If you’d asked me a few years ago whether I was looking forward to Christmas, I would have spat in your face and screamed, “Bah humbug!” As a kid, I loved Christmas. Christmas meant presents, and what child doesn’t like a house filled with new shiny toys?
As I grew up – and the appeal of toys waned – my excitement was soon replaced with something else. Anxiety and stress.
For people with mental health issues, the Christmas and New Year period is often the toughest time and it’s no surprise. With the holiday season comes a large amount of strong expectations. It seems like there’s a voice screaming at us. Telling us that this year must be the best year ever. That we have to be out there enjoying ourselves. That Christmas is the time to get together with our many friends and family members.
For me, these have never been things I’ve wanted to hear. As a bit of a socially anxious introvert, the holiday season seems to just be a few weeks filled with a bunch of horrible obstacles. A never ending period of friends pressurizing me to go out, constant family meals, and worst of all the thing I hate the most: parties.
For the rest of the year, you can wriggle out of these things with a well made-up excuse. But at Christmas it’s like you’re obligated to do them otherwise your friends and family will think you’re a bastard.
After all, what type of person doesn’t want to go to a loud pub to drink copious amounts of beer with their friends? If you don’t want to be social at Christmas it’s unacceptable! If you decline any invites people think it’s because you don’t like them, rather than because you don’t like parties.
So you force yourself to go to these events, and you have a horrible time. Stumbling through endless conversations with friends of friends. Making awkward small talk with members of your family that are so far removed from you that they’re complete strangers.
All night you look at your watch and wonder when it’ll be acceptable to say your goodbyes and leave. When you attempt to go you’re met with protestations, “You can’t go! Have one more drink!” As though you’re the life of the party. Like you haven’t just sat there in silence for the last 2 hours watching other people getting drunk.
Soon your need to be polite outweighs your lust to leave. “I’m going.” “You can’t go!” “I’m going.” “But it’s Christmas! Don’t be a Scrooge!” Great, now everybody thinks you’re a dick. Oh well, you don’t care. You leave.
Once you get home you sit and you think about it. Maybe I am a Scrooge? Maybe there is something wrong with me.
Many a New Year’s Eve, I’ve found myself sitting at home alone. Thinking about the parties my other friends are having and beating myself up over it.
Staying at home on New Years Eve, how pathetic. What type of person does that? A sad, loser, that’s who. What’s wrong with you Daniel, why can’t you enjoy these things? Because you’re a weirdo that’s why and you’ll die alone and unloved. You’ve got barely any friends, maybe it’s because nobody wants to be your friend!
All those years I could never win. If I went out I’d have had a crap time as I hate going out. If I stayed in I’d have a crap time as I’d feel like a loser for not doing something.
Sounds melodramatic, but these are the thoughts that have ran through my head and will run through many a head this Christmas.
For a lot of people Christmas is a time of good cheer and celebration. But these constant celebrations just act as a reminder for many that they aren’t (or don’t enjoy) celebrating.
The loners among us (whether by choice or situation) have the perfect chance at Christmas to wallow in self-pity. The lonely become more isolated because their life is shown to them in contrast to everybody around them. The sad feeling of being alone is multiplied by all those around us that are together.
For every happy family gathering on Christmas day, there’s somebody else out there sitting at home alone. Wondering what’s wrong with them. What they did to deserve their situation.
Many of these people have no genuine reason to feel bad. Like me. I should have never have felt bad. I wanted to be home alone on New Year’s Eve. I hate parties. I hate people. I hate celebrating. So why did I feel like a loser for doing what I wanted?
Well there’s this expectation over the holiday period that we should all be having the time of our lives. On New Year’s Eve especially. So many people try to create a night that they will remember forever. There’s so much pressure to do something amazing that you can easily find yourself overcome by it.
So while I was sitting at home doing what I wanted, I had a thousand other voices telling me that what I was doing was wrong. Like my entire being is wrong. That what I want to do is inappropriate.
I stupidly chose to listen to those voices. I believed they were right. I should have lots of friends, I should be out there on New Year’s Eve living it up. I should be having lots of fun at parties. If I’m not then there must be something wrong with me.
It took me a few more years to tell those voices to “FUCK OFF!” It wasn’t the staying at home that was making me miserable. It was just all these people trying to force me to be somebody I’m not.
Much with everything else in life, happiness comes from being the person you want to be and doing the things you enjoy doing. Even if those things are dull and boring to other people, who gives a shit, it’s your life, not theirs!
I’ve since learnt to love myself a hell of a lot more. In consequence have learnt that the expectations of Christmas are all based around a narrow viewpoint.
At Christmas we’re all expected to be this amazing, social animal and I’m not. Never will be. That doesn’t make me any less of a person, it just means I’m not the same as many others.
Since I left England, I’ve tried, with some success to do what I want on New Year’s Eve. But the thing is, just because you know what makes you happy, that doesn’t mean you should always do it.
If you did avoid every party and meal at Christmas because you don’t like them, you’d be acting selfishly. In the same way that you’d hope people are understanding of what you want, you should be understanding about what they want.
Unfortunately you’ll have to show your face at a few events just to make the compromise! Your friends like to party, so it’s only polite to do what they want to enjoy Christmas. Likewise, you can hope they’ll understand that you’re not a party animal.
In the three years since I left England, I’ve experienced three completely different New Years. Each New Year has shown me something about myself.
2011. Jamie and I spent the night in Portland, Oregon at a large video game arcade with dozens of arcade and pinball machines. The games were all free to play and we had a great time trying the games all night while drinking beers. No awkward conversations, just playing games! Even better was that we weren’t the only ones there, the whole place was packed with people. Proof we’re not the only ones un-interested in noisy night-clubs.
2012. We spent the night in Bangkok. This was an…interesting one. We’d arrived the previous day so were quite jet lagged and my friend decided the best way to spend the night would be to get drunk in a couple of Bangkok’s seediest bars. We spent the time hanging out with Thai prostitutes desperate to give my friend some of their services. At midnight we watched fireworks getting set off in the courtyard of the building, which sounds impressive but it was probably the most dangerous thing I’ve experienced. The only way to stay sane was to drink more alcohol and I woke up the next day with a terrible hangover. One to forget then.
2013. We were in Korea. We decided to spend the night at home, playing Scrabble and watching Dawson’s Creek. It was much like any other night and I went to bed at 11.30pm as I was sleepy only to be woken up half an hour later by a New Years kiss.
This year. Who knows? But I know it won’t be so bad, as I’m in control of it and there is no expectation or pressure. I can do whatever I want. And that for me is the most important thing, that it’s my choice.
Maybe I didn’t have the best time in those seedy Bangkok bars, but I wasn’t forced into it. When you’re forced to do anything you can’t enjoy it at all because you feel like a slave. But when you choose to enjoy Christmas on your own terms you’re free.
Free to have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Christmas tree photo by Matthew Paulson