“Life is like a spiral of good and bad experiences. You are never static. You are moving up or down the spiral. The CHOICE of direction is YOURS.” -P.D.M. Dolce
When I start to feel a little anxious or stressed, I count things. I count steps on staircases, cracks in sidewalks, windows on buildings, and anything else I can find to stop myself from spiraling into another dimension. It’s a coping mechanism I’ve been taught to help ground myself when I am feeling overwhelmed. It’s ironic then, that I find great comfort in counting fractals. Fractals are never-ending patterns. They are infinitely complex patterns that are self-similar across different scales. They are created by repeating a simple process over and over in an ongoing feedback loop. Fractals are images of dynamic systems – the pictures of Chaos. I stop myself from spiraling endlessly by counting endless spirals. Now that’s a cerebral INFJ coping mechanism if I ever heard one.
I’m not writing this to talk about fractals or chaos theory, or to further illustrate how my highly sensitive mind over analyzes every minute detail of existence. I’m writing this, because this time of year, I find myself using this technique more often. I find myself in a repeating pattern of something I call Seasonal Spiraling. Seasonal Spiraling starts for me directly after Halloween and continues through the new year. It starts with countdowns, schedules, and expectations. I’ve seen movies about how you are supposed to be during the holidays. I know you are supposed to wear matching sweaters, drink egg nog, and smile blissfully as you open shiny packages. For me, however, the image in my mind never really matches the reality.
My family has always celebrated holidays begrudgingly. Comments like, “I can’t wait for the holidays to be over,” started in late October. As a child, the holiday season was always stressful. My mother worked retail, so her hours increased. She came home more exhausted each night as the countdown to Christmas began. My father, a machinist, worked the night shift, and his work increased around this time as well. We never had a lot of money growing up, so Christmas became about budget, guilt, and the constant sense of disappointment for my parents. I watched my mother sit up late at night balancing her checkbook, and I knew she was worried. As a child, I too couldn’t wait for the holidays to be over, so my family could just get back to normal.
It is undoubtedly my sensitivity to childhood moments like this that leads to my Seasonal Spiraling as an adult. I love the concept of the holidays, but I despise what it does to people at times. Under obligation, we find ourselves in the company of those we’ve worked hard to avoid throughout the year. We find ourselves stressing over what to buy our children, and all those other people in our lives that we never know what to get. I listen at work as mothers complain that their sons are spending the holidays with their girlfriends instead of family. I absorb the heartache of those that have lost loved ones, and watch helplessly as they contemplate making it through their first Christmas without this special person. What should be a time of celebration has become for a lot of people an incredible time of stress. It has become a time of Seasonal Spiraling.
I don’t really have any answers. All I know is that I want the world to take a collective deep breath, maybe count some fractals with me to relax. I guess I’d just like to take myself out of the equation if for any reason any of my loved ones are experiencing Seasonal Spiraling on my behalf. Maybe I can offer some suggestions of what I’d like for Christmas, incase that’s been a worry?
So here’s my list:
- Do not feel obligated to invite me to your house if you haven’t talked to me all year. It’s okay. I won’t take it personally.
- If you send Christmas cards, then I am delighted I’m on your list. If you don’t, don’t feel bad. I think I send some out once every five years. Oh, and it doesn’t matter to me if it’s religious, non-religious, or whatever other style of greeting you might send. I won’t get offended.
- I don’t need to eat off your good China, or drink out of your holiday crystal. Just saying. I’m less likely to break a paper plate.
- I don’t need a gift. If you want to give me a gift, that’s cool. Just know that I don’t really need stuff. If you want to make me a tree out of pipe cleaners and write me a personal note, then do it. I like that kind of stuff better anyway.
- My daughter is like me, and she will appreciate the fact that you even thought about her. No need to email me multiple times stressed out asking what to get her. Simplicity is best, and I’m trying to teach her that the holidays are about people and not things.
- Conversation, a cup of coffee, and a holiday hug… That’s all I really need from my friends.
- If you’ve been working too hard to make the traditional family bundt cake for our get-together, that’s okay. It’s only cake. I’ll live.
- Any time you feel like you hate the holidays, take a moment to step back and ask yourself why you feel this way. As a gift to me, please take a moment to rest.
- Be present! Yes, by being present is a present. Don’t be so over scheduled and busy that you can’t appreciate the magic of a warm fireplace or the crystal sparkle of freshly fallen snow. Life exists beyond this season, and beneath the piles of tinsel, flashing lights, and pine scented air, we are all still the same people we have been all year long. We still need our loved ones with us and in the moment at this time of year.
- As the quote above mentions, life IS a spiral of good and bad experiences. Don’t get caught up in expectations and go on a downward spiral when something doesn’t go according to plan. Life is change. We aren’t static, but we can make a choice to make the best out of any circumstance. I have no expectations of you this holiday season, but I appreciate you trying so hard to make it special. Thank you for your worry, but seriously- relax.
My final wish to everyone? May your holiday be spent with people you really want to spend it with doing things that don’t stress you out and sharing in experiences that don’t cost you more than your heart can afford. Peace and light throughout the year. If you do start on a path of Seasonal Spiraling, maybe my gift to you can be my strategy. Instead of sinking down the spiral, look at the picture at the top of this article. Count your way up by focusing on each individual brightly colored window. Take a deep breath and remember repeating patterns of chaos are everywhere in the universe. You aren’t alone, and you are doing an amazing job of doing the best that you can. That’s all anyone should ever ask of you anyway. Just do the best that you can and know that’s enough.
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