I’ve been rather quiet lately, thanks to not feeling too well. Living with chronic illnesses can add more challenges to life. With Christmas coming up, many people and organisations have been raising awareness for people’s loneliness, as it’s the season for it. This is not an easy topic to talk about.
Please take my writing with a big pinch of salt, as this is really just my opinion and experience and there isn’t such a thing as the one and only truth. Raising awareness is in itself never a bad thing, but it can also leave a bitter taste for those who feel affected.
Christmas has been called the lonely season and while I don’t disagree, I often wonder if this is partially a self-fulfilling prophecy. Everyone seems busy during this time of year, everyone is happy and gets to spend time with their families. So for those who are not doing any of the above, this highlights being alone.
I have a problem with this statement though, or rather a few.
- Feeling lonely doesn’t have a single season. People can feel lonely every single day of the year for many different reasons. Yes, Christmas can highlight it and is a tough time for many people, but I’d love to see campaigns highlighting and tackling loneliness all year round, not just one day a year.
- Feeling lonely doesn’t even mean being alone. You can be in a room full of people, yet still feel lonely. Sometimes that can feel tough, as it also raises a feeling of guilt or being ungrateful.
- Equally, being alone doesn’t mean feeling lonely. Some people are ok with being by themselves or even prefer it that way. And that’s ok.
- The “everyone is happy” feeling can be fake. Of course there are people who are happy for Christmas, who enjoy seeing their families and being busy with who knows what. But there are also many people who are not happy, but put on a smile anyway. And some even drop the smile. We are people. There is no on/off switch that suddenly makes us happy because it’s a certain day of the year.
- Many campaigns target elderly people who are lonely. This is a huge issue sadly and it’s great to raise awareness. But at the same time, this sometimes especially during Christmas, feels exclusive. I can’t count the amount of posts I’ve seen for elderly lonely people to get together, offers to pick someone up, to have a meal together, go to church, play bingo and and and. They are all great! But they often ignore the lonely people who are not elderly. And they sometimes actively exclude others. Such a missed opportunity!
- Let’s talk about the weather! Might as well, as the biggest lie people tell each other is “I’m ok”, when asked “How are you?”. Saying actually I do not feel ok is not easy. Especially when Christmas is being made out to be all about families getting together and everyone being happy. People who do not feel fine often don’t want to bother others. The busier and more private people get, the less others will be honest about their feelings. Again, I wish this could change.
- Equally though, when not feeling fine or being lonely, many people don’t want to be a burden or bother someone or be fussed over. And again, that’s true all year round. There is almost no right or wrong, no one way that works for everyone.
Now, a lot of the things that cause a spike in the feeling of loneliness during the Christmas time are, in my experience, things that could easily be changed or avoided.
Everything, and I really mean everything, builds up to that one big day of the year. Why? You cannot escape it, no matter how hard you try.
- Shops . We all know how crazy shops go in the run up to Christmas. And by that I mean August at the latest. Is that really necessary? Obviously the shops try to make as much of a profit as possible, but why do we tolerate it? Why do we buy Christmas stuff so early, hence encouraging the shops to start selling them even earlier the next year?
- People. Everybody asks what you’re doing for Christmas. Friends, neighbours, colleagues, random strangers. And it doesn’t stop there. Whenever I said “nothing”, it’s usually followed by a “Why?”. Why do I have to justify that I don’t do anything for Christmas? Why do I have to tell people that I am alone or have no money or I’m not religious or whatever my reasons are? Every time you ask, that person has to think about and often justify why. That makes it worse.
- Money. Money. Money. Now, I am not a religious person. Nor do I care much about possessions. But does it really always have to be about the fricking money? The more you spend the more you love people. The more you get, the more you are loved. Really? I guess people must really hate me then, seeing that I didn’t get a single card or present for Christmas. And that’s true for many past and probably future ones. What a horrible unloved person I must be.
- Talking about presents. There is not only an expectation to buy and get the most and the most expensive presents ever. After Christmas it continues. At work. In school. On the street. Everywhere. “Was Santa good to you?”. “What did you get for Christmas?” Nothing. Yes that means I was bad. Clearly. Can we move on now? Can we please stop putting value on money and presents. Can we stop highlighting when someone doesn’t get something? Oh and really, start early: Stop doing the fricking return to school circles where the whole class is being asked what they did, what they got or where they went on holidays. Because, you know, many kids didn’t. And asking those questions in front of a group singles them out and makes them feel bad.
- Alternatives. You know what I always hated? The fact that Christmas is the one day of the year where everything is closed because everyone (apart from me/you) does Christmas. Why? Oh and when you ask why, the usual response is “Don’t you want people who work have at least one day a year off?”. Erm, let’s see. Most people who work have more than one day off per year. There are many people (just think of emergency services alone!), who do not have that day off. Oh and there are people, believe it or not, who do not celebrate Christmas and would be ok with working or even welcome it. I for one would have happily done shifts then and whenever working from home often have worked then. Because why not? It’s not as if I was doing anything else.
- Transport. Yeah this ties into the whole “but you can’t expect the bus driver to work” argument, see above. And quite frankly, by completely shutting down all public transport, loneliness is caused. Not everyone has a car or access to alternative transport methods. Taxis are not only in high demand, but also extremely expensive, so many of the poorest people are excluded. And even if someone wanted to invite a lonely person to spend Christmas with them, a lot of people are unable to get there. Do you know how much that sucks? Being alone and knowing you could have been with someone else, but can’t because there’s no way to get there. Great.
- Traditions. Yes, of course traditions can be something nice. Not if it has to be the same for everyone everywhere though. And not if it HAS to be that way. So that one day of the year (which isn’t even the same day depending on where you are or what you believe in!), we all have to do the same thing (meet our family, exchange presents, drink, watch the queen or something else), eat roughly the same things (turkey, duck, don’t forget all the trimmings, it’s not Christmas without them!), and not to forget: all be happy. Cheer up! Put on a happy face. It’s Christmas after all. The season to be cheerful.
- Families. And talking about traditions. What does family even mean? One man marries one woman, then they have 2.4 kids and their kids continue the circle. So for Christmas, it’s either at hers or his parents, or theirs or them or the in laws or… Really? Can we please admit that these old fashioned family stereotypes don’t exist anymore for everyone? And that that is ok and not necessarily a bad thing? If man/woman or anything in between, if with or without parents or grandparents, if multiples, due to divorce or who knows what, or even if none of the above. Does it really matter? Can we not simply be with the people who matter in our lives? Isn’t it time to move on and admit, that even at Christmas, the happy “typical” family does not mean the one singular option?
- Home. Now I admit this doesn’t apply to everyone. But as someone who has moved around a lot and lives three countries away from any blood family, it matters. My home is in Scotland. This is where I live and will hopefully be allowed to stay. Yet every single year when the Christmas time arrives, people ask me “Are you going home for Christmas?”. Erm, I am home. That might be hard to understand, but this is my home. Am I seeing any of my family for Christmas? No. My mum will be – as usually – working in the hospital she’s worked at for many years. And they do not close over Christmas. My Nana is having a quiet day at home and likes it that way. I’ll be speaking to them. But then I do that regularly anyway, not just because it’s Christmas. And I’ll be at home.
So yes, as you can tell, this isn’t my favourite time of the year at all. And I don’t think it has to be, either. I am not religious. I don’t really care about celebrating Christmas or not. But I honestly wish some of the negative things highlighting being alone would change.
In an ideal world, people who want to be with others could be with others and those who want to be alone, could be alone.
And not just for Christmas.