The article below originally appeared as an online post for The Trevor Project, an organization created by the 1998 Academy Award-winning short film "Trevor." Today it is the leading national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ young people under 25 across the nation. The author of this article is Joie DeRitis, a licensed master social worker who said her intention was to help LGBTQ youth feel safe around the holidays in 2018 and to look within themselves for self-care that they might not be getting from others.
"As I was writing it I wanted to write to the fact that young people can often times be very resilient and take care of themselves in a way that other folks are not. In fact, LGBTQ people are sometimes experts in that resilience," she said.
DeRitis added that while this is not a complete solution to prolonged stress and isolation, it can be a method of protecting onesself in an environment that is not LGBTQ-affirming during a short period like the holidays.
"I think the framework for all of it is first acknowledging that young folks' emotional reactions to what has happened to them are inherently valid and they deserve so much love and care," she said. "It's OK for that self-care plan to be two things. One is as simple as individualized as they need, and on the other end to be flexible. Sometimes when we think, 'OK, these are the things I need to support myself,' we walk into the holidays or whatever it might me and those things might need to be adapted or changed and that's OK and valid."
Below is the full piece. Find out more on The Trevor Project's resources online at thetrevorproject.org.
BY JOIE A. DeRITIS
Each year, we hear from LGBTQ young people that the holidays can be a particularly difficult time for them. The complicated relationships we have with our families can sometimes leave us feeling raw, overwhelmed and upset during and after the holidays. Additionally, the time leading up to a holiday gathering can bring up anxiety as we think about how it might go. We know that it can be incredibly powerful to identify ways to support ourselves for if things get tough.
What's a Self-Care Plan?
Self-care plans can look very different from one another — they're just as diverse and unique as the people who use them. Before creating one, it is important to remember that whatever you are feeling is completely valid. You are not wrong for having your feelings, and you deserve to feel supported and loved for all that you are. Sometimes, though, we don't get that love and support from the people who are supposed to love and support us. Self-care can be a way to love and support ourselves when we need it most.
Self-care can help us feel calmer, and it can give us a sense of control when things feel out of control. The best way to plan for this kind of self-support is to identify things that may be helpful or comforting for before, during, and after the holidays.
Before, it can be helpful to find a friend or supportive adult to talk to about how you're feeling. This can give us a clearer understanding of our fears and worries, and can help us identify what sorts of support we might need throughout the holidays. It is so powerful to know that we are not alone, that someone has our back, and is willing to listen. Also, if you know that someone will be at holiday gatherings who might be supportive of your identity, it might be helpful to talk with them beforehand if you are able to do so.
Self-Care During the Holidays
As you enter a holiday gathering, it is important to remember that our identities are not contingent upon our family's ability to understand or validate them. You know yourself best, you are the expert of yourself and your identity, and you are so incredibly valid. We know, though, that hearing this doesn't change how difficult it can feel when the people around us aren't showing us the acceptance and love that we deserve.
One thing that has been helpful for folks in the past is to create an affirmation to repeat in their head when they're feeling anxious or upset. This can be very specific to your experience with specific comforting words or phrases, or it can be as simple as "I am valid," or "I deserve to be supported and loved for who I am." Additionally, it can be helpful to identify a friend who might be able to support you by texting you throughout, and to step away from family at any point to take care of yourself if you feel safe doing so — even if it's just a quick walk outside or trip to the bathroom.
For transgender and gender non-conforming people who experience dysphoria (or for anyone whose physical expression is important to their identity), it can be great to get creative about the way that we affirm ourselves while with family. Folks have found it helpful to wear a piece of jewelry or clothing that feels affirming while around family. This can be something that is visible to others if that's safe for you, or it can be something you wear under your clothing (like a necklace, a cool pair of socks, an undergarment, or a cute T-shirt!) so that only you know that it's there.
It can also be important to plan for the self-care we might need after the holidays. This may be talking with someone who is supportive and understanding, watching a favorite TV show, creating some art, writing about your holiday experience, taking a cozy bubble bath, or doing something else that makes you feel comforted. A lot of LGBTQ people find it affirming to watch LGBTQ YouTubers or read their blogs when they're feeling upset or alone, as it helps us to remember that there are people out there who are just like us.
The reality is that some LGBTQ young people will spend the holidays with family; and for others, the holidays are a reminder of the loss of and the rejection from their families. Homelessness, violence, and suicidal thoughts affect LGBTQ youth uniquely and profoundly, and the holidays can be particularly difficult while alone.
Regardless of our relationship to the holidays, creating a self-care plan can be a powerful way to show ourselves the love we deserve. If you need additional support, please know that Trevor is always here for you 24/7. You can reach out to our caring and compassionate counselors through our Lifeline, Chat, and Text programs to talk about anything you are going through — you might even want to consider making Trevor a part of your self-care plan.