I always feel a slight sense of relief once Boxing Day is behind us. The pressure of the pre-Christmas build-up released, like air from a fully blown balloon, let go, propelling itself along before running out of steam and slumping withered onto the nearest landing place.
The need to create an amazing Christmas with bright sparkly trimmings is sold to us by the retailers with the several million pound advertising budgets and the models posing as a family with no stresses, no absent loved ones, no financial worries and certainly no similarities to the real world most of us live in. But there’s still a small part of me that still likes to believe the hype, even though everyday evidence points to the fact that superficial idealisation of Christmas is unrealistic.
This year, despite a promise to myself of a stressless Christmas, I still felt my own internal pressure levels rising. They slowly sneaked up on me unawares, and pounced on me on Christmas Eve, triggered initially by a severe respiratory illness of our youngest, requiring steroids, and all the additional worry that brings. He slowly improved over the course of the day thankfully but later, after the children’s bedtime, the realisation of all the things I hadn’t achieved at this final hour hit me: the handmade gift, the home-made crackers, the special cards for my husband and boys, not to mention the unmended shirt still draped over the dining chair, the untidied clutter, the ever demanding unmopped kitchen floor. As is inevitable, when I demand more of myself than I can physically achieve, I hurl every negative emotion I can muster up to attack my internal self. It’s destructive and damaging but despite knowing that, I still fall into the trap of doing it. I tend to retreat into myself and have to sit quietly and think in order to rationalise my emotions. My husband has become practiced at patiently waiting it out, periodically testing the waters to check the pH. He knows the acidity has fallen when I accept a hot vimto (I am still easily pleased!). It took a couple of hours to work through my feelings of inadequacy, and reach acceptance, not only of the things I hadn’t achieved, but of myself. As I slowly brought myself back from my internal distress, and with my husband’s help, we began to concentrate on getting organised for the boys, arranging the presents and so on. I distracted myself with the building of a Lego Santa that I knew my eldest would love (my creative mind is definitely my healer) and relaxed into a more positive attitude.
Our Christmas Day and Boxing Day was unsurprisingly chaotic. Christmas morning excitement reached a whole new level and was a joy to see; the innocence, the happiness. However, the energy my boys possess never ceases to amaze me (despite illness) and by mid-morning we escaped the house to try to expend some of it in one of Yorkshire’s beauty spots. My husband and I held hands and walked a few paces ahead of the children momentarily pretending we were one of the supremely relaxed childless couples we saw, before we had to intervene in yet another stick fight and stop them whacking passers-by. I surprised myself with our Christmas dinner, mission accomplished on that front. No, not an amazing six-course extravaganza, but two simple ones, that I didn’t spend hours over and the children DID actually eat. I gave myself a pat on the back for that one, for not expecting too much of myself, and re-instated a self-esteem point confiscated the night before. Boxing day incorporated a trip back to Lancashire, more chaos, small amounts of fighting – children only – well perhaps some adults and a Yule Log, and a wet, windy trip back across the M62 in the dark but with the children peacefully asleep in their pyjamas in the back. No-one missed the crackers, nor minded about the gift that will be late, and my boys know how much I love them – handmade card or no handmade card, whilst the kitchen floor just increased it’s collection of souvenirs of our daily life. The clutter and the shirt will have to wait a bit longer.
So another Christmas has passed, and thankfully we were all here and healthy enough to celebrate it together. The boys had a great time and have got many days, weeks and months of fun with their new toys. More hopefully though they will have added to their developing memories that will last a lifetime, one of just being together, feeling loved, and a sense of Christmas that means more than presents.
I will always have my daily challenges with my mental health but will continue in my endeavour to improve my thinking patterns. Christmas is not and should not be the unrealistic picture of perfection as portrayed in the media.
Real life is much richer than that.