December 20, 2019

10 Ways to Survive the Festive Season when you’re Suffering.

I can look back at my childhood and honestly say that I’ve had some great Christmases.

I can remember going to sleep and not being able to because I was waiting for Santa. A part of me wanted to catch him out, but another part of me loved the mystery being kept alive.

The magic of Christmas died when my father died, and every year since (20 years) it has been the hardest time of the year. It’s not just been hard because of the loss of my father, although him being such a father of Christmas himself does add to that. What’s hard is that I’m now (gosh, I can’t believe this to be true) a middle-aged woman. I’m single, and the only family I have in my life right now is my rescue dog Skye and my mother, and—even she’d admit—our relationship is often fraught.

As a little girl, I’d always wanted my own family and just assumed it would happen one day. That day never arrived, and Christmas to me is a reminder of the family that I’ve lost and the family that I crave after.

I know that I’m not alone in this. I have a beautiful friend who recently lost her father, only to travel back up-country to wait for her mother to die. This friend lost a baby a few years ago and is also alone.

I could share with you many stories of the people who have suffered through loss and grief. And the sad thing is, with every festive song played, with every romantic festive movie shown, it’s a reminder to those who have known loss of their grief. For every social media post of the perfect family Christmas, someone is behind another screen and crying their heart out as all they would want is just one little piece of that pie.

Every year I’ve prayed that this time next year I’ll have met my special someone and that I can finally enjoy all the magic of Christmas, but each year the reality is that I’m panicking over where in the world I can go and not feel the pain of the reality of my aloneness.

Last year, I did a Vipassana retreat (silent meditation for 10 days solid), and this time I’m going abroad, with my mother, I’m fortunate to add.

So for those walking around carrying that pain in their heart, trying to smile and be happy for those who are more fortunate, here are some tips and tools that may help you during this time:

1. It seems so bloody obvious, doesn’t it? But gosh, how frigging good does it feel to feel rested? I’m going to use this time to sleep in and rest my body. I don’t have to feel bad if I stay up late reading a book or listening to an audiobook, as I know that I cannot work during those bank holidays and so I’m forced to rest—and, let’s face it, we all need to nurture ourselves.

2. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by my feelings, I feel as if I’m going to throw up. As the season builds, every supermarket I walk into plays a happy, festive song, every person I run into is asking me with a big smile what I’m doing for Christmas. It’s in these moments that I feel more and more sadness arise in my heart, and so I journal. I find a way to get it out of me and to release.

3. Be real. I’m now honest with people. I’m not a scrooge, but I do say to people this is a tough time of year for me; I’m struggling. I’m not here to protect them from my suffering; I’m here to be real. If people find it uncomfortable, then that’s their issue—and those who struggle to find the words but make an effort, well, those I hold dear to my heart.

I also say to people that while I’m pleased for your blessings, I’m finding this tough to deal with. There’s nothing worse than holding it all in, plus it also gives people an opportunity to support you.

4. I found this during my Vipassana meditation retreat. I was supposed to be in silence for 10 days, but I found a field and spoke to my dad, I spoke to the universe and I cried. I got it all out of me, and it felt great.

Take a walk down to the ocean and do the same. The streets are quiet; put your headphones in and pretend that you’re speaking to someone on the phone if somebody catches you.

5. Sometimes, I go for a run. It’s probably the only time of year that I do. This time, I will go for a surf on Boxing Day. When I was on this silent retreat, I would walk for an hour in a field every day for 10 days.

6. Life can feel unfair; it can feel cruel and biased. I hate it when people remind me to count my blessings, as they’re normally people who have a bucket load of them—but they have a good point.

Lately, every day I’ve been writing down 10 things that I’m grateful for. One day, the only thing that I could find in my day that made it awesome was this stray cat coming into the studio where I work and we had a moment together. It was a connection. Bloody hell, when you count them, you realise actually there’s some good sh*t in life.

7. Connect with loved ones. What I like to do is take a moment or two to thank all the people in my life who have kept me going. Even if it’s just a “Thanks, buddy, for that dog walk we had last year. I needed to get out, and it really helped me.” It feels so f*cking good to tell others that they mean something to you.

8. Do something kind for another human being/creature. One year, I worked at a dogs’ home. It felt sad that it was my highlight for the day, but when I took some of those dogs out of their kennels and on their walk, it really lifted me.

9. Watch a sad movie, do a releasing meditation. Allow yourself to feel what lives underneath the surface and you’ll feel better.

10. Be there for others. If you know of anybody else who is suffering this time of year, reach out to them. They need your love and support more than you realise. Sometimes just a simple text message. A call, a letter, anything to let them know they f*cking mater; it can make the difference to a person’s life more than you’ll ever truly know.

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