Laurie and Debbie say:
We’ve been putting up versions of this post since 2006. As we have said for the last three years, there is nothing sane about pandemic life, and this weird sort-of-post-pandemic life is at least equally crazy-making. All of us are experiencing pandemic fatigue, pandemic brain, and the never-ending uncertainty roller-coaster. Many are experiencing worse. Denying that to ourselves just makes things even rougher.
The suggestions here are (mostly) for folks who are planning to celebrate the upcoming holidays in some way, and are fortunate enough to have people and resources to celebrate with. If that’s not you, skip to the bottom. If that is you, then even if your family are your favorite people and you look forward all year to the holidays, you still may find useful hints here.
We hope most of you are staying safe, however you define that. Both of us have traveled in 2023, so we know how stressful traveling can be. If you are traveling or socializing locally, please be cautious and thoughtful, to protect your own health (including your mental health) and that of others.
IF YOU ARE SPENDING TIME WITH PEOPLE YOU DON’T SEE ALL THE TIME:
1 – You have a right to set your own boundaries around health protections, including COVID, flu, and everything else. That includes telling your family (chosen and blood) you can’t see them if they don’t respect your protocols. It also includes deciding that for your own mental health you need to see your closest people even if you don’t agree with their pandemic decisions. Do what is right for you and trust your gut.
2 – You have a right to enjoy things in your own way. To the extent possible, do as much or as little holiday stuff as you want; it’s supposed to be a celebration, not an obligation.
3 – If you are spending time with people, try to choose some who know how awesome you are. If you have to be with toxic people, remind yourself three times (out loud) in your last alone moments before seeing them that they are toxic. As soon as you can get away from them, do something really nice for yourself.
4 – Eat what you enjoy. Corollary: don’t eat what you don’t enjoy. Desserts are not sinful, they’re just desserts. Making people feel bad about themselves is sinful. Relatives who push you to eat (or not to eat) may want to be in charge of your choices, but you don’t have to let them take over. If you currently struggle with eating disorders, or have a history with them, we hope this helps.
5 – Wear what you think you look terrific in; if you don’t think you ever look terrific (we disagree) wear something that makes you feel comfortable, with colors or textures you like. Accept compliments and ignore digs about your clothes.
6 – Plan your responses to inevitable comments beforehand. Think about topics that you can’t tolerate discussing with your companions, and be prepared to walk out, either with a pretext or just saying, “Sorry, I can’t be here for this conversation.” If you have family members who don’t share your politics, you do not have to put up with hateful comments, whether they are anti-science, anti-democratic, anti-trans, racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, or in other ways repulsive. Make a plan in advance: if you want to actively disagree with them, have your facts ready. If you want to cut off the conversation, just leave (see the second sentence in this paragraph). Or keep all options in your toolbox and use the one that feels best in the moment. Make a promise to yourself in advance that you’ll engage or not engage on your terms. Whatever you do, don’t spend too much energy on those ideas or the people who express them.
7 – Not spending too much energy applies to the personal digs too. For example, if you know that your uncle is going to tell you, “for your own good,” what he thinks of your appearance or recent life decisions, practice saying, “I appreciate your concern. Excuse me, I really want to catch up with my niece.”
8 – You might be expecting to see people with disabilities — or you might be disabled. Take a look at Kelly Dawson’s “5 Disabled Folks on How to Welcome Everyone During the Holidays.” Dawson relates her own relationship with her thoughtful family, and asks five friends for tips. You can use these tips yourself, or share them with family members and hosts before the event if they appeal to you. Here’s one of our favorites, from Fin Leary:
… try not to make assumptions in conversation. Work is often a topic of small talk, although I wish it weren’t. I currently work, but I’ve felt alienated in the past when I wasn’t working because of my disability and everyone else was talking about their jobs. It’s great (for all party guests!) when conversations aren’t focused on very singular ideas of social success. That being said, if you’re in the practice of asking people about work, don’t go out of your way to not ask a disabled guest the same question. It’s hard to be singled out, so if you genuinely want to know if everyone in the room is working, or dating, or so on, then we should be part of that awkward social pressure, just like everyone else.
9 – If you enjoy time with kids, they can be a great way to escape from the adult toxicity. If kids drive you crazy, keep your distance when you can, and try to keep your patience otherwise: they didn’t overstimulate themselves with sugar and toys.
10 – Be effusive about every gift you get; then be discreetly rude about the awful ones later to your friends. If they’re really awful, throw them off a bridge in the middle of the night.
11 – If you hate the holidays, or they make you sad, you are not the least bit alone. Participate as little as possible. They’ll be over soon. If you’re wishing you had someone (someone particular or folks in general) to spend the holidays with, treat yourself with special care. If you’re a volunteering type, safe and protected volunteering can work, and so can staying at home and taking a long hot bubble bath.
IF YOU ARE STAYING HOME AND MIGHT FEEL LONELY
If you have enough (time and/or money) to give to someone who has less, doing that often really helps when you’re feeling attacked. If you know someone who is having a crappy holiday, even — maybe especially — if you are too, consider taking a moment to do something for them (a quick text, a social media hello) that they will appreciate.
If you love and miss your family, this is a hard time to be away from people you care about. Stay in touch by phone and internet, make little rituals with each other to minimize the distance, and look forward to better holidays someday.
If your family is difficult for whatever reason, connect with people who help you feel comfortable, and enjoy the break!
We will see you in January 2024. No one knows what is coming; we will get through it together.
Stay safe and well!
Debbie has deleted her Twitter account. Follow her on Mastodon.
Follow Laurie’s Pandemic Shadows photos on Instagram.