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Girl From Goat Pasture Road

Musings of Susan Swicegood Boswell

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12 Days of Christmas; charity; stress; death of a loved one at Christmas; compassion; materialism; commercialization of Chriatmas;

7 Days of Christmas: Crazy Doesn’t Stop for Christmas

GrinchWhile the holidays are a stressful time for many of us, it is even more stressful for families of those suffering with addictions and mental illness. Many modern day Christmas stories feature certifiable crazy characters. Dr. Seuss’ Grinch suffers from bipolar mood swings, depression and obsessive compulsive disorders. In The Christmas Story, Scut Farkas is a narcissistic serial bully who gets joy out of tormenting Ralphie and his brother. Clark Griswold is manic and even loveable George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life has become so stressed and disillusioned with life he has become suicidal. The reality is that dealing with mental illness during the holidays is less than entertaining.

Christmas in itself brings a heightened level of expectations for a picture perfect holiday. There is so much pressure to be merry, bright and social during the holidays when often we are so fatigued from our holiday preparations we want to go home, pour ourselves a glass of wine and go to bed. Expectations arise which take us back to idealized Christmas’ of our own childhoods or the imagined perfect Christmas’ of others. Christmas gatherings often throw us together with family members we may not care for or see much of during the year, adding strain to already difficult relationships.

We are taught about the blessings of giving at Christmas. In the movies, the unselfish act of giving and its accompanying generosity often support the climactic turning point of the storyline. I would argue that in reality, rarely does a generous dose of Christmas spirit significantly and permanently improve one’s mental health. I do not believe mental illness is something most people choose to have; rather it is a disease of many variable symptoms and treatments that is just as measurable and real as cancer or heart disease. It is merely less socially acceptable.

Counter-intuitive to the season of giving, dealing with mentally ill family members may require us to behave in just the opposite manner. Especially when dealing with family members with violent tendencies, PTSD or anger management issues, we may need to withdraw ourselves from unhealthy interactions with them by creating boundaries to protect ourselves and other family members. Many types of mental illnesses are curable and treatable but only if its sufferers admit to having problems and needing help. While hitting bottom is often the turning point for many addicts and mental health sufferers, for many there is a long road ahead. We have to be careful to not unconsciously support the bad behaviors and continually rescue the mentally ill from the consequences of their actions. We must remember there are much worse things than spending Christmas in a jail cell or mental institution. How much worse would it be to lose someone you love due to the out-of-control behaviors of an addict or the mentally ill?

I would like to believe that love and a big plate of my homemade cookies could cure the world of its problems but that’s my own mental illness talking. What I do believe is that love and cookies can let people simply know they are cared for and can help alleviate a bit of the loneliness and social isolation that tragically runs rampant in our society.

11 Days of Christmas: Let God Take Care of Christmas

Gods handI have been sick for the past week with a terrible sinus infection. I’m usually healthy as a horse. Normally, I’d take a little Motrin or sinus medicine and plough through whatever is bothering me but this infection took me down. After being out of work several days and nearly overdosing on daytime television and chicken noodle soup, I returned to work on Friday where coworkers were sympathetic to my plight. “Oh that’s terrible to be sick during the holidays” they lamented. For the sake of conversation, I agreed but honestly, it’s not such a bad thing to be sick at Christmas. Let me explain…

Normally I would be feeling very stressed out right now. It’s a week and a half before Christmas and I’ve yet to finish putting the lights up on the shrubbery in the front yard and to purchase my husband’s Christmas present. I’ve yet to bake the first batch of Christmas cookies because I don’t want to infect anyone with my germs. There’s no chance of any Christmas Cards getting mailed with photos of the family. Being incapacitated for the past week forced me to slow down when I would have normally been in full hyper mode. I suppose being sick has given me a good excuse for why everything is not done.

It occurs to me that Christmas doesn’t really care if all the presents are bought and wrapped. It doesn’t mind if your refrigerator is still filled with the remainders of Thanksgiving. It won’t notice if the cupboards are empty or if you have a new holiday outfit or if you make it to church on Christmas Eve. We, you and I, are the only ones that feel we have to keep up with Christmas.

All Christmas asks is that you take the time to notice.

My mother passed away several years ago during the early hours of Christmas Day. We sat with her throughout Christmas Eve in the skilled care facility where she had spent the past three years of her life. When I share this with people, they are so genuinely distressed. Without fail, they will say something like “Oh, I’m so sorry.  How terrible to lose a family member at Christmastime.”

I usually smile back at them and nod in agreement because if I were to tell them the truth, they’d think I was crazy. The truth is, depending on the circumstances, Christmas can be a wonderful time to leave this earth. I’m not saying this is true for everyone, of course. In as much as possible, we were prepared for our mother’s death. My mother loved being the center of attention and on this day, she was. Friends, family and the folks that had helped care for her were able to stop by, drop off little Christmas presents to her and to say their goodbyes.  As a family, we were able to laugh and tell stories and sing her into this next life. It’s not like every subsequent Christmas has been marred by this memory; that memory of mother’s passing, like so many others, become woven into a tapestry of many Christmases and many special times. Being with my mother when she passed away was very peaceful and beautiful and something I will always remember.

Christmas is a terrible time to be hungry. It’s a terrible time to be in jail. A terrible time to be alone or in the hospital. It’s a terrible time for your house to catch on fire. It’s a terrible time to realize you can’t pay your bills, or file bankruptcy, or for your pet to die, or to discover you have cancer.

But these things would be just as terrible and difficult to face on any other day of the year.

I think it is sad what we have done to Christmas. It’s a mayhem of commercialism and perfectionism and materialism. Most of the things that stress us out have nothing to do with the real part of Christmas. I do not mean to undermine the good folks out there who work hard to bring Christmas to children and those who are less fortunate, but I find it ironic that all this goodwill takes center stage on one day and the next day, our compassion is gone. We make these folks get a permit to panhandle and take away sustaining benefits like mental health services and food subsidies. The next day, politicians will say the best way to help folks like this is to give a tax break to someone who can bring our area jobs, someone who can already afford a vacation home and luxury cars and health insurance and a pension plan. Try telling that to a little kid who hasn’t had anything to eat for breakfast. Tell him he can’t eat today because you’re going to give his breakfast to someone who can make ten breakfasts out of his one. Try telling him that. See if it appeases his hunger.

Let God take care of Christmas, I say. It’s the other 364 days when He needs our help.

 

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