The upcoming holidays are difficult for many people. Sometimes it’s the stress of dealing with family drama, and other times, it’s finding the strength to host and cook when all you need is more sleep. There is a financial burden placed on gift exchange, there is the making of ends meet at the end of a year for businesses, and bonuses for team members or lack thereof.
There is the potential for not spending the time you want with kids in divorced households, or not having any family to surround yourself with altogether; there can also be the missing of a passed loved one. Whatever burden of winter holidays feels the heaviest for you, let me open the door to my undisguised life in helping you navigate the next several weeks, and other difficult times as I try to put things in perspective myself.
I recently shared a meal with my contemporary, a woman whom I put up on a pedestal and revered for many years. Sitting across from her, all I saw was an exhausted mother of two, dentist, and practice owner with barely any strength to move one foot in front of the other. A woman whom I remembered smiling brightly was now a shadow of herself; a woman whom I thought had conquered the world seemed so tired and unhappy that she minced her words. I wondered how often I looked like that. I wondered how often I felt like that, but managed to hide it differently.
It wasn’t so much a turning moment for me, or a great revelation, as it was a moment of reinstating that which I already knew. Many of us carry a lot of weight, especially around the holidays; we wait or pray for a break, for peace and silence. We pray for those, but seldom get them. That understanding made me rethink the guilt and shame I force on myself when my own life dips, when stress rises, when I dread the upcoming holidays myself.
Hear me loud and clear: there is no shame in exhaustion, nor is there shame in a weak moment, or a difficult season. As much as I need you to hear me, I have to hear that myself, also. We all suffer from inconsistent strength which doesn’t discriminate. I am now more aware than before that hiding those moments from one another, pretending that things are sunshine and rainbows, actually hinders more than it heals; and that does contribute to the shame.
For over 4 decades, I bought into the now realized false premise that everyone around me handles their lives well. But wait, not just well, really well, incredibly well, with great attention and finesse. I often feel surrounded by practitioners and friends who have it figured out, who are great clinicians, stellar business people, eternal optimists, ideal bosses. I have been accused once or twice (or more) of being one those people. I laugh at the concept. Nothing and no one, looking at my own reflection in the mirror, seems less put together. If you could only see the quirks or hear the tears and screams from what needs to be a lockable and sound proof bedroom closet in my house.
I am, and maybe you are too, broken and disheveled, more times than even my best friends or family can tell. There are moments that I continue purposeless. There are moments when it’s hard to look for the good, or even to honor gratitude. Simply put, there are some very hard moments in life. To top that, carrying the burden of our self perceived failure, in secret, makes it all so much heavier.
Wearing the mask at work, at home, holding the tears back while driving, only to run into the house and up to the above mentioned closet has absolutely zero healing power. However, painstakingly admitting to one another that no matter how put together we seem, how well spoken, how many balls we are juggling without dropping, we feel tired and sometimes even lost. Feeling worn, jaded, sad, irritated, resentful is all part of the human condition; because without darkness, we would not understand light; without heartbreak, we could not understand love; without melancholy, we would not participate in comfort and laughter.
As those difficult moments of the holidays envelop you, participate in my realization that you are not alone; that what you’re feeling is common. That those who suffer along you, among you, and ahead of you have and will get past it, just like you. That those who are high producers, those aren’t understaffed, those who travel and play are not without weaknesses, not without guilt or shame. Participate in the realization that all of us at some point wear a mask stumbling along for a much needed pause. During the holidays this year, be purposeful in creating said pause. Be good to yourself, treat yourself, and love yourself as a best friend might.
As important, you must be deliberate in who you choose to surround yourself with. As you find a tribe willing to welcome you maskless, the support of knowing that we are all in this together will carry you through the dark moments. Make sure that if you choose them, they also choose you, to patiently listen, to encourage, and to create room for cheer and delight.
Here is the advice I’d come of for in the darkest times of my depression, many years ago. Advice that I need to use on myself and advice that I hear myself repeating in my writing, in conversations with my audience, and sometimes on the phone with kindred spirits. The proof that you were once full of joy, the proof that there is ‘sunshine and light, magical stories and tales, happy memories to treasure’ – that proof is in the past.
Knowing that you’d felt it before, is confirmation that you can and will feel it again. Life is cyclical with it’s ups and downs, a rollercoaster of emotions, experiences and adventures. Much self care is needed during the lows. It is important to sometimes take a break and reflect. And in times of laughter, memories need to be hardwired for future recall, for a remembrance during the inevitable dips.
Until you buy into that advice, or until the moment filled with magical tales comes back again, know that you have someone out there in the universe rooting for you.
That someone is maskless, faulty, sometimes defeated, always open…
That someone is me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Maggie Augustyn is a general dentist (Elmhurst, Illinois), an author, and columnist (Dentistry Today). She completed her formal dental education, earning a doctorate of Dental Surgery from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Augustyn reads, researches, writes, and speaks on the things that make us human first and dentists second. She has also been featured on various podcasts bringing attention to mental wellbeing, the things that make us hurt, and those that make us come alive. She is an inspirational speaker around the country and can be reached at email@example.com.