Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas: a time to stress, get depressed, and then rest!

A very happy Christmas to my tiny circle of blog readers and fellow bloggers!

My blog is not quite a year old, but I can’t imagine life without it. Sometimes it’s hard for me to blog, but this blog has kept me honest with myself.

Nothing in my life has changed on the outside, and I’m certainly not ‘cured’. But I feel as if I’ve gone through quite a lot of internal changes this year. I think mainly I feel more grounded, less deluded about things, more realistic about my life and its limitations. But I’m also looking after myself better; after months of thinking about it, I finally started meditating.

Unfortunately I haven’t cured myself of my yearly dose of Christmas stress.

I thought I’d be able to avoid it this year. I thought I could sail through the frenzied shopping malls, last-minute work projects to finish and two sisters about to have babies unscathed. I thought I could just pretend it wasn’t happening really, go on as usual.

But it got me in the end.

Actually that’s not true. A million things have been stressing me out, from the tiny (never-ending skin problems) to the gargantuan (climate change), and Christmas has just opened up another front.

Every year, my sisters and I buy presents for all seven nieces and nephews. This means that not only do my sisters have to play Santa to their own kids but they’re happy to keep buying presents for all their kids’ cousins on our side of the family.

This year, with two new arrivals on the way, I unsuccessfully tried to negotiate with my sisters a Kris Kringle for the children’s presents: I suggested we each buy one niece or nephew one good present, spending $40-50. But instead of agreeing to this change, my sisters said they wanted to continue the current system themselves but would let me off the hook completely. ‘Don’t buy them anything – Don’t worry about it’, they said, shaking their heads and taking my delicate equilibrium into account.

I kidded myself by declaring that indeed I wouldn’t. So I didn’t, until a third of the way through this month, and then I got the Christmas guilts and imagined the disapproval I’d receive if I turned up on Christmas Day with gifts only for my parents and the adult Kris Kringle. It would look unforgivably Scroogish. This led to some last-minute searching, but I’m finally done.

Next year I swear I’m buying them all an Oxfam goat. I’ll be more organised and plan it in advance.

A bad thing happened that has not helped my mood. A bird got caught behind my ancient gas heater. The first time I heard it I was in the loungeroom and some birds outside in the front yard had started twittering really loudly all of a sudden. Some of the twittering sounded very close, as if it was inside the house. I wondered momentarily if something had accidentally come down the chimney and got caught. I didn’t want to contemplate such a thought so I dismissed it as an auditory illusion.

The following afternoon as I lifted weights I heard a desperate scrabbling around behind the heater (which wasn’t on). When I heard it I realised immediately that the creature making those desperate movements must have been cheeping the day before, perhaps calling out to his friends and family outside to come and rescue him.

This was deeply distressing to me. One of my worst fears is being buried alive, and to think of an animal trapped, starving, thirsty, in the claustrophobic dark with no understanding of how it entered this state of horror was awful.

I had to go out to an appointment but arranged to meet Dad back at the house that evening. We opened the grill of the heater and had a careful look around with the torch, but saw nothing. The creature did not make a sound, which would at least have helped guide us. It was either too tired, dying or dead – although perhaps by some miracle it had escaped?

It would have been a huge job for a plumber to dismantle the heater and what would they have found at the end of it? Probably, by the next day, a dead bird.

I shed a few tears that night after Dad had left. I dreaded to hear more forlorn, hopeless scrabblings. I turned on the tele and switched the channel to a Spanish movie on SBS. In the scene taking place a female character held a colourful, exotic bird in her hand. She released it and it flew away.

I was foolishly comforted by the thought that one way or the other the little captive would soon be ‘free’. But the thought of it suffering so near to where I was living my life as if all was normal was deeply disturbing.

About this time the twin of Christmas stress – Christmas depression – made its appearance. I felt a sense of deep mourning for all the things that were lacking in my life. To a slightly lesser extent I’m still in the grip of this.

But one thing I’ve realised during this time: all the books I’m reading right now are about sad or evil things. I know that the world is in pretty dire straits and there is a lot to be sad and angry about. But more often next year I’m going to read some lighthearted books as well, just to balance things out. I’m determined to get to know the humour section of my local library.

Anyway, it’s good to know that in a day or two I’ll be able to succumb to total slothfulness and have a good ‘blob’, to rest a bit and gather my resources for the year to come.

I wish peace and joy, as well as rest and celebration, for everyone.


  1. Hello Catherine,

    I remember well the dilemma I faced when I wanted to cut out buying for nieces and nephews years ago. It was easier for me however, because we didn't actually gather on Christmas day.

    But most Australian children get far too much, not only on celebratory days, but throughout the year. It isn't really the children who are going to miss out with the omission of gifts from aunts and uncles, but rather, the parents who form the wrong impression - just like you are facing. It is a difficult situation, and you were brave and honest to try to remedy the situation by suggesting a Kris Kringle gift.

    Perhaps you might still get strange looks from the parents, but you may be able to dump the gift routine in favour of taking the children on an outing to the park with the dog, say on Boxing Day, followed by an ice-cream. Perhaps you could make up a handmade "invitation" of some sort and wrap it, addressed to all the children. I bet they would be so looking forward to the outing.

    I can relate well to your sad bird story. Years ago, I heard a scratching noise behind the shoe box on the back porch. I presumed it was a mouse, because we lived on a farm at that time. Days after I first heard the noise, I investigated the continuing noise, and to my horror I found a skinny little native lizard trapped in a paper cup that was wedged behind the box. The poor little skink was missing its tail, so I presume it had shed its tail to provide a meal for itself (not sure if this is what happens in these dire situations). Thankfully, the lizard was alive and scurried off under the house when I released it, but I felt so guilty for so long regarding my neglect at investigating the scratching sound behind the box. That incident taught me a lot.

    I do hope you enjoy your day with your family, and then some pleasant time to recover from the hectic festivities. I know I always need quiet time to recover from family events.

    I wish you peace and joy, too.

    Kind regards,

  2. Hi Gaye,

    Good to hear from you -- hope you had a great Christmas! Your suggestion re the kids sounds good -- I don't spend enough time with them anyway, so an outing (with the promise of ice cream!) would be a great way to remedy that.

    Re the skink -- if it did eat its tail, what an amazing survival instinct. It's great that you were able to rescue it, and as you hadn't experienced that kind of thing before, you weren't to know, especially if you've had mice. Perhaps in some ways trapped animals are better off than humans in that they can't mull over how they got into that dilemma.

    Hope you're also having a nice relaxing time now that the festivities are over!