*In accordance with HIPAA, and out of respect for our client’s privacy, the name “Ruth” will be used as an alias in this blog post.*
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! …right?
Or, at least… it’s supposed to be?
For a great many people – maybe yourself included – this season truly is a time of good cheer, fond memories, gatherings of family and friends, bright spirits, colorful decorations, and cherished traditions. It’s a time to be grateful, to be kind and compassionate.
And I sincerely hope that the holidays bring all of this and more to you and yours!
But acknowledging, and even experiencing, all of these warm emotions and happy thoughts typically associated with the holidays certainly does not negate or invalidate those painful feelings that may also be stirred up at this time of year.
Joy may be followed by sadness. Laughter may be preceded by tears.
Maybe the gift you’re really hoping for this season is just a little bit of relief from the seemingly constant fatigue, stress, irritability, anxiety, depression, etc. Stressors like lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, pressures (whether perceived or stated) of gift-giving, and loneliness can feel all the more amplified when the rest of the world seems to be telling you to celebrate. Family gatherings can bring up difficult and painful memories, whether of childhood trauma or the loss of a loved one.
As Music Therapists, colleagues, friends, brothers, sisters, parents, neighbors – it’s important to remember that any number of painful circumstances, situations, or seemingly conflicting emotions could be the reality of the person sitting next to us this holiday season.
Our clients, our friends, our family could very well be hurting, and that pain might even be brought to surface by the very season that’s intended to bring joy, peace, and good will.
Take the phrase, “Happy Holidays!” for example.
Do you ever feel a sense of pressure when you hear that?
What if I’m not happy at all? Am I doing this wrong? Shouldn’t I be happy right now?
What’s intended as a simple expression of well-wishes can start to feel like a command.
“Have a Holly Jolly Christmas. Do it.”
Kacey Musgraves says it well in her song “Christmas Makes Me Cry.”
Let’s pause and take a listen.
So how do we respond when Christmas makes us cry?
One good rule of thumb is validation.
It’s okay not to be okay.
It’s alright if Christmas makes you want to curl up in a ball.
And if the last thing you want to hear right now is another chestnut roasting, sugar-plum dreaming, mistletoe waiting, bell jingling, sleighing song, then so be it!
A client – let’s call her Ruth – recently said to me, “I’m dealing with a lot of holiday depression right now. Is it okay if we don’t do Christmas music? I’d rather just keep singing country songs with you, if that’s alright. That actually helps me feel better.”
Can’t you almost hear that sense of pressure?
Ruth was asking *me* if *I* would be okay with not doing Christmas songs –
and of course that’s okay, because the session is for her.
But, since it’s “the most wonderful time of the year,” Christmas songs are just expected. And maybe they don’t need to be. Especially if they’re a detriment to a person’s mental health.
If Alan Jackson’s “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” does more good for your soul than “Silent Night” right now, then that is okay. Really. And if you change your mind later and feel like singing “Joy to the World,” that’s okay too!
Ruth, in fact, did ask for Christmas songs the following week (“The upbeat ones, though, not the sentimental ones.”) We sang “Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer” and had a good laugh!
All of this to say, whatever you’re experiencing this holiday season, it’s worth respecting and acknowledging.
If you want to laugh, do it heartily. If you need to cry, then go right ahead.
It may not be a bright, shiny, sing-songy, happy good time, and that’s alright. (Though I hope it is!)
To paraphrase [or, y’know, just rewrite] the song “White Christmas:”
May your days be whatever they need to be right now,
And may all your Christmases be white.
If you’ll allow me to finish with a simple expression of goodwill – for real, though, no pressure –
I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
– Written by Kevin Middlebrooks, LPMT, MT-BC
What We Know About the Holiday Blues
The Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, 2017
Photo: xenia_gromak / Photocase