Whats Up With That? - Katy Byrne


Dealing with the holiday hairball

Halloween, elections, Thanksgiving, Christmas and then taxes … it’s just too much! This is supposed to be the “most wonderful” time of the year, but I get worn out just trying to keep up. And, all of this during the shortest days and coolest weather. What’s up with that?

The holiday parties and people are special, but there’s pressure, from shopping to trying to find the fun in dysfunctional families.

I guess all we can do is our best and then rest. So many people are dealing with challenges in their marriages, babies, new jobs, lost houses, deaths, knee surgeries and other mixed bags from Santa while the big round ball, the globe, is not having a ball.

Our culture often makes us feel we’re wrong if we have the blues during the holidays. It’s no wonder we get emotional hairballs – you know, those feelings that are so hard to deal with. Cats cough up theirs, but people usually hold them in. Then we get stressed, angry or depressed. So, what to do? You certainly don’t want to spew them on people. Sometimes it just takes a good conversation, a sense of humor, letting it go, God or good intent to clear the air.

It’s hard to give myself permission to have ups and downs. I’m having a holiday hairball this year because I miss my mother, and soon I’ll be visiting my brother in a nursing home, in Southern California. It’s not easy, but he can laugh (if only I could figure out how to be funny).

Pent up hairballs can come from trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

So how to have a ball this holiday with a pocket full of hairballs? We have to think outside that gift box. I think one key to enjoying it is to be realistic about the winter, with longings and memories popping up, and realize that it’s human to feel a range of emotions. We need to be gentle with ourselves and take time to do things we enjoy, to find nurturing. It doesn’t have to cost a lot; a walk, a good book, an eggnog or calling an old friend.

On the one hand, Martin Seligman, PhD, in his book, “Learned Optimism,” a 30-year study of depression, says that happier people simply do not ruminate on problems. They distract themselves and find solutions. They learn to dispute disturbing beliefs.

The book cheered me up, so I had an extra cup of eggnog.

On the other hand, it is said that a part of what made Abe Lincoln great was his melancholy, which fueled his deep concerns and heightened his passion for fairness and drive. We have to honor ourselves, wherever we’re at – up, down or in between.

When I sit down to really talk and listen to folks, I’m so often surprised by the challenges of their history, the strife of their lives in family and their triumphs hard won.

Sometimes, balls on the trees and lovely lights, even in the best of worlds, aren’t enough. And, even though I twinkle right along with the twinkling lights on houses, (I think it’s so cute that people spend the time to do this cheery art) the turn of the year can be a time of reflection. I find that respecting my grief but also having gratitude or distracting myself from depression (suggested by Seligman’s research) are all important.

Sam Keen said in “The Politics of Boredom” that deep sorrow marks the awareness that something we love and value is threatened or has died. It is only by mourning the old that we can move out of depression and create a new future.

So, value that mixed bag from Santa. The other day, a friendly hand on my shoulder and words in my ear “I loved hanging out with you” soothed my soul. Likewise a call to a friend (whose husband just went into surgery) that turned into roaring laughter.

Savor those human moments. Keep twinkling, and pass the eggnog.

Katy Byrne, MA, MFT, licensed family therapist, has been in private practice for over 20 years. Contact her at Katybyrne@aol.com

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