Planning, preparation can make the holidays much more jolly for all

LGBTs often deal with stress, depression during the holiday season due to family issues

Candy Marcum

Candy Marcum

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Many people have such high expectations for the holidays that they get depressed when those expectations aren’t met. And in the LGBT community, dealing with family issues is often painful.

Counselor Candy Marcum said that holiday depression is the gap between how you think your life should work and how it is working.

“If you think Christmas should be family and love and laughter and you’re having trouble paying the rent and your family rejects you, then work to lessen the gap,” Marcum said.
She suggested changing the idea of how the holiday should be.

Marcum said that many people come out to family during the holidays because that’s when families get together.

And coming out in person is usually better than over the phone.

But, Marcum said, making a big announcement at the dinner table might not be the best way to do it.
Counselor Randy Martin said that anyone intending to come out to family over the holiday needs to plan and prepare beforehand.

“Find someone to bounce it off of,” such as a friend or sibling, he said. “Like a dry run.”

But when to spring the news? Each family is different, Martin said.

In some families, it’s best to talk about big news in pairs.

In others, groups are fine.

If a family has an expectation of how holiday dinner should be, interrupting it with this sort of news might not be the best idea. But in some families it could be the perfect setting, Martin suggested said.

Going home for the holidays and introducing a new partner is another stressful situation. Even the fully accepting family may react awkwardly to the new situation.

Randy-Martin-photo

Randy Martin

Marcum suggests staying in a nearby hotel might be the answer to avoiding family conflict. That avoids the embarrassing question of sleeping arrangements.

Or talk to family ahead of time. Staying with a sibling or other relative might work also.

Martin agreed that a hotel stay could be a perfect alternative for a couple during a holiday visit: “Maybe Grandpa smokes and one of you can’t tolerate it, or your family gets up much earlier than you do,” he said.

He added that any number of situations could make it simpler all the way around not to stay with one’s parents.

Marcum said another uncomfortable situation is visiting family after a breakup. While you might have moved on, everyone else could be feeling the loss for the first time, she said.

“Now you’ve got a new one [partner],” Marcum said. “That’s awkward at best.”

Martin agreed. “The family already has a pattern down. Do what you can to let everyone else catch up,” he said.

Loneliness is another common problem many people in the LGBT community face during the holidays.

Happy childhood memories of the holidays can bring on a bout of depression when those expectations will not be met because of family rejection, Marcum said.

Others are alone for the holidays simply because of distance, cost of travel or having to work.

Martin suggested doing some extra preparation for the holidays, especially if that time of year tends to be difficult. While many people spend quite a bit of time going to parties and shopping for everyone else, he suggested spending time making plans for yourself.

“Loneliness is real,” Martin said. “We’re hard-wired to be connected. Make plans.”

And he said make back-up plans in case other plans fall through. Think of whom to contact if you’re alone — maybe someone to go with to a movie.
Marcum agreed, adding, “Be good to yourself.”

“Make a plan that pleases you,” she said. “Whatever gives you joy.”

She suggested going to church, volunteering in a soup kitchen or having friends or neighbors over.

“Buy yourself something,” she suggested. “Wrap it up and put it under the tree.”

She said that when sadness around the holiday is a result bad family relations, keep the door open.

“Take the high road with your family,” Marcum said. “Continue to reach out.”

That includes inviting them to visit, and calling or sending cards and emails to keep in touch.

Martin’s general advice is to stay connected. He said that if exercise is part of your regular routine, make time to get in a workout. He said to not let all the parties and shopping and pressure from the holiday become overwhelming.

And Marcum gives a word of warning about drinking during the holiday “Watch your alcohol intake,” she said. “Alcohol is a depressant.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 9, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas