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The holiday season is upon us and with this time of year comes many expectations. We are expected to be full of joy and ready to celebrate.
The holidays conjure images of families carving turkeys together and decorating Christmas trees while children scamper and giggle. Somehow, we forget about all of the people for whom the holidays do not bring joy or warm family moments. We forget that some people are suffering. Some of that suffering is apparent and some of it is hidden away.
We are made to believe that we cannot feel grief and sadness during this most precious time because we will disappoint others or bring the joy level in the room down.
But it is okay to feel less than merry even at the “most wonderful time of the year.”
For some of us, the holiday season actually highlights our shortcomings and our pain. We may also experience guilt because we aren’t experiencing the season like everyone else.
For many years, holiday gatherings brought me anxiety and misery.
When I was lost in my eating disorder, a meal shared with others was truly a nightmare. Navigating family and social events was nerve-wracking and exhausting. It took me many years to be flexible enough with my schedule and eating to enjoy those gatherings again.
My anxiety was blanketed in a layer of guilt for not feeling the happiness shared by those around me.
No one understood what I was going through which made it even worse. Once I had healed enough from my eating disorder, I then faced the uncertainty and pain of infertility. Every day was a struggle, but Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Mother’s Day were the worst days of the year for me.
What did I possibly have to be thankful for when my husband and I were unsuccessfully trying to start a family? And Christmas is all about the kids! We would decorate a tree while thinking that we had no children to provide presents for or visit Santa with. We had many ideas for new family traditions once we had a baby, but with no baby in sight. Mother’s Day may have been the hardest for me. Year after year, there was a special holiday to remind me that I was not yet a mother. Even worse was the possibility that I would never have a child call me Mama.
Through all of this, I soldiered on and participated in all the expected family events.
Looking back, I wish I had given myself some grace and allowed myself to set some boundaries.
I wish I had shared my pain with others, rather than keeping it hidden away with an insincere smile plastered on my face. Sharing my struggles wouldn’t have made the pain go away, but it may have allowed me to feel less alone and a little more understood.
Now that I have recovered from my eating disorder and I have two healthy, young boys, I still remember those difficult holidays. Every time Mother’s Day rolls around, I say a prayer for all those women who are not waking up to smiles and handmade gifts from their little ones.
To those of you who are experiencing pain or sadness this holiday season, I see you. You are not alone.
Take care of yourself and give yourself some grace. Let others in. There are times when you will want to hide at home on your couch and that is okay. There are also times when being social will help you. Don’t push away all of the joy around you. Say no to events that will be too overwhelming, but don’t say no to everything.
Don’t isolate yourself from the world and from people who love you. Reach out, whether to a friend, family member, spouse or therapist.
Your feelings of sadness this holiday season are real and you are worthy of experiencing the holidays in any way that feels right to you.
Amy is a full time mom and former teacher living in Massachusetts. She enjoys reading, running and playing with her kids. She strives to use her story of recovery to help others suffering with eating disorders.
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