Surviving A Blue Christmas


by Roxanne Tellier

Man, I cannot stand Elvis‘ song, “Blue Christmas.” And I’ll bet you have a couple of holiday tunes you could gladly live without for the rest of your life … enough’s enough on the “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer,” amirite?

And no … we’re not discussing the ‘controversy’ over “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” No, we are not.

But.

But seriously … it’s that time of year, when people can get a little – or a lot – down about what seems to be an incessant and annoying full frontal campaign insisting that we all be ‘merry and bright’ and ‘ho ho ho’ ourselves into stupors.

A surfeit of merriment. Bah humbug. What to do, what to do, when you just feel blue?

csarn salons
That was the question being asked at a recent seminar I attended, that was hosted by the good people of C-SARN (Canadian Senior Artists’ Resource Network – find more info at csarn.ca.)

Facilitated by Matt Eldridge, from the Artists’ Health Centre, the session included curated info on dealing with holiday stress, and included much lively input from the attendees.

We touched briefly on the very real problem of Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD.) SAD is a type of depression that occurs during the change of seasons. Symptoms of SAD include fatigue, lethargy, anxiety, weight gain and sleep disorders. About 2-3% of the general population of Ontario have SAD and another 15% have a less severe experience. It is believed that SAD is caused by changes in the level of exposure to sunlight. At this point, the main treatment for SAD is light therapy.

Seasonal-Affective-Disorder-SAD

There are special light therapy lamps, designed to mimic spring and summer light levels, that can really help relieve some of the depression of SAD, but the lamps are quite expensive.

However, help is on the way if you live in Toronto! Several branches of the Toronto Public Library now have light therapy lamps available in-library on a first-come, first served basis, as a way to treat the “winter blues.

All you need to do is sit, read or work about 2 feet away from a lamp for 20-30 minutes, without looking directly into the lamp, but allowing the light to shine on your face. It may be hard to believe, but that’s all it can take to really help.

You can give it a try at the Agincourt, Brentwood, Don Mills, Fairview, Humber Bay, Malvern, Maria A Shchuka, Parkdale or Parliament branches, or on the 5th floor and basement Toronto Star Newspaper Room of the Toronto Reference Library.

So that’s SAD dealt with – but what if you are just generally bummed out by the holiday season?

Me, I hate the ‘heaviness’ of winter … the weighty coats, the accumulation of hats, earmuffs, scarves and mitts, and the big, sturdy, non-slip boots that contrive to make me feel like a Clydesdale negotiating a steep slope. I can literally feel myself getting shorter as I assume the mantle of wintry clothing. Literally. I will probably have lost another inch in height by January.

Some determinedly, doggedly, cheery people love to tell you that “there is no bad weather, only bad clothing.” My mission is to hunt those people down, and skin them for their magic coats.

But until I find them, I’m going to have to deal with not enjoying anything about surviving the coldest months of the year in Canada.

Perhaps it is time to embrace the Scandinavian concept of hygge (pronounced hooga.) This is a word that Danes use to express a mental strategy for coping with the winter months, describing an emotional coziness and togetherness. It is a time they spend indoors with friends and family, embracing the colder season as wholeheartedly as they do the summer months, and seeing both extremes as opportunities to cultivate the different sides of themselves.

danish hyggeHey … as long as it doesn’t include sports … I’ve never liked sports, either to play or to watch, so that leaves me out of a lot of the typical Canadian leisure time diversions and debates. About the most I can handle in terms of physical exertion in the winter is a lope to the nearest Tim Hortons for a toasty cup of hot chocolate with extra whipped cream and a cinnamon dusting. I simply lack a sports gene, and find it unlikely I’ll develop one during my ‘golden years.’

winter wildlifeWhat I can always find time to do, though, is to spend a few hours with friends, to share a meal and indulge in lively discussions. Or to walk in a park, where some of our wild critters, who don’t migrate or hibernate, can benefit from a gift of the appropriate seed, treat, or suet.

I’m not a religious person, but I sometimes like to enter a house of worship, to partake, for a moment, of the peace that comes from the gathering of those who enjoy a committed faith.

Some people take great joy in volunteering, and of helping others by giving a little bit of their time or largesse to benefit those who have less than ourselves. Others look forward to participating in regular or seasonal religious ceremonies.

christmas eyebrowsI’m more of an indoor person, and can find tons of ways to amuse myself, whether it’s on the internet, or in communing with my pets. I love to search out old holiday songs, programs, and stories from other times and other countries, and to admire or laugh at how our sense of fashion has morphed over time.

Couple of things to avoid – if you are not feeling particularly cheery, go easy on the physical stressors: sugar, caffeine, alcohol and empty carbohydrates will just make you feel more jangled, and pack on the pounds. Be vigilant about eating properly, and taking the meds and supplements that keep you ticking along smoothly. Also, try not to spend a lot of time on social media; many friends and acquaintances like to take the season as an opportunity to put up their annual “highlight” reels … no, neither they nor their kids look that good all year round, and the dog is rented. Nuff said.

try something new SeussYou might be able to turn around some of your blues by making a small attitude adjustment; nobody’s perfect, but we all get a chance every new day to tweak what we’ve got. Why not try looking at your holiday challenges with an eye to a more realistic expectation of how your sister in law will behave after her third glass of wine? Is it possible that even Drunk Uncle will be a little easier to take if you practice a bit of radical acceptance of his all too human foibles? Some people just can’t help people-ing.

And the next time someone invites you to an event, or a meal, why not try saying an enthusiastic YES! to a new experience? The worse that can happen is that you spend a few hours discovering that you like or dislike this new person or food or thing.

Conversely, if you’ve spent most of your adult life hating one of your holiday traditions – this may be the year you finally say a resounding NO! to doing it any more. Walk away from petty squabbles, refuse to eat foods that you dislike, and don’t invite trolls to be part of your celebrations. While the holidays are a time of giving, they shouldn’t also be a time of unending and painful sacrifice in the pursuit of someone else’s happiness.

Everyone experiences the holidays and winter differently, but there are some tried and true ways to increase your own enjoyment of the season. Indulge your senses with the sights, sounds, tastes, smells and tactile sensations that fill you with pleasure.

10-tips-for-enjoying-a-long-winter-indoorsIf you are keen on Christmas carols, fill your home with the sound! Put on your favourite play list while you tidy up your environment and enjoy the scent of seasonal candles, fruits and foliage. Open up your curtains and throw a little light on the situation. indulge yourself with a special treat, because you deserve it.

Be gentle with yourself, and let your inner dialogue express the same tenderness to yourself that you’d show towards someone you love or care about, who’s dealing with a tough time. You are just as deserving.

Above all … pace yourself! This demanding round of lunches, dinners and soirees will soon fade and become last year’s memories, but we Canadians will still have a further three or four months of cold, snow, and ice to deal with. It’s gonna take a toll on you. So try to have enough fun with your loved ones during the holidays to make yourself, if not more tolerant, than at least a little more accepting of our country’s wintry gifts.

And however you spend this holiday season, I wish you the best and most joyous one ever!

happy holidays to all

 

An Attitude of Gratitude


I am not a religious woman. I see some that take great comfort in their faiths, and I am happy that it makes them happy. To gather together with others of like views and beliefs, to share song and nourishment, is the essence of community.

I also see some who insist that everyone must follow the same faiths and paths that they have chosen, even if it must be enforced by law or violence.  That is an abuse of the same spirit that causes people to want to come together in joy and a common pursuit. A forced faith, brought about by societal or legal pressure, is not a true faith, and is quickly discarded when the pressure to comply is lifted.

taking-for-grantedMy faith, if that is what it is, lies in gratitude. I’m thankful for so much around me, most of which is unearned except by having been born the person I am, in the society I live within. There is nothing remarkable about me. Some parts of my life have been very difficult, but, at other times, life has been very good. The me that lived through all the parts of my life is always grateful, whether it is for a little or a lot, of whatever I’ve got.

In a consumer society, all of the world’s riches are still never enough. We are constantly bombarded with urgings to buy more and more physical goods. This one is new and therefore better! This one is improved!  Buy this makeup/clothing/car and you’ll be prettier/sexier/more acceptable/maybe even loved! And for heaven’s sakes – discard what once was exactly what you thought you needed to achieve happiness. Make room for more stuff that you’ll faintly resent moments after purchase. Because  …

happy-people-are-thankfulStuff doesn’t create happiness.  Happiness cannot be bought. The feelings of comfort, joy, and community rise from not just an acceptance of who and what you are, but from thankfulness for the people you’ve chosen to surround yourself with, who accept you for who and what you are, wherever you are, whatever the conditions.

We are easily distracted. Something shiny will always come along that entices us to look at what we have, and find it wanting. There is no joy or happiness in envy or greed. The need to acquire hides our truest desire – to truly see what we have,  with loving and compassionate eyes, and be thankful, no matter the circumstances.

 

Hope Springs Eternal


For anything good to happen in your life, or indeed, in the world around you, you have to be open and willing to learn. You need to have hope, and the ability to trust. The greatest triumph of last week’s election is how Canadians came together to change what they could no longer tolerate. Our cynical apathy had to end, or the Canada we loved would be irreparably damaged. election ballot box

Of course, the true irony is that we came together positively for a negative reason: to oust Harper.

We live in a time of deep cynicism, where irony is viewed as intelligence. Only the clever, we believe, know that the world is a terrible place, and that it’s better to be wry than wide-eyed.

When I was a kid, I had a dream. I wanted to be a singer. I didn’t hunger for fame, I just wanted to sing. And I did, for many years. It was wonderful!

What wasn’t so wonderful was the cynicism disguised as righteous scepticism, which said that pursuing a career in the arts was unrealistic. Despite proven talent and a fierce hunger to follow my dream, I allowed myself to be shuffled off to secretarial school, so that I would have something to ‘fall back on,’ when my dreams were inevitably and cruelly crushed.

College of Arts and Sciences (and a few things to fall back on).

In hindsight, I understand the worry and fear that hid behind the cautionary tales. I DID meet some unsavoury people, and there really were some nasty folks out there who wanted to take advantage of a naive innocent.

But what that distrust also did was stop me from potentially meeting good, honest people, who might have nurtured my talent and helped me to have a career. I’ll never know, as I took the path of least resistance for the next ten years before finally emerging from my cocoon of self-doubt.  give it a try

Faith, hope, love, warmth, loyalty … these are all traits we now consider naïve and passé.

I can remember exactly when cynicism entered into mainstream media – it was personified by Michael J. Fox, who played the character of Alex P. Keaton, in the sitcom Family Ties. He was seen as the voice of reason in a household headed by his two liberal parents, former hippies. The entire cast, actually, perfectly represented the clash of values emerging in the 80’s, as the hippies grew up and out of innocence, and Reagan began snipping away at the American Dream; it was conservatives vs liberals, with Mallory added in for laughs as a vacuous consumer who epitomized the “Greed is Good” principle.

Alex was portrayed as the level-headed voice of reason, able to see through the tricks of the world that his dozy, optimistic parents could not. Irony, cynicism, a general distrust of others’ motives, a world weary attitude light-years ahead of his actual age … this was the new intelligentsia in sitcom form.

cynicism is not wisdomBut cynicism is not intelligence; it’s a way to close one’s self off to new emotional or intellectual experiences, and to excuse missed opportunities. Cynics live a life of doom and gloom, where nothing ever changes, because “that’s just the way it is.” They have decided that it’s hopeless to even try for any sort of improvement, as any attempt is just a waste of time ending in abject failure. Cynics live a life of low-grade depression, their only joy resting in letting everyone else know that it’s useless to try, so why bother? Optimism, they’ll tell you, is a cruel joke, that only the young and foolish can enjoy.

Cynicism, disguised as bitter irony, has become the norm to many. Where a healthy dose of scepticism might suffice, we’re seeing instead a vicious distrust, kneejerk pessimism, and a feeling of captivity to a society ruled by materialism and corporate greed. A feeling of inevitability segues into passivity and apathy. We’re all flawed, we tell ourselves, some are just flawed on a larger scale. cheating on taxes lying pieces

This point of view is just as damaging as being over-optimistic. It is precisely what has allowed those forces to stealthily infiltrate society, as pessimists assure optimists that those with the money are always right, and will always win, so there’s no point in even trying. You begin to justify, in your mind, that abuses of authority are warranted by those somehow better than yourself by dint of money or power. You’ve drunk the Kool-Aid, and it no longer tastes so much like lies.

http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/10/08/opinion/it%E2%80%99s-not-harper-derangement-syndrome-it%E2%80%99s-stephen-stockholm-syndrome

Being cynical doesn’t require courage, it requires an egotistical belief that you, out of all humanity, have completely experienced the world, and have found it lacking. There is no room for the wisdom of the ages, for anecdotal tales of the power of love, for seeking out new ways of advancing mankind. Cynics don’t climb the highest mountains, or boldly go into unknown frontiers. cynicism does not require courage

Optimism, on the other hand, takes a great deal of courage. It requires jumping into life with both feet, aware of, but accepting of what may come your way. Your journey will be good and bad, painful at times, ecstatic at others. The ebb and flow of any life comes with no guarantees, other than that it will be an adventure, and that yours will be solely your own experience.

pissed in a sink lying piecesThe funny thing, though … or call it irony … is that within every cynic there is an innocent who’s been hurt by life. They are so sure that there’ s always a catch, that they are therefore the easiest to fool by a bona fide sociopath who’s figured out how to capitalize on the cynic’s very cynicism.

George Carlin once said that, “within every cynic there is a disappointed idealist,” and I believe that to be true. But what the cynic has most to beware is of treading a path so narrow and circumscribed that he finds himself with “nothing to look backward to with pride / And nothing to look forward to with hope.” –Robert Frost

(originally published Oct 25/15, DBAWIS – /bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/roxanne-tellier-hope-springs-eternal/)