A Christmas Psychosis

A Christmas Psychosis.

Everybody’s talking about Christmas. How they are going to spend time with their families. I won’t be. I haven’t done for many years. Why? A good question. One I’m not even sure I can answer. 

I don’t have one, a family of my own and I don’t have one I belong to. This is what Christmas can be, has been, is like for me.

A Christmas Psychosis.

The truth is, I’ve have come to realise over the years that people with their own family don’t want you around at Christmas. It’s a family time. Families are insular. At Christmas more so. It’s the basis by which all of them define each other. 

The pandemic has made the definition for family pronounced. There’s been an outpouring of memory making. The poignancy of the pandemic seems to have made who we are, what we are part of and how we are valued intrinsic to our existence. Christmas is an opportunity to recall old family memories and create new ones – for some. 

It’s not that I haven’t spent Christmas with people. Rich, my ex-partner’s family, have been wonderful to me over the years. Creating the most beautiful festive laden Christmases I’ve ever had. But time, he and I, had to move and our emotional needs sought elsewhere – we had to move on. 

For me, as Christmas descends, it is the one time of year that I hear in loudspeaker fashion – your family do not love you. And, I am left reeling, relentlessly asking: why? I can’t answer the question. I dread the onslaught of what are you doing for Christmas? Hidden in half truth, my lacklustre, lame response of  Oh nothing much and just a quiet one. Or, the downright lie of  avoidance: I’m spending it with my family. Whilst attemptingto move swiftly on with the mundane details of unreal travel arrangements. I move the focus to who they are spending it with. 

Why? Simply, I don’t have the kind of family story-history you can share in polite conversation. Their non-existence and departure in my life never treated like a legitimate grief. Them still in the world and the tragedy by which they are not now in mine seemed orchestrated by me somehow. When the grief of losing my family hit me, my Christmas psychosis commenced.  Starting in December, it remains until Boxing Day when it departs leaving a huge sense of relief that it is Christmas no more. A day I’ve always had a walk on the marshes or in the woods. 

My Christmas psychosis’ arrival is abrupt. An unexpected intrusion tangible to the outside world and translated in the knowing that I am not part of society. Delivered through a constant gnawing that erodes me – of why don’t my family love me – anymore? Why can’t they drag their pen across a card, place signature by my nieces and nephews little names.  Sending love, warmth, thoughts that appear almost whimsical needs – an unwarranted wistfulness that should never be entertained.

The brutal truth that Christmas brings is: there is no answer other than my own folly. The undecipherable message that they do not love me. At Christmas they seem to love me less, or with such concentrated disregard or hatred – which one is it exactly, I wonder? Dare I speak it – everyone will hear it.

I think about what they are doing. 

By far, the worst are the dreams. One, where I flew over the ocean to the place I imagined my brother lived. Saw his house with a red glass American front door and yuletide wreath. I knocked, my brother opened,  saw it was me and came outside. We embraced on the veranda, my arms wrapped around my brother. Told him I miss you so much. I awoke in floods of tears that didn’t leave for months – and returned intermittently for years. 

Another on Christmas Eve, I went to my father’s house. Let myself in the backdoor, went into the front room and saw all my family packed around the dining table. They laughing, chatting and enjoying Christmas fayre and cheer. Christmas-cracker hat lopsided on my father’s head. I stood, watched them for a long while, never noticing I was there. I left knowing, asking how could they spend Christmas together and not think of me. 

For days after I was plagued with how they could behave like I didn’t matter. Wondered if they’d really been there. Considered coordination of travel logistics in my head – like the reality of it being so, seemed knife-edged worse than a symbolic significance. 

Suffice to say, I spent years slipping into this Christmas psychosis. Spent years in therapy attempting to stem the flow of the loss. It was like trudging through an endless ocean – neck deep in parts and waist height at others. Solace was hard to find. 

Once, unable to cope on Oxford Street . I meandered in a tear choked haze not recognising the world. Too tired to stop, too disjointed to think straight – I found a church on the back streets – sought refuge.

Inside it was empty. I sat on the front pew before a statue of Our Lady, lit candles for all of my family and prayed for each one of them. I asked God to heal my broken family. Cried silently unable to prevent rolls of tears. This became a ritual I did for years and and years and years. My Christmases were all the same. Spent alone, my head twisted out of shape trying to find a corner small enough for me to disappear into while others made sense of themselves round dinner tables. 

Then, there was the week before Christmas I went to the Samaritans’ offices on Marshall Street. I sat in a room with a lovely woman, dressed beautifully wearing a huge diamond engagement ring. Told her my fractured tales of tragic loss of fertility, partner and family. She listened, watched me cry whilst emptying my soul in front of her. She didn’t have the life I did.

We both knew she was wearing a ring. I smiled. She smiled as she watched me acknowledge the ring on her finger. She asked me how will I get through Christmas ? I said I don’t know. We sat in silence for a while. Then she said, we are here if you need us. 

One year, I didn’t make it down Oxford Street. Found myself in the city feeling unhinged, lost, the Christmas psychosis strong and alive in my head. Wishing my existence would just grind to a halt in the shadow of St. Paul’s. 

It did. I stopped outside a black doorway and took the narrow tunnel into a hidden church. The nativity on display seemed alone in the emptiness. They’d left a metal box, small squares of paper and a pen for prayers. I wrote, shedding tears for how my family had abandoned me, sided with my abusive father. That, I’d been ill all my life, lost the ability to have my own children. That I had lost all hope in life and Christmas was just awful for me. 

Remarkably, something shifted that Christmas. A few months later, I met a new circle of people and spent Christmas, for the next six years, with them. They were the best, happiest, most wonderful Christmases I have had, perhaps ever. Made all the more wondrous by their never knowing the ‘gift’ they gave.

Not a person to prone to any faith – religious or otherwise. My father’s legacy wiped out all of my faith, my birth family and took with it my faith in humanity.  But, I actually felt those people’s prayers for me. Like they heard my plea. I felt the power of their  thoughts of me at Christmas. It was a spiritual recognition in a world where I had known none for myself. I hope one of them reads this, knowing that their thoughts when they knew me just as words on a small piece of paper, made the difference between life and death through their love. It didn’t make me have any more faith in God. Just the faith that there were those who did and in doing so had some faith in me. 

Now, I can define Christmas in my own way. I am able to embrace the parts I now hold dear. I am no longer torn apart by it. Instead, I am able to view the loss like an old photo.The psychosis still visits – knocking me sideways like a bastard in the street. But now his visits are fleeting. The poignancy always felt at those I’ve seen on Christmas morning under the railway bridge. For those unloved at Christmas – forgotten, shunned, disregarded – my heart is with you. 

Published by Stella McHugh

Survivor of so many things that happens to women and girls.

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