Day #4 Loneliness
Some people may not get this but Christmas is one of the loneliest times of the year. It really is. There are so many times that I could be surrounded by people yet also be so lonely. It is a constant reinforcement of how few people really care about you.
This time of year is marketed as a time to reach out to those you love and care about. You spend a little time with them, even if it is only a phone call. You may send them a present or at least a card. So when you are surrounded by people and no one reaches out, no one sends you a card, no one stops by with a plate of cookies, you can see how lonely it can seem.
I know that this is probably a psychological condition. If I were to be more outgoing, send out cards, make phone calls, give out treats then I might get some in return. But that is the problem. I don’t want to get anything out of obligation. I have the same issue with my marriage in our communication. I don’t want to do something or say something because then she may do it in return but only out of obligation, not because she really wants to do it. With Christmas, I only want to hear from those people who genuinely are interested in how I am doing. I want them to want to reach out to me. I can’t be the only person who feels this way.
If you look at the rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide they all increase during the holiday season. The holiday season can be, for some, a measure of your worth to others. If you don’t feel valued by the people around you, even the people who are closest to you then it is hard to find value in yourself. So it should be no surprise that people are lonely when others don’t reach out. They may have 1,000 friends but if none of them reach out you can quickly assess how much they value you and then you can reassess how much you value them.
You also have the people who are perfectly healthy (mentally that is) and can still be lonely. Maybe they have moved far away from all their family and friends and cannot travel to be with them during this time. It can be quite lonely for people to realize how few people they know around them. The first time I took my wife and moved us far away from her family we moved without knowing anyone. The first Christmas was extremely hard on my wife. I was used to being alone, but she was used to having tons of family constantly coming and going. They would go on shopping trips, have movie nights, baking days,… For her family it was a time to bond and be with each other. When we moved away she lost all of that but she would hear all about it in her phone calls home. This only made her feel more and more lonely. She eventually made friends and the holidays got better for her, but there are plenty of other people who must be in similar situations. Seeing all the happiness only reinforces what you don’t have, what you are missing.
All the media attention has happy families coming together during the holiday season. As a person who has no one, you become inundated with messages that you have no one. Every song, commercial, billboard reinforces the idea of being with friends and family. Each of those things is a little jab at the person who doesn’t have those types of people in their lives but wants them. I know I am a different beast as I can be quite content, even happy being alone during the holiday season. However, most people did not grow up in the environment I did, so most people have someone with whom they want to share the holidays.
There is also the pressure to meet certain expectations during the holiday season. Come to this party, give a gift to that person, call this person, send a card to that one, it can all be extremely stressful. All the stress forces people into their shell and reinforces the personal inadequacies which lead to people withdrawing. This withdrawal is hard to overcome unless someone reaches out to you. The less people you have that can help, the farther and farther you withdraw. The loneliness just builds and builds.
If you took away the holiday season would you still have these moments of coming together? I think you would but each family would do it differently and at different times throughout the year. This would help decrease the expectations that come with the holidays and also spreads the contact with friends and family over a greater span of time. By spreading the contact out over the year, you can make more opportunities for people to connect, which would keep people from feeling lonely. The constant comparison with the media would not be there and so if you missed a get together you don’t have all that stuff in your face reminding you of what you missed. Instead of feeling lonely, you may feel a little disappointed you missed the event, but you can already be looking forward to another coming up in the year.
The way I see it, we could get rid of the holiday season or medicate most of the population to combat the loneliness of this time of year. Wait, maybe that solution has already been chosen. Hello Prozac! For my personal situation if no one reaches out, I always have the good old fall back of just talking to the voices in my head. They have kept me company far longer than anyone else I know. And they want to be here. I wish I could say that I want them there, but that is a post for another day.