The Holiday (red, white and) Blues

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Around the December festive season, there are tons of articles, tips, and resources for those experiencing the holiday depression. It’s a triggering time for people as they recap on the losses from the year, reminisce holidays that were merry-less, and try to maneuver fraught relationships with family. What we forget, though, is that there are other holidays that can cause an onslaught of emotions.

For me, it’s the Fourth of July.

I know that seems weird, like, who doesn’t like the Fourth of July? All you do is eat hotdogs, watch fireworks, and go to the beach. First, I don’t eat hotdogs (unless they are vegetarian), but it’s not that I am not a fan of Independence Day. Rather, I feel the pressure to have such a star spangledly great day that I end up disappointed and discouraged. You know, like the way many people feel about Christmas.

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Growing up, we weren’t allowed to have fireworks. When my dad was a kid, his neighbor’s roof caught fire because of some stray fireworks, and the event scarred him so much that he refused to let us get some, other than a few smoke bombs. We spent most July Fourths watching other kids delight with glee as they shot off bottle rockets and fountains.

As a teenager, most kids in my town celebrated my drinking cheap beer on a sandbar on the Missouri River. I was never invited to these parties, and although I pretended that I didn’t care, I would have certainly got on a boat if someone offered to take me there.

From there, the mid-summer holiday was a measurement to see how my life is measuring up to those portrayed in advertising or Instagram. A successful Fourth of July meant that I was at the beach, surrounded by tons of my best friends, drinking beer, eating charred food, and wearing red, white, and blue. In the last five years, I’ve had just one Independence Day like that, and although it was a really great day, I’ve felt lonely and ashamed every other holiday. Last year, my husband and I spent most of the day indoors packing for a move to another apartment, and I ended up in tears because no one had invited us to a barbeque, which surely meant that all of my friends decided to hang out without me and that they no longer like me.

Riiiiight.

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Social media and other forms of media paint the perfect picture of how we are supposed to live, not just on holidays but basically any day, and it’s quite easy for us to believe that our lives look slightly different than we are doing them wrong. But, that’s just not the truth.

Holidays come and go. Some years will be terrific, and they may look close to what we hoped they would be, but others will not. You may spend them alone, or they’ll have less glitz and glamor, but they have nothing to do with yourself worth. Your life, and all that it contains, can’t be boiled down to one day, so we can’t expect to have the perfect holiday every year.

I know that the Fourth of July is a triggering day for me, and so I can prepare. Some years, I try to make plans with friends, but if it doesn’t come together, I don’t force it. Like this year, I was invited to a barbeque at a friend of a friend’s house, which sends my social anxiety into overdrive, and I have to ask myself: am I going because I want to or because I feel like I need to be at a barbeque? Probably the latter.

Also, I can let go of expectations. I can still have a good Independence Day at home with my husband and our dog (who is terrified of the fireworks, and I am not sure I even feel comfortable leaving her home alone) even if it doesn’t like the Fourth of July’s from TSwift’s Instagram account.

Instead of being disappointed that I am not on a yacht with a bucket of beer, I am going to thoroughly enjoy the day given to me. I am going to run a race, Skype with an old friend, and take a long deserved nap. Maybe I will go to the beach or watch some fireworks, but maybe not. I am in control.

Holidays are a good time to remind ourselves that we don’t have to be perfect nor live up to the shoulds. We are in charge of our lives, not idealized expectations. For me, the Fourth of July, will be good practice for loving the life in front of me and letting go of all comparisons.

How are you celebrating the Fourth? What could you let go of this Fourth?

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