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Why PTSD Dulls My Holiday Cheer

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Ah, December.

The one month of the year when suddenly everything turns from calm and relaxed into chaos and confusion. When even the most organized and put together person somehow manages to fall off the rails and suddenly gifts haven’t been bought, decorations haven’t been put up and within the first week of December, you’re probably already sick of hearing Michael Buble’s rendition of our favorite Christmas carols. (Sorry Michael Buble.) In Canada, you barely have the poppies off before Christmas is shoved in your face.

• What is PTSD?

And while I sound like I’m complaining — which a small part of me is — there is a quiet peacefulness in the chaos and confusion. There’s a calmness to coming home after a frenzied trip to Walmart and sitting on the couch and staring at the Christmas tree that brings a sudden serenity — a quiet appreciation for the brief moments of anarchy.

Christmas is more than just about who gets the most expensive gifts and has the fanciest display of lights on their lawn. For me, Christmas is the under appreciated aspects of the holiday — visits with friends, enjoying a cup of hot chocolate while listening to Christmas tunes, enjoying time spent with loved ones.

Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.

But sometimes I can’t even get into the holiday spirit.

Sure, I go all-out with decorating our little bungalow, I love wrapping gifts and dancing around the kitchen to music. But no matter how much I love the Christmas lights, the music, or even Christmas baking, sometimes I can’t find my love for Christmas. Sometimes I’m not filled with holiday cheer.

Sometimes my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the Ebenezer Scrooge to my “Christmas Carol.”

Now that goes without saying, my PTSD doesn’t completely ruin Christmas for me. Unless I’m experiencing a depressive episode and I can barely get out of bed, my mental illness doesn’t 100 percent ruin my cheer. But my PTSD does affect my view of the holidays. Sometimes it brings about moments of profound sadness; it recalls heartbreaking memories that are seared into my brain for the rest of my life.

This time of the year, no matter how much Christmas cheer I try to shove down my throat, my holiday cheer comes at a price.

Filling out Christmas cards for family members reminds me of the relatives who burned bridges with me, who chose to disown me instead of believing the abuse I was going through. When my fiancé asks me what I want for Christmas, a small part of me feels guilty because a sinister voice in the back of my head taunts me; his voice echoes words like “worthless” and “disgraceful,” a still-bruised part of me believing I’m not worthy of gifts or receiving that show of affection.

Or when I participate in Christmas traditions, I’m reminded of all the traditions I had to stop and forget about because they come with devastating sadness. Because even through all the abuse and torment, there were rare moments of happiness. There were moments where for one small glimpse, one small moment, there was a little bit of peace; and it is those moments I weep for the most. There are no words to describe that insurmountable hurt, because I lost something too. I escaped and got free, but I also lost parts of me in the process. I had to sacrifice for my freedom and that came at a cost. Even happy Christmas memories of my past are covered in a blanket of ash.

But even in those terrible moments of grief, I have to brush away the thoughts and focus on my “new” traditions; leave the broken memories of my past in a discarded pile like torn up wrapping paper and move forward.

Because the most wonderful time of the year also brings me pain.

But with each passing year, with each new battle, I overcome with my mental illness — the pain is slowly subsiding. It might never go away, but it hurts less every year.

And in the moments where the pain is unbearable, I know it is still OK to cry while I listen to my favorite Christmas CD — to remind myself that it’s OK to take care of myself first, to take a moment to acknowledge the pain and then move forward.

So while I can disguise my pain with ugly Christmas sweaters, it’s also important to remember that sometimes people like me — people living with mental health issues — have a hard time during the holidays. That sometimes the most wonderful time of the year isn’t the best part of our year.

I think it’s important to take time to understand that others silently struggle during this time of the year, because believe me, it’s so hard to admit feeling sad when there are so many reasons to be gleeful. It’s hard to admit that the girl under the Santa hat, wearing the Christmas socks, who’s dancing around her kitchen to music, is really struggling underneath all that Christmas cheer. That sometimes the cheer is a facade.

It’s hard to admit this time of the year also brings me pain — because it hurts to not feel the Christmas spirit and it’s unbearable to think I might be ruining someone else’s cheer too.

But the pain is slowly subsiding and even though it might not feel like it now, I know things will get better. It will take time, but eventually the dark cloud will pass and I’ll be sitting on my couch, drinking hot chocolate while staring at the lights on the tree. And in that moment, it will all feel right. I know I’ll find my Christmas spirit again.

And I hope you can find your holiday cheer too.

Getty image via stevanovicigor

Originally published: December 18, 2017
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