Friday, December 07, 2012

Hard Candy Christmas


I’m going to tell you a secret.

I hate the holidays.

December is the month with the highest rate of suicide, and the week after Thanksgiving follows close behind. This time of year is difficult for lots of people. I known many who suffer from clinical depression. Though I do not, I have a huge amount of sympathy for those who do.  I know what it feels like to be sad, overwhelmed, and empty. I can’t imagine how terrible it would be to feel that way all the time without being able to change it. There is such a huge difference between the “blue meanies” feeling we all experience and the crippling symptoms of the medical condition we call depression… I really wish we could find better language for it.

It makes me think of a wonderful song Dolly Parton did called Hard Candy Christmas. Most people would hear the title and think it was positive, but it refers to a childhood spent in poverty, when hard candy and a piece of fruit were the only things waiting on Christmas morning.  One section always runs through my head when I am feeling the weight:

I’ll be fine and dandy,

Lord, it’s like a hard candy Christmas.

I’m barely getting through tomorrow,

but still, I won’t let sorrow bring me way down.

For me, the holidays have always been a landmine. I have clinically depressed people around me. I have an array of religious beliefs being celebrated. I have a family prone to pissyness in the best of circumstances, so arranging holiday gatherings so that grandparents can see grandchildren, and so THIS side can accommodate THAT side, has always been fodder for non-stop bitching.  As the little ones became bigger, the bitching should have subsided.  It never really works that way.  People who suffer depression, people with bi-polar disorder, people who have personalities prone to hysterics don’t behave the way they do because of external stimuli. The external stuff gets the blame, but nothing is required to “set someone off.”  Most of those people don’t have an OFF switch. They are always ON, and are very good at finding something handy to blame.

They can’t help it.  It took me a lifetime to “get” that.  It took me years to realize that clinical depression has nothing to do with sadness other than sadness being a symptom.  It took me years to realize that asking a manic person to be rational and “calm down” was an error on MY part; that’s like asking a cat to fetch.  It took me years, and years, and years to realize that we don’t “keep peace;” we delay consequences. We don’t “just try to get along;” we simmer in hostility until the passivity finally gives way to aggression… sometimes after decades of internalizing.

So while I can better understand the reasons… I still really hate the holidays. I have hated them since I was a child sitting around a cheerily lit tree, ignoring the elephant in the room, hearing the words “keep peace” bleated  like bad muzak carols on repeat.  I hated them, burning with an understanding that peace can not be “kept” in this way, even as a small child surrounded by adults who pounded the lie home with a relentless hammering. I will always hate them on some level.

These days there are bright spots.  I am loved by a wonderful man.  The family I have chosen—friends and more distant family… people who love the way I like to love in return—have changed my life so much.  The days set aside for them are shining, dazzling flashes of joy.  I find family easier, as the ugliness that lurked in corners has been dragged into the light, exposed, and purged.  My family is not perfect, but the disease has been removed.  Those cancers left scars, but we are survivors.  Periods of remission that lulled us into complacency are no longer pitfalls of delusion.  That false peace no longer kept, we may scratch an old itch like amputees with phantom spasms, but the limb is gone, its poison hacked away.

Consider those around you during this season of cheer. For some, the cheerfulness piped into elevators and strangling off lightposts with glitter and lights is mocking and painful. For others, like myself, it is an uninvited guest to be tolerated with grace, but dreaded none-the-less.  I smile and wish well, but there is a post-traumatic reaction hidden just one layer beneath. If you are lucky enough to love the holidays, consider tolerance for those who do not the ultimate gift.  Watch those who suffer depression closely. Be mindful of family and friends who may not feel as you do, and show them kindness and tolerance.

I do hope your holiday is filled with joy.

2 comments ]:[ Add your comment:

Sheila Seabrook said...

Hi Chrissy ... I can't help it but you always make me laugh. Somewhere in your thoughtful musings, I always discover a wry humor. I love that about your voice. :)

I'm married to a man who has never enjoyed the holiday season. He wasn't raised in a household surrounded by family and laughter like I was. So we've had some difficult years trying to find a celebratory style that pleases us both. And guess what, it turns out that family and laughter are what our holidays are about.

Thank you for the reminder to be gentle and considerate not only of him, but of others I encounter. May your holiday season be filled with love and laughter.

Sheila Seabrook said...

oh, and I love the picture of your puppy in his candystripe suit. He is so adorable!

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