When Christmas and Gridiron Collide

 

The decision to continue my non-celebration of Christmas has already proven to be a wise one. I am struggling a little.

Because i’ve developed the habit of both preparing for the coming weeks and reviewing them after, i’ve been noticing a few things lately. I think about what goals i already have in place, and how other activities, including appointments and the day-to-days, may affect their furthering or accomplishment. For instance, while getting ready for the holidays, i thought about how i wanted to get through them without any crutches, including addictive behaviours and switching. I thought to myself, “It’s gonna be hard,”
And that’s it. That’s all i thought. I just glossed right over it and didn’t go any deeper. I mean, why would i need to, right? I’ve done all this work and i know myself pretty well. I know it’s going to be difficult.

It’s like running my fingers over the books on my shelves. As they run over the spines i remember each one’s content in my mind, and the general vibe briefly washes over me, like the breath of a lover between kisses. I’ve read it before and i know what it’s about, so why read it again? But it’s not like that with some books. Some i return to over and over, so many times that the spine is hopelessly cracked and flecks of laminate are missing from its paperboard cover. Some words are so beautifully, so importantly put together, that i must experience them many times; it’s simply not enough to know that they exist or to have visited them before. I cannot be satisfied with a fingertip-touch or a warm glance. And i should not be – some of the depth and the nuance and delicate intricacy is lost without at least an hour or two lost in its embrace.

Well, that was an interesting digression that i’m not sure fits entirely, but it is an insight into my mood most assuredly, so it stands.
I’m trying to relate it to my playbook for living with mental illness. I have a list of strategies and plays i’ve developed for handling what life throws my way. I don’t think sportsball teams simply commit the plays to memory and then just show up at gametime, ready to play. The players practise. They practise a LOT. They look to the coach for direction, for instruction, for guidance.
It’s a very good analogy because i’m multiple. I’m the coach, the quarterback, and the hungry rookie going slightly mad sitting on the bench, aching to get in the game. I’m the fans, both for and against, the colour commentator on the sidelines and the beloved announcer in the booth above it all. The opposing team is made up of people, places, and things, and the game is LIFE, of course.

Those players haven’t just memorised those plays. They’ve practised them so many times they’ve built muscle-memory reactions that work like breathing, so reflexive it’s like the OOF! that explodes out of them when they’re tackled.

Would a team that wanted to win against a tough competitor show up without practising plays designed specifically to deal with what that other team is known for being particularly good at? Hell NO.

I ran my fingers over the book on the shelf and remembered what was inside it, when i should have taken it down from the shelf, cracked it open, and read it again.
My players needed a coach to call them to practise, to scrawl the plays out on the board in class and to run them through on the field.
I wasn’t well-prepared so they weren’t, either.
This has been a rough game against a tough opponent.

I’m dealing with the depression part of living with Bipolar Disorder, which means i don’t have much energy or enthusiasm and i’m tired most of the time. Being depressed when most of the people, places, and things around me are happy and excited (or at least wanting and trying to be) saps what little reserves i have stored. And that makes me vulnerable. My patience is thin and my skin is thinner. My vision is blurry and my voice is a whisper.

What i mean is
**i can be easily hurt and i’m not great at interpreting what’s going on around me, and i’m shit at communicating what i’m thinking or how i feel**
That’s better. Sorry for all the attempts at various literary devices, as anyone reading this has certainly grasped more quickly than i have said – i’m still in the grips of all this.

So i let some things get to me that needn’t have, and i shut down a bit because of it.
Rejection is one of, if not the, primary issues/triggers i have. So i was worried and anxious and hurt and scared and it seeped into everything.

But here is where things get better, so don’t worry. There is no need to feel badly for me beyond this point. If you’re empathetic, you probably feel some sadness and anxiety for me, and thank you for that, but you can stop now, because i’ve developed coping skills and routines to help me live a reasonably happy and functional life.

While i do need to work on game preparation, i am already the queen of post-game analysis.

I’m a bit too emotional and that caused exhaustion, but i didn’t overindulge in anything and i didn’t switch. I slid around in the face from time to time, but i was able to tell my family that i wasn’t all there, and they know what that means. Looking back, even though i wasn’t fully aware of what was going on, my self-talk was quite gentle, and that is excellent progress. I didn’t tell myself i was being stupid or wrong for the feelings i was having or the actions i was taking – i just didn’t delve deep enough for full clarity. There were times i was irritated to the point where i could have spoken snappishly, but i didn’t. I had enough awareness that i knew the feelings were bigger than the situation, meaning something else was probably going on inside me at a deeper level.
I realised that whatever was happening inside of me wasn’t about what was occurring outside of me, and responded in a relatively reasonable fashion. I will take that, and any congratulations to be had go to the players.

I need to watch more games, both ours and theirs. I’ve got some great plays and some smart strategies, but we need better preparation and more practise. I’ve got this playbook, and i’m going to use it during practise, and the way my brain works (i.e. my Peanut Gallery) is the home team. They can split up and practise against each other. (Trust me – they already do, heh.) Upcoming situations will be the next visiting team and we’ll get together on practise days and watch footage of how those guys play before we show up, so we’ll be as ready as we can be to compete.

And we’ll still play for fun. It’ll be more like weekend flag football and all the players on the other side of the scrimmage line are my family and friends – it won’t be like the Grey Cup or anything.

This is a very weird way of saying that i wasn’t as prepared as i could have been for the Christmas season this year, but i will be next year.
I think. Heh.

 

Love and Peace,
~H~

Thanks, I’ll Pass

I’m not celebrating Christmas this year. This will be the third year i’ve not done so. I’m certain about my decision and very comfortable with it, but i’m 100% open to returning to it at some point.

Christmas had become my personal microcosm. It was a vignette of how i once viewed life and the living of it. But as i was getting healthier mentally and emotionally, i could see that it was getting hard for me to continue my growth through the holiday season, or even maintain the status quo until it was over. It had become a frantic sketch of the overwhelmed wife and mother who is desperate to be Martha Stewart but only manages Lucy Ricardo. It was like looking at an old snapshot, with yellow seeping into all the colours and the edges curling up.
Quite a few things were happening for me back then. I realised that i was doing the backstroke in my ocean of despair, which was probably a sign that it was time to get out and dry off. I can’t tell you with absolute certainty that i needed to swim around for as long as i did, but i thought so, so that happened and there you have it. When i stepped out onto the shore i immediately felt the sun’s warmth. I realised the ocean had been cold and brackish, and i had turned blue and prune-skinned. My mourning clothes lay on the ground where i’d left them, but they proved scratchy and a poor fit, so i left them behind and walked on, keeping an eye peeled for something more appropriate for the walk and the weather.

I loved Christmas as a child for all the regular reasons, but mostly because my mother was almost always on her best behaviour. She loved the music, the decorations, the gifts of course, and Oh my! didn’t she love the food. When i was young she made a real effort to make things beautiful and festive, she gave care and thought to my gifts, and when she wanted to, my mom was a helluva fine cook. When she was happy, everyone was happy. She could be brilliant and charming and funny and dear. My grandparents, although they had become careful what and how much they gave her, were wonderfully generous with me, and to the best of my recollection, we spent all, or at least part, of every one of those Christmases with them until i was 7yrs old. Christmases slowly, but steadily declined after that.

The year i turned 8 she fell out with the man i believe to be my biological father and suffered a psychotic breakdown. She was committed, and i was removed from the home and placed in foster care. During that time my uncle was killed while on holiday, and my grandparents were devastated and never recovered. They were completely unable to handle my mother, and they gradually lost interest in seeing me (i’ll never know how much she had to do with that, but i suspect at least some). When she was released it took her some time to get me back, and interestingly enough for this piece, i was returned to her on Christmas Eve. The honeymoon period lasted a couple of weeks,  but by the time next Christmas rolled around she had taken an underage lover and moved us to a small town to hide her crime. She made him a father at 16. She was 34. I was 11.

She proceeded to have 3 more children in the next five years. The boy she stole from his family became a man, but had dropped out of school in grade ten to be with her, and she wouldn’t let him out of her sight long enough to get any education or training that could translate into enough income to care properly for all of us. She wouldn’t even permit him to put in the kind of overtime that might be parlayed into more money or a dogged climb up the ladder won by the sweat of his brow. Even if they liked him and gave him opportunities for advancement, people would eventually figure out that something was off about him, or his home life. Mom’s mask would eventually slip, the house and/or the children would be seen, and then suddenly he had a new job and we had to move, or the other way around.

Mother became less and less able to keep her mask in place, and she coped by isolating and eating. She became angrier, lazier, and fatter. The places we lived became more broken down and she filled them with dirty dishes and piles of unwashed laundry. The children were beaten when they weren’t ignored, and they responded by fighting constantly and destroying everything in the house that wasn’t already broken.
And every Christmas was a little worse than the one before it.

After she died and i had a child of my own, Christmas suddenly became important again. I wanted him to have the perfect ones i’d seen on tv, and i had those distant childhood memories to help me. Some of the people who live in my brain were a great help in this, and they derived happiness and healing from it as well. We all did. It’s probably worthwhile to mention that my son was born a week before Christmas, and i spent December 25th alone with him in a room at the YWCA, listening to Christmas music on the local radio station.  On his first birthday he set fire to the apartment we lived in, but it was professionally cleaned and ready for us by the 25th. Both of them were better than any Christmas i’d had since my grandparents.

I became the Christmas queen. I did it all: the decorating, cards, gifts, cooking, baking, entertaining. Capital E entertaining. Family, friends, friends that were like family… Anyone and everyone. And i was good at it. Maybe not Ina Garten-good, but i put on a mean Roseanne. Christmas was my favourite time of year. I felt happy and functional and almost normal.

In the years that followed i had another child, fell in love and got married, gained a tremendous amount of weight, had another child, had weight loss surgery, and then fell head first into the deep end of my first clinical mania. My childhood was catching up to me, becoming inescapable as i saw myself reflected in my children. My fears and flaws were magnified in the lens of a committed sexual relationship. My old wounds were still raw. Being a mom, being in love, and playing house had proved merely a Band-Aid. I felt like a failure and a fraud and the anguish became so unbearable that i couldn’t control my people. December became one long bender for me, but i still had to keep up appearances for everyone else.

How do you throw a fabulous holiday while you fall somewhere on the scale from tipsy to pass-out drunk? I had varying levels of success. It was never a write-off, but my mental health was lousy and my drinking to cope was obvious and my family is not stupid…

These last few years i’ve been doing markedly better. Don’t misunderstand me though, through all of it i was trying very hard not to be a mess, and i spent time, money, and most of my energy trying to figure my shit out. It just took a long time. You know, wearing mourning clothes and swimming in the ocean of despair and all that, heh. It took time and patience and a lot of work to get some damn traction in my life. Along the way i learned some things about myself that i didn’t know, like:

– I’m not religious;
– I’m much more of an introvert than an extrovert;
– I crave a simple, quiet life;
– I’m a terrible driver;
– I’m a helper and a giver and a lover.

I realised that putting on Christmas was not bringing me the excitement and the joy that it used to. My 2 oldest children were grown and gone, and our youngest was close to legal. The holidays are culturally enjoyable and edifying, but no longer hold any spiritual significance for me. We’ve been experiencing an economic recession where we live for the last few years, and the money could be better spent on other things. I wanted to curtail my drinking, and the holidays are a skating rink made from all the booze i’ve spilled on Christmases past.

So i put up a few decorations, we had a fancy supper and exchanged gifts. And it was pretty good.
The next year i broke my leg and couldn’t put up any decorations or even make supper. We decided to spend our money on a fancy spread in the city downtown, and then we went and saw Star Wars: TFA. There were a few gifts for the kids, but hubby and i didn’t exchange anything. We both liked it.
Last year i cooked and baked for our children and grandchildren, but that was it. Our youngest prefers us to take him shopping and spend the money on new clothes, which i love. Everyone was satisfied.
This year’s holiday season will include Star Wars, Chinese food, and feeding the entire family all day long until they can roll home on their own.

This year i knew i was doing well enough that i could do the Christmas thing if i wanted to… But i just didn’t. The other 2 years of not celebrating Christmas weren’t super-conscious choices. Hubby and i discussed it a little from the mental health and financial standpoint, but we didn’t go much deeper than that.
This year i went deep. I gave it a lot of thought. I was my own 3 ghosts and took myself to all the places and looked at all the Christmases and contemplated what could be.
And i still love Christmas. I’m no Scrooge, humbugging all over other people’s holidays. The decorating is gorgeous and the music is fun and festive – it’s just not in my house right now. Even though there’s no religious meaning for me anymore, Christmas remains very significant from a cultural perspective. I like the generosity and the parties and the FOOOOD! but i’m really enjoying the freedom and power i feel in saying No, i’m not buying anything. I don’t feel guilty or less than or left out by refusing to do so, either. In fact, the rebel in me is revelling in telling corporate North America and conspicuous consumption to shove it up their Black Friday.

I see a very real possibility, even likelihood, that i’ll return to some of the things i used to do during Christmas, like decorating and music and parties. For now though, this feels so good and so right. It’s not often that i have no doubts about a big decision, but i have zero regarding this one. If and when i do return to marking the occasion, it will be on my terms, and in my way. There’ll be no more trying to fix what was wrong with the Christmases of my youth, and i won’t need to put a pretty bow or a star on top of a pile of unresolved issues.
Whatever you do or don’t do for the holidays, i hope it’s a minimum of stuff you don’t want, with a maximum of what you do.

I’ll be here on the other side of all of it, no matter what.

Love and Peace to All-a Y’all,
~H~

Hey You. Yeah, YOU.

Hey You.

It’s been a while since i addressed you directly, but that doesn’t mean that i don’t think about you. I wonder after you just about every day.

I think about you a lot, because when you’re like me, it seems like you’re all alone. It seems like i’m the only crazy person i know. I mean, there are social misfits and weirdos aplenty – but crazies? Once i accepted myself for who i am, i was met with radio silence.

It’s not cool to be cuckoo. You can be weird if you’re a nerd or a geek; a certain amount of social awkwardness is a prerequisite for the label. And if you’re rich or famous or some sort of celebrity or great artist then you can be as off as you want to be… They’ll call you eccentric.

Usually there is someone, though. Someone who gets us, or at least they try to. Or maybe they don’t try and they merely accept that they don’t understand and that’s okay with them. Their lack of understanding is not an impediment to them being in a relationship of some kind with us. There are some out there. Sometimes only one, but often more than we think. Experience has taught me that i just have to get through those tough times when i can’t see. Just because it’s dark doesn’t mean there’s no light. I know eventually the light will come. Maybe it’s just the cycle of light and dark, or maybe i’ve pulled down all the shades and just forgotten that i’ve done so. Maybe if i look hard enough i’ll see a dim glow seeping out around the edges…

But those of us who leave a trail of wreckage behind us: hospital stays and rides in police cars and enforced social service watchdogs and destroyed relationships…

You know, those of us who have done things that no one can make poetic.
Those of us who’ve been screwed up in ways not immortalised by some well-loved actor in an Oscar-worthy performance. Those of us who have a stink on us that we can’t shower away. When everyone you know for long enough -whether a minute or a year- knows that you are different. And not in the cool way.
For us, sometimes it is hard to see the light.

I want you to know that i’m thinking about you.

This is a hard time of year to be crazy. There’s family and expectations.
And family and expectations.
If you’re crazy and you’ve made it through any of these blasted holiday-gauntlets then i say Clap yourself on the back my brother/sister, because you are amazing!  This time of year turns solidly sane people into lunatics, so if you’re a whack job like me and still in one piece, congratulations.

And hey, if there’s some wreckage around you, it’s okay. Some broken relationships, some 911 calls, some final notices, some vicious rumours… If you’re still breathing, you’re winning. Even if you’re wearing a sweater with extra long arms that tie up in the back.

I know it’s about to get more intense. More family and more expectations.

I want you to know that you won’t be alone.
I’ll be thinking about you; wondering how you’re doing and if you’re all right.
Even if we’ve never met and i don’t know your name.

I don’t celebrate this time of year. I’m not religious. I’m not spiritual. I’m not going to church, i’m not opening presents, i’m not making obligatory family appearances.
I have no problem with anyone else being any or doing any those things, it’s just not me.

Whether you are or you aren’t doesn’t matter to me. What matters is, if you live with mental illness i want you to know that i’m thinking about you this holiday season. I know how hard it can be, and i just want you to know that you aren’t alone.

I have no step-by-step plan. I’m not selling anything, neither a belief system nor a product. I just want you to know that someone gives a shit about the real you. The you that doesn’t know what the fuck you’re doing, and the you who’s terrified that they’ll find out who you really are, and the you who’s so freaking tired of toeing the line, and the you who doesn’t even know who you are anymore, and the you who has NOTHING left to give, and the you who has never been yourself with another living person, and the you who is afraid all there is is this and all you’ll ever be is who others think you are…

I have been able to create a safe place, with safe people, where i live the life i choose.

Some of it took so much strength and commitment i should get a parade, and some of it was a beautiful fluke.
Regardless, i have this life now and i’ve been thinking about you a LOT. I know how hard this time of year can be, and i want you to know that i’m thinking about you right now.
I don’t have family obligations or company parties or peer group expectations.

I will be thinking about you and wondering if you’re okay and hoping that you’re all right.
So, if you have to be around people that make you feel things you don’t want to feel – i’ll be thinking about you.
If you’re spending the holidays alone and wish you weren’t – i’ll be thinking about you.
If circumstances have made it so you can’t be, do, or give what you’d have wanted to this holiday – i’ll be thinking about you.

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. 

Hang in there, okay?

Lovelovelove and Peeeeace,

~H~