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Why I Don’t Want a 'Merry' Christmas With Chronic Illness

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This year I’m asking Santa for something revolutionary: an authentic Christmas. I’m dreaming of a celebration where there’s no need to pretend to be merry. I’m wishing for a real Christmas, a day when my loved ones and I can wear our hearts on our sleeves and talk about our challenges and heartaches — a day when we can feel seen, understood and supported. I would like a holiday season in which cheeriness is optional.

There is a Yuletide fantasy engraved in our minds of a day in which everyone is merry, content, prosperous, joyful and surrounded by a safe, functional and loving family. This daydream is alluring, comforting and toxic, all at the same time.

Since becoming disabled, I have learned that the key to my happiness is embracing the uniqueness of my body and my life. I do not have many of the things that society teaches us to believe we need in order to be happy; however, my chronic illness has brought me wisdom, perspective, healthier and more supportive friendships, and a stronger connection with myself and my own spirituality. For the most part, I have let go of my former dreams and aspirations, and embraced the unique gifts and challenges of my new life. Yet, during the holiday season, I seem to backslide into comparing myself to people who appear to be living that Yuletide fantasy.

This fantasy of a perfect Christmas encourages each of us to feel like our life is inadequate. This holiday mirage has a way of bringing our unmet needs to the forefront of our consciousness and parading them in front of us. It focuses our attention on what we don’t have and it encourages each person to think about which of their basic needs are unmet. It discourages gratitude.

Christmas carols and magical holiday stories can make us feel metaphorically as though we’re standing outside the home of a happy family, looking in the window. This mythical family is part of our collective consciousness and we are all acquainted with them. They have a big, beautiful Christmas tree decorated with sparkly lights and heirloom ornaments. They are all more or less happy, they have food to eat, and they are relatively healthy. In our imagination, we look in the window and think “they look like they have a livable marriage and they don’t look like they ever worry about not having a place to live or not having food to eat and everyone’s there — it doesn’t look like anyone important has died or walked out on them recently. No one in that family got fired this month. None of them are thinking about suicide or gripped by debilitating anxiety. They haven’t been saddled with a disabling chronic illness. No one is dying inside of grief or depression and they all know that if they need help, their family will be there for them.”

This ideal, drilled into our heads from the time we take our first steps and eat our first candy cane, makes us all feel like we are on the outside looking in. There is a grief inside, knowing that we’re never going to be part of this family, that we will always be standing outside, looking in the window at them, because the ideal is unreachable for us. It’s all the more depressing because all that family has is a life in which only their most basic needs are met. And this life is out of reach for almost everyone.

As a result of this fantasy, people attending Christmas gatherings often put a smile on their face and pretend like they are happy. When people feel like they have something to hide, it can send them to Toxic Thought Land, where they feel like their life is lacking or shameful.

It’s time to liberate ourselves from the shackles of toxic jolliness. What we need, in the dead of winter, is a day to unburden our hearts, a day to express our true feelings and be cradled in love, acceptance and support. We need a day to lay down our cheerful facade, to let go of expectations and to relax. That, for me, would be a happy Christmas.

This year, I don’t want a merry Christmas. I want a real, human, authentic Christmas. I’m not comparing myself anymore to mythical people with happy families and lives full of manageable challenges. This year, I’m embracing the messy and wonderful life that I have been gifted and saddled with.

This story was originally published on my chronic illness blog, Mystical Authenticity. You can see more mystical musings on chronic illness there or on Facebook.

Getty image by RyanJLane

Originally published: December 20, 2021
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