Melancholy /mel·an·choly/: noun, plural melancholies.
A gloomy state of mind, especially when habitual or prolonged; depression.
I first heard that word in seventh grade as one of my spelling words. When I asked what it meant, my teacher said “sad and gloomy,” and it instantly stuck. That was me.
It was confusing to me that such a big word could mean such a small word like “sad,” but over the years, I’ve found melancholy to be my word of choice when describing my demeanor at times. It’s a dark looming, gloomy feeling. I feel it in my chest, and it overtakes my being. I can’t smile, and if I do, it’s fake. I’m too heavy to think outside of myself. It’s a deep-seated forlornness. It feels like grief, like I’ve lost my best friend, and to be honest, I have.
I moved to a new place a few years ago and have yet to make as close friends as I had at home. I’ve made a lot of changes and have struggled to connect. I am lonely, and, of course, I say I prefer to be alone, but with this pandemic, what I wouldn’t give to go out to eat with other women, to laugh, to gossip, and to hear some other stories versus the ones that are on a constant rotation in my brain.
I went out yesterday for a change of scenery and saw families with their kids, lollygagging around town. They seemed so happy even with their masks on. I saw grandparents with their grandbabies and other families with small children excited about some kind of scavenger hunt they were doing. I even saw an unmasked Santa walking down the street. I felt a glimmer of joy watching these families, but mostly an err of sadness and feeling of FOMO for not having young kids anymore—making this time of year less exciting and more stressful.
I felt a deep lack and longing to have more relationships in my life and to be less alone. I felt a strong sense of boredom and loneliness. I felt invisible, really. I walked up to a coffee shop to see a group of ladies sitting on the front porch unmasked, laughing, and joking. What I wouldn’t have given to be invited into their conversation. I popped inside and got a decaf lavender latte—a little treat to try to perk myself up. I visited with the cashier for a little too long, just trying to be seen and talked to.
I came home and had a meaningless dialogue with my spouse and child. I still felt empty, alone, and invisible.
I know from experience that this time of year can do that to me. I feel lack and a sense of loss. I feel an unreleased grief from a life of uneventful Christmases, and I feel dark and empty when it gets dark so early and dark grey clouds hang from the sky.
I feel worn out and emotionally exhausted from the energy of people rushing around checking things off of their Christmas lists. I don’t buy into all the hype, and it no longer brings me the same excitement; having a past spending addiction will do that to you.
I’ve lost my stoke for Christmas and don’t feel connected until I stop to remember why we supposedly celebrate this yearly holiday. Is it really about Jesus’ birthday anymore? Or has it become more about Black Friday and Cyber Monday and shopping all year for gifts? I have a hard time finding the spiritual part of Christmas with all of the hoopla surrounding it year after year.
It usually isn’t until I slide into a church pew on Christmas Eve that I start to feel the reason for the season and think, “Why couldn’t I have done this at the beginning of the month?”
I’m halfway through December, and I am going to call an official halt on myself. I need to stop, get grounded, and remember that Christmas doesn’t have to be about getting a good deal and buying more plastic trash for the landfill.
It can be about thoughtful intentions and meaningful interactions. It can be about showing (not through gifts) the people I love that I want to slow down and enjoy their company. I want to talk about our hopes, dreams, and desires, and not clog up our conversations with the discussion of shopping, finances, Christmas lists, and materialism.
I desire to stop and slow down; to not feel like I have to carry all other people’s expectations of Christmas on my shoulders; to breathe deeply; to connect to my higher power; to remember the reason for the season. If we are truly celebrating our savior’s birth, what does that have to do with the ad after ad on Amazon and Target?
I get that kids get excited about Santa and receiving gifts on Christmas morning, but as adults, it is our job to teach meaningful, heartfelt interactions as being more important than gifts and consumerism. Nothing on a shelf can bring that deep sense of feeling loved, nurtured, wanted, and cared for. It has taken me years to learn that. I shopped and shopped for more contentment, and it never came.
Christmas now gives me anxiety, a feeling of I must not have enough and need more. If everyone else is out and about in a frenzied shopping spree, then I must too. But no. I will not. I will not succumb to the frenzied list checking off and zombie-like aisle walking.
In a perfect world, I would travel on the “Christmas holiday,” taking my friends and family on a trip to see and experience, but unfortunately, that has yet to happen.
Two people recently asked me what I’m up to this weekend. I said, “Nothing much, as we are in a global pandemic.” They said, “Oh, is all of your shopping done?” And then I was caught off guard and said, “I don’t do much shopping; that’s not what it’s about for me.” People look at me weirdly—like when I tell them I don’t eat animal products, but that is something I’m willing to get used to.
In the coming years, I can hear myself saying I don’t participate in the materialistic aspect of Christmas and being okay with that. We don’t give gifts; we do experiences.
Through getting clear on what makes me feel like my authentic self and thinking about the long-term effects of where all of this mindless gift-purchasing goes, I am willing to turn over a new leaf, to objectify my celebrating a holiday that has lost all of its original meaning.
I still have a child at home who gets excited about Christmas morning, even though he doesn’t believe in the big man with the white beard and red suit, ho ho hoeing down the chimney. I do buy him a few thoughtful gifts. The keyword is thoughtful. It’s only things that he actually needs and that don’t exceed what I can afford to purchase for him.
I follow a lot of minimalist sites and learned the “Want, Need, Wear, Read.” The idea is you only give four gifts to your child. Something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read. I like this in theory because it makes gift-giving more concise and thoughtful. I have been doing this the last few years, and it feels more genuine to me.
I am still doing my best during this time of social isolation as an already isolated person at heart. None of us have been through a global pandemic during the holiday season. My heart says we just need to do the best we can and try to take it easy on ourselves.
The reminder for me in this season is to slow down, hibernate if I can, and take care of myself and those around me to the extent I am able. I need to show people I care through thoughtful gestures and to remember it is okay to be sad, it is okay to grieve, it is okay to want more connection; but the connection I crave can not be found in a store.