Just Exactly How Am I Supposed to Feel?

In the two years that Magda and I been writing this blog, we have devoted multiple posts to conveying the message that it’s okay if you’re not feeling joyful during the holiday season. This blog was more or less founded to address the challenge of facing depression amid the pressure to feel happy at Christmas.

We remain firmly committed to the idea that there is no way you’re supposed to feel at Christmas. In fact, there is no way you’re supposed to feel at any given time of the year. To that end, I try to apply the following three guiding principles to my life:

  1. It’s okay to not be okay.
  2. It’s okay to be okay.
  3. However you feel is okay.

Denying your feelings is a dangerous activity. Any expert in mindfulness will tell you that you should just accept a feeling without opinion or judgment of that feeling. I felt sad just now. That’s a feeling, and it will pass. End of story. Any further thought will not only compound the feeling, it will invite a whole bunch of other negative feelings in.

However you feel is okay. And that goes for the holiday season and every day of the year. 

Except, this year with the country in a major upheaval, I’m feeling more pressure than ever to feel a certain way. Just exactly how I’m supposed to feel depends on context. I went to a meeting of my local Pantsuit Nation chapter, and the leader said it was time to move past feeling sad about the election and move on to feeling angry, specifically the kind of angry that spurs you to action. Many of the posts on various political action Facebook groups chide people who are stuck in the paralyzing state of sadness—it was time to get up and do something, dammit.

So then I attempt to take action when I can. That becomes overwhelming almost immediately, as everybody and their sister has an opinion about how we’re supposed to fight back in Trump’s America. Call this person. Write this person. Sign this petition. Recounts. Donations.

I do my best. I do a few things and then I get overwhelmed. I wonder, what good am I doing anyway? And then I feel helpless and ineffective, which bring me right back to feeling sad again.

No, say the politically active people of the world. You mustn’t give up. Complacency will be our downfall. 

Further complicating matters, there seems to be some new bit of devastating news about the Trump transition every single day. Every person appointed as a leader or cabinet member seems to have the worst possible opinion on whatever it is they’re in charge of. I see ideas and institutions I hold sacred under severe threat, to say nothing of the hatred and discrimination being encouraged by the upcoming administration.

Each piece of news is like a gut-punch, a reliving of that devastating moment when America as we knew it seemed to die. How can I move on from sadness when there’s something new to be sad about every single day?

Is the solution to ignore the news? NO, you imagine the activist people yell in your head. Ignore? Give up? That’s how [reference to very dark event in history] happened. PAY ATTENTION!

But I’m sad. I’m mourning, I argue.

There’s no time for your feelings, say the imaginary activists.

Then there’s the guilt at feeling so sad about political events, when I’m not actually even part of a population most vulnerable to the actions of Trump and his Team of Deplorables. I’m a financially comfortable, educated, heterosexual, white woman. I have no right to be so sad.

You can see how I’m not exactly following my own rules about accepting any feeling that comes along. The pressure to feel and do and act a certain way feels stronger than ever.

Which brings me back to Christmas. Am I supposed to feel joyful this holiday season? Am I supposed to give in to the magic of the lights and the songs and the smell of gingerbread? Is that betraying the cause if I stop for something as frivolous as holiday merriment? And what if I can’t enjoy this merriment because I’m still so upset—should I try harder this year to be merry because we could all use a morale boost?

Obviously I have more questions than answers. We’re all forging our paths in this unknown new world. We’re doing what we can do, when we can do it. We’re doing what we need to do to get through it, just as we always have.

I remain right alongside you as we forge our paths.

Love,

Shannon

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