This is usually my favorite time of year, this stretch between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. I like the intentional focus on thinking about all I have to be grateful for, sharing the holidays with family, reflecting on the past year and making plans for the next one.
I’m struggling to feel that this year, though, because 2019 has been pretty crappy overall.
First, let me acknowledge that I did go to Paris in April…a lifetime dream fulfilled…an amazing trip (which may be the inspiration for my next book). But that feels like forever ago. So many things completely fell apart, starting the moment I got back from Paris. We have lost family members—to death and other disasters. I’ve watched people I love struggle with horrible, life-altering challenges. I’ve been more angry and disappointed in people than I have been at any other time in my life. And every time I start to become more optimistic again, another devastating revelation emerges.
In the past week, I’ve heard crushing news about people I know and love, and it is hard to be thankful. It’s hard to be hopeful. It’s definitely hard to get into the holiday spirit.
I remind myself that all the bad things that happened this year didn’t actually happen to me, but I also know that I tend to take on more of other people’s experience than is strictly healthy or appropriate, especially when they are the people I love most. It’s hard to shake off this blanket of sadness around me, even when it’s not my blanket.
Yet hope is one of my core values, a part of who I am and how I see the world. So when I’m not feeling hopeful, I’m not myself. I become somber, tired, unmotivated, which is also not me. So the question becomes how to move back toward hope?
For me, part of that journey is making sure I’m not running on empty, which requires knowing what fills me up. Time spent with friends, exercise, rest, writing, reading…these are things that revitalize me, keep me moving forward. I have to make time for them if I want to be my best self.
Another thing that often works well for me is simply summoning my inner stubbornness. I will not let 2019 defeat me! I debated forgoing holiday cards this year and considered cancelling a planned party, yet late last week, my determination kicked in. I usually start listening to Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving, and listen non-stop for the month, but I’ve had no desire. Over the weekend, I made myself listen—whether I wanted to or not—and haven’t turned it off since. I also watched a couple of Christmas movies, which helped ramp up the spirit, along with some shopping and baking. I adopted the “fake it ‘til you make it” approach, and it’s working well…starting to make it.
Of course, I also continue to have plenty of bah-humbug, Grinch moments. This is an ongoing process of realigning, not a one-and-done solution. This weekend, in the midst of my positivity campaign, I almost went down a rabbit hole of evaluating all the goals I had for the year that weren’t actualized. I halted that gloomy descent with self-compassion, reminding myself that I got off course because I was doing other things that couldn’t have been predicted and were absolutely essential. That’s how life goes. We hope, we strive, we are thwarted, we keep trying. There’s always next year, which I choose to believe will be better than the last.
Wendy Brandts says
Sorry to hear it was a tough year. We like to reserve those challenges for our characters… What sometimes gets me back to calm is recalling that “the way things were supposed to be” is an imaginary concept with great destructive power (outside a book).
Holly LaBarbera says
Thanks for this great addition to the blog. I agree with all you’ve said!
Katherine Mario says
Spiritual psychobabble makes me squirm, but I just have to share that Buddhism teaches not just impermanence but also the struggle of balance – free from attachment and aversion. How do we stay close yet separate? I’m not sure why those lessons mean so much to me at this stage of my life, but they do. It’s similar to why the serenity prayer’s “accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference” holds a slightly different emphasis for me now.
You have great courage. You do move forward.
Holly LaBarbera says
Yes, exactly! Thank you!
Holly, I sympathize. I’m also looking forward to seeing 2019 in the rear view mirror. Your column made me realize there are ways to pluck up and carry on and recapture that holiday spirit. Thanks for sharing it.
Holly LaBarbera says
Try listening to the new Hootie and the Blowfish song called “Rollin.” Great line about how some things look better in the rearview, and I agree 2019 is one of those things.
Thanks Holly. Good reminder that things don’t always go like we want them to AND great reminders on how to move forward when we’re feeling stuck. Happy Holidays to you and maybe 2020 bring even more growth and learning.