Every year around December 23rd Kate begins to feel unwell. By Christmas Day she’s got diarrhoea and can’t spend time with family or friends. John gets a wretched cold, every year around Christmas Day. Sally gets a disabling stomach condition. Francis suffers a crippling headache. Paul’s back goes. Emma’s joints flair up. Martin’s knees become painful. By Boxing Day everyone feels very much better and their families joke that being ill is a great way to avoid cooking Christmas dinner.
Kate, John, Sally and everyone else who experiences illness like clockwork around Christmas are genuinely unwell – their pain and other physical symptoms are real – but the timing is a clue to the underlying cause.
Bethany is a successful middle aged woman with a happy family life who looks forward to Christmas, to giving and receiving presents, planning meals and so on but got ill every year around the 24th and had begun to wonder about the timing. Bethany had been to counselling before to explore her sad childhood and had come to terms with it but this time focused particularly on childhood Christmases. She knew that those early Christmases had been cold, dark and miserable, filled with crushed hope and disappointments and were very, very dreary: now Bethany was feeling how that was for her younger self, from first memories until early adulthood when she was able to take control of her experience. That little girl, aged 4 to 15, continued to suffer and to inform Bethany’s current experience.
Peter was brought up in a loving home where birthdays and Christmases were celebrated with joy. When Peter was 9 his grandfather died in the family home, ambulance staff attending but not doing anything to prevent the death. Peter’s family didn’t speak about this death and Christmases were more subdued from then on. 40 years on, 9-year-old Peter was still begging for help.
You don’t need to have suffered abuse or trauma over Christmas to be negatively affected by it. Look at the advertising: magic, glitter, tables groaning with glowing food, kaleidoscopes of presents wrapped in expensive papers, beautifully dressed people having excessively perfect times with smiling friends and families . . . impossible. Just as the fashion industry is responsible for negative body image and a large proportion of eating disorders so these impossible images of perfection and contentment only offer unrealistic expectations and disappointment. Very few of us have enough disposable income to buy the presents we want for others, let alone the food and comfort we’ve been told we should be able to offer. Apparently, that now includes a new sofa.
Take a little time to talk with your younger self, the 5 year old who was genuinely devastated when he got Lego instead of Meccano; the 8 year old who shouted at her exhausted mum and then felt crushing shame; the 10 year old whose mother passed out in front of the Sound of Music; the 7 year old who was forced to kiss her abuser by parents who had no idea; the 12 year old who got all the presents in the world and very little affection.
Speak very kindly with them, listen to what they have to tell you, take excellent, tender care of them. It can feel incredibly sad to do this because it becomes starkly clear that you-as-a-child is never going to get what you needed at that time. There’s nothing anyone can do about it. What you can do now is offer reassurance, solace and love to that younger self, aiming to simply be aware of and observe whatever feelings occur. If that sounds weird or frightening you may want to talk it over with a counsellor.
New Year apparently relies on new clothes and shoes, impeccable presentation, a wonderful celebration with another lavish spread of expensive food and drink, and someone – anyone! - to kiss at midnight. Sometimes, a bowl of profiteroles and Hootenanny on the telly can be less stressful. You could even use the time to practice listening to the part of you that, a long time ago, was fundamentally shaken by a gruelling celebration and is still trying very hard to get your attention.
All Abandonment Abuse Ancestors Anger Anxiety Ash Wednesday Attitude Banking Bereavement Birthday Bravery Breivik Bystander Effect Camila Batmanghelidjh Carnival Cbt Challenger Charlotte Bevan Childbirth Childhood Children Christmas Coaching Compassion Contemplation Control Counselling Culture Dalai Lama Death Death Cafe Democracy Denial Depression Domestic Violence Dying Eap Earth Day Empathy Employment Eric Klinenberg Ethics Exams Existential Failure Family Annihilation Founders Syndrome Francis Report Gay Cure Genocide George Lyward Goldman Sachs Good Death Greg Smith Grief Grieving Grooming Groupthink Happiness Hate Hungary Illness Interconnectedness Jason Mihalko Jubilee Kids Company Kitty Genovese Life Light Living Loneliness Love Mandatory Reporting Meaning Men Mental Health Mid Staffs Mindfulness Money Mothers New Year Nigella Lawson Optimism Organisational Collapse Oxford Abuse Panama Papers Panic Panic Attacks Parenthood Petruska Clarkson Pleasure Politics Positivity Post Natal Depression Power Priorities Priority Productivity Psychotherapy Ptsd Red Tent Reflection Rena Resilience Riots Rites Of Passage Ritual Robin Williams Sad Sales Savile Scared Seasonal Affective Disorder Self Care Self Preservation Self-preservation Shock Sin Singletons Sport Spring Status St David St Georges Day Stress Suarez Suicide Support Talking Terry Pratchett Time Transition Trauma True Self Truth Understanding Unemployment Valentines Day Viktor Frankl Violence Whistleblowing Who Am I Winter Blues Women Work