Depression-free holidays: Tidings of comfort and joy…at my pace By Christine Stapleton

The annual holiday home tour is tonight in my neighborhood. I’m not going. Someone from the committee called me earlier this week and asked if I would bake cookies for the dessert table. “No,” just popped out of my mouth. Normally, I volunteer without a second thought, then I smack myself upside the head: D’oh!

I have been working on setting boundaries for several years. I am not very good at it, which is why I shocked the heck out of myself when I heard my “No.” No explanation. Just “no” – as a complete sentence. I think I shocked the woman on the other end of the phone, too.

We’re supposed to be full of goodwill this time of year and I am. But too much goodwill on my part makes me resentful and angry. (Besides, I haven’t made a good batch of Christmas cookie in 30 years – when my sister and I made anatomically correct gingerbread boys and girls.) I have to take the holidays in small bites. Some folks can cannonball right into the holidays. Not me. Not anymore.

The instant I feel stressed about the holidays, I stop. Yesterday I decorated the house. I am a single mother of an almost-18-year-old daughter, who prefers to spend her Saturdays with her boyfriend rather than her mother. No more baking Christmas cookies together, making a gingerbread house, going to see Santa at the mall. She’s all grown up. So, I decorated the house alone.

Didn’t take long before my brain was telling me that I was a pathetic twice divorced, middle-aged, single woman who will go to the midnight Christmas Eve service by herself and wake up Christmas morning to a dog’s cold wet nose. I unpacked my cut of the Christmas ornaments, which my mother divvied up before she and dad died. I miss them so much during the holidays. Whoa. I knew where I was headed. By the end of the day I would be alone, under the covers in a fetal position, feeling sorry for myself.

So I stopped decorating. My friend Paula came over – another twice divorced, middle-aged single mother. We went out for a hamburger and onion rings and then watched a kitschy, non-Christmas movie starring a young Jennifer Anniston. I went to bed feeling much, much better. No fetal position.

I am not going to feel bad when I say “No” to everyone else’s holiday cheer. I can only take so much holiday cheer. If I force myself to feel festive when I don’t, I get frustrated with myself. I ping-pong between feeling sorry for myself and beating myself up for not being “in the mood.”

This year, I am doing the holidays at my pace. If someone calls me a humbug, that’s fine. When the spirit moves me I will be the first in line to sit on Santa’s lap. When I am not in the mood, I will not fake it. This year has been a rough one for all of us. Many of us lost our jobs. Those who kept theirs spent their Friday afternoons wondering if the boss would call them into the office and shut the door.

It is okay if I don’t feel “good tidings of cheer” nonstop this holiday season. It’s not okay to wallow in it. Next weekend we will get our tree. We will decorate it when we are good and ready. Then maybe we will make some of the those anatomically correct gingerbread boys and girls.

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