Sometimes it feels like we have run out of words to describe 2020, especially if like me you want to scream if you see “unprecedented” one more time. We approach the end of a year which has been almost overwhelming with grief and loss for some, for many. Living as I do in the UK, we also approach Christmas with coronavirus still a huge problem, even as, thankfully, the most vulnerable start to get vaccinated. There is often a feeling of “I wouldn’t start from here” for me when contemplating the impact the virus has had on the UK, probably exacerbated by having clients around the world. Some of these people will be celebrating just as usual, in countries with little to no risk, others face the same issues as we do in the UK, how to carry on whilst exhausted with carrying on. Then of course there are those of other faiths who had to celebrate their festivals digitally, who were not given the exemptions we have for Christmas.
As I said, I wouldnt start from here…
But we only have where we are, wherever and however that might be in, and in this piece I hope to offer some thoughts and ideas of how to get through the next few weeks intact. One thing to say, right at the start, for some, not being able to go home for Christmas, not feeling obliged to overspend, to sit with bigoted relatives, not endure abuse, is a huge advantage of a covid Christmas. As I wrote here on Surviving Christmas, sometimes family are not safe, and we must recognise that.
Boundaries always matter, being aware of our own, and those of others, leads to healthier interpersnal relationships. Having our own boundaries respected leads to better mental health, and being able to impose our own boundaries is vital to our wellbeing.
This year is no different – we need to be able to say no, and yes, in a way which feels safe to us. If people are pressuring you to visit, and it does not feel safe, remind yourself no is a complete sentence. Perhaps family members are covid deniers, or using the fact something is allowed to say you should be visiting. Using a could and turning it into a should. Maintaining your boundaries is even more than usual, an act of self care.
The same applies if you have decided to visit family, feeling it is safe to do so, and are feeling judged by others. Your boundaries are yours, and yours alone. The amount of amateur public health experts on the interwebs is quite astonishing – you do not have to change your plans any more than the person who is not visiting others, nor do you have to justify yourself any more than the person staying home. (I am assuming here that all my readers are thoughtful types who wouldn’t be planning to visit grandma after attending a wild sex party the night before).
We need to respect the boundaries of others, whether they tell us they wont visit, or are visiting when we would not. Remember that “riding out the same storm but not in the same boat” meme that was popular in the spring? This winter it needs to be our mantra.
Some practical tips about maintaining, and respecting boundaries might be;
- Discuss your hard and soft limits with your household. Hard and soft limits are a concept from BDSM, roughly a hard limit is non negotiable, a soft limit has some wriggle room. Work out between you what the non negotiable points are, so you have no accidental boundary violations in any direction. Mindreading is hard enough at the best of times, almost a year into a pandemic, and its all too easy to assume wrongly what someone else might find OK.
- Explain, don’t justify. Remember what I wrote up there – No is a complete sentence. You do not need to justify your boundaries, simply explain what they are to others. You can choose to share your reasoning, or not, that is a different boundary, but if you get pulled into justifying it there is space for blame and argument which could otherwise be avoided
- They are your boundaries, not anyone elses. There is a saying in the NE – If your friends jumped of the Tyne Bridge would you do it too – usually said by exasperated Geordie Mams. It really doesn’t matter if Mrs Perkins at number 12 is having 14 people round on Christmas day (well except to avoid Mrs Perkins for quite a while after). Other people are making their decisions, you are making yours, it is OK if you make different ones.
We started with boundaries because, this is a time of year when many people want, or are expected, to connect. Some people have been alone since March, others want to see family members they are missing, and aching to hug. The desire to connect is strong, perhaps overwhelming. This desire is balanced with the need to stay safe, not endanger the vulnerable and not overburden the NHS. To meet these competing needs many will be connecting online this year – here are some more tips and ideas to make this as fulfilling as possible.
- If you have a home office or workspace, find somewhere different for the Christmas quiz and zoom call with Auntie Ranvir. It could be as simple as using an armchair instead of the dining room table, but place matters, spaces become imbued with a myriad of associations, which we want to leave behind as we connect with those we are missing. A practical example, I held a crafternoon for Mind recently, and hosted from my kitchen table. I wanted to escape from work, craft and chat, and knew I needed to be in a different physical space away from my home office to really benefit from it.
- Do things together, apart. Sometimes we think we have to be in contact to connect, but sometimes a shared activity can be a wonderful way of connecting. Whilst watch party apps exist, simply watching the same show, listening to the same music, making the same food, and then communicating to discuss our thoughts and feelings can be hugely rewarding.
- Connect with yourself. Take a moment to answer this question – what do you need this Christmas to feel OK?
Everyone will have their own answer, everyone will need to consider if what they need is possible, actually a want, safe, and achievable, However once you have your answer look at how you go about making it happen.
One of the things that will help us all is accepting that this year will look, and feel very different. Many of us are struggling with our mental health, ground down by the extra strain, some people are struggling financially. The myth of the perfect family Christmas can break people in the best of years – this year we really need to accept where people really are, not where we hope they might be. We need to accept others are struggling, that we might be too, and that we cannot have the Christmas we might have imagined. We also need to accept that it is OK to not be OK, and asking for help is a strength not a weakness.
Working with clients over the Autumn I suggested they plan for a total lockdown Christmas, then anything they could add in would feel like a bonus not a loss. Perhaps we also need to accept that when people are dying, and keyworkers are putting their lives on the line day in day out, not being able to have 15 people around for overpriced turkey and cheap wine, really isn’t a tragedy. For some this Christmas will involve far harder decisions than what to watch on TV, and our acceptance of the constraints, the pressures and the stresses will make all our lives a little easier.
Wherever you are, and however you plan to spend the festive season, I hope it is a peaceful and safe time for you and those you care about.