Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Giving in to the Madness of Christmas

I didn’t want to wish anyone on Twitter Happy Christmas (or happy holidays) this year. I had to force myself.

It’ s not that I don’t want them to be cheery. It’s just not how I’m feeling, politically speaking any way.

Christmas is always a strange time for the sanest of us, let alone those with an anxiety disorder or other condition.

As my doppelganger FCM I’ve had a Twitter account for a few months now. It consists mainly of links to articles about the terrible things going on in the world, with some interesting literary snippets thrown in.

In the lead-up to Christmas this year I felt such a strong need to stop the political hectoring, the calling out of bad behaviour, the keeping up to date with it all. Such an overwhelming desire to withdraw and to give in to the madness of Christmas.

Yet the world didn’t stop being messy and tragic. New tragedies kept happening. Some were human made, others less obviously so.

The unpredictably bizarre injustices of the Abbott government have had an effect on so many Australians this year. No-one likes Tony Abbott much, not even Liberal voters, and these days his Treasurer, Joe Hockey, is just as reviled.

On 22 December, just days before Christmas, Abbott announced that Scott Morrison, who as immigration minister removed the obligation that Australia follow the refugee convention, and set off a scale of death, torture and misery in the gulags  detention camps that put Australia to shame, will now be our Minister for Social Services.

To paranoid lefties like me this seemed a cruel joke, both in its substance and its timing.

Tragedy continued internationally. In Missouri yet another black teenager was shot by police. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated from their homes, and at least 24 killed, following massive flooding in Malaysia. A plane carrying 162 passengers from Indonesia to Singapore went missing mid-flight, and the wreckage has since been found with all passengers presumed dead. The international community has continued to ignore the plight of the more than 1 million refugees fleeing the conflict in Syria.

Yet the need to withdraw from the fray, at least partially, has continued. My Christmas depression this year was partly just a response to the hullabaloo of Christmas itself, which seems to be a little more disconnected from reality, a little more surreal, every year.

There is such a yawning gulf between the hectoring cheerfulness of the relentless carols and the mad spending of the crowds on the one hand and my own state of mind on the other that it produces an odd lurch into alienation.

But like birthday depression, I suspect much of what passes for Christmas depression is unacknowledged grief, which is rampant in our society. In A Life at Work, Thomas Moore talks about the difference between the human soul and the human spirit. The soul seeks the past, the familiar, and is rooted in the earth. The spirit seeks out the new, the unknown, creativity and challenge.

Christmas is a time in which the soul demands to be heard above the din. At Christmas, even more so than at birthdays in my experience, the soul longs for the certainties of the past. Over the last few weeks I’ve found myself driving past my old place, which I moved out of in May, several times. I realised that it was the first Christmas I’d spent away from the place for ten years, and my first Christmas at my current flat. My soul was yearning for that connection with past Christmases.

But perhaps notions of unacknowledged grief are just scratching the surface when it comes to the kinds of funk people experience on holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. I’m reading Horse Boy, an inspiring book about how an autistic boy was healed of many of his worst behaviours by a combination of horse riding and a series of gruelling healing rituals by Mongolian shamans.

This book has made me wonder whether my understanding of spirituality and its repression in the West has been incredibly shallow. The spirituality of the Mongolian shamans seems to allow them to harness powerful forces for healing that put our Western alternative healers to shame. The scale of what we have lost in modern life suddenly seems so much larger, and is perhaps the reason for all the mental illness we are experiencing.

Yet there’s no need to ditch the scientific method that has created such leaps and bounds. If science had an open enough mind to explore what was going on when the shamans healed Rowan Isaacson, whole new areas of study could be established.

They might include an expansion of human psychology. Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs was an important milestone but perhaps it should also include the need to connect with the forces of the Earth and to balance them within ourselves. No wonder even the sanest of us goes a bit mad at Christmas. (In fact there have been studies of shamanism in relation to Western notions of mental illness. However, my sense is that interest in shamanism is still considered flaky within the mainstream psychiatric community.)

But as usual I’m getting ahead of myself. My challenge for Christmas this year was just to let go. Not try to change my rellies, or escape the boring bits, or get angry because our family never – I repeat never – gets around to eating lunch before 3 pm by which time my blood sugar is lower than Scott Morrison’s ethical standards. What else was there to do but play that daggy Christmas carols CD, break open the Christmas crackers, put on the tissue-paper hat that never fits properly and read out the dumb joke? I just let the whole circus roll.

Okay, so there was one conflict towards the end of the night but it arose from another family member’s angst, not mine. I’m not wearing it!

Happy new year to everyone out there in blog land.


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