With the holidays approaching, I feel a very strong desire to hang the decorations, make everything feel festive, and create some semblance of normal in this very abnormal year. I have a feeling that I’m not alone in wanting to forget about all the hardship of 2020 by covering up the pain with Christmas lights and Pentatonix Christmas albums.
But here’s the thing: if we numb away all of the hard feelings from this year without first acknowledging them and feeling them, they will not just go away. The pain will continue to hurt in different ways, and soon the numbness we use to mask the pain will begin to mask the joy, too.
This year was extremely difficult, frustrating, disappointing, and terrifying. People died. Plans changed. Our safety was threatened. Many things we once took for granted, like our health, eating at restaurants, and seeing others smile, were taken from us. This year was incredibly emotional. Processing our feelings may not feel like a high priority on the to-do list right now, but the truth is that if we don’t make space for our feelings, we will continue to see depression and other mental health issues skyrocket. I promise that this is not optional, not only for our happiness and peace, but also for our health and relationships with others. Emotions are not optional. We don’t get to choose if we have feelings or not. We don’t get to choose if we express our feelings or not. They will always come out in one way or another. We get to choose if we will handle our feelings directly or ignore them and let the feelings handle us.
This holiday season will not be normal. There will be many empty seats at our tables. Celebrations will look different. And we are different. We have all experienced collective trauma this year. There are two common outcomes for people who have experienced trauma. One outcome is the collection of symptoms that make up the diagnosis for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The second outcome is called Post Traumatic Growth. The most significant factor correlated to the difference between these two outcomes is simple: social support. Those who experience trauma and have trusted, caring people to lean on handle trauma much differently and heal more completely. This is what we need from each other right now. We don’t need to pretend like everything is normal. We don’t need to be strong and put on a brave face. We need honesty and vulnerability. We need others in our lives who are willing to talk about how painful this year has been, how scared they felt, and how sad they are about their losses. This is how we heal. We give each other permission to share our stories and our pain and our struggle.
And once we have given space and attention to our true feelings and we’ve shared our pain in trusted spaces, then we can enjoy the lights and the music and the eggnog. Then we can talk about the fun we’ve had on Zoom game nights and the joys of working in pajamas and the gratitude for the hundreds of long walks we’ve taken just to get out of the house. Gratitude is so important and effective but not as a distraction from the hard things. Joy and sorrow live side by side. We have all had the challenge of holding both this year. And the holidays will be no different.
Take some time this season to slow down and give your mind and heart the attention they deserve. This pandemic will not have a nice, neat ending where we can look back and recount our wins and losses. The end of this year is a great time for us to pause and process all that we have endured. We have survived. We are still in this together. Let’s hold each other as we weep and laugh with each other as we celebrate. This is true joy. This holiday season will be different. It will be hard. There will be sorrow, and there will be joy.