As we prepare to sing along to the jingles well-articulated and likened to the festive season, prepare the several colours menu for the family, and spend intentional hours seeking for the right gifts to share, what happens when we are not feeling all that festive during the December holidays?
To explore the neurodiverse experiences some or many may have is by no means an attempt to eclipse the sentiments of those who resonate with the said “most wonderful time of the year”. This conversation is a beckoning call for the compassion needed as we engage our excitement alongside those who may not quite feel like they can relate to the excitable sense of this time of year.
Let us unpack various aspects of mental health by engaging what might be happening for some whose sense might be that December places a tremendous demand on their mental health. The end of year is a significant marker or benchmark of time – we use this month to quantify our time and ask the most common existential question; “What have I achieved this year?”. This pressing question tends to coincide with other ways in which communal spaces might be demanding of progress and accountability for our own self-governance and civic duty.
This year was particularly strange for many, as we came out of the hiatus that was imposed on us by the pandemic, to find a world paced so fast we could barely catch up – the world as we know it had changed and its people more guarded, withdrawn and trying to gather a sense of how their lives changes instantaneously. Alongside this, was a sense of the gallery display of resilience, productivity, adaptability and innovation – a social divide that cause significant dread as many set out to engage “what they had done during the pandemic” as if there was much one could engage meaningfully than their sense of survival and grief work.
South Africa present a socio-political scenario for us where the concept of “going home” in December, translates to; inflated expectations of provision, a display of accomplishment by means of academia or occupation, sitting at the dinner table held by historic trauma and subtle yet obvious tension, answering invasive questions regarding your psychological and bodily integrity, and performing to the sociocultural norms that did not govern your existence between January – November. It is no surprise then that many are picking up the choice to stay put, secure the new year’s financial demands, pass on the grand Christmas lunch, or pick a holiday activity that comes across as self-prioritizing much to the disappointment of family that would have loved to take the cookie-cutter Christmas photo.
Others at this time are conflicted, split between boundaries of emotion and principle as they need to perform to the gaze of what it means to “come home”, to be celebrated yet burdened, fulfilled yet tired, self-sufficient yet equally needing to be cared for, headstrong yet fragile. As we catch up to what has happened whilst we are away, the novelty of “being back” quickly spans out and we are confronted with the reality of needing to consciously hold in mind the mental capacity needed to sustain the next few days or weeks. Then there are certainly those who look forward to the festive as a chance to reconnect, recharge, rejuvenate and replenish – the one’s whose families are invested in how they are doing than what they are bringing, where the conversations span for hours, and the curiosity of their lives is carried by the laughter of children, the commitment to spare them from the chores, and the favorite uncle who asks about what opportunities are available and what you might do for them as a family to assist in one’s upward social mobility.
This is not the time for meaningful mental health conversations, how dare you discourse during the one time of the year where we so desperately want the festive cheer to linger a little bit longer and hopefully capacitate us for the new year’s resolutions we must attempt to have. This means that those who aren’t so festive or cheerful drown out into the background, are seen but not heard, are constantly told to chin up and act the part of being hospitable or cornered into a lecture of how selfless they truly need to be and that no one has the capacity to engage the discomfort of their vulnerability.
As I engage this reflection, I could have chosen to appeal to your intellect with complex discourse themes, and psychological language and hope that you may have been able to absolve yourself of potentially fitting the diverse mold – but I chose to use examples that may have been your reality or that of another to bring awareness of the many mental considerations one must have in order to go on their merry way. May this be a season of compassion, hope, faith, regard and presence. Purpose to ask and pay attention to the emotional experiences of those around you – so that we can truly be content that no one was left behind as we explore the potential of the new year,
Buyisile Mncina is a Counselling Psychologist, Speaker, writer, researcher, community intervention strategist, and lover of life!