When Holidays are Hard

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While I’d like to say that I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving, I know this was not the case for everyone. While I’d like to wish you a joyous holiday season ahead, I know that for some this may seem a bit out of reach.

While the holiday season can be a great reminder to celebrate love, family and all there is to be grateful for, it can also fall anywhere on the scale of a slightly nagging to a fog horn blaring, in your face reminder that you are currently enduring or recovering from a difficult situation. Issues of physical and mental health, loss, deployment, trauma, financial stress, breakups and family dynamics just to name a few, do not get solved by 11:59pm, December 31st as Hallmark Channel movies so temptingly promise.

I don’t have a remedy or thought to heal those feelings. But you already knew that. Many may have tried, only to make it feel like your pain or suffering is being minimized. Instead I would just like to validate whatever it is you are feeling. I would like to honor it and honor you. I will share two thoughts on suffering that have helped me find new perspective, although once again realistically, do not cure the suffering.

In his book Dancing with Elephants, author Jarem Sawatsky, PhD, writes about his journey learning to cope with Huntington’s Disease. He draws on his knowledge as a Professor of Peace and Conflict Resolution. He also shares teachings from masters such as Jon Kabat-Zinn and Patch Adams. In his reflection on discussions about self-compassion with Toni Bernhard, he describes self-compassion as having “the potential to free us from suffering about suffering”.  There is the suffering that is inevitable, the suffering that we must endure. But it’s the suffering about the suffering that is my wish for you to be free of.

This kind of suffering about suffering takes the form of shaming yourself when you don’t feel chipper. Feeling selfish when you don’t feel grateful. Or, feeling selfish when you do feel happiness because your circumstances lead you to believe you should only feel solemn. In other words, it can be really easy to experience suffering about suffering.

At my desk I have a photocopy of page 137 of Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. For those not familiar with Frankl’s biography, he survived multiple concentration camps, was a Neurologist, Psychiatrist, Professor, Founder of Logotherapy, but please honor his life by reading further about his contributions or reading Man’s Search for Meaning. On that page I have highlighted the following words: “In accepting this challenge to suffer bravely, life has a meaning up to the last moment, and it retains this meaning literally to the end. In other words, life’s meaning is an unconditional one, for it even includes the potential meaning of unavoidable suffering.”

Acknowledging our suffering is brave. It is commendable to have the courage to look at your circumstances and reflect on yourself and what you have learned. You came out the other end of whatever happened, or, you are still in the middle of whatever is happening. What incredible love or gratitude do you have for the (person, place, ability, thing) you lost or are facing to lose? Who are you today? What skills did you use or develop to get through and continue today? Taking lessons learned from suffering and applying them to life going forward is brave. Incorporating that suffering into your life story, no matter how much you wish it wasn't true, is brave.

Suffer bravely. Typically (but I argue incorrectly) we are taught that those two words don’t fit together; that to be brave means to avoid suffering. Suffer bravely. That concept speaks so strongly to me. I wonder if it at all speaks to you. I am grateful to Frankl for these words.

What you are feeling is valid. The support, nourishment, quiet time, rest, (whatever it is you need to positively get through this time enter it here) is valid.

If you could use some additional support this holiday season or anytime of the year, the Work/Life Center is available to connect employees and families to resources for support.

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About Author

Katie Seavey

Sr Associate Work Life Program Manager

Katie Seavey supports employees with issues of stress and balance, providing tools and resources to cope when life feels overwhelming. Katie is a contact for those who may be coping with issues of mental health, substance use, or grief and loss. A young professional herself, Katie is a unique support to employees who are navigating the many life transitions that occur in your 20’s and 30’s.

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