blerds: what to do when you’re the “black sheep” of the family who has ‘the holiday blues’

December 12, 2017
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By Nikki Lynette, AFROPUNK contributor

This Christmas will be my first without my mom. We spent her last birthday, December 30th, getting her all dolled up to celebrate with family at her favorite Mexican restaurant, only for her to get sick as soon as we arrived and have to be rushed to the emergency room. On New Year’s Eve, I poured gingerale from the hospital’s vending machine into plastic cups and my mom, my brother, and I toasted and made up words to the new year song Auld Lang Syne. We lived in the hospital for the next 3 months, until cancer took her on March 24th.

For many of the folks who connect personally with what Afropunk stands for, the holidays are not a fun, festive time of year. We are not traditional, we have always been the black-sheep in our families, and the holidays force us to face how far from “normal” we really are. The holidays are over-commercialized. They create situations where we are forced to socialize. They leave us confronted either with an abundance of religious themes we don’t align with and/or leave us feeling alienated due to our own spiritual views. That doesn’t mean that we lack the ability to appreciate the spirit of gift giving or even family gatherings. It just means that, for many of us, the holidays bring more stress than cheer.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Lynette

According the the National Alliance on Mental Health, “the holiday blues’ are a real thing.” Extra stress, unrealistic expectations or even sentimental memories that accompany the season can be a catalyst for the holiday blues. Some can be at risk for feelings of loneliness, sadness, fatigue, tension and a sense of loss.” That sense of loss that they mentioned is real. For those of us who have lost a close loved one, this time of year can make us hella aware of the void they left in our lives. And can any of us really say that we know the right way of dealing with that? Now that my siblings and I have no living parents, we are still navigating what it looks like for us to move ahead together as a family. So, of course, birthdays, graduations, and holidays are tough. My sister is still close to our extended family, but after my mom’s sister acted a fool at her funeral, rallied a handful of relatives against my siblings and I, and began trash talking us while we recovered from the loss of our mother, I distanced myself completely. My brother, who has always loved family gatherings, can’t accept how hurtful (and absent) our family has been since my mom passed, now spends special occasions with his girlfriend’s family. And I opt to spend them alone.

When it comes to the holidays, many of us who aren’t filled with cheer feel conflicted, sorta like it elevates the pressure to choose between being part of society and being true to ourselves. I have been considering sitting out the holidays altogether. She’s Gotta Have It came out on Thanksgiving, and since I have music featured on the show, staying home and having a Netflix night was hella appealing. On Xmas, I am considering sneaking a purse full of bougie vegan snacks into the movie theater and going to see a bunch of movies by myself. And I’d love to spend New Year’s Eve in the studio, working on songs for my upcoming project Chronicles of a “Crazy B!+ยข#” and skipping the new year count down altogether. Because of the mental health issues I am living with, when I am faced with circumstances I don’t like I tend to isolate myself. And as much as I would love to accept the invitation from my dad’s side of the family to spend the holidays with them, I need to be honest about the fact that, since I have no living parents and am still getting past the loss of my own baby, I am having a hard time figuring out what being part of a family means anymore.

Photo courtesy of Nikki Lynette

The details of my story are unique to me, but my discomfort with the holidays is something I share with a lot of people. Many of us feel guilty about harboring these thoughts, so we never vocalize them. The guilt isn’t necessary. If you feel weird about celebrating the holidays without the loved ones who gave these festivities meaning to you, you aren’t wrong. If you feel uncomfortable about the financial constraints the holidays put on you, you aren’t wrong. If you aren’t thrilled about the expectation to spend time with family during this time of year, you aren’t wrong. So instead of beating ourselves up for not being as hyped about the holidays as we are supposed to be, maybe the best gift we can give anybody is honoring how we really feel and being honest about it. Maybe refusing to force ourselves to do things we don’t wanna do will help us find other experiences that feel more like a celebration for us. Of course, that doesn’t mean we should shut out our family and friends who want us to be part of their holiday plans. It just means that when it comes to showing up for all of your loved ones this holiday season, you have to make sure that your name is on the list, too.