It’s a truism that holidays are difficult, not to say hazardous, for those of us with mental disorders. But there are a variety of reasons and a variety of reactions and – dare I say it – a variety of coping mechanisms.
First, let me say, that despite the fact that I was already depressed or bipolar as a child, the holidays were marvelous. Our granny, maiden aunt, and uncle lived a few hours away and we spent Every Holiday there. (My uncle drank, but not when we were kids.)
On Thanksgiving, we’d arrive, the adults would eat themselves into a coma, and then nap while we kids were sent of to the movies.
Christmas was similar, except that we’d get up, open presents from our parents (and “Santa” for the biggies), pile into the car, and head to granny’s. The adults would eat themselves into a coma, and then nap while we kids were sent of to the movies. (I specifically remember The Sting and The Andromeda Strain, during which I saw my first picture of a naked male butt.)
There was no tension involved – no grand dining table, no fancy dress, no distant relatives, no formal manners. We’d simply fill a plate with home cooking, perch on a sofa (which was called the davenport) or chair, and chow down.
My birthday falls between Thanksgiving and Christmas, but poised well enough between the two that it was never combined with either one. Back then, birthdays were simple – cake and frosting from box mixes, four to six neighbor kids, presents (no gift bags), and maybe a couple of party games. (It was at someone else’s birthday party that I was traumatized during a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey.)
How could anything in later life measure up to those?
Well, it couldn’t. My first Thanksgiving away from home was when I was at college, and we ate lasagna, not turkey. I believe it was the first time I had lasagna. Ever.
Since then all the holidays have gone downhill, or I have.
Any more, they’re a chore, a relentlass gray blob from November through January. (Halloween starts it off. I can’t get with that either.)
For years, I kept up some of the traditions for my parents’ sake. My mother in particular loved everything to do with Christmas – the Macy’s parade, the tree with my father’s favorite old smudge-faced angel on top, crocheted holiday sweaters and snowflakes and handmade ornaments from her foreign penpals and neighbors and church friends.
My first Christmas in my own apartment, I had a small fake tree. When I got married my husband and I tried to get into the spirit with surprise gifts and selecting and decorating my mother’s tree and inviting a divorced friend to dinner with us.
But I was sinking rapidly. At various places I worked, all the ladies sported store-bought Christmas sweaters and sweatshirts (Halloween ones, too) that I thought were just awful. But one year, in a desperate attempt to fit in, I bought holiday sweaters on sale in January to wear the next year. Of course, by then I had lost the job.
Dan and I continued the tradition of dining with our friend John, but our venue changed to Chinese restaurants, where we were kept company by Jews, pagans, atheists, and, no doubt, other depressives and bipolars.
One year Dan was visiting his mother and I was on my own. I tried. I really did. I trotted out a festive holiday sweater and little wrapped-present earrings, and went out to a buffet that offered turkey and beef and ham. But I sat by myself and listened surreptitiously to my iPod. And not holiday music, either. By then about all I could stand was the Christmas jazz from the Charlie Brown TV show.
This year, we ate out on Thanksgiving – but not at the swanky hotel buffet we sometimes took my mother to, or any of the other mega-buffets. We went to a diner that John used to love. I had pork chops and lemon pie. On Christmas I’m likely to be by myself again and may just get festive with a Stouffer’s mac-n-cheese.
Comfort food seems appropriate, and the cats like to lick the dish. Then for dessert – Zoloft and Ativan and Lamictal and Abilify and Ambien. Yum. Visions of psychotropics dance in my head.
P.S. I wrote about a Thanksgiving with John on my other blog. If you’d like to see it, go to http://janetcobur.wordpress.com/2014/07/25/thanksgiving-ratatouille-and-a-near-death-experience/
And if you’d like to see my rant about the “War on Christmas,” go to http://janetcobur.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/lets-call-a-truce-on-christmas/