If your experience of 2020 and early 2021 feels like the above image, you’re not alone! No matter what side of the political fence you’ve embraced it has been a year of loss, constraints, hopelessness, helplessness, hatred, anxieties and extreme division, often among members of the same family, or among friends. Not only have most of us faced differences which have felt toxic and relationship-breaking, but a daily onslaught of information and news about catastrophic events, happening now, or about to unfold. I think there has been a collective experience of trauma in this country, and probably in many places around the world. Covid 19 illnesses and deaths, loss of income, loss of faith in the System, violence, racism, uncertainty.
To that point I’m encouraging everyone to pause and reflect on a few things:
How have you been coping and how well has it served you?
- Over-drinking or drugging?
- Reviewing the horrors frequently with peers who get it?
- Over-eating or over-indulging in comfort foods or sugar?
- Targeting your loved ones with rage-outs?
- Overspending on Amazon?
- Denying anything unusual is happening and proceeding without any cautions or adjustments?
- Over-working and sacrificing sleep / self care rituals?
- Over-thinking and going to catastrophic conclusions?
In my psychotherapy practice I’ve seen how people’s responses to the trauma either exacerbate or alleviate some of the stress, bring people together for support and meaningful action or tear them apart. Depression and anxiety are off the charts now as people struggle with feelings and thoughts that can become runaway trains in response to such triggering events.
So, instead of going through a long list of more functional coping mechanisms I’m encouraging you all to begin by examining the strategies you’re already using and taking an honest look at how well these strategies are serving you. If they calm and energize you, at what cost to yourself or others? If they provide relief, how momentary or enduring is it? Do your coping mechanisms give you any sense of meaning, agency, or connection to others whom you respect and trust? Are you finding any joy amidst all this madness? Are you protecting your mental and physical health, or has that been one price of how you’ve tried to manage?
All meaningful change begins with Contemplation, so give that it’s due. Then, if you decide to seek out different coping tools you’ll be readier to use them intentionally, creatively and effectively.
I read this CNN article and thought it was very timely and right on, I couldn’t have made this point any more clearly, so I’ve re-printed it.
I hope you relate to it, and I’d say “Happy Thanksgiving!” but that kind of goes against the whole point here!
Enjoy your meal, whatever company you can safely have, and hopefully, the day off……
You have permission to not be thankful this Thanksgiving
By Allison Hope, CNN
Updated November 23, 2020
Author Allison Hope intends to focus on eating her feelings about 2020 with extra helpings of sweet potato pie this Thanksgiving.
(CNN)The gratitude is being dished out in platitudes this Thanksgiving.
“This Thanksgiving’s a bust, but try to focus on gratitude,” advised one health site, a precursor to a warning to avoid gathering outside our immediate households for the holidays.
“Share gratitude, not COVID this Thanksgiving,” another warned.
You can serve up a portion of gratitude for your Thanksgiving this year, but don’t expect me to join you. I am going to focus on eating my feelings with extra helpings of sweet potato pie that I don’t have to share with anyone — because no one else is coming to Thanksgiving.
In a year when a once-in-a-century pandemic collided with social and political unrest, an unhinging economy and job market, and increasingly severe weather events, I vacillate between feeling something more akin to sheer terror. That’s on the opposite end of the spectrum from gratitude. My cornucopia is impacted by supply chain shortages, global trade wars and an impending dark winter that is coming more quickly than I’d like.
I have plenty to be grateful for, I know. I remain gainfully employed and am privileged enough to get to work from home. As of this writing, I still have my health, not having yet caught the virus (knock on everything) that has killed more than 1.3 million people around the world. While I know people who have died from Covid-19, including those my age in my extended networks, my immediate circle remains, for the most part, well.
And yet. I am incapable of feeling the joy that has, for every Thanksgiving prior to 2020, accompanied me to the homes of friends and family. There will be no road trips, no extended family hugs, no old friends in town visiting and reminiscing over a tall cold one, no spontaneous moments featuring new characters. This year is all plot twists without the comic relief.
I have landed in a new place this year, one where it’s perfectly acceptable to want people to take their gratitude and shove it up this year’s pathetically small turkey cavity.
Yes, I retain the right to feel full-on Scrooge this year, and I invite you to join me.
After all, forcing yourself to feel happy or gracious — when you simply don’t — isn’t a helpful thing to do. Forced positive thinking, in fact, does not make you happier, according to experts.
“The practice of gratitude has become popular in recent years, and it can be valuable, but not as a forced one,” said Thandiwe Dee Watts-Jones, a clinical psychologist and faculty member at the Ackerman Institute, a family therapy institute in New York City.
Forced gratitude is not constructive
We’ve all heard from any number of self-help research and books and podcasts and gurus that gratitude is a necessary embodiment to help us live fulfilling lives. But the truth is, sometimes gratitude just isn’t possible.
Still, we might try in small ways to attach to some hope before diving back into that apple pie.
“As we approach the holidays dominated by losses, uncertainty, and human depravity, we can still be open, in a gentle way, to noticing what is good in our lives, what or who is holding us, a child’s smile, a poem, someone’s love, perhaps spirit,” Watts-Jones said. “We can allow appreciation for whatever beauty we may still see, even in the face of suffering, and if not, accept that at this moment, it is enough to be where you are.”
After our brief interlude with gratitude, feel free to snuggle back up to your inner bah humbug.
If we’re getting real, Thanksgiving is also a uniquely American tradition (sorry, Canada, I am not counting you) whose origins are murky at best. In true fake news fashion, the original Thanksgiving story reeks of propaganda, a tale we take at face value to feel good about American history and to stuff our faces.
In reality, the story of Thanksgiving does nothing more than paint American lipstick on the proverbial colonial pig, hiding the true barbarism of a time when White men first set foot on the land that they would go on to claim, along with the lives of the vast majority of people already living there, whether by force or happenstance via smallpox.
There was no turkey, no ubiquitous kumbaya. In fact, the only thing that was widespread between America’s earliest settlers and the Native Americans was a deadly contagion that disproportionately took out people of color. Sound familiar? Maybe the first Thanksgiving has more in common with this year than ever before. Many emotions rise to the surface, but gratitude is not one of them.
In the spirit of Festivus for the rest of us, and celebrating the anti-holiday to air grievances rather than pleasantries, I hereby rename Thanksgiving 2020 “Grumpstaking,” whereby we allow ourselves to feel whatever range of negative emotions we damn well feel like feeling without the pressure to proclaim all that we’re grateful for.
Don’t worry, you can eat all the pie.
Allison Hope is a writer and native New Yorker who favors humor over sadness, travel over television, and coffee over sleep.