Now, let me start by saying, I really don’t enjoy being one of those people that say they’re not a huge fan of Christmas when asked, but I feel I have more than a good reason or two to feel a little on edge about the occasion and look forward to its swift passing.
Yes it’s always hard having less & less people around the dinner table each year and dealing with the odd broken heart or two from break ups (which I think most of us have experienced at some point in our lives), but following the last couple of years, it’s genuinely a pretty dark time of year for me, with anniversaries of the most challenging times in my life so far: Being first on the scene of a fatal road accident, coming face to face with Dad’s psychosis* during a scarring Christmas Eve, health visitors at home on Christmas Day morning and Dad’s admission to a psychiatric hospital on Boxing Day. I feel this more than justifies my scrooge-like feelings towards Christmas, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that I don’t do my utmost to still make the best of it.
Be kind & accepting: Not everyone who doesn’t love Christmas is being miserable or grumpy about it just for the sake of it.
I remember Dad’s psychosis* coming to a head last Christmas Eve when he woke Mum & I during the night. My gentle father who really wouldn’t harm a fly, was adamant we needed to get outside in to the street, and so tried to pull me down the stairs to do so. All while being completely naked. It sounds like a horrible joke. But psychosis is real and it’s scary.
Do not misjudge confusion as viciousness. Most people suffering with mental health are not at all harmful (thanks Hollywood). They need kindness & help, not judgement & avoidance.
I just desperately had to get a dressing gown on Dad in case we couldn’t stop him & he went outside. Stood blocking the front door while he paced up & down and Mum called the Crisis team, I felt horrible thinking that it might seem to Dad that we didn’t understand him, that we weren’t listening to him or taking him seriously, and that we were trying to trap him & keep him prisoner in his own home. But I know we were doing our best to keep him safe & get him the help that he, and we, so desperately needed by this point.
Sometimes you really do have to be supposedly cruel to be kind. Always do the best that you can in each & every moment.
Having health visitors from the Crisis team visit on Christmas Day was all a little surreal. I felt torn between not wanting to see Dad ‘taken away’, especially on Christmas Day, and thinking how desperately we needed help and that we physically, mentally & emotionally could not take anymore.
We spent Christmas dinner with family friends, and I have never wanted a day over quicker in my life. Their kindness & understanding meant so much, but no-one could really comprehend what the 3 of us were going through right then. I could feel Dad’s shame, suffering & helplessness as he stared vacantly in to space for the majority of the day. It felt horrible to feel like we were ignoring him, but the effort of getting him to join in with conversations and the fake smiles that this caused were so unbelievably painful to be a part of, and almost more than I could bear.
Although he is still here with us now, Boxing Day will forever stay etched in my mind as the day that I felt I truly lost the father I knew and the man that brought me up.
Mum had gone to visit family up north for a much needed break after Christmas. Exhausted & relived that the Christmas period & all its extra pressures had almost passed, I enjoyed a lazy day in front of the TV, while Dad rested upstairs. I kept checking on him to make sure he was ok, as I felt constantly fearful that he might try to take his own life again, especially considering the events of the previous few days.
A few hours later, Dad came downstairs extremely agitated. I could not calm him, reason with him or get him to take the tablets the Crisis team had provided us to use in moments when there was just no getting through to him.
The term ‘talking to a brick wall’ really does take on a whole new level of meaning where psychosis is concerned.
The psychosis* had well and truly taken over and it pains me to say that my wonderful, loving Pops was convinced that we were all going to be taken away, our lives ruined, and that he had no choice but to kill me there & then.
For the first time since his diagnosis, I got angry & firm with him knowing that he needed to take his tablet because that wasn’t him thinking & saying those things.
I still believed my Dad was in there so I asked him outright (and almost sarcastically, because I really didn’t believe it) how he thought he was going to do that. I don’t think I have ever been so shocked as when he turned around & opened up the knife drawer.
I remember standing there thinking he wouldn’t really go through with trying, and that even if he did I’d be ok and able to take him because he had lost so much weight & was so frail.
Adrenaline pumping, I think more that it ever has before, I did the only thing I could think to do in that moment and called the Crisis team.
I felt fearful for myself but also fearful to leave Dad. I think part of me believed that no matter how ill he was, he was still my Dad and that he wouldn’t ever actually be able to harm me. After months of constant shock & sheer exhaustion, it was often hard to think straight! It wasn’t until the lady from the Crisis team screamed at me down the phone to get out of the house, that I left.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone sound so full of terror before. I never thought I would be running for my life, especially from one of my most favourite people in all the world, and someone who is meant to protect & care for me unconditionally throughout my whole life.
Nothing can ever prepare you for a moment like that.
If this scenario happens to someone you know, call 999 straight away and inform them that the person you’re calling about is known to the Crisis team or is suffering with mental health.
I don’t think I can explain the heartache you feel seeing a loved one taken away from you, even when you know that it’s for both their safety & yours, and for their greater good. I’m not sure it softened the pain at the time, but Dad went willingly & in the kindest of hands.
It was heartbreaking, but in truth, it was also a massive relief for both Mum & I, as we weren’t equipped to properly help anymore.
Christmas is a time for family, for friends, for appreciating loved ones, but if that merriment & jolliness doesn’t come naturally or easily to you at this time of year, then you can feel even more isolated and alone, while everyone else seems to be having the best time of their year so far. Make of it what you can, but if it’s not the best time of year for you then that really is ok.
Acceptance is key.
Just because everyone else has all the frills & trims, doesn’t mean that you have to too. It’s definitely the one day in the year where it feels like we have to have a great time & feel the best that we have all year! But unfortunately life isn’t always like that, and every family has their own difficulties. Take the pressure off. Tune in & listen to what feels good for you. Find enjoyment in the things that you love, and not what you’re made to feel by society or anyone else that you should! You don’t need to feel guilty if you don’t have the best day ever or if it wasn’t as good as the year before, or if you really just weren’t feeling it this year. (Read how we made the most out of another ‘special’ but challenging occasion here)
It’s all about accepting the present, as best as you can, while remaining hopeful for a better, brighter future.
This time of year has some horrible memories & associations that were scarring beyond anything I could have ever imagined happening, but we got through, and you can too. No matter what challenges & traumas you might have faced or might be currently facing, and how much they make you want to just give in or hide away, know that you’re not alone and that nothing beats the power of time and talking. When you feel ready, or even before then if you’re able to, help yourself as much as you can by talking: Help Is Here
If this is the case for you then make the best of this time of year that you can in the moment, but please promise that you’ll do it for you, and not because you feel like you have to because everyone else appears to be having a jolly old time!
Wishing you & your loved ones the best kind of Christmas for you!
*Psychosis is a mental health problem that causes people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations or delusions. Read more on NHS UK here and if someone you know is showing signs of psychosis, seek help as soon as possible.