Disclaimer: If you are really struggling during this time of the year, you can contact the NL Mental Health 24 Hour Crisis Line at 1-888-737-4668. Or if you’re not in crisis and just need to talk, call the CHANNAL Provincial Warm Line at 1-855-753-2560.
Remember to check in with loved ones who you know could be struggling.
It could mean the world to them.
The one month of the year were suddenly everything turns from calm and relaxed into chaos and confusion. Where even the most organized and put-together person somehow manages to fall off the rails and suddenly there are gifts not bought, decorations not put up, and within the first week of December you’re already sick of hearing Michael Buble’s renditions of our favourite Christmas carols. (Sorry Michael Buble). In Canada, you just barely have the poppies off before Christmas is shoved in your face.
And while I sound like I’m complaining – which a small part of me is – there is a quiet peacefulness in the chaos and confusion. There is a calmness to coming home after a neon-frenzy trip to Wal-Mart to sitting on the couch and staring at the Christmas tree that brings a sudden serenity, a quiet appreciation from the brief moments of anarchy.
Christmas is more than just about who gets the most expensive gifts and has the fanciest display of lights on their lawn. For me, what means the most is the under appreciated aspects of the holiday – visits with friends, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate while listening to Christmas tunes, and dancing around my kitchen as I bake cookies.
Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.
But sometimes I can’t even get into the holiday spirit.
Sure, I go all-out with decorating our little bungalow, and I love wrapping gifts, and dancing around the kitchen to music. But sometimes no matter how much I love the Christmas lights, or the music, or even Christmas baking, sometimes I can’t find my love for Christmas. Sometimes I’m not filled with holiday cheer.
Sometimes my PTSD is the Ebenezer Scrooge to my Christmas Carol.
Now that goes without saying, my PTSD doesn’t completely ruin Christmas for me. Unless I’m experiencing a depressive episode and I can barely get out of bed, my mental illness doesn’t 100% ruin my cheer. But in saying that, my PTSD does affect my view of the holidays. Sometimes it brings about moments of profound sadness. Sometimes it recalls heartbreaking memories that are seared into my brain for the rest of my life.
This time of the year, no matter how much Christmas cheer I try to shove down my throat, my holiday spirit comes at a price.
Filling out Christmas cards for family members reminds me of the relatives who burned bridges with me, who chose to disown me instead of believing the abuse I was going through. When my fiancé asks me what I want for Christmas, a small part of me feels guilty because a sinister voice in the back of my head taunts me; his voice echoes words like “worthless” and “disgraceful”, a still-bruised part of me believing I’m not worthy of gifts or receiving that show of affection.
Or when I participate in Christmas traditions, I’m reminded of all the traditions I had to give up on and forget because they come with devastating sadness. Because even in through all the abuse and torment, there were rare moments of happiness. There were times, where for one small moment there was a little bit of peace – and it is those moments I weep for the most. There is no words to describe that insurmountable hurt, because I lost something too. I escaped and got free from my abuser’s hands, but I also lost parts of me in the process. I had to sacrifice for my freedom and that came at a cost. Even happy Christmas memories from my past are covered in a blanket of ash.
But even in those terrible moments of grief, I have to brush away the thoughts and focus on my “new” traditions; leave the broken memories of my past in a discarded pile like torn-up wrapping paper and move forward.
Because the most wonderful time of the year also brings me pain.
But in saying that, with each passing year, with each new battle I overcome with my mental illness, the pain in slowly subsiding. It might never go away fully, but it hurts less every year.
And in the moments where the pain is unbearable, I know it is ok to cry while I listen to my favourite Christmas CD – to remind myself that it’s ok to take care of myself first, to take a moment to acknowledge the pain before focusing back on the present(s).
So while I can disguise my pain with Santa hats and ugly Christmas sweaters, it’s also important to remember that sometimes people like me – people living with mental health issues – have a hard time during the holidays. That sometimes the most wonderful time of the year is the hardest time of the year.
It’s important to take time to understand that others silently struggle with this time of the year because, believe me, it is so hard to admit to feeling sad when there are so many wonderful reasons to be happy. It is so hard to admit that the girl under the Santa hat and Christmas stockings, who’s dancing around her kitchen to music, is really struggling underneath all that Christmas cheer – that sometimes the cheer is a facade.
It’s hard to admit this time of the year also brings me pain – because it hurts to not feel the Christmas spirit, and it’s unbearable to think I might be ruining someone else’s cheer by speaking of my own “Bah humbugs”.
But the pain is slowly subsiding, and even though it might not feel like it now, I know things will get better. It will take time, but eventually the (snow) storm will pass and I’ll be sat on my couch, drinking hot chocolate while staring at the lights on the tree. And in that moment, it will all feel right. In that moment, I know I’ll find my Christmas spirit again.
And I hope you can find your holiday cheer too.
And as always,
Fight the good fight.