Underneath It All

I dread this time of year. I feel overwhelmed, and at times, anxious. The winter blues set in – even before it’s officially winter. The funny thing is that I do enjoy the holidays when the day finally arrives, but it’s the preceding angst that I can feel well up inside of me that often overshadows my usual self.

It constricts me like my favorite pair of Spanx that keeps it all from juggling underneath that little black dress. Only the constriction is worse because you bought a size too small, but are determined to wear them anyway, even if you can’t breathe or move comfortably.

But hey, you’ll rock that dress. Unless, of course, you fall over first.

You go to the store, and at first, you are okay. It’s early and relatively quiet. Your husband is in tow, so that will help. You think to yourself I can do this. But then, suddenly, the store becomes chaotic, and the endless supply of anything holiday spills over into the aisles with holiday shoppers ready to bust their best Ninja move to beat you to “it” – whatever “it” is that particular day.

You can feel the anxiety edging in some, and you manage it as best as you can at that moment.

You smell the seasonal candles but can’t decide on any one scent because there are so many varieties. Balsam? Maybe. Fresh Pine? Possibly. Gingerbread? Hmm. It makes me hungry. Balsam and Cedar. Come on now. Fresh cut tree? I haven’t had one in years. Silver Bells? Sing it for me, Bing Crosby.

How is one to choose? Each one evokes some feeling, and you begin to feel the pings of anxiety amping up.

So, you move on to wrapping paper. “This decision will be easy,” you say to yourself, realizing you’ve used your outside voice, and people are looking at you and smirking. However, as you lift various rolls to examine them, you are underwhelmed by your options. Now you can’t decide on one because what you had in mind doesn’t jive with the abundance of designs staring back at you.

“Screw it,” you say. I’ll use gift bags,” which creates a whole other level of why the hell am I doing this to myself moments. As you turn the corner, you see what you determine to be a mother and daughter shopping, and immediately you can feel the knot in your throat, and then your eyes begin to well.

“Take a deep breath, it’s okay,” you calmly say to yourself. Yet you can’t help it, and the emotions take over momentarily. It’s so damn hard when a loved one is no longer with you for the holidays – and it doesn’t matter how long it’s been. So there you stand, in an aisle, desperately trying to hide the emotion that you know shows on your face.

“You can do hard things,” you think to yourself as you wipe your tears and keep on keeping on.

Your husband has wandered off to look for a unique treasure, which no doubt will result in something for the kitchen or the dog – or both. Meanwhile, you walk around, wishing that you could escape the grinch like feelings that have invaded you again this year.

“I hate feeling this way,” you think as you simultaneously observe the chaos and try to figure out your next move. So you keep going through the motions, hoping and having faith that it will be okay. After all, you have to keep it together.

“No, my dear, you don’t,” I hear my inside voice gently tell me. What is it that you always say to others? Oh, that’s right. “It’s okay not to be okay.” Thank you, logic that has connected to heart, I needed that.

You finally find your husband – and his treasures – and proceed to the checkout when something distracts you. You hear the jingle of bells and whip around. When you do, there is a beautiful little girl with her dad. She is happy with her jingle bells and having the liveliest conversations with her father about them.

She beams at anyone who locks eyes with her – her excitement about Christmas radiating pure joy and charming anyone in her path.

And then it happens, you feel your heart begin to thaw just a tad. The heaviness that you carry this time of year eases up slightly, and at that moment, you are present and can breathe. For a few minutes, you feel better and long for that magic of the season that you once knew so well.

You used to love this time of year.

“We need more magic like that,” I say to my husband as we both smile.

My vulnerability was feeling less like a burden and something that I’m proud to wear.

Signs and reminders often appear when we need them the most, even if we don’t connect the dots immediately. What you read above is an actual account of something that happened to me this past weekend. My struggle during this season is real. For the first time in a while, I’m acknowledging all the aspects of it and doing my best to work through it. It hasn’t been easy, and I’ve had many bouts of sadness, but I am prevailing with the love and support that is always there for me.

When I witnessed that young girl in the store, it transported me to a different time and space. But the effect didn’t fully take hold until a few days later after I’d had some time to process and identify the triggers – and discover what is underneath it all.

I think about my childhood and remember how mesmerized I’d be by the twinkling lights, especially as they stood out against the sparkling snow of the hefty winters in Northern NY. Driving around in the evenings and seeing all the houses decked out was a melody to my heart. I remember decorating the tree, and there were even a few years, where my parents caved, and we had a real tree. The old-fashioned lights were always my favorite.

I clearly can see my mom at the kitchen table wrapping presents, handwriting each tag, and then saying, “There. Done.” She wasn’t big on Christmas. But I realize now it wasn’t Christmas per se that she didn’t like but rather the commercialization associated with it. It makes sense to me now.

One of my fondest memories is the Christmas cards. I can picture our Christmas cards from my parents, and theirs to each other nestled carefully between the branches of the tree. The ones we received from family and friends adorned the outside of the large mirror in the living room, and the ceramic Santa shoes and Nativity always had their place. Hand knitted stockings with our names hung from the bay window, and my brother’s stockings both had furry Santa faces and bells. I remember this because I always enjoyed jingling them.

The holidays were always about family. Love and laughter took center stage before anything else. The smells of favorite foods were in any kitchen you visited, and the cookies baked to perfection. Each year as we gathered around, we honored tradition, and as loved ones passed, we carved out new ones. Never a day – or holiday passing – without missing their presence and the gift of love, strength, and happiness they all gave us. Not just during the holidays, but every day.

While there was excitement over the exchange of gifts, what mattered more was being together. It was always – and still is – about just that. Our family holidays have gotten smaller in size over the years. Time and distance have added complexity, but the laughter, love, and stories have multiplied. The joy exists in so many of the little things, such as the first batch of meatball cookies being hard as rocks and my brother eating them anyway. Or my dad, spiking his Christmas morning coffee with some Irish Cream. It’s about carving out new ways to embrace the moments and each other. We laugh when we want to cry, and we remember with fondness in our hearts and smiles on our faces.

So, as I sit here overcome with nostalgia, this is what I choose to hold onto to help me through this season. Because underneath all of what I’ve been feeling, I’m still me, and I still believe in the magic.


Laura Mikolaitis
Laura Mikolaitis
Laura credits her writing, which laid dormant for years, to her late mom, who always believed in her. Writing unabashedly from the heart and inspired by millions of moments, three tenets of evergreen advice that her mom always shared with her are her guiding principles. Whether it is poetry, fiction, or a personal essay, her love for the written word feeds her mind, body, and spirit. Laura’s creativity also comes to life in her passion for photography. Her ongoing love affair with the moon, her joy for family and friends, her connection to nature, and being a loving canine mom often become some of her best subjects. Laura has held many roles throughout her professional career, including Brand Manager, Project Manager, and Director of Global Business Development and Sales Operations. In addition, she has a background in consumer-packaged goods, manufacturing, and textiles. Laura currently works in biotechnology for Berkshire Corporation as their Product Marketing Manager. She holds a Master of Science degree in Communications and Information Management from Bay Path University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from SUNY Oswego. Originally from Northern NY, Laura resides with her husband and canine child in a small town in Massachusetts that captured her heart years ago.

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  1. The holidays are a time when we are suddenly free from work and we are, therefore, without realizing it, in a more direct contact with ourselves. They constitute the only time “institutionalized” in which we savor, for greater freedom of time, a direct contact with our essential needs and, with the real (and never listened to) personal needs, social, emotional, loving and existential. Here then resurface the innermost frustrations, the unbearable existential hardships and fears of the uncertain, expectations relating to the future. In other words, peeps, destroying the newfound peace of mind, the so-called “sabotage of self-esteem,” which reminds us of the order, seriousness, responsibilities, duties and “guilt” to be allowed a moment of joy, rest and happiness. This is the time when we feel most vulnerable and prey to our fears and our frustrations, even because puts us in a quiet, serious and sad reflection, etting us be faced with some sort of evaluation of our lives and of our achievements. So it is almost impossible not to be crossed, these days, by a sense of deep melancholy, sadness and sometimes even an inexplicable loneliness.
    How to avoid these unpleasant feelings and unsustainable state of mind we experience during the holidays?
    A simple tip: avoiding the expectations or anticipations of the future, and learn to live life as it is, unpredictable and incalculable and cultivate and nurture the dreams and hopes, and always enjoy every moment of our lives, hic et nunc (in here and now). We must also live the holidays, especially, as a well-deserved rest and as a nice break, to be able, finally, to think for themselves, take care of ourself, doing, maybe with the people in care, the things that work time, the time of duty and the time of the many and complex responsibilities, prevents us from living and achieve. Something that is not specifically institutionalized as formal, but that it meets the three pillars of living consciously happy: “I like it, I want it, I need it.”

    • Aldo, thank you for your insightful contribution here and for pointing out something which I think is invaluable: learn to live life as it is but take with it what comes and enjoy the moments. I try to do this, but admittedly, the busyness of life sometimes blurs the lines. But, as you so clearly point out, the holidays are a time to savor the moments and to stop, listen, and be with the people we love. Life is short, for sure. I am so glad that you shared these reminders with me here, and I do appreciate you taking the time to read my essay and so thoughtfully engaging in conversation.

      I wish you well and wonderful holiday season.

    • Thanks for the considerations you make here.
      I hope the new year brings a lot of hope and happiness for you and yours.

    • Darlene, thank you so much for your kind words. I appreciate your taking the time to read and engage in this piece. I am enjoying the new traditions, and we do our best to honor the old ones too. I can’t help but feel nostalgic this time of year. Regardless of the heaviness I spoke of and the sadness that seeps in, it is a time that causes much reflection, and I have many happy memories of holiday’s past.

  2. Another heart from heart, heart to heart, Laura. Your writing never fails to spell out how it takes pain to realise love at its fullest. And despite the pain, the wonder and magic of love are unassailable as long as we do not allow ourselves to become embittered. Thank you for the wonderful share.

    • Noemi, thank you for your thoughtful sentiments. Writing about how I was feeling and understanding the triggers behind my emotions is so helpful. It’s still a tough time of year, but I’m learning to navigate it better.

  3. Laura I love this. I work retail and it does take a lot of the magic away. You see the worst and the best in people. So many people just seem angry and you are the best person to blame. Like you though when I see my Grand children the world lights up.

    • Larry, thanks so much! I used to work retail also, so I understand. You do see the best and worst in people, and many times I would shake my head at the behaviors you’d see exhibited. But, it always seemed when you least expect it, kindness would appear, and so would some magic. It restored my faith that good does exist.

  4. Laura, I continue to be amazed at your deep self-awareness, you being able to write about it, AND writing about it so clearly and eloquently – describing feelings so masterfully. I appreciate you, Friend, for your strength that comes from your willingness to be vulnerable! Keep diving deep and writing, Laura.

    • Mary, thank you for your kind and thoughtful words, which lift me more than you know. I appreciate you, and I am grateful that you are in my life. I feel like I’ve suppressed a lot of this the past couple of years, and as it boiled to the surface, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. So, I had to take a step back and figure out why I was feeling this way. Recognizing and understanding the triggers is helpful, but writing about it proved therapeutic too.

      As always, I am grateful for your support and encouragement. You continue to be a shining and inspiring light for me.

  5. Humour, honesty, and nostalgia pulled together at the perfect time of the year to bring this gift to us all. I had a hoot and a grin reading this and a tender moment inside at the end when you mentioned that you still belief in magic. Loved your share today, Laura!❣

    • Maureen, thank you for your lovely and kind comments! I do still believe in the magic, and usually, feel it each year when I get to spend the holidays with my family. There’s something about being together that perfectly aligns, and it makes my heart happy.

  6. The season sometimes becomes about how we are supposed to feel, and trying to re-calibrate ourselves into feeling what the commercials and commercialization tell us we should feel. And underneath it all is this swirling melange of nostalgia, emotion, memory, expectation, anxiety, dread, hope, wonder, love, loss, and a million other things, all fighting to reach the top of our focus and energy. It can suck out all of our energy, and leave us exhausted and maybe even empty – or overstimulated or disappointed. And like so many other things, between self care and self preservation, we need to carve out some time to just be, and give ourselves permission to feel all of it. And judge not our own selves, please… we feel what we feel, and some of it is appropriate, and right, and deserving, and some of it is the feeling that we deserve to suffer and be miserable… and some it is just stuff that we haven’t allowed ourselves to feel, and it keeps coming around until we face it and give it its proper place in the inventory of our lives.

    I love how you spelled it all out Laura, and looked each thing in the eye and told yourself what it was. It doesn’t dull or numb the feeling, but dissecting it and unpacking does allow you to fully experience it and give it its moment. This diminishes some of its power without discounting its importance. Life is a funny balancing act like that sometimes, we don’t have to get it and we don’t have to get it right, but we at least owe it’s own few minutes in our cross hairs. That we have to be deliriously happy this time of year is the bitterest pill of the medication we try to choke down during the holidays. I am 61 years old, and my heart positively aches to spend 5 more minutes with my aunts and uncles and my grandma from when I was a kid… but I know that their memories, all these many years later, cause me to smile, and they would smile at the memories too. We can’t have it all back, but we don’t have to push it away and think that it never was, or didn’t matter.

    Underneath it all is the realization that it will never be the same, and neither will we. But that’s OK. If it wasn’t good and wonderful and meaningful and precious, it wouldn’t hurt so much to look back on it now. The memories have molded us into who we are. We can’t surrender what we are and what we feel to all those notions that expectations try to force feed us. I salute the banner that you have raised, and wish you the best, this holiday season and always.

    • Tom, I don’t even know where to begin except to say thank you for your insightful, thoughtful, and heartfelt comments. I’ve read and re-read them, and I am finally back to reply. Your point about how it can suck out all of our energy, it well noted – and felt. It’s such a strong feeling, too, and I’ve fought with it plenty over the years. Like you pointed out, it’s the notion that we should feel a certain way this time of year. When, sometimes, all we want is a moment or two to retreat and be.

      It did feel good to unpack the heaviness that I carried for a few years now. I think I’ve let it out a little bit each year, but never to the extent that I wasn’t suppressing its core. To do that now, I felt free, and slowly it is giving me clarity. But most of all, I am giving myself a chance to heal and to understand the nuances.

      Your last paragraph to me, Tom, is my favorite. I love what you say and the caring manner with which you say it. It will never be the same, but neither am I. I am grateful for the time I had with those that have passed, and the lessons, values, and memories they left me with are a part of me. Perhaps suppressing these feelings felt right at the time, easier even. But facing them gives me a new perspective and a chance to grow. There are so many chapters of our lives – maybe even some we’d like to forget. But they are forever ours and part of the path that leads us to each new day that we are lucky enough to see.

      Thanks again for your gift of encouragement and support, Tom. It means a great deal to me. I wish you and your family all the best this holiday season.

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