Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

The Myth of The Holiday Season. It’s Supposed To Be All Warm And Fuzzy, But It’s Not…

The Myth of The Holiday Season
It’s Supposed To Be All Warm And Fuzzy, But It’s Not…

I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I’m not happy. I don’t feel the way I’m supposed to feel. I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards, and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy.
I always end up feeling depressed.

~Charlie Brown

There’s a myth out there propagated by the media (social and way, way before the ubiquitous social media, on plain TV and in print), that “The Holidays” are a time for everyone to get together and feel all loving, cozy, warm and fuzzy. It comes around relentlessly, every year, but you don’t feel that way.  You realize that like Charlie Brown, you’re depressed.

It used to be, back in the good old days, that Christmas preparations started right after Thanksgiving. Someone invented “Black Friday,” that frenzy of buying things on sale the day after. But you may have noticed communities putting up street decorations a week or two before Thanksgiving. It really came to a head when I noticed Christmas-themed items (tree ornaments, wrapping paper, etc.) in a store before Halloween, making me think what next? Start on the 4th of July?? Why not just leave it up all year round?! The technical term for this is “Christmas Creep.”

But that’s not the point of this post. It may come as no surprise to you that you don’t feel those warm and fuzzy feelings around the holidays. Maybe even just the opposite. You’re on the outs with someone in your family – there’s always tension, so a big gathering on Thanksgiving isn’t really a lot of fun. You fall into the cauldron of your family and friends and get boiled instead of warmed. Or maybe you don’t have family close enough by that getting everyone together is even feasible. And you might not even have family to get together with at all, and surely that contributes to depression.

Then there’s Christmas. And Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and other ostensibly religious observances around this time of the year. It’s supposed to be at least a spiritual if not religious holiday. Maybe you go to midnight Mass Christmas Eve, or light the candles for Hanukkah. But somehow it doesn’t feel like that’s what it’s all about.

It’s become a pressure to spend more and more money on gifts. Gifts for everyone: your significant other, your family, your friends. Even at work they often take up a collection for someone, or you’re pressed to contribute to a charity, one you don’t actually support. It’s become a commercial enterprise, and the spiritual part of it – for many but not all – has fallen away.  You find yourself spending money you can’t really afford, and resenting it.

On top of that, it starts to get dark earlier and earlier and you feel like a mole. You get up in the dark, you go home in the dark, and your mood? Well, it’s just dark, and you’re depressed.  You know what?  You’re not alone.

People come in as early as October talking about how they’re just not looking forward to the holidays. This is not abnormal. The meaning of “the holidays” has become distorted, through no fault of your own. One person talked about his awful dread as a child, year after year, that he had been “bad,” and would only get coal in his stocking. Terrified, he really believed it!

What can you do about it? You can make choices. Choices that may not please those expecting something else, but make you feel more comfortable. It may be difficult at first, but it will get easier the more often you do it. You can choose not to be part of the mega-gathering at Thanksgiving. Instead, host a small group of people you really like spending time with. And who says it has to be a turkey?! Make what you like or are good at. Or, someone may invite you to their place. You can choose to accept or turn down the invitation, whatever feels best.

Then comes Christmas. I’m using the word generically, by the way, to include all the holidays that fall around the same time, and represent the same sort of holiday madness. You can alert everyone you used to add to your ever-growing list of people to buy a gift for, that you’re not buying gifts for anyone this year. That you’re choosing a charity you support and making a donation to them instead. Done. No more racing around trying to find that perfect sweater, necktie, bracelet, book or kiddie toy.

Gift cards seem simple, but in a way, they’re even worse. It’s impersonal, a way of throwing money at someone because you can’t be bothered to shop, even online, and much of the card is often not even spent. Companies make a fortune on the remainders that aren’t used up.

Some people make exceptions to this rule of thumb and still buy gifts for kids, but it can be made clear from the get-go that you’re not spending $800 on the biggest Lego set or American Girl doll they don’t yet have. And perhaps, if they’re old enough, sit them down and explain why. Maybe take them to an inexpensive store yourself to pick out something to wrap and donate to Toys for Tots, or another collection for kids who Santa wouldn’t otherwise visit.

Whatever you choose to do, the important thing is to realize that you have choices. You don’t have to be caught up in the maelstrom of frenzied shopping. You can choose to stay home on Thanksgiving (and Christmas) and curl up with a truly warm and fuzzy blanket and binge watch your favorite show.

And when someone says to you “have a good holiday,” the simplest (and appropriate) response is, “Thanks, you too,” and leave it at that.

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