HAVE A MERRY, MENTALLY HEALTHY CHRISTMAS!

Written by Siliziwe Mapalala

 

I love the Christmas holidays. Knowing the whole of South Africa is on pause, we are all being festive, eating to our hearts content, having a mimosa first thing with no guilt, being in or near a body of water, and just being merry!

 

But I only rediscovered my love for this period last year, where for the first time in my adult life, I chose not to go home for Christmas. To provide a bit of context, I am 33 years old and married. Yes, I’m a late bloomer, leave me. But prior to December 2021, my wife and I would spend the period between 24 and 27 December apart, with our respective families. Those would be the longest four days for a number of reasons, the obvious and less controversial one being that I was apart from my partner. But the biggest reason had to do with what my childhood home represented for me – it was no longer a safe space for me and my mental health, but I still felt obliged to play the role of the acceptable child. Let me tell you something, being an ‘acceptable’ anything will be the death of you. 

 

Not uncommon to a number of Black South African households, I come from quite a religious home, where Jesus is saviour and literally everything else is the devil. This meant that for a couple of days in December I would have to dig my Bible out that bottom drawer and dust it off, become sober (during festive no less), and ensure I don’t open my mouth too long, lest I say something controversial like ‘well I think our colonialist oppressors took our land and then gave us the Bible to ensure we don’t fight back and instead look to heaven for the promise of home after death’. That would not do at home. 

 

Initially, four days of setting myself aside to appease my parents wasn’t too big an ask, but as I grew older and really became comfortable with all of me, and pretty and the ugly, the pretence became less tolerable. My patience ran out in 2020, where for the first time, I was home alone for Christmas with the parents, without my sister! She had to work (she’s a health care worker) so I did not have my ally with me, and though my wife was literally 5 minutes down the road from me through the whole period, I thought the time would never end. That was when I realised one vital piece of information, and I’m going to quote the Youtuber Thando Hlophe as she so perfectly worded this, “Being inauthentic is the most violent thing I could do to myself.” 

 

I decided to choose peace, not just for my parents, but for myself, and from now on I will spend Christmas with my chosen family. Speaking of Thando, when you get the chance check out the video she published in 2021 about surviving being home during the holidays (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4uxNKGsL8U), it is terrifying how relatable the content is, and how so many of us don’t feel safe enough to show up fully as ourselves around family, and that when we do we run the risk of being alienated. Obviously this does not apply to those lucky few who have healthy familial relationships – if so please feel free to skip this one. I love my parents, they raised two strong, independent daughters who have learned to navigate this world with humanity and grace. I hope one day they get to witness that, but until such time, I have chosen to ensure my sanity, and enjoy every festive season being comfortable in my skin. 

 

The intersectionality of being queer often puts us at odds with the world we live in, making things that would usually come easy to cis het individuals an absolute uphill battle for us. But there is one thing that we do well that those who are born ‘acceptable’ don’t have, and that is the blessing of living outside the confines of societal expectations. We are forced to create our own safe spaces, and cultivate our own families that are based on a code of love and acceptance. This is to say, whatever choice you make in how you plan to navigate the festive season, whoever you decide to spend it with, be kind to yourself and let go of the guilt. The world is not always generous to us, but we can be generous to ourselves and to each other. Merry Christmas everyone, and all the blessings for 2023!

 

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