Every holiday season, at least since the advent of social media, I see people asking other people to be aware of people who struggle during the holidays. They want us to be sensitive; to watch what we say and do. As far as I can tell, the requests for sensitivity rarely come from people who are struggling themselves. Instead, they come from people who enjoy the holiday season on behalf of those who don’t. These pleas somehow manage to rub me the wrong way. I want to explore that a bit.
I should start by saying that I don’t have any particular trauma tied to the holidays. Most years, I enjoy the season. But I do suffer from depression and certain life events have happened in November and December, so there have been years where I’m one of those people struggling through the holidays. While I can’t speak for anyone but me, I do have reason to think about these sensitivity requests since they have been done on my behalf.
My initial reaction whenever I see the requests is a mild stab of annoyance. Part of that is a simple, “Don’t tell me what to do,” reaction. The other part, I think, is that there is a certain irony to the pleas. Social media is a blunt instrument. There is no precision at all. So, when someone uses social media to essentially say, “Be mindful of others because you have no idea what they’re going through,” they are not, in that moment, considering what I, their reader, may be going through. I know that’s a bit convoluted. If that’s all it was, I wouldn’t be writing this, though. I can deal with a mild stab of annoyance every now and then. I’d probably just chalk it up to one of my many idiosyncratic feelings.
The reason social media posts asking people to remember those who struggle during the holidays bother me is really because, as far as I can tell, they are not only not helpful, they make things worse. When I’m struggling, they cause a bit of a spiral. They act as a kind of reminder that I’m not doing well. Then they make me feel guilty because I might be the cause of someone else altering the way they would like to be spending the holidays. It winds up adding some pressure to cover what I’m going through. I don’t want to be a burden. The other piece of it is that my health struggles are mine. They are not caused by, nor exacerbated by, other people living their lives. If anything, I take some comfort in seeing others enjoying life.
Like I said earlier, I can’t, and don’t want to, speak for anyone else. I know the people who post these reminders have good intentions. Much like trigger warnings, they just don’t have the effect that people think they do. I think that gets confused in our strange, awkward discourse about mental health. Of course, people should be kind and respectful, but that has nothing to do with other people’s struggles. If you want to help me get through the holidays, just live your life. Be normal and enjoy yourself.