What’s this? A blog post on christmas day? And not one that’s appearing via the magic of scheduling, but one where I’ve actually sat down and put together a post on christmas day?
Yep, that’s about the size of it. You see, for what’s pretty much the first time ever, I’m getting to spend christmas how I want, which is to say pootling around my flat on my own. I know being alone at christmas is supposed to be this big, terrible thing – and I guess if you’re alone and you don’t want to be, it is pretty horrible; my sympathies if that applies to you – but for people like me who actively enjoy our own company, it’s really no biggie. In fact more than that – this is the christmas I actively prefer. I’m happy just frittering away the day in aimless pursuits, far happier than I would be if I was being forced to spend the day with other people.
It is astonishingly hard to convince people of that, though. Pretty much everyone assumes it can’t actually be the case, or that I’m making a virtue of a necessity, or cutting off my nose to spite my face, or something. I don’t really know why people find it so hard to understand, since so far as I can tell pretty much everyone finds much of christmas regrettable, especially having to spend it with other people – but for some reason, they still do it, and force themselves to feel like they’re having fun. This is definitely one of those things that makes me very much like an outsider looking in on the rest of the human race; presumably, despite the moaning, most people must get some kind of pleasure out of big, sociable christmases or they wouldn’t keep going through with them.
Anyway, I am having the kind of christmas I enjoy. I got up late, and footled around on the internet for a few hours, and watched the queen’s speech while muttering republican sentiments to myself (I have to: it’s traditional), and did some more random time-frittering, and after I’ve posted this I’ll go and put my dinner on. Then, while it’s cooking, I’ll treat myself to a pint small glass of Ginger Wine, and see if I can find anything worth watching on the telly, or failing that, the iPlayer, and then I’ll have my dinner with a couple of glasses of a rather nice red wine, and then I’ll do some more internet footling, and then I’ll go to bed.
And through it all, I’ll have been quietly, gently, peaceably happy. I won’t have spent the day having my nerves run ragged by screaming children. I won’t have spent the day in a permanent state of anxiety, worrying all the time if I’m on the edge of a panic attack. It’s possible, in fact, that this is why I prefer this kind of christmas – not so much that I actually prefer it as that it takes away a lot of the other crap I would otherwise have to deal with. That’s the thing, though – it doesn’t matter what the reason is, this is still the kind of day I prefer.
The longer I live with my mental interestingness, the more I become convinced that there just isn’t any point in trying to fight it. I’m increasingly coming to think that it’s just not worth the effort of trying to be normal. There are still some things I have to fight, of course – panic attacks, the more insistent kinds of depression, above all, the paranoia – but I’m coming to the conclusion that there are other things that I can just let go. There’s just no point in making myself do things like, for example, join in a family christmas. I don’t enjoy it, it makes me miserable, and – the key point – forcing myself to do it really bad for my mental equilibrium.
Yes, I know the rest of my family would prefer I was there – though more, I think because it would assuage their (wholly unnecessary) guilt than because they would actively derive pleasure from my company – and in previous years I’ve allowed their preferences to control my decisions. This year I’ve just reached the point of thinking that it’s time I do the things that are right for me. I went through several miserable christmases because each one might be my mum’s last, and I knew it was important for her; then, after my mum had died, I allowed myself to be persuaded into ‘just one more’ christmas to make things easier for my sister, and then that was on the road to becoming a new tradition, and it’s that I’ve put a stop to this year.
I do feel bad about this. I don’t particularly dislike my family. They’re kind people, but we don’t have anything in common, and I find spending time with them a great deal more stressful than I think they realise. I don’t want to hurt them, but I’ve also reached the decision that I’m going to gradually increase my detachment from them over time. This will hurt them, I think, to some extent at least, but I can’t spend the rest of time living my life to please other people – at some point it has to become about what’s right for me, even if that does hurt them.
It is upsetting, of course – I’m saying I’d rather be alone than spend time with them, and that’s got to count as pretty damn rude – but, the thing is, this is the reality of the situation. I do hugely prefer to be on my own than with them, which means there’s no way out of the situation that doesn’t involve hurting either me or them. And I have tried to fit in with them, but it takes so much from me (because it triggers all my anxieties, and great swathes of paranoia). If it was just a question of straightforwardly putting up with something that I didn’t enjoy, I’d do it, and cheerfully keep on doing it – it’s the significant effect on my mental state that I just can’t keep tolerating. And I really don’t think it makes sense to pursue treatment – benzos to squash the anxiety, antipsychotics to knock the paranoia into place – for the sake of something so trivial, and so much beyond myself.
I’ve been completely detached from MH treatment for a long time now, and it’s fairly obvious that I can cope. I have periods of time that are fairly intensely unpleasant – this gradual, awful crawl towards the death of the year has been horrible this year, as it has been every recent year – but I’ve been able to cope. It’s also become obvious, though, that coping on my own involves leading a particular kind of lifestyle, one where I avoid stresses and strains, even minor ones that other people might sail through.
So that’s the thing. I can cope with my life – the kind of life that I want to live, one that involves a fair bit of time on my own, but also some time spent in the relaxing company of people I like and who I have things in common with – but not some of the other things that people assume ought to be a standard part of life. It’s fairly clear to me that if I was to lead the kind of life that most people enjoy – a busy social whirlwind kind of a thing – I would need some kind of help with sustaining that, whether medication, or therapy, or whatever. But here’s the thing – that support wouldn’t mean that I enjoyed those things, it would be a case of enabling me to get through those things reasonably unscathed, but still without any pleasure. If I were to go down that route, I’d essentially be medicalising my life not for my own benefit, but for the benefit of other people, and it’s that I don’t think I’m prepared to do.
So, does that make me selfish? I don’t know. I don’t think it’s selfish, or at least not horribly so, to want to lead a life that I can enjoy without medical intervention. I think that’s the kind of thing most people would take for granted, and it’s only the fact that I need a rather different kind of lifestyle that might make it look like I’m being selfish. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that – given a choice between making other people slightly happier at the cost of putting myself through some fairly intense unpleasantness – I might choose to do what’s right for me, some of the time at least.
But, truthfully, I’m probably to close to this to be able to tell, too much in a mixed state of nagging guilt and profound relief. What I do know is that, for the first time in 20-odd years, I’m actively enjoying christmas day. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and get on with it. There’s a pint small glass of Ginger Wine with my name on it, after all…
I’ll leave you with a dreadful, kitsch ‘classic’ of a christmas song :
Why can’t we,
Join hands around one tree?
Well…it would have to be quite a big tree…