I’ve lost Whamageddon, the Christmas School Play has Officially Occurred and the youngest has totally got the hang of advent calendars (with only a few doors entirely ripped off their hinges). Consequently, barring a few parties, things should be looking rosy, right?
Only thing is, this just marks the start of my Christmas collywobbles.*
Every year I promise to do better. Around October I might buy a Christmas present or two. I generally feel quite magnanimous: look at me, buying presents for other people when it’s my birthday! I might also start writing a list of things that I’ve seen that would suit friends and family that, if I bought them now, wouldn’t entirely break the bank. If I’m really in the flow, I might even buy a special little notebook specially for my list. Just like the kind of person, I fondly imagine, who has Christmas done and wrapped by the end of the January sales.
Having given myself a head start on Christmas, I ponder whether to keep up the good work but, overflowing with self-congratulation, I invariably give myself a pat on the back and a bit of rest. No point getting too frenzied just yet, Santa won’t be coming for MONTHS.
And now here we are with less than two weeks to go and I’m panicking.
Other stuff always gets in the way: birthdays, half term, Hallowe’en, Bonfire Night – and any other reason that I can lay my hands on in order to distract from the approaching storm front that is Christmas. That’s how anxiety works, you see? I know there’s an issue looming but I’ll be damned if I’ll deal with it until it’s become a super-huge problem that I simply can’t ignore any longer. Sadly Christmas doesn’t just go away if you don’t look at it or pretend it’s not there.
No doubt I’ll find that lovely little notebook sometime in March and laugh at the carefully curated list of thoughtful gifts. But I probably won’t throw it away because this year, this year, it’ll be different. This year I will promise to do better.
So, here I am, drowning in scraps of paper holding lists of things to do, people to remember, cards to send ASAP or I might as well not bother and those tiny little bits of sellotape that always break off in your mouth…
Not for the first time, I wish that I had a PA to sort myself out. They’d double (quadruple?) up as a chef, beautician and psychiatrist as well, of course, that goes without saying. Then I remember that I have to be my own PA – and PA for the whole family too – as if that wasn’t the least suitable job for me in the whole world. These days my seasonal anxiety is index-linked to a never-ending Christmas card list.
If you don’t get one from me this year, it’s not because I don’t care. Honestly! I’ve lost my October-based list, my address book and my basic capacity to function over and above the requests for Christmas jumpers, packed lunches for pantos, birthday and Christmas parties… My brain just short-circuited at some point and shut down to save me from any further fretting. It’s not really an excuse but it is an explanation.
Acknowledging that I have deep-seated anxiety issues can be a bit problematic for me. People can’t believe that this is in fact the case because I’m not literally flapping my hands in panic. Guys, that stuff goes on INSIDE my head! I do a good job most of the time of covering it over or distracting your attention (look over there – a badger with a gun!).
I’ll do a post about it another time but I would like to say that, just because I’m not hyperventilating on your shoulder doesn’t mean it’s not happening. A big learning point of mine this year has been to admit that it’s there at all instead of pretending that everything is just peachy. There’s clearly a lot more work to do but, you know, baby steps.
Don’t get me wrong though, I really do love Christmas and I always have. The flip side of anxiety is feeling very deeply the thrill of anticipation. I’ve been sub-par with the whole organisation and present-buying thing this year but I won’t necessarily see that as a huge failing (if I try hard enough). On the experience side of Christmas this year, I’ve scored pretty highly. And it’s the memories of lovely Christmasses over the years that I want to give to my girls, rather than possessions.
In a few days time we’ll be heading down south (metaphorically north!) to Lapland UK, based near Ascot. If you haven’t heard of Lapland UK before, do yourself a favour and look at this link: https://www.laplanduk.co.uk/
I’ll do a review next week but I’m already almost as excited as the girls and cannot wait to see their faces when we visit the site. That’s the kind of memory I want them to have when thinking of Christmas (though I wonder how we’ll beat it next year?!), not me swearing over a roll of wrapping paper.
Then there are memories you can’t simply buy and those are the most precious.
That Christmas Eve is the most hopeful and exciting time of year is a feeling that has never left me. Some of my earliest and best memories are of that time: watching old videos of festive family films, a furtive sip of Bailey’s (an exciting seasonal crime) and looking at the gas fire in the living room wondering how Santa proposed to get through the bars (“magic” apparently).
For me, it’s the epitome of Christmas: the darkness pierced by twinkling lights and the exquisite, trembling ethereality of a connection to other Christmasses going back years – and perhaps going forwards into the future too. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in me tonight.
However exhausting and emotionally fraught Christmas Day was (no batteries, too much chocolate and festive family homicide), Christmas Eve was always there as a reminder of how Christmasses could be.
I appreciate that this is not the case for all the people I know. Family break-ups (I’ve known a few), lack of money and mental fragility at this time of year can cause a build-up of emotions more serious than a few forgotten Christmas cards. It can be a wearing time of year for anyone, even if you’re in excellent health with no apparent worries, let alone if you’re feeling under the weather physically or spiritually. It’s special and awful at one and the same time because it reminds you of those years gone by and what might yet transpire.
And this is how I appreciate Christmas now: it is bittersweet. I can see its fabulous shimmer in the eyes of my children and I know that these years are short. Some little … precious in the playground will puncture the belief soon enough so we need to get the best out of this time. However, it’s also slightly broken and tainted with the disappointments of past years, the stress of making it as good as possible and the adult knowledge that the next year can bring as much bad news as it can bring good news.
You could easily take to the bottle at this thought, or…you could choose not to. What kind of humans are we if we let the bad bits totally obscure the lovely ones? Our lives are not perfect, neither are our Christmasses but, much like you have to break a mirror to make a glitterball that lights up a ballroom, you have to be a little bit broken to fully sparkle during the good times.
This is my clarion call to you all; we are chipped, bruised and essentially human beings, but we are beautiful too and the lows can only make us better appreciate the highs. So let’s appreciate Christmas for all it can be, rather than what it should be: a crazy glitterball of excess that is soon enough packed away in January for another year.
In acknowledgement that this can be the best of times and, simultaneously, the worst of times and that every single Christmas blog post contains some sort of list, here’s mine. It’s a survival guide borrowed from the admirable Matt Haig, a fellow anxiety sufferer who has written on the condition so movingly and from whom I’ve learnt so much this year:
1. Keep a routine.
2. Don’t compare your Christmas to the best bits of other people’s.
3. Find some quiet moments. Retreat to a bedroom.
5. Do yoga. (Unfestive/useful.)
6. Know many feel like you. Come online and find them.
7. Stop shopping.
I’d add 8) Ditch the guilt. Your Christmas is lovely and it’s perfect for your kids, your family. There’s no need to be or do anymore than you can safely manage.
I’d like to introduce you to my friend, the impressive Nicola Lowe, who has begun a blog particularly aimed at working mums, called Wisdom for Working Mums. She has built a friendly village of like-minded ladies with superb podcasts and articles on the nitty gritty of working motherhood: employment rights, managing your own energy supplies, self-care and all the good, the bad and the great bits of parenting. If you haven’t seen it yet, go take a look and bathe in the emotional intelligence, useful advice and fellow feeling that you’ll find over there. Her latest post on the extra emotional labour of Christmas for women is very timely.
Moreover, if anyone is really not feeling seasonal right now – or just bl**dy lonely – then Sarah Millican sets up a virtual sofa on Twitter for all waifs and strays on Christmas Day. It’s a lovely mix of chat, TV shows and laughs and it’s called #joinin. If you feel at all left out, lonely or just at odds with yourself on the Big Day, give it a whirl.
Finally, be kind to yourself. It might be the season of much cheer and chirpiness but that’s not always the case and you’re allowed to admit that it’s not all fluffy.
That being said, there are some truly lovely little bits of sparkle hidden in amongst the scrappy lists and mounds of wrapping paper. Enjoy them when and where you find them.