I am going to get real for a moment. I was not OK last month.

Coming into December, I always know that I am going to have a full calendar. I start receiving notices about Christmas-related events as early as October and November. I try my best to let the community know about as many of them as possible, and, then, when they actually happen, I attempt to attend as many as my schedule will allow. Sometimes that means disappointing people who want the newspaper to cover their event, but I am only one person and have to deal in reality sometimes.

But like I said, I do what I can, so my December 2019 calendar filled up quickly as I tried to fit in as many events as possible to cover, even if it was just going to take photos to show the fun times that were had.

Once I start attending those events, there are some standard questions you always expect. What are you doing for the holidays? Are you going to be with your family in Texas or are they coming here? (Neither this year.) Have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? (Didn’t start until Dec. 19.) Did you decorate yet?

There is sometimes the expectation that because Thanksgiving is over and we have officially crossed over into the time period everyone basically agrees is an acceptable time to embrace your Christmas spirit, that it must have magically happened.

Barring that, surely any one of the many amazing events you attend – parades, parties, storytimes, craft shows, looking at Christmas lights, Nativity plays, musical performances, breakfasts with Santa, etc. — must have tipped you over into one step below the excitement of one of Santa’s elves.

And yet, it never happened. It wasn’t the sorrow of many who are mourning loved ones who recently passed or those who lost people at this time of year further back, infusing the holidays with a melancholy you just can’t escape. It wasn’t, as far as I could tell, as if the pre-revelation Grinch had taken up residence inside my heart.

Everything was enjoyable and entertaining. But nothing managed to permeate my soul and infuse me with the kind of jolly and lightheartedness that seems so prevalent at that time of year.

But as the holidays wrapped up and I was in that nebulous area where revelry just comes to a sudden stop, I thought about the weeks that had come before. Was I putting too much pressure on myself to have that “perfect” Christmas feeling? Why couldn’t I escape that funk when nothing was really going wrong in my life – when things are, in fact, pretty good actually?

To put your minds at ease, I was feeling much better by last week. I ultimately got through the actual holidays just fine with low-key time spent with wonderful friends in North Carolina. I had a rejuvenating Sunday last week filled with church, a good talk with my mom, some house cleaning, and a renewed energy that gave me a good outlook for the start of my week.

But while I was trying to suss out these feelings and why I had let my attitude and mood get so low, I read a good article in Psychology Today that said what I so desperately needed to be reminded of – “It’s OK not to be OK.”

“In fact, it is common to feel isolated and filled with sadness during the holidays — people just don't talk about it,” the Dec. 24, 2019, article read.

I thought about that awhile before I decided to write this column. I know that feeling of being somewhere and people ask you how you are doing and you feel compelled to say “fine” when you are anything but fine. So even though it felt a little too personal to be sharing all of this, I decided to do it in case someone needed to hear it.

The article I just mentioned had some good advice that I also thought to share when this kind of mood takes over: reach out to someone; practice self-care; have someone check in with you; volunteer to help others; limit your time on social media; honor your losses if you are grieving, and beware of the anti-climactic feeling that may follow the holiday season. These concepts are flushed out in greater detail in the article, which can be found at https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/here-there-and-everywhere/201912/its-okay-not-be-okay-during-the-holidays.

And because I know the stories and data I have heard about this time of year, I also will say that if you are thinking about hurting yourself, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  

Like I said last week, 2020 is going to have its ups and downs, just like any other year. Sometimes things are not going to be fine; they are not going to be OK. But that’s OK.

Laura McFarland may be reached at Lmcfarland@powhatantoday.com.

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