December 24, 2002. Honolulu, Hawaii.
A very skinny, sad, single and stressed out woman walked into a bar. (Insert your choice of punchlines here). It was Christmas Eve. It didn’t feel like it. Being from Northern Minnesota, Christmas was always white. And frigid. Like me. The warm breeze of the Pacific flirted my little yellow sundress up past my thighs. I made no effort to maintain modesty. The streets were silent that evening. A breathless kind of lonely. Perhaps they always were. Everything seemed to be covered by a bluish moist haze. Exhausted from the physical symptoms of anxiety, my brain took a nap. It was quiet for the first time I could remember. Although I welcomed the silence in my head, my body hadn’t stilled. Like a robot, I wandered around the unfamiliar. The blurry amber color of the street lights bled like watercolors through the haze. I had just left a family gathering. My brother was getting married in a few days. A wedding during the holidays? For some, this seems like the perfect happy time to gather family and friends. But, for me, who struggled with anxiety, coupled with holiday depression, this was a nightmare. I was spinning so tight, it was hard to breathe. But, at that moment, I was numb with relief.
At that time in my life, beer was a food group. When was the last time I ate anything? It didn’t matter. I saw the familiar neon of a quaint neighborhood bar. I could go and drink my weight in Coors Light, and there would be no judgement. Employees and regulars are used to seeing tourists that they will never see again. I would be no different. Safety in anonymity. I walked in and “bellied up” to an already crowded bar. Dozens of enthusiastic sports fans were in there, drinking and yelling at the TVs for their favorite team. The gentleman to my left was no different, except he seemed more passionate, more invested.
I can’t remember the exact details of how our conversation started, but I know that he noticed me, a lone female with flowers in her hair, drinking a mug of beer bigger than she was. He was the one who turned to me and started talking. At first, I was giving short “Minnesota Nice” answers, not really interested in going into detail. But this guy was warm and genuinely interested in what I had to say. Not to mention his energy was electric. He was so excited about the college football game on TV you would have thought he was the coach. I wished I liked anything that much. I couldn’t help but open up. He was in Hawaii for work. He worked in college sports, hence his passion for the game on TV. It was the Aloha Bowl, and his team was in it. The most memorable part of the evening was when we introduced ourselves to each other. He told me his name was Nicholas, but he went by Todd. When I told him my name was Eve, he beamed. It was after all, the 24th of December.
He shouted, “You ARE Christmas Eve! That is what I am going to call you from now on!”
“Ok”, I thought. “Then I am going to call you Toddnick”.
It may have been a dreadfully uncreative combination of his first and middle names, but it stuck. Toddnick and I closed down the bar. He was leaving town the next day, so we exchanged phone numbers on the obligatory cocktail napkins. I didn’t know if I would ever see or hear from this guy again. But, as I stumbled back to the hotel room, my heart was full. The anxiety and sadness had passed for now. I was able to fall asleep to the sounds of non-stop “Christmas Story” on TV.
Feeling down, anxious or depressed during the holidays is a thing. Thank God my symptoms are not as severe as they were in the past. But, this Christmas I will be alone. It won’t be the first time, and perhaps won’t be the last. Over the years I have developed strategies to flip the script on sadness. I understand that my holiday responsibility, and therefore my perspective, may be different than most. I don’t have a husband or kids, I am not near family or close friends, and no office party for me as a self-employed individual. But, no matter who you are and whatever your current situation, know that these strategies can apply to anyone. With a little preparation, you can make your holidays a bit brighter.
- Find a reason to get out of bed. Preferably something that you can be exited about. If you are self-employed like me, it can be tempting to throw the covers back over your head, especially if you have nowhere to be and no one to hold you accountable for your absence. I must hold myself accountable, so I make an appointment with myself. I am sure that it isn’t surprising that I make a date with the gym. This is where my love for group fitness comes in. I choose an early morning class, either at the gym or on ClassPass. This will get me out of bed, and I know it is something that I enjoy. If I don’t make an effort to pick a class, or have a solid plan in place the night before, I may procrastinate. This non-productivity will trickle through the rest of the day. If you actually have a real J-O-B, you can still make an appointment with yourself for after work. Something just for you and something to look forward to. Maybe a 5:00 movie, manicure, or date with a friend.
- Even if you are not a fitness professional, make time to get in some exercise. Whether that is playing tennis, CrossFit, taking a walk or a dance class, exercise has been shown to improve mood.
- If you feel down and tired during the holidays, it could also be lack of sun. I have been telling people that I feel like a parakeet lately. The second it gets dark, I just want to go to sleep. Unfortunately, this is roughly 5:30 pm. I make getting sun exposure a priority. I take an afternoon hike or run with my dog to get some Vitamin D. It always makes me feel better. A 30-minute walk on your lunch break, or even a Vitamin D lamp at your desk, could do the trick. I may be tarred and feathered for this suggestion, but you could also consider a weekly session in a tanning bed. The beds that they make now aren’t like the ones that we used to bake in for 30 minutes daily in high school. If you are concerned about skin health, this may not be for you. But, twelve minutes in the warmth and light always makes me feel better.
- Cut down on alcohol. There may be a tendency for some to drink a bit too much during the holidays to help ease anxiety and numb any pain. Alcohol is a depressant. Even though it may offer a bit of relief in the short term, it will only escalate the feelings of depression in the long term.
- Be of service. I know a lot of you are involved with charities and volunteering this time of year. It really is a gift to give back to the community or people in need. This year I decided to volunteer at the Animal Shelter where I adopted my dog, Bo. I even bought ingredients to make doggie holiday “pupcakes” to bring with me. I am excited to bake something festive that I know I won’t be tempted to eat! Win-win!
- Do something creative with your hands. Ok, so the holidays may not be the time to DIY and remodel the bathroom. Kids or no kids, I always found it comforting, almost meditative to embark on a little art project. I have a Santa coloring book that I can break out, and I always liked to decorate those premade Gingerbread houses. One year I even attempted to knit my best girlfriend, Jarrett, a “scarf”. I have friends who love photography, painting, making jewelry and doing jigsaw puzzles. Seeing the end product of even the smallest of projects can bring joy, especially if you can give them as a gift. Apparently, this year I will be baking pupcakes!
- Get Social. You may be thinking “What is this girl talking about??” Well, not everyone has a full social calendar. And, for those like me who tend to isolate, it just amplifies the feelings of loneliness. I make it a point to schedule dates with friends to get me out of the house and to have genuine human connection. And not just “Let’s get together soon.” A definite date. I called a friend and former client for a dinner date after Christmas. I will be going to Nashville to see my friends and tour family at the end of the month. I even signed up for a sword fighting class taught by a couple of super talented and fun stunt women whom I haven’t seen in forever. Prioritize spending time with people who support you, who fill your heart and lift you up.
- It is ok to say “no”. The flip side of the above. If you are feeling stressed and anxious about over committing yourself, know that it is ok to not go to the party if you don’t want to. Just make sure that you are clear on your “why”. If you isolate, sometimes you make any excuse to not go to the party, even if all your favorite people will be there. In that case, maybe you will feel better if you go. I can understand if you don’t want to go to your stuffy cooperate office ugly sweater party that has been the exact same people talking about the exact same things for the last decade. Honor yourself, your emotional health, and politely decline.
- You can’t compare yourself to others. It is so easy, especially in the age of social media, to see your friend’s holiday happiness and success. You may get down on yourself for not having the perfect family, kids, job, and Norman Rockwell White Christmas. Well, chances are the pictures that are posted don’t tell the entire story. Even if they are true, it does not do you any service to waste energy on the things that you can’t control. Be happy for your friends, and practice gratitude for what you have. I know that is easier said than done. What you do have 100 percent control over is what pops up in your feed. You can choose what you want to see. There is no shame if you want to take a little break from social media.
- Give an unexpected gift. Many people love the feeling of gift giving. I am no different. You could give a little something to a neighbor, a high school friend, or former teacher – someone in your life that you haven’t spoken to in a while. Let them know that they are still in your thoughts. Although my family and I have an unwritten rule to give each other the gift of not stressing out about giving each other gifts, I still want that little spark of joy that comes from surprising someone. My plan this year may go colossally sideways, but I woke up the other week with the strong desire to give my ex-boyfriend’s mother and sister a gift. I did, after all, spend the last four Christmases with them. No hidden agenda. I just wanted to thank them for opening up their home to me. I never had the chance to say thank you.
The Unexpected Gift
When we last left the heroes of the holiday story, “Christmas Eve” had finally fallen asleep, and Toddnick was soon to be on a plane back home. Is that where their story ends?? Nope.
I didn’t realize that jotting my name and number down that night would become my greatest holiday gift. There are very few things that you can truly count on. But every time the holidays roll around, I know I can count on something. For the last 17 years, without fail, at
10 PM Central Standard time, on December 24th, Toddnick will call me.
“Christmas Eve!!!!” he exclaims when I answer the phone.
He is my “Christmas Miracle,” my unexpected gift.