Today is New Year’s Day, which also happens to be the day after my birthday. And this year, for the first time in my adult life, I’m not hungover. In fact, this is the first time in my life that I have not spent either Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve with family and friends. Whilst I could list various reasons as to why I chose not to be around other people, the simple truth is that I’ve not been feeling very cheery recently. Rather than put myself in a situation where I would, in all likelihood, end up badly sleep-deprived with a hideous hangover to contend with, I decided instead to opt out of the festivities and spend some time alone thinking about how I feel.
I’m aware that some people will be reading this and thinking, ‘That’s a bit miserable,’ and I totally understand where this comes from. In a culture which over-values sociability, the idea of spending time alone when we’re supposed to have fun with other people is almost unthinkable. However, what I will say in my defence, and in the defence of the thousands of people out there who also find the whole Christmas and New Year period a difficult rather than enjoyable time, is that sometimes allowing ourselves to feel miserable is exactly what is needed.
To those who have never struggled to manage their so called negative emotions, this may sound ridiculous. After all, the story we’re so often told is that smiling, thinking positively and spending time with good friends is the best way to banish feelings of sadness. But for some, including myself, this approach doesn’t always work. For those of us who do sometimes struggle with feelings of depression and anxiety, it’s vitally important that we acknowledge rather than hide the fact that we’re not feeling good and do whatever is needed to get ourselves through it. In my case, this sometimes involves spending lots of time alone and definitely not being around anyone I don’t know very well, as would have been the case had I involved myself in this year’s Christmas and New Year gatherings. However, in a culture obsessed with the pursuit of happiness, it can be extremely difficult to allow ourselves and others the space and the time to retreat when we need to.
The story we’re so often told is that smiling, thinking positively and spending time with good friends is the best way to banish feelings of sadness. But for some, including myself, this approach doesn’t always work.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that we should all be more miserable or that we should stop looking out for one another – I for one will always be enormously grateful for the effort that my friends and family make to include me in their plans, even when I’m being a grumpy so and so. However, feeling sad and needing to be alone is, at least for some of us, a natural and important part of both working through and overcoming negativity. Telling people that they should push their feelings aside because it’s Christmas or their birthday, or New Year’s Eve, and because these are times when we’re supposed to feel good, invalidates a fundamental and unavoidable aspect of the human condition. We simply cannot feel happy all the time, and sometimes we feel sad and solitary when we’re supposed to feel jolly and enjoy the company of others.
Whilst we may run the risk of disappointing those we care about if we choose to be alone, it is sometimes best, not only for ourselves but for everyone else, that we do just that. Some might argue that Christmas is just a few days of the year and that it’s selfish to not put our feelings to one side for the sake of those we love and care about. But does the fact that Christmas is a time of year when we’re supposed to think of others and feel happy mean that we should stop looking after ourselves? I would argue that it doesn’t.
Without proper management misery has the power to destroy us. And this is exactly why we tell each other to think positively and smile when we’re feeling down, thinking that if we pretend to be okay then we will avoid being completely consumed by our pain. But as dangerous and destructive as wallowing in negativity can be, taking a good look at ourselves and trying to make sense of what we’re feeling, even if we don’t like what we see, can sometimes help us to get back on track. So, as well as continuing to accept the support of our friends and family when we need it, it’s also important that we learn to allow ourselves and others the space to be alone and to feel miserable without guilt if that’s what is needed. This is exactly what I have done over the last couple of weeks. And I must say, I’m feeling all the better for it.