Dealing with anxiety and depression this time of the year? Yea, me too.
The holiday season can be difficult for many people, for various reasons. Fond memories of holidays spent with loved ones who have now passed. We miss them. The reality of a broken family, a reality we suppress for most of the year, can become stark, vivid, and central this time of the year as we painfully mourn the hurt and bitterness that splits up so many families. It can be a lonely time for those with no family, friends, who will spend Christmas day alone, yearning for companionship. There are the poor, who, having been lead to believe by our American, capitalistic tradition, that is a day about giving lavish gifts to the children, and they have nothing to give to their own children. No, I am not against gift giving on Christmas. To each their own in this regard.
There is something about knowing that you are not alone in your struggles in life that helps lift the burdens even if it is so slight. Needless to say, my holiday seasons are never easy on me. Every year I am bombarded with anxiety, depression, and grief, and it seems like all my wounds rise up and reveal themselves. I often find myself drinking too much, eating too much, and doing my best to numb the pain as best I can. My daily walks in the woods, meditations, my exercises in mindfulness, all go by the wayside as I am swept up in one violent maelstrom of emotions.
Holiday seasons are rough for many people, I know this. I also know that holiday seasons can be full of joy, laughter, times of light and reconciliation, a time to wind down from a busy year, and to see loved ones that you have not seen in a while. This blog post, however, is not about joy, it is about pain, and coming to terms with it. For those who are still with me, you know what I speak of.
Every Christmas season I reminisce about my childhood memories. I would say my childhood memories of Christmas are a few bright spots in an otherwise dark childhood. The two people who showed me love, gave me attention, and genuinely made a mark on my life are my two grandmothers. I remember going to their homes on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. One of my grandmothers always had a giant lit up star right at her front door, I can still see it clearly in my mind. As you walked into her foyer she had this small, green, clay Christmas tree with many colored lights adorning it. I remember the excitement of the season for me as a kid, and being there with my Grandmothers and other family members. Both my grandmothers have now passed on, one when I was 14, and the other just passed three years ago, right before Christmas. Every year, the grief of their passing rises to the surface for me, as I think back on those years of being with them, and all the light filled memories. I guess the grief never really leaves you when you lose a loved one, and I think allowing yourself the grief is a major part of the healing process. I know so many of you grieve for lost loved ones at this time of year too.
To add to these memories of the past and the tumultuous emotions flooding my mind, the current rifts in my family unveil themselves and put on quite a show each year. For one, my relationship with my dad has been one of great pain. He lives 10 minutes from my house, literally, and I think I have not seen him for two years now? I have made every effort on my end to reconcile with him. I have forgiven him many times over, and I honestly hold no animosity towards him anymore, though I did for years. The men’s work I have been involved in (with Illuman) these past few years has really helped me to work through my anger and rage towards my dad. That said, it still hurts not having a dad in my life, and I am coming to grips with the fact that this father wound will always be a part of my life. Needless to say, my efforts of seeing my dad this past Christmas fell short once again, same old story, and I don’t know why I keep hoping for something different each year?
Next on the dysfunctional family list is the rift between my mother and brother. I myself am not on the greatest terms with my mother, and I feel bad for that, yet, I don’t know how to heal that wound. I have tried, quite a few times. I keep telling myself, to let all this go, focus on the moment, on your children, and live your life. Yet again, there is the brokenness of my family unit staring me right in the face. So much pain, and for those who are not willing to do any inner work, the pain will always be there. This pain will continue to feed upon itself, and when it seems like it has faded away it will just manifest in a different form somewhere down the road.
This is true for all the unresolved matters in our lives. Holding onto resentments and bitterness and never really facing it means there will always be strife and a continual wounding in life. We wound ourselves, and then we transfer this pain to others. Hence, all the suffering you see in this world today. There will be separations and bitter arguments, and the sad thing is that so many families will never reconcile. People carry these unresolved issues to their graves all too often. Perhaps, if they’re lucky, while on their death bed their hearts may open up, soften up, enough for them to reconcile and make amends, but this does not always happen. I think of this when I hear teachers talk about how the key to life is to die before you die. In other words, allow your heart to open up now. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury to know that our life is coming to an end soon and that now is the time to get all of our affairs in order. Do it now, why wait? This is a grace if you can get hold of this while you still have breath, strength, and time. It is a very hard work, a humbling work, and those who you attempt to make amends with will not always reciprocate. Remember, you are doing this for your own heart, you’re not responsible for the state of another’s heart.
Seeing all this in my family creates so much anxiety and hurt for me. My nature is to play the savior and come in and fix it all, to play the mediator, and try to work out the reconciliation myself. The thing is, I can’t do that, and it is yet another thing I have to let go of. Easier said than done and easier to write this than to live this.
All I can do, all we can do, is to open our own hearts, do our own inner work, and endeavor to live a life of love, and sometimes the door may open up to where you can speak words of reconciliation into another’s life, but in the end, you are not responsible for anyone’s salvation. You are only tasked with doing your best to guard your own heart from bitterness, to seek forgiveness, to forgive, and to work out your “own” salvation and healing. Work on you, do your inner work, and I truly believe that your own transformation is one of the greatest catalysts for change in the lives of others.
I believe we are all connected. I think some of us feel more deeply than others, and sometimes, during seasons like this, you are not only feeling your own griefs, anxieties, and depression, but you are also picking up on other’s emotions. I have noticed that when I can sense another’s state of mind, whether it be a joyful state, or an anxious state, that I often feel as they do. When we raise our level of consciousness and awareness, I believe we lay the groundwork for others to take these same paths. We become trail blazers. So, know this, you are not alone, do your inner work, and seek peace with all. Endeavor to live a with an opened heart, rather than with a constricted heart, bound in fear and suspicion. The wounds, they can heal, they will over time, though the process can seem slow. You can become whole, and you become who you truly are, who you already are.
In speaking with some brothers of mine on these issues, they they have offered me some advice on the anxiety and depression I deal with this time of the year. They encouraged me to make a list, to be conscious of all that I am thankful for. Yes, the pain and griefs are real, but the joy and the light is just as real. For me, it is the beauty of my children that gives me life and hope, and the faithfulness of my wife and her long suffering towards me, which gives me strength. It’s being with the ones that do care, the ones that I can share this life with that gets me through another day. It’s all my brothers that I have met during my time doing work with Illuman that I am so thankful for. I am still breathing, and hope and love still abound in my heart, and I can still see that light inside, so while the darkness is there, so is the light. Do not forget about the light.
It could be, that right now, you don’t see any light, and I have been there all too often. So, my last words of advice, for what they are worth, is find a friend you can talk to about your struggles. If not a friend, find a therapist, a spiritual director, anyone really. We can’t do this alone. For so long I tried to do it all alone. Those are some of the darkest years I have yet to know. When I received the advice to find someone to talk to, my thought was who? I set my intention to finding friends, community, and professional help. Over time, it came to me. You have to be intentional about this work, and you will find that doors will open, and people will come into your life. You are not meant to be an island unto yourself. Dare to open your heart so that that light can flood in.