Ashleigh Atwell

Ashleigh Atwell: Surrogate families and holiday blues

The holidays have always been a time of reflection for me. I think about what I did and didn’t do with my year. For many people, that’s par for the course, but for me, as someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, it can be agonizing. I pore over every mistake, missed opportunity and hurt that came with the past 365 days. The winter brings us less sunlight, and for people with preexisting mental conditions, this can be devastating.

Society loves to wax poetic about helping people with mental illnesses when someone decides to shoot up a building, but I rarely see people make an actual effort. I suffer from mental illness and there have been plenty of times when I’ve felt as if friends or family didn’t notice me or my pain. On the flipside, I have been guilty of being too self-centered to notice friends who are struggling. Checking in can make a hell of a difference and can be as simple as sending a text message or taking someone out to lunch.

Despite this misery, I am aware of how lucky I truly am. Living in my mother’s house as I approach my thirties isn’t an ideal situation, but at least I have a home to go to. I know of too many people in my circle that can’t go home because their family isn’t accepting of their sexuality or gender presentation. I know people who still go home and tolerate abusive behavior for the sake of blood ties. Like most LGBTQ people, I am so thankful to have a chosen family, but a void is created when blood family is abusive or distant. I have my nuclear family but am distant from others for a myriad of reasons.

Nonetheless, it hurts. We have to acknowledge that hurt so we can begin to heal or at least be gentle with ourselves. Additionally, this year has presented a special set of circumstances if you’re a person of color. Some individuals in this country are attacking Latino folks and brown Muslims (or people who “look” Muslim), and anyone else who can be deemed a boogeyman by this increasingly xenophobic society. The trauma intensifies if you’re black. This has been a traumatic year to be black. Black bodies are under siege, and when we’re not ducking bullets, clubs or fists, we’re running from messages that tell us our existence is a burden. Our hair is reason enough to get us fired—that is, if our names don’t prevent us from being hired in the first place.

We must acknowledge our pain to move forward. It is imperative to our healing. Your chosen family can be a great tool in that acknowledgement, because some of them are probably dealing with the same issues. Gather them, have a great talk and an even better cry, then celebrate.

Celebrate your resilience.

Celebrate your magic.

Celebrate your existence.

Celebrate the fact that you’ve survived another 365 days.

I believe someone somewhere needed to read this message. It is a love letter, if you will. I am so grateful that I have been given this opportunity and look forward to inspiring thought and pissing folks off from now on. Happy holidays, everyone.