To all my friends who are bemoaning the impending Chinese New Year “festivities”, here’s my piece to commiserate with you.
It’s not specific to CNY though, it’s a delayed article about the whole SAD situation.
(Actually, it’s about why some of us don’t always relish festive seasons and family gatherings, but we’ll get to that in 30 seconds).
For those who don’t know, SAD stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
It’s also known as the “winter blues” because it’s common for people to be afflicted during the dark winter season. Lest you think it’s about less light, less joy, that’s not it because there is also such a thing called summer SAD.
As per Psychologytoday.com:
“SAD may be related to changes in the amount of daylight a person receives.
To be diagnosed with SAD, an individual must meet criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons for at least two years.”
Logically, this affliction should impact only those who have extreme seasons to deal with, that is, not those of us who live near the equator.
But while what I am about to say might not be a clinically defined version of SAD, there is another type of season that makes people sad. Festive seasons.
The thought of gatherings with families, many of whom you might not have much of a relationship with, sitting around and say… talking about the weather, is depressing.
There are those with the comparison complex. Some people measure themselves up against their cousins and so on.
This doesn’t just happen to family. A friend of mine was saying that he couldn’t quite stand hanging out with his guy group of friends during these times because that would be the time for everyone to roll out their “C.V.” of accomplishments. Like new car, new house etc.
And nobody really talks about what matters.
Then there is the whole social media problem. Surely, you’ve heard of the stories of the youth of today and things like FOMO (fear of missing out) and the incredible pressure of maintaining an appearance on social media.
There was a TODAY article just a few weeks back about a young lady who would spend hours after each party she didn’t quite want to attend but had to for FOMO, editing her photos to make it seem like she was having fun.
What I find the SADdest though is this.
My friend was particularly sad last Christmas season.
We chatted about it and because the two of us have a particular affinity for psychoanalysing ourselves, we started questioning what was the exact reason for this distaste for family gatherings.
And we came to the same conclusion. Which I had mentioned earlier.
Nobody really talks about what matters.
He is not in a good space right now. Not from a job, let alone, career, perspective. He is worried about what the future holds for him. He has learned new skills, done the necessary certification for a foray into a new industry, but as it seems, the future looks bleak to him.
And last Christmas, there was the usual family gathering at his parents’ place. All his cousins, uncles, aunts were there.
And he said that no one actually asked him how he was doing.
What he took out of it was that no one cares.
I dived deeper into that statement with him and explored another perspective.
I told him that I agreed that there is a lot of superficiality in family gatherings, but unfortunately, that might be a result of the situation.
It’s not exactly the most conducive environment for heartfelt talks, no?
I mean, you might be spilling your guts out about your brother who has schizophrenia, but then an auntie comes along with kueh and starts shoving it in your face. And then proceeds to ask the person next to you when he is getting married.
What are you going to do in that situation?
But then again, just as I said that, I also agreed with him that it’s all a matter of how sincere the person you are trying to connect with is.
I have known people for years and years who “know of” my brother’s illness and yet, we have never had a good conversation, they have never once asked me about my challenging family situation.
And yet, I have met random strangers at a party, and had the deepest 2-hour conversations about mutual family struggles.
So then, my friend and I came to this new conclusion.
Maybe the only ones with whom you can share so deeply are those who themselves have shit situations to deal with.
All those airy, fairy, perfect nuclear family types… it’s looking very much like they just don’t get it.
To which my friend said, “I think they are uncomfortable having to hear such things. When people lack empathy, it’s a reflection of their own discomfort.”
But again, in another example of the oscillating nature of this discussion, I countered myself by saying that it’s not necessarily true that those who don’t have our problems cannot empathise.
I mean, just look at my amazing husband (whose family is about as normal as can be) who just seems to instinctively know what to say and how to handle people.
Or, maybe that’s because he’s Yoda in disguise, who knows…
Whatever it is, there is more than meets the eye about why some of us do not quite relish family gatherings.
It is not as simple as “I just don’t like my family” but instead, the feeling of them not really knowing you, of being misunderstood, or just wanting to feel as though your family cares about you.
Think about it. If we didn’t give a hoot, then we wouldn’t have any concerns about festive seasons and having to spend time with family, yes?
Ok, so now what?
I told my friend this.
- Throw away your expectations. It’s the best solution. Don’t expect, and you won’t be disappointed.
- Reduce interaction. Know someone who tends to trigger you? Stay away from them. Simple.
- Conversely, if you’re lucky to find the one or two people with whom you can engage, do it. You might build a new relationship.
- If all else fails, just leave. And don’t feel bad about it. Remember to have your backup excuse ready.
Go ahead, share your tactics on how you deal with festive seasons in the comments below!
And… Happy festivities, all? 😊