It’s already mid-December, and I find myself caught between the usual holiday stress and excitement—but mostly stress. That hardly seems unusual for anyone, but this year was supposed to be different. In early November, I’d thought of ways to ensure this Christmas season would be relaxing and joyful. I was going to gift friends and family with modest but thoughtful homemade presents; I was going to get my butt to the post office early; and most importantly, I was going to focus on gratitude.
Instead, I found myself wandering the mall with no reasonable gift budget whatsoever, cursing the packing tape that was determined to stick to itself, and regretting that 2013 was ending soon, while also realizing that I’m just as financially bewildered and terrified as I was this time last year.
While visiting my fiancé’s hometown for Christmas last year, I watched Meet Me in St. Louis with his mother. I remember where I was standing when Judy Garland began singing, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Although I’d heard this song performed by various artists upwards of a thousand times, I was newly struck with the romantic idea that “next year all our troubles will be miles away.” At the time, I was still in graduate school, living off a small teaching stipend and dreading the day I would graduate in June and my stipend would go away. Meanwhile, my fiancé was (and still is) searching for a professorship.
Throughout the year, I kept mental note of all the changes in our lives as a way of marking our progress. I had this naïve idea that I could look over my little list by the end of the year and feel reassured and safe. I realize now that sometimes the more tangible changes, like completing a degree, are less significant than those shifts that take place beneath the series of life events related on a Christmas newsletter.
Because I feel that I haven’t accomplished a perfect list, which would include securing a decent, “real” job, I’ve allowed negative thoughts to dominate my relationship with myself. I wake up telling myself I’m simply not good enough. I constantly compare myself to others my age and wonder where I went wrong.
I admit, I often feel that the lyric “we’ll have to muddle through somehow” may be more appropriate for this stage of my life. It’s easy to feel resentful of the world when my poetry anthologies feel like yesterday’s luxury, and the ache of uncertainty has become bitterly familiar. I know deep down, however, that nursing any angst is harmful to me and those around me.
At the same time, judging myself for feeling frustrated is equally counterproductive. The simplest (but hardest) thing for me to focus on now is letting go of self-critique and forgiving myself for past stress and decisions made as a result of that stress. Practicing this daily would be more significant than any single event or “milestone” I hope to achieve.
Yesterday I went to the post office and stood in a line that went out the door. As I waited, I worried about affording the cost of shipping all my boxes, then immediately scolded myself for not being in the holiday spirit. I can no longer battle with myself like this. A part of me still desires structure and a sort of annual self-report card, but I believe that I can only fully dwell in a state of gratitude if I let go of unreasonable expectations of myself. For this, I forgive myself.
Also in Voices: Desert Rose – A Story of Daring to Live by Krystle Troia-Alvarado
Brody – A Story of a Rescue Pup by Kate Coffey
Luna – A Story of a Rescue Kitten by Mary Hood
Loving Yourself…Plus a Warming Corn Chowder by Jessica Ferguson
Photo: send me adrift via Flickr