By Dr Teah Mogae

    ‘Okay, tell me all about it!’ I said as Zara walked into the room for what was to be our last consultation for the year. 

    We had been working through some of her life challenges in 2023; returning to work after a bullying incident the year prior, and some teething problems in her romantic relationship. As the Christmas decorations had crept into stores and the festive cheer started spreading, rather than joining in, she had become a bit more anxious. On further questioning, she mentioned Christmas was not a great time for her. Her task from our prior consultation had been to write up what was stressful for her about the festive period, and I could tell she was a bit apprehensive to tell me what she had been thinking. 

    ‘Cost of living and the pressure to buy gifts often with money I don’t have as well as the pressure to be happy and Hallmark perfect,’ was her reply. Her family had always struggled with finances to make the period truly magical and all the picture-perfect movies added to the unattainable expectations of the time.

    Afraid to come across as the Grinch, she had previously signed up for increased debt to buy extravagant gifts for family members to try and make up for her shortcomings which had gradually made her resentful to her family as the debt cycle was never-ending. 

    Working through her emotions had also meant she did not want to spend another Christmas period feeling she had to pretend to be happy, as any other emotion might be understood to be ungrateful for all that she had. She had newfound freedom to explore how she felt about the holiday season and to understand her unfiltered emotions relating to it all. 

    Working through society and social media’s expectations of the holiday season and deciding which of the rituals she would be happy to participate in and comfortably afford, we developed an understanding of what Christmas was truly about for her. 

    We decided she could enjoy the Christmas movies for the whimsy they brought to the season but also acknowledge their differences with her lived reality as a way of ensuring she didn’t put too much pressure on herself. We both agreed that this upcoming festive period can be a minefield to navigate with a lot of pressure on families to meet up and get along, and how that can be a challenge for many families. We acknowledged that picture perfect was too high to aim for but that we thought having authentic moments with those we cared for was a more attainable goal. 

    ‘Merry Christmas and happy new year Dr Teah. I look forward to working through a few more challenges with you in the new year,’ she said as she stood to give me a final embrace for the year. 

    It had been a difficult 2023 and we both hoped the new year would bring more celebrations than struggles. We knew we could tackle anything that 2024 threw at us! ‘Bring it on 2024, we are ready!’ I said excitedly about the upcoming new year. 

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    Dr Teah Mogae is a General Practitioner living in Hoppers Crossing. In the interest of protecting patient confidentiality, patient stories are often composites and used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons is entirely coincidental.

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