Enduring Christmas when the Holly & Jolly isn’t there

Saddest Christmas Picture nominee

I don’t know why I felt compelled to toss this blog post out here so near the end of the holiday season, but I’m trying to go with my gut and share more of myself on my blog. So maybe remember this for next year.

It’s been a couple of rough years for my husband and me. My closest friends know the whole story, but I’ve never been the kind of blogger who vomits up every single stressful situation or small hardship in my life. I know it’s therapeutic for some bloggers, and others do it for attention, but I tend to be more of a private person. Some of those struggles I have to process through before I’m ready to blog about them. Some of those struggles I will never blog about.

I fight this battle between seeking others out for support or turning myself into a recluse. Lately I’ve been forcing myself to seek love and support from others, no matter how needy I feel. I struggle desperately to not think that every time a call, text or email arrives from me that my friends think “Oh great. Wonder what the hell has happened now?” I also struggle with posting about problems on social media because I don’t want to be thought of as a drama queen or attention whore. I’ve dealt with people like that, and it was miserable. I’m super-sensitive about being perceived as one of those types of people. I usually like to joke around on twitter or Facebook, and I don’t want to be the Debbie Downer of the party. I feel this despite the fact that when I’ve reached out for support and solace, I’ve been overwhelmed by the advice and compassion I’ve been given, sometimes to the point of tears.

It’s hard to feel full of Christmas spirit when your heart is breaking, when the pain seems to surround you and anxiety presses you down. And the expectations that we have or that others have for us only make it worse because we feel guilty or wrong for being unhappy.

There are a lot of people who are grieving this time of year. It could be the loss of a loved one (even one who died years ago), the loss of a pet, the loss of a job, the loss of the hope that your life or your job or your family could be what you wanted it to be. You may be struggling with illness or poverty or watching someone you love suffer from those things. You may suffer from depression which compounds any of the other losses you’re dealing with. You may not know exactly what is wrong with you, but you just can’t muster up any holiday joy. I’m in no way an expert in the mental health field, but I do know what has helped me in the past and what is helping me this Christmas.

Ask for help
My first bit of advice for when you’re struggling is to reach out to your friends or family that are supportive people (we’ll talk about the unsupportive people in a little bit). I did this recently when I felt myself sinking under the weight of anxiety and grief. And guess what? My friends were delighted to help, grateful to be able to do something for me. There were a few presents that I was dreading buying. And you know what? I asked my mom for help, and she came through like a champ.  A couple of months ago, I could feel my body sinking into the horrible unhealthy patterns it’s learned while I haven’t been able to be as active as I’d like. I reached out to my former yoga instructor to see if there was any way I could work around my injuries. And guess what? She was glad to help as well, giving me a free private lesson so I could figure out ways to add yoga back in to my life and keep my body from debilitating further. There are so many other things that I’m so grateful for, but what I’m trying to tell you is to ask for help. It doesn’t make you weak. It allows you to strengthen yourself physically, spiritually or mentally, so that you can help others that need it. It’s a brave thing to do, and when others see you asking for the help you need, you might give them the courage to ask for what they need.

Limit the jerks
Those unsupportive people? I take a pretty hard line stance on this. If they’ve proven time after time again that they aren’t interested in being there for you, are only interested in what they can get from you, and undermine you at every opportunity, you don’t need them in your life. Friends and yes, family members do not have the right to make you feel like crap. A good therapist or support group can help you learn how to set up boundaries with these people, so they can’t suck the strength from you. If you’re struggling with the money for this right now, call your local Department of Health or a local university to see what resources are available. It will be a long, hard journey, but it will bring you much relief in the end. If you’re not ready to take this step, limit the time you spend with them as much as you can. Create tasks that you “have to do”. Stop in at a party, and explain that you can’t stay long because you’ve got another to attend, but how nice to see you. If someone says something insulting or rude to you, tell that person they’re not allowed to talk to you in that way, and if they keep it up, you’ll leave. And if they keep it up? Follow through with your threat and leave. And if you’re not ready for that kind of stance, do what we Southerners do. “My, that’s interesting” said in the most kind but bored tone usually works fairly well. A glass of wine in your hand always makes this easier.

It’s OK to be sad
Please allow yourself to be sad. You don’t have to be happy and jolly just because it’s Christmas. It’s your life, and you can cry if you want to. Really. Buy the tissues with the lotion in it, and allow yourself to grieve the losses you feel. Grief is not just an emotion. It’s a  process, and sometimes it’s a sneaky son of a bitch. It can hit you when you least expect it. Let yourself give in to the grief, so you can begin to heal. You may always have a scar, but it’s better than letting it fester inside of you.

Allow yourself peace
Take time to breathe. Cut back on holiday activities. Don’t go all out decorating the house. Don’t accept every holiday party invite. You don’t need to make a holiday meal with all the trimmings. Make it simpler or ask for help. Buy a smaller tree, and enjoy decorating it with such imperfection that Martha would have a stroke. Go for a walk. Take a hike in a quiet place. Even if you’re not religious, sitting for a spell in a church can soothe and calm you. And when you start to feel frantic, sit down for a minute, breath deeply, and remind yourself that imperfection can be your greatest ally. Perfection is kind of a pompous ass, and no one really wants him around anyway.

Throw out the traditions you don’t want and create new ones
Does making a holiday meal exhaust you? Don’t do it. Make something simple or fun like fondue. Make an assortment of appetizers to nibble on. Make a dinner out of cookies and ice cream. Order chinese food. Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean you have to have the Norman Rockwell feast.

Is there a holiday movie that you love? Watch it again and again. I adore Holiday Inn even though I know I’m going to cringe through that whole horrible Lincoln’s birthday scene. Love Actually is the most wonderfully cheesy movie, and I cry every time I watch it.

If you hate dealing with a Christmas tree, do something else. Buy a rosemary bush pruned into a tree. Buy a Charlie Brown tree. Wind white lights around a few bare branches.

If the idea of traveling just puts you in a tailspin, find some way, any way to put it off.

Holiday baking can be as simple as buying a tube of sugar cookie dough, and letting your kids go wild with colored sugars and icing. I realize that as a food blogger I’m supposed to be appalled by this, and say that I made 18 different kinds of cookies to give away to everyone. Screw that – I was too busy trying to keep my head above water this year. My friends and neighbors might get Valentine’s day cookies this year.

Declare Christmas an all-day pajama day. Go for a walk. Have a tacky Christmas sweater party. And don’t feel like every Christmas has to be like the one before to be real. Traditions don’t make Christmas real. People do.

Find a way to memorialize your losses and griefs
Light a candle at a church. Find a group to go caroling with. If your mom loved to knit, buy yourself a gorgeous hand knitted scarf (or knit it yourself, but that would stress me out). Look through gardening catalogs and pick something that reminds you of what you miss. Then grow it come Spring. If your dad was a fireman, buy yourself a little fire engine to put on your keychain. Donate to a cause that the person believed in. Write a letter to the person who has hurt and disappointed you, burn it, and scatter the ashes in the wind. Get a tiny little Christmas tree and put up pictures of the ones you’ve loved and lost. If your husband loved a fine aged scotch, drink one in memory of him. If your child loved dinosaurs, maybe a small tree decorated with dinosaurs is the thing for you.

My husband and I are insane, and usually put up a cat themed tree that has a few cat angel ornaments on it. This year was too stressful, but we’re going for it again next year. We usually put it up and cry when we see those angels. And then we laugh at how tremendously tacky we are as we decorate the rest of the tree with cat ornaments and ornaments of all the things our cats would kill if they were outside. It even has cat shaped lights. It is hideous. We love it, and we remember the furbabies we miss, cry and laugh at how tacky we are.

Heal yourself spiritually
This doesn’t have to mean you need to be religious. Sometimes I feel God closest when I’m hiking. You might just find the beauty of nature soothing you. Go listen to a choir sing. Listen to children playing in a park, and find joy in their delight. Go help someone you know is in need, and give back to the karma in this world. Create whatever it is that soothes your spirit.

I am christian, and my church helped me though this season. They have a service that’s known as their Blue Christmas service. The darkness of the world is acknowledged, and the joy that can be found even when all seems lost is celebrated. We offer up the losses in our lives and recognize the blessings. We can be anointed with healing oil, or light a candle in remembrance of our grief or loss. Marcus and I were brought to tears several times, but we felt comforted knowing that there were others sharing in our grief. I’m grateful to belong to a church that recognizes that it’s OK to struggle with the darkness, to feel at times that you have no faith, to feel at times that joy is impossible. God loves us even in our darkest hours.

I think about the struggles that Joseph and Mary went through. They must have felt anxious and scared. Mary felt physical pain when their baby was born, but might have also felt deep emotional pain knowing the rough journey her son had ahead of him. A baby was born that would bring joy to the world, but he was also the son that would be taken away from them in a horrible way.

If you find comfort and love from your religion, take advantage of that. If you don’t feel that comfort and love, but still hope for that spiritual sustenance quit doing what isn’t working, and find a church that focuses on loving and taking care of people, rather than condemning them. They’re out there. I know because I go to one.

Listen to yourself
That’s where the quiet part advice comes in. Listen to what’s going on in your mind as you breathe deeply. What sounds good to you? If Christmas on a tropical island will heal you, and you can afford it, go for it. If you want to escape to a cabin in the snowy woods? Do that. If your whole neighborhood puts up lights, and you can’t bear the thought of it this year? Don’t do that. If helping feed homeless people at a shelter brings you comfort? Do that. Really listen to yourself. If you haven’t been doing that, it’s a bit hard to hear your inner voice at first, but keep doing it, and it will rarely lead you wrong.

As I sit here typing this, a Sammy-cat lays across my lap. She’s so sprawled out that I’m typing this with one hand, knowing I’ll have to add the capital letters later. I know there are people who aren’t pet people. But pet people will understand why I’m sitting here typing one handed, brushing tears from my eyes, feeling like my heart is breaking. Sam was the first cat Marcus and I co-owned. She became part of the furred & unfurred family we created for ourselves. I sit here typing this, hoping and praying she’ll make it through the holidays because we want so badly for her to die at home surrounded by the two people that love her desperately.

Added to everything else that has gone on in our lives? I’ll be honest – it’s going to be very hard for me to be joyful this Christmas, but I’m lucky enough to have a family that will understand this. I’ll find joy in their compassion and love. I’ll find peace in the fact that I know others are struggling to find joy in the darkness, and know that none of us are alone. I’ll remember that the struggle to find joy is something we all go through, and there will be Christmases where the joy will just seem to emanate from everything and everyone.

But it’s perfectly OK for the joy this year to be bittersweet. And it’s OK for yours to be bittersweet as well.

Merry Christmas.

30 Comments on Enduring Christmas when the Holly & Jolly isn’t there

  1. Cindy
    December 22, 2012 at 11:02 pm (2 years ago)

    Tears are streaming right now. I feel my heart breaking for you. I hope you’re able to take in the warmth that is seeping into your lap and into your heart from your furred baby. Take peace in the fact that Sami-Cat has known love. That is the greatest gift you can give to them. I’ve lost fosters and I’ve had to send one of my own onto the rainbow bridge. It is physically and emotionally devastating and exhausting. I felt that there was a band of steel around my heart and lungs each and every time. I think of them daily and miss them so much. Some of the fosters I only had a week or so, but I felt their loss as deeply as the one that I had for years. They bring so much joy into our lives and fill a hole inside our soul that we didn’t know was empty.

    Hold Sami and Mira and just let their love fill you, let them feel the love that you have for them and know that they’ve felt that love ever since they came into your lives. Tonight and for the holiday week ahead, love them and feel the peace that your love has brought to them and the peace that they have from your love.

    Sorry I turned this into a book! <3 and ((hugs)) for you.

    • Kristina
      January 2, 2013 at 11:42 am (2 years ago)

      I’m sorry Cindy. Our animals sometimes feel like walking time bombs of heartbreak but they bring so much joy to our live. Luckily Sam is eating again. She’s still on a gradual decline but we have more time to love on her which helps so much. A big hug back at you – I’m so glad there are people willing to foster animals. Thank you for doing that!

  2. Cheryl
    December 22, 2012 at 11:04 pm (2 years ago)

    Thank you for sharing. Took me years to realize Christmas could be whatever. Last couple years post-divorce have helped with that. Although others insistence to make something of Christmas for me or worry that I’ve got no plans is still a learning experience. My heart goes to you, Marcus and Sami-cat. It’s never easy but the holidays make it that much tougher,whether we want it to or not. Here’s to Christmas pj day, books, eats and movies with no regrets.

    • Kristina
      January 2, 2013 at 1:11 pm (2 years ago)

      You don’t owe anyone the obligation to be peppy & giddy with joy. Obviously, going around and making other miserable because you are isn’t cool, but no one has the right to insist on you having Christmas spirit. I’m glad you’re finding your way to what feels right for you. I hope your Christmas was full of peace and calm, and the right amount of joy for you to handle. :) And thank you for the good wishes. Sammy-cat is still hanging in there. :)

  3. Debra
    December 23, 2012 at 2:34 am (2 years ago)

    Excellent writing and advice. I struggle with the holidays, too. Cutting back and keeping things simple is the key for me. I wish it could be even simpler. Maybe next year. My mom and I agreed to not exchange gifts this year (what a relief). I thanked her for the gift of freedom. The other night we had a pizza delivered and watched a lovely holiday movie (also bittersweet) and we haven’t seen since the early 1970s. Maybe next year the big family dinner with the in-laws can be replaced with a pie social. Because we have a kitten we just put up the small tree and decorated it with handmade paper-chains and a construction paper yellow star. That was actually fun and therapeutic. We also watched The Homecoming (The Walton’s Christmas movie). I haven’t seen it in years and my spouse had never seen it. That was good simple fun. We are looking forward to seeing the new musical movie version of Les Miserables. You are a wise woman. I’m sorry for the pain you are in and I appreciate you reaching out. I’ll be checking out your blog from now on! Don’t give up hope.

    • Kristina
      January 2, 2013 at 2:02 pm (2 years ago)

      Thank you Debra – I am in love with the idea of doing a pie social. That sounds perfect. We have normal size cats and we usually put the tree up and let them have their fun for a few days. Then we wrap wire around any of the expensive ornaments. Plus we have a very sturdy tree stand. :D I love the idea of paper chains – those were so much fun to make.

      2013 is a new year. I hope it’s amazing for all of us. :)

  4. Debra
    December 23, 2012 at 8:20 am (2 years ago)

    Some other small things that help: a high quality scented candle and/or unscented tea lights to brighten up a room; singing loudly with my CDs in my car (this is always a happiness boost); and, a nice cup of loose-leaf hot tea. As you mentioned, hiking/walking is also excellent.

    • Kristina
      January 2, 2013 at 2:03 pm (2 years ago)

      Lots of candles. Definitely. And hiking is usually a good cure-all for me.

  5. Andrea
    December 23, 2012 at 3:15 pm (2 years ago)

    Thank you so much for this. My heart is hurting & knowing that there are others walking the same path gives me strength to keep going. May we all find the joy to persevere.

    • Kristina
      January 2, 2013 at 2:59 pm (2 years ago)

      I’m so sorry you’re hurting so much. We all walk through the darkness at times – you’re not alone.

  6. Lisa
    December 23, 2012 at 4:11 pm (2 years ago)

    I’m printing this out and putting it in my November 2013 file. It’s helped me reading this right now and I know I’m going to need it next year even more. Kristina, thank you so much for your honesty & compassion. You’re lucky to have your friends and they are lucky to have you. Merry Christmas.

    • Kristina
      January 2, 2013 at 3:18 pm (2 years ago)

      Lisa – I hope very much you won’t need it more next year, but I’m very glad it helped. I am very lucky for my friends & I try to remember that all the time. Merry Christmas.

  7. Darlynne
    December 23, 2012 at 7:45 pm (2 years ago)

    What you’ve written, Kristina, is a road map out of and away from all that plagues us. I am reminded of one of my favorite West Wing episodes when Leo tells Josh a story that ends with “I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.”

    You’ve offered us–quick show of hands, yup, that would be everyone–permission to flounder, to change, to take care of ourselves or draw a line, and sometimes all we need is someone to say, as you have, “Do what makes you OK.”

    It would be great if we could fix ourselves and be done. Personally, I get a little tired of the hamster wheel of anxiety I run my laps on. So maybe I can stop for a bit, ask for some help and, who knows, find my way out.

    Thank and merry Christmas to you and Marcus.

    • Darlynne
      December 23, 2012 at 7:48 pm (2 years ago)

      I will NOT obsess about those ^^ mistakes. *sigh*

    • Kristina
      January 2, 2013 at 4:09 pm (2 years ago)

      “Personally, I get a little tired of the hamster wheel of anxiety I run my laps on.”

      Me too. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? And I’ve heard from people that I give good advice but man, is it hard to follow myself. :D

      I hope you and yours had a wonderful Christmas.

  8. Barbara | Creative Culinary
    December 24, 2012 at 10:58 am (2 years ago)

    There is some comfort I suppose in even knowing we are not alone. I broke my leg 2.5 years ago, it has crippled me not just physically but also emotionally from the feeling of being trapped but most certainly financially from the loss of the ability to run my business fully. I’m on the verge of losing my home and my two grown children; who I raised from the time they were 2 and 6 completely by myself when their father walked out one day to take up with a younger woman? They’ve looked the other way for those 2.5 years and now find it way more fun to spend the day at their father’s house and their younger teenage sisters. There simply are no words that can help me understand that inequity.

    I hear I’m too strong but it’s a vicious cycle…how can I be anything but? Funny but people who know I’ve needed help; even those I finally asked beyond my pride for some assistance…seems seeing what has happened to me has scared them and they’ve basically left my life; avoidance is their answer. OY!!

    One thing that is time for me?I will no longer let Christmas be ruled by people with such uncaring hearts; my feeling that I should ‘be here for them’ has been worn thin…I’m making plans now to be away next year with my sister who is on the other side of the country; we miss each other and I’m prioritizing!

    • Kristina
      January 2, 2013 at 4:29 pm (2 years ago)

      Barbara – my mom noticed this when she got cancer. Sometimes it seems like people feel like the bad luck is catching. I’m sorry. That’s really painful to have to go through. I think visiting your sister sounds like an amazing plan. Please do that for yourself!

    • Kristina
      January 2, 2013 at 5:07 pm (2 years ago)

      I love that article so much! I feel like I walk such a tightrope sometimes. I’ve been cyber-bullied since I started working on the internet back in 1999 (I want a hipster tshirt that says I was cyber-bullied before it was cool) and after a few years of it, I quit sharing most personal stuff about my family online. But I’m finding as I keep writing, that it’s becoming easier to share, especially if it helps others or they can identify with it. I have a feeling I’ll never be one of the train wreck bloggers though. ;) But I’m also not going to let petty people silence me.

  9. Kristina
    December 28, 2012 at 1:14 pm (2 years ago)

    I am planning on replying to everyone’s comments soon! I feel awful I haven’t already, but it’s been a crazy last couple of days.

  10. Jeanne
    December 29, 2012 at 8:18 pm (2 years ago)

    The holidays are tough for me too. Sometimes I feel like there must be something wrong with me because it feels like everyone around me absolutely loves Christmas and is filled with holiday cheer. Thanks for reminding me that the holiday season can be a rough time for others out there and that you don’t have to get into the holiday spirit.

    • Kristina
      December 29, 2012 at 9:30 pm (2 years ago)

      it feels like everyone around me absolutely loves Christmas and is filled with holiday cheer.

      A lot of those people really aren’t full of holiday joy – they just feel the expectations of others to be cheerful. Some Christmases can be full of quiet joys, some can just be blah and some of them seem to rip your heart out. You’re not obligated to pretend just to make other people feel better. Hoping you can find some peace & calm this year.

  11. The Modern Gal
    December 30, 2012 at 9:51 am (2 years ago)

    It’s always good when you’re down to be reminded that you’re not alone and to give yourself permission to be sad and grieve. I completely understand what it feels like to go through a holiday without wanting to celebrate. I know you’ve been going through some really tough times, and you’re in my prayers.

    • Kristina
      December 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm (2 years ago)

      It’s not so much feeling bad that irritating, it’s the peer pressure where people pressure you to get in the Christmas spirit. And thank you, I’m ready to kick 2012 out the door. Bring on 2013!

  12. Jerri Brown
    January 2, 2013 at 12:21 pm (2 years ago)

    Thank you for sharing this, I was reminded of how I feel during the Holidays. We have not decorated the house in 3 yrs and not sure when or if Allie and I got to exchange gifts with each other. The stress of the season drives both of us to sickness no matter what we do to try and find something good. Make it even harder when I do not get to be myself with the family gatherings.

    • Kristina
      January 2, 2013 at 6:32 pm (2 years ago)

      I’m sorry Jerry – if you can find a way to make the holidays meaningful for you, that’s a good way to make them your own tradition & celebration. I’m sorry the stress gets to you both so much.

  13. Sandy
    January 3, 2013 at 6:29 am (2 years ago)

    Wow! What a great article, Kristina. I can so identify. It broke my heart when I read about your Sammy-cat. I just experienced the loss of one of my fur-babies in October. She was 15 years old and I got her when she was a stray kitten that showed up one day and we’ve loved her ever since. We have another Sassy-girl who is almost yen years old now and thought to ourselves that when she’s gone, we don’t want anymore animals. Well, that lasted about a whole month. Another darling little stray came into our lives and now we’re experiencing the joy that only a kitten can bring when your hearts are hurting. We named her Gracie. I guess God sent her to us to remind us that His grace is sufficient.
    I look forward to reading more of your blog. I’m so glad I found you. I also think it’s a lovely thing that you have responded to all your posters. Man, that must take a lot of time, but it’s wonderful that you are so caring. God bless you!

    • Kristina
      January 3, 2013 at 2:39 pm (2 years ago)

      Don’t they sometimes seem like little furry ticking time-bombs of heartbreak? But they bring so much joy. Sam is still with us. We’re giving her sub-q fluids every night and she’s eating and seems content. All of our cats, except 4, just showed up. They smelled the sucker. :D And I’m glad you have Gracie. When we have less cats and more done on our house, I’d love to foster some for the shelters here.

      I also think it’s a lovely thing that you have responded to all your posters. Man, that must take a lot of time, but it’s wonderful that you are so caring.

      I’m going to try to do this as long as I can. I enjoy it but trying to keep up Thursday & Friday was a bit nuts. I sat on my couch and only got up to pee,


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