Thanksgiving is here. Some of you may be feeling so grateful for all you have, looking forward to the turkey, the family visiting, the stuffing. You may be delighted that Thanksgiving is starting off a whole holiday season, full of parties to go to and presents to wrap and unwrap. Others of you may be, well, not so much. This article is for you.
Thanksgiving comes at a funny time for me this year, finds me in a strange mood. I am coming off a few months of depression, and, like when you’re getting over a cold, I don’t feel a hundred percent. I’m getting better, but I’m not there yet.
And I know some of you are struggling too, some of the people we'll run into this season are struggling. Some of our friends and family, and some of us, are in the middle of a mess in our marriage, or are unemployed and worried, or watching a loved one sink into addiction.
Others, like me, may not be sure exactly what's “wrong” except they're just not feeling awesome. Instead they feel tired, or weepy, or they're dreading everything (just slightly!) all the time. For no particular reason.
But Thanksgiving is here, anyway. And I’m glad. I’m glad my son and husband are off school. I’m glad my mom has the money to come across the country to visit us. I’m grateful my husband is such a DYNAMITE chef, and I’m grateful that he's pleased to make me special versions of the foods I eat. I’m grateful that I’m loving the class I’m teaching.
But the truth is I’ve also been tired, and depressed. I’ve been focusing on getting one thing done each day, besides the basics of getting my son up and dressed, and making his lunch and getting him to school. (Truly, I feel that deserves an Academy Award right there.) But then beyond that, preparing for my class, or doing the dishes, or the laundry - just one thing per day is the goal.
And mostly I’m making it.
In the past few months, I’ve read a million articles about depression. I follow a spiritual path. There’s nothing obvious that I should be doing that I’m not. (Ok, maybe exercising, but whatever. Even that I'm doing occasionally.)
It can be easy to think when we’re feeling low that we’re doing something wrong, that it’s a mistake to ever feel low.
But another approach is to wonder, maybe there’s something to learn here. Maybe this low-energy part of me has something to teach me.
So, I’m approaching this time with self-acceptance. Sometimes I wish I could be the peppy, always up, naturally sunny person, but I’m not right now. And I’m ok with that.
I’m not going to pile onto myself for being low-energy during this time. What if we really did accept depression as an illness? Not a fatal malady, but an illness. Or a temporary hindrance, like a broken leg.
If I had a broken leg right now, I wouldn’t expect myself to run a turkey trot on Thanksgiving morning. I wouldn't expect myself to organize our basement storage, or to start a new workout program. So why expect myself to do it if I am in a low-energy period due to depression?
I’m finding that when I accept these periods, I can feel two things at once. I can feel low energy and unable to do all I’d like to do, all I think I should do, but I also really feel ok. I can feel that the depressed feeling is not all I am.
Yes, taking a shower seems like a herculean task, but I also feel ok and even interested in what the day is going to bring. Today, that’s coffee with a friend, a trip to the bank to get quarters for the laundry. A bath.
So I’m experimenting with not putting on a show. Not pasting a big smile across my face and forcing myself to buck up and tap dance in a way that zaps all my energy and makes me wish I was dead. Instead, I am just letting whatever smile comes, come naturally.
I’m getting to know this part of myself and I’m not mad at myself for not being UP UP UP UP. I’m not giving in to the relentlessly cheerful part of myself – the cheerfulness bully.
A cheerfulness bully is someone who demands that no matter how you feel, you show up and you smile and you pretend to be happy all the time. The toxic message of cheerfulness bullying is that we owe a show to everyone we come into contact with. The underlying message is that no one really cares how you feel as long as you smile. The least you could do, a cheerfulness bully tells us, is pretend.
But we don’t have to pretend.
We don’t owe the world our delight any more than we owe the world a coke.
Part of me, I find, is fighting back and saying, No, I have the right to be here too. And it does.
All the parts of us have the right to exist. We don’t have to put any of them out into the cold, for fear of what others will think of us. We can retain all the parts of ourselves and we can learn what they are trying to teach us.
I’m finding that underneath that low-energy self, as I quit fighting that depressed part, and just let it be, other parts of me come to the surface, too. One part of me is surfacing that feels ok no matter what – unconditionally. This unconditional part requires very little of me or of the world in order to feel ok.
This unconditional part of me is truly ok no matter what. It doesn’t need me to look my best or feel my best to feel truly ok. Low energy or not, shower or not, dishes or not, I’m finding there is a part of me that is ok no matter what. There is a part of me that loves me when I am doing well and also when I’m not doing as well. Who knew?
By accepting this low-energy period, I am finding a well-spring of unconditional regard, a good-enoughness that goes deeper than a show of delight, deeper than lipstick and a nice sweater and a fake smile for your relatives.
There is a good enoughness in us that can sustain us. But we have to be willing to accept ourselves entirely in order to feel it. We have to let ourselves not smile in order to find the part of ourselves that loves us no matter what.
And that acceptance, I’m finding, extends out to the world.
When I regard myself unconditionally, I’m more unconditional with the world.
I find myself to be ok and I find the world to be ok. Ok, no matter what.
There is a core of ok-ness in the world, and in myself, that can sustain me. Ok-ness that I can trust. I can be good enough, as I am, and the world reveals a good-enoughness to me. Not perfect, but good enough.
This is not a blue-sky day, but a blue sky with clouds. Not unblemished, but just fine.
So this holiday season, accept yourself for being wherever you are – cheerful or not, thankful or not, delighted or not. Get dressed however you want – in your favorite sweatshirt, or jeans, or a party dress – and participate in your family traditions in the ways that feel best to you.
Give yourself the gift of unconditional love, and just let yourself be good enough, as you are. No show required.