Christmas and Stress

I recently lost a young friend, unexpectedly and in the most shocking of ways. It shook everyone to their core, including those whom never had the pleasure of knowing her. There seemed to be a collective sigh as masks fell, revealing the truth behind the smiling Instagram pics and depictions of lives filled to the brim. Life is part joy, and part sorrow. Social media accounts don’t necessarily lie, but rather they tell the polished version of lives. We don’t want to burden others with the challenges and pain. Throughout the past month, I have had many people apologize for telling me that they are doing it tough, and I have insisted that ‘burden’ be reframed as ‘sharing.’ We have to share. Spells are broken when we speak aloud, and we hear our voice speaking that which was hidden. I came into December feeling that I knew more about my friends. Even strangers on the bus have become more than acquaintances through the act of sharing. What people had once kept hidden astounded me. No wonder the smile slipped on occasion, and indications of anxiety peeped through!

People have told of the challenges of having two separate Christmas celebrations for children, of estranged family members whom they have to see separately. They have told of poverty and housing stress, ill-health and exhaustion. Trying to hold it together when inside, everything is falling apart. I was diagnosed with a neurological condition a short while ago, an extraordinarily painful chronic illness. I can’t even pretend to have it together at the moment, and the relief is palpable! My daughter is in WA with dear friends of mine. The mum and I did IVF together, and we ended up with daughters, who have been best friends since they were babes. I minded this little girl earlier this year, and I had tears when I heard the girls discussing how they knew they were wanted because their mums went through so much to have them. The understanding of how we longed for them shall hold them in good stead, even when the world tries to beat them down. It is a wondrous foundation to have!

My little girl has climbed the tallest tree in Australia; she has been snorkelling and visited Quokkas. In case you don’t know what a quokka is, here is a picture.

Cute, aren’t they?!

I am trying to manage my pain, in the midst of writing a book and organizing Christmas. There is much I have had to let go of for the sake of my sanity. I have ordered a few gifts online, but for the most part, have had to go easy on myself. I won’t be up until midnight, writing out cards for everyone, as much as I would love to. I simply can’t. Events have been planned in advance, and preparations for everything from travel to what I need to bring have been arranged into bullet points on a notepad. Christmas to me is all about connections rather than gifts, and I am hoping to be up to visiting people next week to check in on them. I had been planning to catch up with a group of ladies whom I haven’t managed to see all year, and invited them around for afternoon tea. I bought some fresh fruit and a little platter of cheeses and mineral water. We had a lovely time, and it cost less than $20. Christmas doesn’t have to mean expense and maxed-out credit cards. I have known many homeless folks, and those without family connections, and believe me, being invited to a Christmas lunch is worth more than gold. The best gift is being seen and heard.

One lady apologized for how harried she felt, for complaining about the stress leading up to the main event, and felt bad for her anger. I told her to stop apologizing! “Anger; unadulterated rage, kept me going in the early years after my fall,” I told her. “It can be a way of saying that a situation isn’t right, nor is it fair. It spurred me on, to work hard on my rehabilitation.” We are allowed to be angry, particularly when too much is expected of us. I love the saying, ‘If you present as strong and together all the time, much is expected of you, and then you have nowhere to go.’ People assume you will say yes to their demands, not realizing that you too have a breaking point.  We may want to retreat and that is okay too. I know many folks who take themselves away at Christmas time, to avoid unnecessary stress.  We have this notion that the Christmas season should see us morph into someone larger than life; a version of us on steroids, where we need to find more money, time and energy than in the other eleven months of the year. Not only is this unrealistic, but impossible, without burning ourselves out.

My daughter and I have a tradition of going into Sydney on the last day of November. We walk around, taking in the decorations and sights. We hardly spend anything, just take festive pictures, talk to strangers and listen to pianist’s play on the Grand Piano in the Queen Victoria Building. We come home feeling as though the veil has been lifted between the hum drum of the rest of the year and the heralding of the festive season. We walk around neighbourhoods admiring light shows at night. We sing along to Christmas carols and watch Christmas movies. It is a wonderful season, when you turn down the volume on expectations and what you should do and feel. Open calls to the beach and swimming pools, taking along a picnic hamper and catching up with friends. Reviewing the year past and planning for the fresh year ahead. Allow yourself to feel what is brewing inside your mind and soul. Allow yourself at least five minutes of peace each day. If we are open and honest with one another, we will find it easier to cope. Look for the beauty around at Christmas time. It costs nothing, and brings such joy.

I am honest about the challenges I face regarding this season. There is grief for those lost, sorrow for what has come to pass, and pain for expectations unfulfilled. There is also light; a belief that the best is yet to come. There are friendships and invitations to sit at people’s tables. There is tinsel and pool parties, hugs and carols. There is reflection and gratitude. I own each in equal measure. My fervent wish is that you have a blessed Christmas, and please, be kind to yourself!

Coping with Christmas

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Customs House, Sydney

Christmas can be a time of great joy and conversely, tremendous pain. Remembering those we have loved and lost, reminscing about people and times past, and hopeful about times still to come. A concentrated month filled with undiluted feelings. Memories sparked by carols, occasions and conversations. Lovely memories can be just as tough as bad ones, when the people involved are no longer with us. Half of all Australians find Christmas hard due to finances. It can feel as though it comes upon us when we are least prepared.

There are a few things we can do to uplift ourselves and keep swimming when feeling overwhelmed.

  • Volunteer! Nothing lifts your spirits like being of service to others, whether that be serving meals, wrapping gifts or talking to the lonely.
  • If you haven’t the finances to give purchased gifts, how about offering a service? Babysitting, a dinner, gardening or cleaning may be what your loved one most needs.
  • Cheap and lovely gift ideas include Reindeer food for kids to sprinkle on the front lawn Christmas Eve (A mix of oats and glitter in little bags), bath salts, hot chocolate mixes or a picture of you both in a painted frame.
  • Walk around town and enjoy the free entertainment, window displays and decorations. Find out when carol services shall be held locally. It costs nothing and will lift your spirits.
  • Whatever you do, please don’t isolate yourself. Connect with the community and friends. If Christmas is a challenging time for you, trust me, you will feel worse if you shut yourself away.

Love costs nothing, nor does enjoying the beauty of the season. It is a misnomer that you need money to be able to enjoy Christmas. You just need a full heart.