tough one because chances are, the people who you need to be open and honest with, will be least-receptive of your truth. So I say this in an “I know it’s easier said than done, but still try” kind of way. If you hate when your overbearing mother nags about your love life and when you’ll have kids, tell her. If your aunt’s sly comments about your weight gain hurt you, tell him. Or, if constantly having to face the uncle who may have touched you inappropriately is no longer something you want to accept “having” to do, say it. Though they may not be receptive, you’ve spoken your peace.
It’s okay to limit your time with family.
Family gatherings are not obligatory, especially if they put you back in a place mentally where you don’t want to be. This may mean skipping a holiday gathering or two or missing a couple of Sunday dinners.
Have a designated support friend.
Someone you love and trust. Someone you can text or call and just say “hey, I’m not okay right now and I just need an ear.” This person should be someone you’ve already discussed the dynamics of your familial relationships with
Family doesn’t have to be blood.
Create your own family and traditions. I am closer to some of my friends than I am some of my relatives. Family is who and what you make it. If you’d rather have a Friendsgiving, or spend Christmas day with the homies, that’s okay.