I am not good at Christmas.
I am not good at Christmas because it always catches me off-guard, and before I know it, it’s the 23rd of December and I haven’t yet done any shopping for presents. I am not good at it because surprises make me anxious, and so does not having presents for those who got one for me, and so does unfamiliar food. I am not good at it because every year something seems to go wrong and therefore I have more negative associations with the date than positive ones.
In 2011 I was horrendously ill with a nasty double ear infection that lasted two weeks and basically kept me in bed. In 2012 my grandma fell ill, and passed away in January. In 2013, last year, my mental health was so bad that for weeks before Christmas the very thought of the holiday made me want to throw up, and I kept having panic attacks that prevented me from participating in one of eight or nine carol services.
This year seemed to be going pretty well, all things considered. No major illness beyond my obvious genetic fails, and there’s nothing I can do about that. Mental health really not great, but no panic attacks related to Christmas itself so far.
And then there’s the whole issue of presents.
Last year, completely skint, I didn’t buy presents. Instead, I wrote poems for family members and friends, because that was something I was capable of doing. This year, I bought a handful of presents for people at university: friends, secret santa giftees, etc. And I bought presents for a couple of friends who live away from home. I did all of that in early December, maybe even late November, so in a way it seemed like I’d done the whole Christmas thing.
Suddenly I realised that I hadn’t.
I went shopping this morning, but last minute shopping is never enough. It doesn’t leave you time to think, doesn’t give you time to wander around in a leisurely way and choose something that will actually be meaningful, because it’s crowded full of people who are just as disorganised as you until the noise and crowds are unbearable. If I could write poems — if I could use my skills that way — I could make gifts like I did before.
But I can’t. I don’t have any words, or even any ideas. Poems are completely unthinkable. Fiction, even a second draft, is unappealing and difficult. I wrote a few thousand words last week, but it fizzled out as quickly as it came, and I’ve done nothing since.
The thought of writing something — anything — as a gift is completely out of my reach. And it’s frustrating. I mean, the only thing Mother Person asked for as a gift was for me to get one of my essays done so that she doesn’t have to worry that I’m not getting my work done, and I would give that to her if I thought I could.
The problem is that I know I can’t.
All I know how to do at the moment is stay in bed. Watch Buffy. Try and fail to read children’s books that I borrowed from the library, the words swimming in front of me and resolving themselves into meaningless sentences. Oversleep. Lie awake. Drink glass after glass of water to try and ease my headache. Look at the meagre pile of presents wrapped in brown paper under the tree and know that it’s all I’ve got to offer because I’ve run out of time to get anything else.
I went on some medication a few weeks ago and while I’ve had fewer panic attacks, for which I’m grateful, I’m not sure it’s worth the continuous fatigue that is sapping me of the energy and motivation to do anything, even the things I like doing. Watching TV is about the only thing I can bring myself to do, because films require me to concentrate for too long; even a single 45-minute episode won’t entirely hold my attention and I’ll have to pause it or jump tabs to do something else.
I’m not saying this because I want you to feel sorry for me: it’s here to set the scene for my Christmas angst. Which is very different from last year’s issues, and in many ways much lesser; I feel able to look forward to some aspects of Thursday.
The giving of Christmas presents comes with a whole set of rules and obligations. The sense that if somebody buys you a present you need to get them one in return (leading to concern and embarrassment if a friend unexpectedly buys something for you when you hadn’t got them anything), and the necessity to fake enthusiasm when somebody buys you something you already own or don’t like.
Maybe it’s not meant to be all about the presents. But let’s face it: traditional family trip to church in the morning or not, in our society nowadays it is all about the presents. And when I’m feeling inadequate in what I’ve managed to muster in the way of gifts, that makes everything more difficult. I can’t enjoy receiving things when I’m still feeling guilty for not having given things.
If I could write, it would be okay.
As it is, I could barely string this post together. I’m still not entirely sure what I was trying to say with it. All I know is that this whole Christmas thing seems a lot more stress than peace and joy from where I’m standing, I guess. Tiny Christmas trees or no tiny Christmas trees.
And I’m not even the one who has to do the cooking for a handful of meat-eaters (most of the family), a gluten-intolerant vegetarian (my sister), and a fussy so-and-so (me). I expect Mother Person is looking forward to it even less…