Here at counselling connections it has been a quiet week. The feeling we get is of people emerging from a sort of ordeal. We are surprised by the language used to describe the post-Christmas period. People ask ‘how did you get over the Christmas’ or even ‘how did you survive the Christmas’. It sounds funny when you point it out but that is the nature of a good deal of the chat this week. Having expected so much from the holiday it seems like people might be feeling a little down. You wouldn’t think that the holiday was actually something that people were preparing for and looking forward to for months. But therein lays a clue to the deeper meanings of this time of the year.
Christmas is about mid winter; the turn of the year and more importantly the end of darkness and the beginning of a letting in of light. On Christian level it is about the birth of a baby and all that this baby represents. But the season has been celebrated for many millennia and how the modern feast is celebrated retains traces of the earlier pagan form. So much of the season seems to be about excess and this is where the idea of having to survive or overcome it originates. Maybe it is about getting rid of the last of the darkness; the bad in us while we prepare to let in the light and try to be good.
There are a few milestones over the holidays which are to be marked or overcome or endured depending on your point of view. One is the solstice which is at the heart of things. It has been enjoying a bit of a revival of interest in recent years especially in these parts where we are so geographically close to the passage tombs of our ancestors. This is closely followed then by the Christian celebration of Christmas itself. And one week later is the official calendar New Year. Somewhere in the midst of all of this many will also have an office Christmas party and family get togethers. It is all spread out over quite a period of time and it is no wonder that the talk is of ‘getting over’ it.
These things are aspects of public or group events where the individual is called upon to partake sometimes it seems in spite of their better judgement or intentions. There is the sense of an obligation to take part and join in the sort of hysteria that abounds in the run up to Christmas. It is something that people describe as being hard to avoid. How many of us have stood in the shopping street or mall in the days before Christmas with only one thing left to buy but with the slightly panicky temptation to grab a load more ‘stuff’ for nobody in particular? There are clues to a way out of the cycle in both the spread out nature of the events and the group versus individual aspects of it all.
The public landmarks of this time of year represent not only the change of the seasons and the turn of the year. They also replicate personal or internal undulations of mood and expectation. We go through natural cycles of fluctuation in how we feel or in our outlook. We can celebrate and enjoy things or we can consume to excess in a sort of denial where we are in fact detached from our self and our own natural cycles. Some people have a good way of working these things out through a process which is like integrating these highs and lows of life on an ongoing basis. This is like a daily, internal renewal which is akin to the bigger cycle of renewal which is separated out into the public events of this time of year. So it seems that with a little work it is possible to break these big things down into a day by day personal process. It is possible to personalise the great public celebrations into smaller internal ones without the great highs which are followed by great lows. In this version of events this time of year is integrated and enjoyed quietly rather than becoming something which has to be endured.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk.
Here at Counselling Connections this week we were sitting down to our weekly meeting when somebody raised a question that is on a lot of people’s minds at this time of year. The question is whether Santa exists. Well, we have some fairly clever people here who have been to college and know a little about important things like psychology and philosophy. These are people who are used to seeking answers to the big questions in life. So we set aside the other items on our agenda and talked for a while about Santa Claus and whether or not he really does exist.
A first piece of evidence is the presence of Santa in almost every shopping mall. But I guess we all know from an early age that these are really Santa’s helpers because the man himself can’t be in all these different places at the same time. There seems to be two main problems to be addressed when looking into this. Firstly, how does Santa exist? And secondly, how does he manage to get all those presents delivered all over the world in just one night? The answer seems to be linked to these questions because it is in trying to figure out where the presents come from that we get some clues as to where he might be.
It seems that belief plays an important part in this conundrum. The World, it seems, is divided into two kinds of people; those who believe in Santa and those who don’t. But we figure that if you put a grown up who doesn’t believe in Santa in charge of a child who does then on Christmas Eve night Santa would bring a gift to that child. So does that prove that Santa exists? Because there is something in grown ups, even those who may not believe any more, that wishes to keep the magic alive for little ones who do believe. It’s about giving. It is about giving a gift and about giving proof to the belief in this magical person who inspires so many to keep on giving.
Some grown ups have memories of magical Christmases when they were children. They remember waking early, excitedly rushing to the bottom of the stairs and heading for the tree to find out what presents Santa has left. People like this try to make sure that their own children and nieces and nephews have lovely memories of Christmas too. Some grown ups don’t have very good memories of childhood Christmases for various reasons. Sometimes this has to do with lack of money or maybe because of illness or alcohol. When mothers and fathers fall out of love and live in different houses this can be difficult for children too. Grown ups will generally try to make Christmas as happy as possible for children.
Whether or not you believe in Santa it seems that he can still exercise a strong influence. This manifests itself in trying to make Christmas a magical time for children, of all ages. How Santa exists still remains somewhat of a mystery. He seems to exist quite strongly in the imagination of quite a number of people; both children and grown ups alike. The evidence which is hard to ignore is all those gifts. Where do they come from? They seem to be proof that Santa really does exist at some level. That is the conclusion that we came to anyway. We are in no doubt that Santa really does exist. We believe in him.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk.
Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been talking about how bereavement and loss surface at this time of year. One of the things that struck us in talking about it is the wide variety of different kinds of loss and how these are experienced. There is the loss of a baby either postnatally, by miscarriage or stillbirth. Then there is death brought about by lifestyle factors such as alcoholism, obesity, smoking or other addiction. Death by suicide can also bring its own particular difficulties for those left behind and struggling to come to terms with it. All of these losses can be felt particularly poignantly at this time of year. We remember times past spent with our loved one and how we celebrated Christmas with them.
How we mourn a loss is a very personal thing. Often the course of mourning follows a similar path to that of our relationship with the person whom we have lost. If for example it was a fractious relationship characterised by falling out and making up we may experience the process of mourning as a very stop start affair. We may feel we are coming to terms with our loss only to find an old anger resurfacing again. And the appearance of feelings of anger as part of mourning can be a real source of difficulty. Anger is said to be a natural part of the mourning process but if for whatever reason we feel we can’t express it we may get a bit stuck and prolong the mourning period.
An example of anger becoming difficult to express can be in death which is caused by lifestyle choices. We may feel abandoned by a loved one who has died as a result of alcoholism for example. The question of the part the deceased played in their own death may be very difficult for us to face. It may be that we cannot freely admit to feeling angry at the choices they made. This can be the case with addictions or illnesses caused by complications of obesity like diabetes, heart attack or stroke. Our grief is added to if we rue that our loved one did not take better care of themselves.
Death by suicide can leave a similar legacy. It can leave a number of unanswered questions. Sometimes we hear of people deliberately falling out with loved ones before taking their own lives. The reasons for this are complicated but in part it may be because they feel it will make their loss easier to bear. This is not true of course and can serve to make the process of mourning all the more difficult. It also raises so many ‘what if’ questions that it is difficult to try to make some sort of sense of it all as part of coming to terms with it. Friends and work colleagues can also find it difficult to know what to say and this can lead to increased feelings of isolation or shame.
Christmas is a time for family and in particular for children. It feels wrong to us that a child dies before its parents. It feels like the natural order of things is turned on its head. Sometimes people say to us that they never fully get over the death of a child. Maybe that is the case with all loss. Perhaps we never do fully get over it but only come to terms with it to the extent that the strength of feeling eases and the loss gradually becomes more bearable. Loss of a baby is particularly strongly felt at this time as we imagine of they had lived what way they would be responding to and enjoying Christmas. This is probably a loss that a mother feels in her heart like no other. This is no less true for a loss by miscarriage where the mother may have bonded with her baby and where this loss might feel less real for others.
There is no prescribed path for dealing with bereavement. It is experienced as such a personal thing and it depends on the nature of our relationship with the one we have lost. It is good to talk about it; if we can. Sometimes this is with a friend or family member; or sometimes with a counsellor. There are times too when it is good to have some quiet time alone to reflect and remember and maybe even shed a few tears. Grieving is a natural process as we acknowledge and try to come to terms with the loss. Different family members will deal with a loss in different ways and to a different timescale. With patience and understanding we hope that the loss becomes less difficult to bear and that our loved one can be talked about and remembered as life following a death gradually returns to some sort of normal. We get along with living knowing we have been influenced in one way or another by the person who is now gone.
Counselling Connections, Dundalk. 15th December 2011.
Christmas can be a very stressful affair. Here at Counselling Connections we try to keep our heads and not get lost in the hysteria. December the 8th was the traditional shopping day for many, as people travelled to the capital in search of a festive atmosphere and presents for loved ones. And as we sat down to our weekly meeting someone made an off the cuff remark which got us all thinking. The talk was of all the work we put into preparing for Christmas at home. There are presents to buy, cards to send, food to be bought and prepared. There are Santa letters to be thought about, written and sent. There’s an amount of cleaning to be done before the decorations go up, not to mention the stress of where one will have Christmas dinner or who to invite. Then someone said ‘I won’t even get to sit down to the Christmas dinner; I feel like Christmas is devouring me’. That got us thinking.
Christmas can be an incredibly stressful time and yet we can get so caught up in it that we do little to prepare for it on an emotional level. All around us marketing messages spread the notion of family togetherness and reconciliation with images of families coming home for Christmas and having a meal around a beautifully laid out table. Wonderful idyllic scenes are conjured up with everyone smiling and snow falling gently outside. We can get caught up in this ideal and may try to aspire to this perfect Christmas. There is pressure to create the Christmas of our dreams and we will almost inevitably be disappointed when it doesn’t work out the way we expected it to. Tuning into how we feel in the run up to Christmas can help us manage our expectations around it. Accepting where we are at emotionally, provides a good basis for getting through.
Our experience of Christmases past will have an effect on us emotionally over this Christmas period. Memories, good and bad will influence how we feel at this time. In order to emotionally prepare, we have to be honest and real with ourselves. This means feeling whatever way we feel and being comfortable with that. It also means removing the pressure in so far as you can and refraining from placing too many demands on yourself. Making emotionally costly efforts to reconcile difficulties in relationships at this time is not always helpful as working through these issues is a process that can’t be rushed. Trying to have everything okay for Christmas day may mean differences don’t really get sorted but rather are swept under the carpet only to resurrect in the future. And families report huge stress in being cooped up together over the holiday period.
Those who have lost a loved one may feel their absence more over the Christmas season. This is particularly the case if the grief is still raw due to a recent bereavement or if it is the type that resurfaces because we have not yet come to terms with the loss. There isn’t a right or wrong way to feel, it is a personal experience. Nor is there a pre determined length of time that dealing with loss should take. Being aware of what is going on for you can help one to feel more grounded and therefore more able to deal with difficult situations.
Reflecting on these matters at this time helped us hereto put the stress of the preparations into perspective. It’s good to have friends and family around us when we can. And it is sad to think of those who we miss. How the Christmas season is spent has become prescriptive and while traditions can be comforting, it may be time to change the script so that it becomes a time for rest and repair, for resourcing oneself in order to face the challenges of the New Year. It is easier said than done and we hope that managing our mental health through the month will help us all through the holiday feeling renewed rather than exhausted.
Counselling Connections Dundalk. December 8th 2011.
Here at Counselling Connections this week we have been reflecting on the subject of suicide which is very much in the news following high profile deaths both here in Ireland and in the U.K. To mention the names is only to intrude on those families’ private grief. We have been listening with interest to the public reactions; the confusion; the loss and the struggle to understand. We hear people wonder what leads a person to the point where they feel there is no other option but to end their own life. If you are considering taking your own life please don’t. If you are reading this because you have clicked on here in the search for some answers then please read on. There is help available. If you are reading this because you are worried about a loved one then please stay with them. And ask for help.
If you have reached a point where you are actively making plans then please pause and look for help. There are many help lines and services available to come to your aid and support you through these difficult times. You may have come through times in the past when you felt this way and you will know that the worst will pass. And it will pass again. You can get through this crisis. Sometimes a ‘no suicide’ pact is useful. This may be by way of an agreement with one or more close friends or family. It can involve a code word to be used, say in a text message, which you have agreed is a call for urgent help. It can be as simple as ‘I am not good today’. The goal here is just to get over the immediate strong feelings you have and to keep you well enough while you get more support and longer term help.
It may be that you can’t find the words or that you don’t know how to go about getting help. It may be that you can’t see how you will ever feel good again. If you have come to the conclusion that your family or friends would be better off without you then we are here to tell you that this is not the case. Nobody here underestimates how difficult it can be to climb out of the pit of depression. To do so is a difficult road with setbacks and ups and downs along the way. But you don’t have to travel that road alone. We understand that this may be a journey you have tried to make before and come up against what seem like immovable blocks. We would appeal to you to keep trying. If the person you sought help from before let you down or couldn’t understand then try someone else. Try to find someone who you feel can understand your world. This might be the right counsellor; or the right friend. We know that this is not an easy thing to do.
Our experience has taught us that someone can come back from the brink of suicide. Sometimes it is just chance that stops someone taking that final, fatal step. But then they manage their way through the immediate crisis and slowly put one foot in front of the other in the search for a way out. It can be slow and it can be painful. But it can be done. There is a way out of the most painful depression; even one that has lasted for many, many years. It is possible to connect with the richness available in life in ways which you may never have experienced before. It is possible to reconnect with life and to love and be loved. Hold on there. Keep trying. Look for someone to give you a hand. It will pass. And you can feel better.
Counselling Conections, Dundalk.