I’m staying in a hotel, not seeing family, and having cheesecake for dinner. No regrets.
No cleaning staff, room service, gym or pool access. I’ve never felt so happy in the absence of so much. People, clean sheets, easy access to food–all sacrificed.
My Bipolar loved one is visiting and staying in our apartment. My mom is there also and she’s asked me multiple times to join them. I will not.
Bipolar illness has ruined more family visits than I can count and I’ve hit my limit. Violent anger that can include the throwing of objects makes me feel deeply anxious in my loved one’s presence.
In my early childhood when my parents had a happy enough marriage to make me feel safe and secure, we had some magic. Those times are treasured; often in New York at my mom’s childhood home on E. 79th Street, we were surrounded by old friends and family. A lovely apartment, a candlelight service at St. James, and the rare pleasure of a harmonious family dynamic.
Mind-blowing to put a number on it, but it’s been about 20 years of family holidays gone terribly wrong. Excruciating interludes of white hot pain, followed by the exhaustion unique to despair. Sometimes we’re spared the agony but too often our best efforts careen off a narrow Alpine road, a James Bond 2 seater flying over frozen gorges in dazzling purple flames.
The genesis is easily identifiable. My father became hostile and impatient with my mother years before they got divorced. His constant aggravation simmered just below the surface. And long before my sibling was diagnosed with Bipolar, she was prone to explosive episodes, set off by the slightest perceived provocation.
I drag these memories around like a ball and chain: my ankle has been rubbed raw. So physical is the pain that my nervous system mounts a viscous internal attack. Muscle aches, near sleepless nights, raging headaches all come. When we hit full crisis mode, vomit and hives join the party.
Mood disorders like Bipolar know no bottom when it comes to suffering experienced by both victim and target. I’ve found with experience that things can always get worse.
Like spiraling down a well, once her behavior spins out of control, there’s nothing to hold onto.
No rest for the weary, as they say. No mercy for the injured.
The criminally overused truism “it’s darkest before dawn” fits this year because I’ve chosen surrender instead of obfuscation. Sitting in emotional pitch blackness is surprisingly peaceful. Compassion for myself dictated the decision and compassion is self preservation. Here we are. No more pretending.
Two more days and this will all be over. Love to everyone struggling through the holiday. Below are some resources if you need extra support.
Onward and upward, Fighters!
Any others out there who feel ambivalent *at best* about the holidays?
The several months of heightened expectations; forced family time for some, being alone for some, and flashes of pain for all. People who throw the word “magic” around to describe the holidays exist in volume–they are also the most visible at this time of year, posting their magic on social media and splashing it on Christmas cards. It’s a time of year to congratulate oneself for having an intact family, to gather that family and rejoice in splendid closeness.
I’ve become skeptical of these families as I’ve grown into adulthood–are they telling the whole truth? If so, why do they keep interrupting all the magic to post lengthy reflections about gratitude on facebook? Why the need to include several paragraphs with the Christmas card about everyone in the family’s achievements? By the way, throwing in a pinch of humor or self deprecation doesn’t absolve you from bragging–the Henderson’s video card #Xmasjammies should have settled that for good back in 2013. “Is Penn smart in school? It’s hard to tell! He just bats his eyes and all the teachers melt!”.
Because a spectrum of experience exists with everything in life, obviously some people do enjoy themselves. I have pretty magical memories from childhood, too. And there are those who experience scenes of profound family dysfunction, complete with emotional and physical violence. For most, it’s likely a mix–heightened tension, some conflict but also moments of harmony. So yes, there must be people for whom it’s pure, unadulterated joy, but the important thing to remember is that the vast majority of human beings fall somewhere in the middle. The pure joy group is probably about 5% or less of the population.
This year will be different from any other because many of us will not be gathering with extended family or feverishly shopping in brick and mortar stores.
That’s not altogether bad news for those of us who face depression or anxiety as pressure mounts to switch on the joy light.
I believe firmly, and my 40th birthday showed this to be true, that the decrease in pressure is proportionate to an increase in authentic enjoyment.
With people all over the world grieving the loss of loved ones to COVID, turning on the joy switch would be insensitive at best. Charges of hostility and callousness would be appropriate, I think.
Churches and places of worship will be closed. We’ll be singing and praying from home. None of the transcendent choirs, holly berries and babies in festive attire to summon smiles or tears.
The beauty is that simplicity has its own transcendence. Without the pageantry of formal gatherings and rituals, we can pause and create new ones that may suit us better.
Quieter rituals offer more space for introspection. It’s deeply sad that it’s taken tragedy for society to endorse the shift in tone, but here we are.
My hope is that some of our quieter moments this year will carry forward into the future. I envision memories of this hushed peace glowing in our collective conscious for years to come, and it makes me happy.
Thanksgiving is of course about eating. But we have a more complicated mandate coming on Thursday.
We sit down at the table and affirm the rules of engagement.
“Let’s go around the table and all state what we’re grateful for this year”!
And so it begins.
I saw the expression Toxic Positivity on Twitter today and recognized the seasonal relevance.
Sure, gratitude lists are important and essential and blah, blah, blah but the gratitude just got sucked right out of me by the prompt.
I can explain. I’m not a sad, bitter human being. At least not everyday!
But here I sense the need to name a tangible life achievement. This is a life performance review. It’s a report card, and we’re comparing our grades.
This is one of those well intentioned depression traps.
Luck favors the prepared, so I’m putting together my short list today.
And if you have a mood disorder or love someone who does, you’re already ahead of the game. Because the correct answer is:
I’m Still Here.
I’ve grown to intensely dislike shopping. Both in New York City and in Austin. Malls here in Texas are so soulless they make me want to give up on life. Ok, that’s a bit of hyperbole but I’m trying to make a point.
What makes it so depressing for me? I’ve thought a lot about that. The obvious answer is the aggressive messaging: all branding centers around fantasy.
So we know depression is a liar. It’s most convincing lie is that you (the sufferer) have a defect. That defect will prevent you for all eternity from having a happy life. And what is a happy life made of? A solid marriage? Children? A good sex life? Being celebrated for your physical beauty?
Consumer culture says those things are for sale. A pricey wedding will set your marriage on solid ground. The expensive wedding will lead to children. Buy beauty enhancers so sex stays hot. Be beautiful for its own sake and because it works back to all the other things just mentioned.
Then we leave the airless, windowless mall (anyone else think they feel like airports?), with purchases in hand, and go home.
No spiritual sustenance has been provided. No sense of community reinforced: does the fact that we were all shopping at the same time bind us? I don’t think so.
Do any of the things you just brought home give you immediate pleasure, never mind lasting pleasure? Rhetorical question but I’d love to hear from someone who feels differently.
My sister loves to shop. Maybe I should start there.