Last month, at our conference, a very courageous woman named Dr. Rama Kasturi, described her PTSD and the ensuing symptoms that led others to believe she had depression. She very eloquently described the “depression” part as wanting to be in the dark, nesting, safe and secure in her mother’s womb. It was the only way she felt safe. The protective, warm, nourishing enclosed environment of the womb could only be recreated in her dark basement with lots of heavy blankets enveloping her scared and “frozen” body. The type of frozen body that comes from shutting down completely when things are too overwhelming to bear, similar to an animal that “plays dead” to keep the predator from attacking it further and actually killing it. Wow, what an analogy that makes so much sense and perfectly describes all the symptoms of depression! So what does this have to do with Thanksgiving, you ask? Quite a bit actually, with thanksgiving and with the holiday season in general. If you’ve lost a loved one near the holiday season, you know what that feels like. If you’ve lost a loved one any time during the year and they are not present for the first time at the Thanksgiving table, you know what that feels like. It is heart-wrenchingly difficult, if one allows oneself to actually feel the feelings that come up.
So here we have the winter holidays starting and not everyone enjoys them, go figure! They dread “Uncle Hal’s drunkeness” and “Grandma Sally’s drama” and their own mother’s strict adherence to a schedule with emotional breakdowns when something doesn’t go “right.” Sound familiar at all? What if these relatives’ behaviors that we don’t particularly care for are coming from a real place of fear and sadness that they can’t bring themselves to talk about? What if they don’t feel like saying thanks for something when everyone goes around the table and shares what they’re thankful for, because all they can feel is emptiness from loss or past tragedy? What if they feel they have nothing left to “give” that day or that week or that whole season? How do we deal with that? What do we do as the person’s social support system (friend, loved one, acquaintance, colleague)?
Something very simple actually: See them, hear them, validate their feelings and give them permission to feel them, permission to not put on that fake front. Let them know they’re not alone; let them know that when they don’t feel strong enough to stand, they can reach out their hand; and when they’re broken and on the ground, they will be found. By you.
Wishing you a blessed Thanksgiving, sprinkled with HOPE and compassion,