It’s Kinda Like the Grinch…

Oh the Holidays!! As we celebrate the last day of Hanukah and prepare for the arrival of Jolly Old St. Nick and the start of Kwanza, it’s easy to get bogged down and mired by the dealings of the holidays. The shopping, the preparing, the work functions, community collections, the (insert your religious organization) gathering, the wrapping, the white elephants, the bows, the ribbon, the food planning, the change of planning, the cards, the out-of-town guests, the unexpected guests, the overly friendly neighbors or being the overly friendly neighbors…the list could go on forever. But we can often find in the midst of all of this that we ourselves are burnt out before the joy of the holidays even really sets in.

We can become the Grinch of our own story, looking around at all the Whos out in Whoville and internally rolling our eyes in exhaustion. I get it, I’ve been there. I found myself there recently as the calendar ticks away the days marching closer and closer to the last week of the month. Then the other day I met my own Cindy-Lou Who in the form of a manager at the biggest culprit of holiday joy stealing…the Mall. She was older and had been clearing misplaced items from shelves when we crossed paths watching two mom’s bicker over who was in line first and she said, mostly to herself but loud enough for me to hear, I love this time of year…it brings out a little nutty in all of us. Yes, you read that right…her love of this time of year came from the knowledge that we are all our craziest selves during what should be the happiest of times. I was intrigued as I am by most interesting strangers I come across and asked her why. To which she said, Why Not. She continued that there are so many things going wrong in the world, big things that she could do nothing about. That made her worry and scared for her grandkids. Things that were loud and unsettling and that she hoped she would never see again in her lifetime. But this, this was something she could step into and speak into. And she did. She walked over and politely asked the women what was going on and how she could help them. She even took one over to the customer service counter and proceeded to cash them out, speaking directly to them in a lower voice I couldn’t hear and then wish the mom a Happy Holiday. She smiled at me as she came back around the counter and said, sometimes we all need to be reminded it’s got nothing to do with the stuff. It’s just stuff, that will probably be forgotten by next year. We put so much pressure on ourselves for this and that, but it’s just stuff. Just stuff. I smiled at her and looked at the guy behind me as he proceeded to order gifts on Amazon while in line buying gifts at the mall and answering a text from his girlfriend and looking like the ghost of Christmas past. I mumbled to myself… it’s just stuff.

And not just the gifts, all of it. The preparing, the work functions, community collections, the (insert your religious organization) gathering, the wrapping, the white elephants, the bows, the ribbon, the food planning, the change of planning, the cards, the out of town guests, the unexpected guests. We shouldn’t let it get us so bahumbugged that we become the Grinch (yes I know I mixed storylines there). Don’t get bogged down and burnt out over The Stuff this year. This holiday season take a page from Dr. Seuss’ book “And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more”

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Having MS: Alone For the Holidays

By Gayle Lewis, Ph.D.

It seems inevitable that, come the holiday season, which for some starts not just with an actual acknowledged date of “celebration,” but with the first signs of winter’s cold, it’s not the feelings of cheer and joy and brotherly love that abound, but rather feelings of sadness, loneliness and feeling very much alone and isolated. Why? After all, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, New Year’s are times of social gatherings, shared rituals and reminiscences. How come we all can’t just hop on board and feel festive and full of holiday spirit? And how come someone who has MS might just be feeling those aforementioned lows more deeply and profoundly than someone who is not struggling with MS’s chronicity?

Multiple sclerosis, whether it’s the more invisible kind or the more obvious symptomatic, renders the sufferer to feel “different” ALL THE TIME. And not necessarily different in the “I am special” way. “Different” in this case often means, “I don’t belong,” “I don’t fit,” “No one gets me or understands me.” And holidays, being a time for gatherings, friends and family, when you already feel like you don’t belong, it can feel more intensely uncomfortable being a joiner because it’s what is expected during holiday season.  In addition, the common Norman Rockwell–like characterization of the holidays can seem unreal to people whose families don’t fit the traditional-nuclear-family mold due to circumstances beyond their control, and having MS can exacerbate some of the complications there already in trying to fit into the mold.

It’s been my experience that many family members of people diagnosed with MS have not made an effort to understand their family member’s disease due to fear, disinterest, or distance that existed even prior to the time of diagnosis, and/or the patient actively deciding NOT to tell that he/she has MS. In the latter situation (which happens quite often), whatever holiday loneliness or feeling as if they do not fit, it is due to active participation of the patient with MS. To be sure, I am not blaming the patient for not sharing about their disease. There are often family histories and dynamics that inform that decision…and inform ANYONE’s feelings about the holidays, whether joyful or lonely. But MS IS a lonely disease, even if you tell someone about it, because most patients, at least the ones with whom I work, feel like no one gets it. And how could someone with MS not feel especially alone during the holidays at a time when you already feel like you don’t belong, as per usual anyway?

*Gayle Lewis, Ph.D. is a psychologist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City, Associate Clinical Professor, Department of Neurology, at NYU’s Langone Medical Center, and Staff Psychologist at Juilliard’s Counseling Center. Additionally she is a graduate of both the American Institute for Psychoanalysis and the EDCAS program at the William Alanson White Institute. She specializes in the treatment of trauma, eating disorders and individuals with Multiple Sclerosis. See www.drgaylelewis.com

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