When Christmas is hard

When Christmas is hard

How does the song go again?

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year….”

It’s a common refrain around December, but the sad truth is that for many people Christmas isn’t actually wonderful. For some it’s hardly bearable.

At this time of year, when family, friends and colleagues congregate and celebrate, many people may be keenly feeling the loss – recent or otherwise, of someone dear to them. Perhaps through death, or divorce, or a long distance move. Countless others may be facing yet another year feeling so very alone, whether it be social isolation or a battle with the black hole of depression.

While many of us may be looking back on the past year in self-reflection, and expressing our gratitude for all we’ve achieved and all we have, there are just as many others who are desperately counting down the days until they can say goodbye to 2015, because for whatever reason it was a harsh year for them. Perhaps a business venture failed. Maybe they lost their home. They might have struggled with their health. Or have been deeply betrayed by someone they trusted.

While many of us may be joyously wrapping presents and baking hams on Christmas Eve, there are also those who will look upon the tiny collection of gifts they could barely afford for their children, or the Christmas dinner they bought on credit for their family, through lashings of hot, angry, disappointed and despondent tears. Heartbroken they weren’t able to live up to society’s (or their own) expectations of creating the picture perfect Christmas.

Yes, there are many reasons why a large portion of people look upon Christmas with heartache and dread, rather than joy and laughter.

Christmas isn't always joyful.

Christmas isn’t always joyful.

If this is you. Please know that I feel for you. I truly do.

I know I’m one of the fortunate ones. I’m so privileged to be able to have a roof over my head, a well-stocked fridge and smiling, happy, healthy daughters breathlessly counting down the sleeps until the big day. Although it has been a difficult year for me on a few levels, at this time of year, when I’ve had the chance to slow down, reflect and recalibrate, I’ve been able to truly feel the festive spirit and I know I’m okay.

But if you’re still struggling, if the thought of Christmas breaks your heart or turns your stomach, if you can’t wait to put a pin in 2015 and all it represents, then please take a look at these suggestions for ways to make it through these next few days.

How to cope when Christmas is hard.

1)  Recognise how you’re feeling.

Admit out loud to yourself that Christmas is going to be hard, or that you’re actually dreading it – be honest with how you’re feeling and why. Write it all down in a journal. Confide in a trusted friend. Pray to your God, or talk to a mentor, religious leader, or even call a crisis support hotline such as Lifeline if you can’t find – or don’t want to talk to – someone you know about this. But don’t try to fake it – don’t try to force yourself to feel merry if you don’t. Allow yourself to be sad, if you’re sad. Be angry, if you’re angry. Feel grief if you’re grieving. Be honest. With yourself and others. People will understand. They may not know exactly how to respond or support you. But they will understand.

2) Know that you are not alone.

My gosh, you are so not alone. There are thousands of people out there who share your feelings on Christmas. In fact, Lifeline estimates it will take 27,000 phone calls this festive season. That’s 27,000 other people also struggling at Christmas. You may not see them, because so many people haven’t undertaken step number one – they’re hiding how they truly feel, for one reason or another. Society’s notion of Christmas as a happy time of celebration and joy is a strong cultural line – it takes a brave person to put their hand up and say “that’s not how I feel about Christmas”. Which is why step one is so important. Honest communication is an integral step when it comes to addressing our feelings and working our way out of them. By admitting how you feel, you might be surprised at how many others tell you they’re feeling the same. You’re not alone. You’re not he only one who feels this way. Even if it feels like you are. Please trust that others are feeling the same way as you too.

3) Accept it – and let it go.

This one can be the hardest. Sometimes we rail so hard against any feelings of unpleasantness, we believe we need to feel happy or good all the time. Aren’t we supposed to be joyful – shouldn’t we do everything we can to fight against any negative emotions? Especially at Christmas time – our old companion, guilt, can get hold of us. “Look at everything you have, you have no right to feel this way, you should be ashamed of yourself for being so miserable at Christmas.” And how do we respond? By beating ourselves up – fighting against ourselves and our thoughts and emotions. Berating ourselves whenever despair or anger crosses our minds.

The trouble with this is that the more you wrestle with pain and anger and fear and hate, the more they will pull you under. Just like quicksand.

For this reason, acceptance is a powerful tool. When I talk about “acceptance”, I’m not referring to “resignment” or giving up – it is not about taking a blanket “whatever” attitude to everything, and accepting every little thing that goes wrong, as your lot in life. By accepting how you feel about Christmas today, it doesn’t mean you are giving up on ever feeling joyful or festive ever again.

What it IS about, is about making room in your mind for the unpleasant feelings and sensations that come with negative events you can’t control. It’s about accepting that you’re going to have these feelings, and letting your body experience them, without struggling against them or constantly questioning them, so that you can experience them and let them go.

The next step on from acceptance is about figuring out what you’re really comfortable with leaving the way it is and what it is that you’d like to change from your current state. Then moving forward and taking action on those changes. But perhaps, Christmas isn’t the easiest time to undertake this second step. At this point, it’s okay to just accept, let go, and commit to moving on a little bit later once the holidays are behind you.

Finally…

As always, dealing with major issues in our lives is never as easy as a three step guide you find on the internet. Ultimately, it’s up to you to be aware of how you’re feeling and whether you can move through this on your own, or perhaps whether you need a bit more support. From family, friends, or a professional, such as a counsellor or mental health clinician.

This holiday season certainly has the ability to stir up many wounds and emotions, some often thought to be long forgotten. So please be gentle with yourself these holidays. You’re only human after all.

Until next time,

Sarah xx

Please always remember that Lifeline is always available to people in need of someone to talk to when you feel like you need support. Call their hotline on 13 11 14 to speak to a trained counsellor 24 hours a day.

For those of you in a more festive place this season, perhaps you might be willing to support Lifeline by donating to their Christmas Appeal. Your donation might mean that a few extra calls get taken this year.

(Please note, this isn’t a sponsored post for Lifeline, but having volunteered for them previously I’m a huge fan of their work.)

 

No more Mummy Wars.

No more Mummy Wars.

Sigh…

Here we go again.

Just when I thought the Mummy Wars had quietened down for a bit, one of the combatants has gone and released some propaganda.

The Mummy Wars. It’s like the Hunger Games for childbearing women. But instead of brandishing machetes and crossbows, our players arm themselves with designer strollers, modern cloth nappies, home made organic baby food purée and rigid indignation. Oh, and Internet memes, of course.

Double sigh.

I don’t think I have to tell you how completely OVER these Mummy Wars I am. If you’ve been following my blog for a while you’ll know that I’m a big proponent of women making choices that are right for them. What’s right for one woman and her family isn’t necessarily going to be right for any other family. And that’s OK! Because we’re all different. And that’s OK too!

I know we love to fit into our tribes, and that’s cool – I love tribes, I think they’re amazing sources of support, information and a sense of belonging.

But that doesn’t mean we have to adopt a tribe mentality. Our amazing little brains have evolved quite a bit in the last 100,000 years. So we’re now perfectly capable of empathy, compassion, understanding and acceptance. Oh yes, we’re totally capable of this. But if you viewed these Mummy Wars as an outsider, I’m sure you’d bring to question our capacity for these things.

When did we, as a collective group of women, become so very judgemental of each other? Particularly those of us who are mothers?

Why is it that so many of us are so intent on proving ourselves right, that we have to make anyone who doesn’t think like us wrong? Why?

What does it achieve? Now I know as a “Mummy Blogger” myself, many people will presume I’m in the business of “Motherhood Advice”. But I’m actually not. I like to think of my blog as “Motherhood Support”. This blog is a natural extension of my clinical practice, where I support Mums to adjust to the physical and emotional demands of motherhood.

As an Occupational Therapist, my whole wellbeing philosophy is around meaningful occupations. Which basically means that my job is to support women to make choices and take action in a way that is meaningful for them, that feels right and fits perfectly with their own values, needs and wants.

Does this mean that the women I work with make decisions about motherhood that I, personally, wouldn’t make? Yes. Absolutely. All the time.

Is that okay?

Yes. Because it’s not my life. It’s not my family. It’s not my decision.

My role is to facilitate women to work through the issues, gather information and understanding, and then make informed decisions.

Who am I to say that a mother’s decision, made with intent, compassion and love, is wrong?

I’m fortunate that in my time working for myself I’ve never come across a woman whose decision I felt would harm their child. Because when this happens I do have legal obligations around this. But again, this doesn’t come down to my personal opinion, it’s about an educated observation and legal requirements. I’ve been in this position previously in my former work, and it’s not a nice place to be. For any party involved.

Acceptance isn’t always easy. Judgement is actually so much simpler. Because judgement doesn’t challenge us personally. Judgement simply reinforces our own beliefs, our own assumptions and our own assertions that we are always right and always will be.

Acceptance takes so much more from us. It takes effort and empathy. And quite often it also takes introspection. Because when we choose to accept another person’s point of view (as THEIR point of view), it forces us to re-evaluate our own point of view. This is challenging and it requires us to create a sense of expansion within ourselves. We have to make room within our hearts and minds to say, “this is an acceptable point of view, it’s not what I choose to believe myself, but it’s okay for another person to feel this way”.

So no, it’s not easy. But if we can become more accepting. If we can be less judgemental. It enables us to grow, it makes us a better person.

And you know what? It can actually make us MORE committed to our principles, because it means we’ve put them to the test more than once.

So here’s my challenge to you, beautiful readers. Today. And every day….

Choose empathy.
Choose understanding.
Choose acceptance.

Do away with judgement.

Choose #nomoremummywars

(Ps. I’m using a screenshot of this meme as I simply don’t want to direct more traffic to the original image and thereby add more fuel to the Mummy War!)IMG_0220-0.JPG

Things I cannot change

Things I cannot change

At my Mum’s house, there’s a magnet on the fridge with the following phrase on it:

serenityprayer

It’s called the Serenity Prayer, and it’s been around for donkeys years. Now, our family isn’t really religious, but this particular magnet has been on our fridge for as long as I can remember. We’re talking at least two, maybe three decades and four house moves – and yes, she’s had the same fridge the whole time too! They just don’t make ’em like they used to, right?

I learned this quote verbatim at an early age, sometime in my teens. But it’s something I’m only truly appreciating now that I’m a mother.

One of the biggest things about motherhood, at least for me, has been simply accepting what is happening around me at any given point. Because acceptance is not really in my nature.

But acceptance is a key factor to more meaningful motherhood.

When I was younger I thought the important part of this phrase was the “wisdom” bit. Knowing stuff is always the be-all and end-all when you’re academically minded and hell-bent on smashing your Year 12 grades (ie, a nerd). However, there were definitely times when it was “courage” that I strived for – the courage to change things. I truly LOVE change. I thrive on it, seek it out, revel in it. But there have been times when my courage needed a bolster. Like moving to the UK for two years. And then deciding not to go through with the second year because I happened to meet a nice boy when I came home for Christmas. Big changes, big courage. (ps. the boy is now my husband, so I guess that change was for the best.)

But I never, ever considered the first part – the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Because in my youthful mind, full of all that wisdom and courage, I never really had to accept ANYTHING. Didn’t like my job? Easy, I got a new one. Didn’t like my career? Easy, I went back to Uni. Didn’t like a boy? Easy, just dump his ass! I prided myself on NEVER settling, never accepting the status quo, always expecting more from myself and always believing in my ability to change the minds of others, to mould my own world and to have (almost) complete control over pretty much my whole life.

Until I became a mother. 

Then things changed.

Because you can’t convince an infant to tell you in plain english why they’re crying. You can’t educate your way out of teething. You can’t brainstorm your way out of toxic nappy explosions. You can’t guarantee your toddler will never throw a public tanty.

There are lots and lots of things you simply CAN’T do or control when you’re a mother. It pains me to say that – I hate the word CAN’T – it’s never been part of my vocabulary – “There’s always a way!” I’d say. But I’ve had to change my tune in recent years.

I have to ACCEPT that my three year old CAN’T tie her shoelaces – because she simply hasn’t integrated this skill yet, so she’s dependent on me to help her get dressed, no matter how much I want  her to be independent. I have to ACCEPT that my 15 month old CAN’T understand when I tell her “we’re only five minutes from home” – and that she will cry and scream for those last five minutes of the car journey until we get home and I can pick her up and comfort her. I’ve also had to accept that I no longer have the level of spontaneity and freedom in my life that I seriously cherished as a single woman. It’s simply not there anymore. At least not at the moment.

Acceptance is a bitch.

I know so many of us Mums who struggle against it daily. Especially us over-achieving late Gen X-ers who spent two decades doing and having it all before being thrust into motherhood in their mid 30s. But I truly believe it’s this battle against acceptance that’s leading us into all sorts of angst and misery in motherhood. Because we get so overcome by all the things we can no longer control, all the things we can no longer do, and when we focus on these – life starts to look pretty shitty. Especially compared to the kick-ass lives, bursting with freedom and control, that we were living up until a minute ago.

We do need to be more accepting of these things which are outside our realm of control. 

But we also need to change how we FEEL about acceptance.

Acceptance which is given begrudgingly, tinged with anger and resentment, isn’t going to cut it. “This is what it’s like being a Mum – get used to it.” That tone and language doesn’t help anyone.

The Serenity Prayer asks for “the serenity to accept”. That’s the key. Acceptance should be given freely, without bitterness or disappointment. We need to be comfortable, calm and content with our acceptance.

Because when we can truly accept the things we cannot change – that’s when our experience of motherhood can change for the better.

Until next time,

Keep well, Sarah xx

ps. we delve a lot deeper into the concept of acceptance for motherhood in my “Mindful Motherhood” online program. If you’re a Mum looking for a more sustainable way to navigate the stress, guilt and overwhelm that seems to come part and parcel with parenthood, please check out the program here.