Yardley, PA (December 2011)–The holidays are in full swing and, despite the lights and the parties and the general air of festivity, you haven’t felt this bad in a long time. When you’re not anxious and on edge, you feel sluggish and depressed. You’re irritable with loved ones. You feel lonely and isolated. What’s more, you can’t figure out why. Sure, you haven’t had a great year–perhaps you had a business setback or your pet died or you had a falling out with a friend—but nothing terrible has happened. So what’s causing you to feel so blue?
According to intuitive psychologist Susan Apollon, the answer is simple: You’re grieving and don’t realize it.
“The holidays are filled with grief triggers,” says Apollon, author of Touched by the Extraordinary, Book Two: Healing Stories of Love, Loss & Hope (Matters of the Soul, 2010, ISBN: 978-0-9754036-9-3, $24.95, www.HealingStoriesOfLoveLossAndHope.com (http://www.healingstoriesoflovelossandhope.com/)). “It’s an emotional time. The songs, the sights, and the fragrances evoke memories that can connect all the way back to childhood. Even if you don’t understand why, you may find yourself in tears when you hear a certain seasonal hymn or smell latkes frying.”
So what, exactly, are you grieving? It could be any kind of loss, says Apollon–and often people don’t see these experiences for what they really are. To cite an all-too-common example, let’s say you got laid off during the past year, were unemployed for awhile, then found a new job. Okay, it may be a less-than-perfect fit, but heck, at least you’ve got a job–which is more than a lot of people can say in this economy. So there’s really nothing to be sad about, right?
Wrong, says Apollon. Job loss is precisely that–a loss. Your job is more than just a source of income; it’s linked to feelings of self-worth and makes up a big part of your identity. If you didn’t grieve it properly, the pain of that loss remains in your cells. When one of those holiday “grief triggers” hits, you find yourself feeling not just the “small” loss that’s most recently happened, but also a whole chain of older losses (both big and small) that you never worked through.
“Once you realize that your case of the ‘holiday blues’ is really unprocessed grief, you can begin to consciously deal with your feelings,” she says.
Apollon wrote her latest book–a gift-sized, soft-cover book that tucks easily into a handbag or briefcase–to help readers process grief. Filled with true stories from people who have faced heartbreaking losses (children, parents, spouses, friends, and animal companions), it’s meant to spark a sense of recognition. The idea is that you assign your own meaning to the stories, and they become deeply personal conduits for catharsis and healing.
So what do you do if you’re having a blue Christmas (or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa)? Apollon offers some tips and insights:
First, understand what loss is. Anytime you’re separated from someone or something you love, that’s loss. It doesn’t have to mean death. It can be the loss of health or youth or a family business or a dream. A big part of what you’re feeling comes from the fact that you’ve lost a part of your identity, a piece of how you see yourself. In the case of sudden loss (like an unexpected layoff or a house fire or a sudden illness), all your beliefs about the way things are “supposed to be” go out the window.
You’ve lost all control, and it’s a deeply disorienting feeling.
“Loss of any kind is a very big deal,” she asserts. “Our body, mind, and spirit all react. Of course we can’t move through it quickly, even though we often feel pressure from various camps to ‘get back to normal.’ Knowing this, and giving yourself permission to feel your pain, is important. Healing is expedited when you do the best you can to express your pain, feel it, and let it go.”
New losses bring older losses to the surface. Everything is energy and vibrates at different levels, explains Apollon. The pain of loss is stored in your cells as a low vibrational experience. When you grieve a loss in the present moment, the vibration of this experience will bring up similar vibrational experiences from your past, often making you feel overwhelmed with grief. It is as if you have an invisible thread attached to your present loss that is also attached to those of equivalent vibrations buried in your cells.
“That’s why, if you never gave yourself permission to grieve when your father passed away ten years ago, when your beloved dog dies, you may fall apart,” she says. “You’re grieving your pet, but you’re also grieving your father. You may actually be grieving multiple losses. When you start to feel sad, it may be helpful to ask yourself, What does this remind me of? When have I felt this way in the past? What am I learning from this?”
It’s “normal” to feel the way you feel. Grief wears many faces. You may feel fatigue, stomach upset, headaches, or tightness in the chest. You may lose weight (or gain it). You may have insomnia, intrusive dreams, or flashbacks. You may be numb or weepy or anxious or even panic-stricken. Just remember that all of this is normal. And if you think your loss—an early-stage miscarriage, perhaps, or a foreclosure on a home—doesn’t account for such powerful symptoms, Apollon insists it does.
“We all grieve differently,” she says. “Your way is valid no matter what anyone says–and believe me, there are many people who will try to shut you down or hurry you up. It’s okay to have the symptoms you’re having, it’s okay to cry, and it’s okay to work with a professional if you need some extra help. Taking the time and the steps to process your grief is the greatest gift you can give yourself.”
Honor the grief when it comes. (Yes, even during holiday festivities!)
If you’re lighting the menorah or decorating the tree and you suddenly feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, give yourself permission to cry. If you’re at your company’s holiday party, excuse yourself to a more private location where you can have a good cry and regroup (or even leave if you have to). If you’d rather skip the New Year’s bash to hold your friend’spicture and cry, it’s okay. “No matter how you try to avoid it, your Higher Self will demand that you do the work of grief,” reflects Apollon. “Trying to escape the pain does not serve you.”