Being prescribed happiness over a four month period is not only taxing, but potentially harmful.
The end-of-year period between university semesters is always filled to the brim with celebration. Everyone seems to be reflecting on their wild adventures and family bonding; no space for anything other than positivity and closeness and belonging and support from the beginning of October to the start of March. Shop window-fronts announce over December (with consumeristic voyeur) that you should take time to spend with those you love, whereas every second advertisement pushes a diverse cast of people – extended families, roommates, best friends – partaking in a range of summer themed activities at the beach, pool or air conditioned living room. They’re all together, all supporting each other, all happy.
But this is not a universal experience. For some, there’s often no support to be found in the feelings that the holiday period is supposed to bring, which can create the biggest, shittiest differentiation between what’s societally acceptable to feel, and what someone’s own mental and physical health is making them feel. To be frank, tis’ the season to… feel a little bit shit. Everyone seems to be recapping their big family gatherings, or their travels around Europe on a wild Contiki, or their rotating trip to every possible beach and music festival over the summer, bragging about how ‘life changing!’ and ‘phenomenal!’ it was.
Sure, it might have been; but you’re feeling like you’ve completely missed the punchline, whatever that is. It may seem that no-one takes the time out of their own socials to reach out; every Instagram post, every ‘my holiday was totally awesome’ expects you to feel engaged and happy, and only makes you feel more shit. You’re either faltering behind, or having to hide your mental or physical health just to keep up, which only serves to make things worse.
Just because your holidays weren’t as magnificent as others, doesn’t mean that they were any less important
Being prescribed happiness over a three/four month period is not only taxing, but potentially harmful when all you can think about is the general cloud of shit floating over your head.
This is exactly why the half-hearted, misdirected clickbait lists, which always appear around the end of each year, are so perfunctory. Rattling off a long inventory of methods to overcome your own personal, deeply buried mental and physical shittiness over the holidays, they proclaim that you should ‘have something to hold onto!’ ‘Keep in contact with those that make you happy!’ ‘Read a book… or something!’
These types of action plans not only vary with the reader’s experiences, medication and circumstances, but place the emphasis on the reader to take steps to fix their own personal shit-cloud, whatever that may contain. You must find a safe space. You must keep grounded, you must hold on; because you feel pressured or uncomfortable by the social cues that accompany the holidays, you must change and mould and shape yourself to at least get by until the shit feeling can go away.
Contrary to these lists, it is not the reader’s fault that they don’t feel comfortable whilst reflecting on other people’s ‘awesome’ experiences. This applies as equally whether they are estranged, missing or hiding their true identity from their family; whether they are made anxious, nervous or overstimulated by gatherings or holidays, whether they are too unwell, or somewhere in between. Someone’s own mental and physical wellbeing throughout this period- as well as over the rest of the year – is not something easily fixed, or indeed something that should be fixed. Just because your holidays weren’t as magnificent as others, doesn’t mean that they were any less important.
I’m not going to wax lyrical about half-hearted methods to ‘make it through’ the end of the holidays. I’m not going to tie a neat little bow on a long listicle of ways that emphasise how those people who feel shit because of the holidays should suddenly, magically, get rid of those feelings and elevate. Instead, the onus should be on others in supporting, validating and de-shittifying the holiday season for those who can’t. Build safe spaces for your friends to take shelter in whilst uni restarts; remember that they may not be having the best time, and so make steps to reach outside of your own social bubble and connect.
They may not feel comfortable discussing the holidays, or may be looking for a social connection without the bragging; be aware of this, and give them room to breathe. This may involve setting up tangible activities which suit them and don’t involve any fanfare – coffee dates, takeaway dinner on the couch, drawing in Kings Park – or may just be some time alone. Let them be them – undefined by the pressures of what society, and Instagram, says that they should have been during the holidays.
This piece originally appeared in Pelican Magazine, a student publication of the University of Western Australia. You can check out Pelican Magazine’s website here. Republished with permission from the author.