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The Awkward Holiday

Updated on December 23, 2015

If you’re anything like me, you have mixed feelings about the holidays. Excitement, anxiety, sadness, happiness, anticipation and so on, the holidays bring up a lot for people. One of the situations that first comes to mind is the one where you haven’t seen family members since the last holiday gathering, so coming up with the proper greeting and topic of conversation becomes harder than you expected. Another popular scenario would be more so for those with body image issues, eating disorders and anxiety pertaining to the amount of food that one might eat at the dinner table. And the one that I have to face this year and for the past few years would be explaining how my year has been since my family members have last seen me, specifically this year why I’m not in college.

I miss the days when holidays were about catching up with family, eating good food, exchanging gifts and kind words and having fun. All of those pleasurable times would be done without any stressors of actually purchasing the gifts, thinking up conversation starters and cooking the food for everyone to eat. Adults are so anticipatory of holiday food preparation, the presentation of their houses, having everyone get along and picking out just the right presents for everyone; children can just experience it while it’s happening and not worry about too much of anything.

In my fondest memories, wrapping paper would be flying around the room with many smiles and much laughter, and yet as the years have progressed, suddenly it becomes the credit card bills flying up and about, therefore making the smile and laughter count of these grown children, who are now called adults, plummet downhill at rapid speed. Maybe that’s why some family members are referred to as the Scrooges of the household or the Grinch that stole Christmas; they may be the ones that have to do all the behind the scenes work in order to make the holidays jolly for the little ones.

For those who struggle with mental health disorders, unfortunately you probably know very well that “coping skills” and “treatment” and “recovery” don’t get put on hold just because school or work does. As the roast beef appears on the table, some may fill their dishes without any hesitation while others may be more self conscious as to how much food they even want to eat. If you have the same thoughts as me, you probably take into great consideration the amount of food you put on your plate with the mindset that others will see how much you’re eating which would then bring up the judgments that could follow. These judgments are usually in our minds, as people are most likely realistically focusing more on what they are eating and not so much the amount of food you are eating.

The feelings of dread, anxiety and just plain sadness during the holidays have come up for me a lot in the recent years. I get anxious and dread interacting and conversing with people in the fear of awkward conversations, as I am more used to isolating myself from others in social situations throughout the year. I think the sadness comes from the rumination over the fact that our roles during the holidays are forever changing. We used to be those kids that ripped open the boxes of toys and anything covered in wrapping paper would make us happy. Then we made wish lists of things we wanted, creating some sort of expectation as to what we think we will be opening on Christmas morning, followed by potential disappointment if the desired items on our lists weren’t given to us. And I haven’t gotten to the next point, but eventually we become those mothers and fathers and guardians that go out to the department stores a few days before Christmas, stressing out while trying to find the last toy on their kid’s wish list.

Mothers and fathers do those kinds of things so that the cycle can continue; that there are still happy little children who are content with what they open in the morning and trying so incredibly hard to meet the expectations of their older kids. But far too often the wish lists of adults, specifically parents and guardians, remain lists of wishes and fly under the radar, as the mindset of holidays become “for the kids” as we grow older. In my house, we started a tradition where my parents open up their presents first. It used to be to “get it over with” so that my sister and I could have more time to be surprised and enjoy our presents.

But as time has passed, I realized that there is a better purpose for letting the adults go first for just one day a year. I came to the realization one day that the wants and needs of kids usually come before those of the adults, so giving them one day to be recognized and open their presents first isn’t the worst thing to do. We started this tradition when I was in middle school, so at age 12 it was harder for me to wait and watch my parents open up presents first. As I get older, I find it more fun at times to watch my parents open their presents and be surprised by the gifts that my sister and I got for them.

If there’s one take away message from all of this, it would be to go easy on yourself and those around you during this, as well as every holiday season. Whether you are the one contemplating the amount of food to put on your plate, the disappointed teenager that didn’t get what you wanted or the parent that didn’t get the exact right style or model of an item for their kids and it needs to be returned the next day after Christmas, please don’t put too much pressure on yourself or those around you. We are all doing our best in this life, and if we strip away the fear of not meeting the expectations that ourselves or others set, perhaps we will enjoy the holiday season just as much as the happy children opening their toys with all the happiness in their eyes and laughter to match their smiles. Happy holidays!

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