Thanksgiving, for many, marks the start of the holiday season. It’s also a day, for better or worse, that many spend surrounded by family, friends and loved ones, contemplating and giving thanks for all their blessings in life.
It is a day I prefer to spend alone.
It isn’t that I hate holidays or am bah humbugging my way through life. I’m not intentionally avoiding Thanksgiving to honor my Native American roots or in some silent “meat is murder” type protest. I am not morally opposed to the concept of being thankful nor do I believe I have nothing to be thankful for in life. Quite the opposite. I thoroughly enjoy most holidays, including Thanksgiving, at least in theory.
The day is just hard for me.
My children are with their father on Thanksgiving. When we split up and began dividing up the calendar, I knew that my ex’s mother, their paternal grandmother, had lavish spreads every year on Thanksgiving and never wanted my children to feel torn about where to spend the holiday. I kept their best interest instead of my own desires at heart, and willingly gave up Thanksgiving day. I celebrate it each year on the Friday after Thanksgiving so I can have them with me and they never miss out on festivities with the other side of their family.
A holiday is not a holiday without my children.
Six years ago, I got a call that my mother had passed away. On Thanksgiving. We had been estranged for a few years at that point, which made her death feel even more tragic and jarring, because I had never made peace, never received closure. Some of the worst trauma of my life had been a result of her actions. I have since come to terms with the fact that it was due to her mental illness that went untreated and undertreated for years, but acknowledging such things does not make her loss any easier. Though I normally do not say anything, I feel her loss the greatest now every Thanksgiving day.
My mental illness, sadly much like many workers these days, doesn’t get the day off.
Holidays are extremely hard for most people struggling with mental illness. My depression and anxiety are always on high alert, but even moreso on holidays that revolve around togetherness. And I am not alone. In every single one of over a dozen online support groups I belong to, page after page, post after post, about people struggling to cope with the holidays have begun to appear. I’m drained by my own feelings today. The bombardment of emotions from others on top of that is downright overwhelming. On any average day, we feel lost and alone. During holidays that emphasize togetherness, that chasm of loneliness and hopelessness spreads farther out into an endless wasteland. It isn’t that we’re just not trying hard enough to be happy or that we are ungrateful at heart. Depression drags us to a place of absolute negativity against our will. We are trying, are fighting, harder than anyone even realizes just to avoid succumbing to that utter hopelessness that is trying to consume us.
Thanksgiving is supposed to be a time for togetherness and a time to give thanks for all your blessings in life. Though many, often with tongue in cheek, will complain about spending mandatory time with family, it is for the most part a happy, albeit somewhat stressful, day. I refuse to mar it for anyone by dredging up my own issues throughout the day.
I firmly bolt on that mask I’ve become accustomed to wearing over the years, reassure people that I’m “just peachy”, I grit my teeth and I smile. I send warm wishes on and off throughout the day and encourage others to enjoy and make the most of their day. I prepare food for tomorrow, my Turkey Day, throughout Thanksgiving day. But I keep mostly to myself. I will talk to others about how their day is going, though I remain vague and distant about my own. Because today is not an easy day for me. Not a good day. And I do not want my own issues to tarnish anyone else’s holiday.
There are many days that I can embrace a saying an old friend used to love throwing at me:
“Get off the cross Beth.. We need the wood..”
I know I do not have to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. I understand that it is okay to lean on others and that I do not have to deal with everything by myself. But holidays for me, even though some may be rough to get through, are a beautiful and sacred thing. This time of year I will willingly make that sacrifice and carry my burden on my own. I will use that wood I have hoisted on my shoulders today to make a yule log later for my fire.
My Thanksgiving holiday is my own burden and some burdens I choose to face alone.
I truly hope that everyone had a wonderful, or at least bearable holiday today. I intentionally waited until the early morning hours to share this because I wanted no one’s holiday to be marred by my own.
If any of you who are reading this are struggling yourselves this holiday season, please stay safe, stay strong and know that, no matter how hopeless and alone you feel during this time of year, depression deals in lies. You are not walking this path alone. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Reach out if you need. Talk. There are people who truly care. Please stay strong. We can make it through this holiday season. Never lose hope.
I have begun a resources tab above if anyone is struggling and feels they have no one to talk to and nowhere else to turn. There are suicide hotline numbers in it, not only for those within the United States, but many other countries, as well. There are also links to various mental health groups to help built a support system so you do not fall between the cracks. There is no shame in reaching out if you are on that ledge and need someone to talk you back off of it.