Fat snowflakes floating lazily down outside misted windows, Dad throwing another log on the fire, smells of cinnamon and gingerbread floating thickly out of the kitchen while children scramble for another present under the tree, and laughter, glasses clinking as another round of charades is about to begin. Or not. Or you’re lying on the bed in an anonymous hotel room staring at the ceiling and wondering if it’s worth spending the money on the nuts out of the mini bar. You’re on the other side of the world in a sprawling refugee camp, a prefab office, an insect-infested rented flat.
The fantasy of the holiday season is a powerful and insidious one. Even though everyone knows that Coca Cola and John Lewis ads do not reflect real life, that family gatherings are almost always stressful, with someone or everyone drinking too much, a lifetime of baggage on the table with the turkey, strained relationships and forced togetherness, it is still hard to be alone over Christmas and New Year. And that’s true even when we’ve actually chosen not to go home to family for all the above reasons.
The cloying fantasy peddled by advertising agencies, movies, songs and all the television shows aired in the everlasting build-up to late December is enough to make anyone not having the perfect family lunch pretty depressed. For people who may already be struggling to keep their heads above the water, this time of year can sink them. If you are overworked and lonely, your relationship is in trouble, your family is miles away (even if nightmare family was the whole point of leaving the country in the first place), your situation is precarious and your anxiety is plaguing you, the idea of others luxuriating in the love and peace of home can feel unbearable.
There are no quick fix ways of replacing deep-seated and endlessly perpetuated fantasy with actual reality, but the important thing to do is acknowledge what is going on. Most of us, when faced with these occasions alone, listening to everyone we know talking about going ‘home’, try to ignore it all and to treat it like any other day, any other season. This is guaranteed not to work, even if you are based somewhere that doesn’t mark the same holidays as your home country.
If you have friends and colleagues wherever you are, it’s important to attempt some kind of celebration even if it’s just a tea or a coffee with someone. If not, then treat yourself to something, anything at all, but don’t ignore it. Make contact with someone and, if you can’t, then perhaps write some letters or a diary to mark the occasion. Not everyone can have Happy Holidays (in fact, the instruction to be happy tends to underline our inability to be so), so aim at surviving the season and be proud when you get out the other side more or less unscathed. If you feel that’s not going to be possible, please do get in touch with us here at The Mind Field.
—Anna Mortimer, Therapist, Journalist and Co-founder of the Mind Field