I’m writing this from an airport on Christmas Day.
I’ve always found the holidays tricky and uncomfortable.
I remember the love, sure. The magic of dressing the tree. The cuddles and cookies around the fire. Watching Christmas movies. I also remember the endless fights about how naughty I’d been. From a young age, Christmas became associated with the wars my mother and I waged during the year; either we were still fighting and Christmas was a temporary truce, with the resentments shoved under the surface, waiting to boil over or else we were in a good patch, and then my mother would write me cards about how the next year would be better, and I’d be reminded with shame of how hard I made her already difficult life. I remember the fights in the car rides going to my godmothers. Either it was me getting a disciplinary raking for something I’d done (I was a difficult child), or else my parents’ marital problems would take center stage, every Christmas Day, like the worst possible type of fireworks. As I grew older, Christmas became twisted with my growing shame for my inadequacies as a daughter to a mother who loved me so much, and who was so ill. Older still, I grew to dread the annual reminders that I still hadn’t accomplished the life I reasonably should have: no car, no house, no boyfriend, no marriage, a middling career that took up all of my energy. Shame and love, that is what I associated with Christmas.
Then my mother died in 2012. And since then, I associate the holidays with grief. My father and I have struggled to build any tradition that satisfies us, so we latch onto other people’s Christmases: my godmother’s, my Qc uncle’s, my Boston uncle’s. I’ve had some really good Christmases since my mother died, unpoisoned by shame, but heavy with her absence. We’ve been drifting for years, my father and I.
My father became a priest, in the Russian Orthodox Church, this spring. That was something. He was ordained as a deacon 4 years before my mother died. Her sudden and unexpected death left him gutterless. He wrote to the Bishop in the first year of his grief to state his readiness and willingness to be ordained a priest. In his wisdom, the Bishop chose to not acknowledge that letter until this year. Identifying and following through on one’s vocation is a significant decision, one that should not be taken following a tragic event. This year, 6 years after her passing, the Bishop was confident my father was no longer reactive in his grief. He broached the topic, my father was still desirous of being ordained, and poof, one month later my father was a priest. A couple months after that, my father was appointed rector of a parish in Quebec city and is now in the process of moving to that city permanently. He’s happy, and has found his purpose. Christmas is now a community affair, with gift baskets and liturgies and little children learning about this major feast day.
My 2018 was less happy, but equally significant. My year was defined by borderline. The first half of it was spent pulling myself out of a scary depression caused by my inability to handle the emotional strain of my failing relationship with Hickster as well as work pressures. Pulling myself out of that depression meant getting professional help, but also learning to identify unnecessary sources of stress and impose boundaries professionally and personally. That caused me to discover much about myself. I had a few flashes of happiness halfway through the year, and then in August I got my long awaited diagnosis. The 4 past months have been very difficult, professionally but also personally, as I struggle with this new understanding of myself and most upsettingly, the negative impact I have on those I interact with in all areas of my life. I’ve always known I was different; while I am relieved to understand why and how, I mourn the loss of innocence that comes with this knowledge. Every memory, every interaction is now colored by this disorder. My darling Mimi, constant companion through my life, source of stability and joy, my teddybear with whom I still cuddle every night and have conversations with, is no longer merely the product of my overactive imagination: borderlines are prone to transfer their affections to inanimate objects as a coping mechanism for their unstable relationships and sense of self – all my memories of Mimi are now tainted by the understanding that even at a young age I was demonstrating the undetected symptoms of this significant disorder. Rewriting history is no easy feat. I grieve daily.
This year, as I tried to make plans for the holidays, I was beset by the urge to get away. Away from the work pressures, family, complicated memories, regrets and the temptation to shame. I wanted something to re-energize me, to give me enough hope to keep on fighting the good fight for one more year. 2018 saw me learn who I am, truly, and begin to reclaim my life. I didn’t want to end it the same way I have ended every year so far this life. Time for a clean break.
That is why I am writing this blog post from an airport, in the evening of Christmas Day. I am flying to London, to visit my dear friend DD, who moved there 6 months ago. Instead of dealing with the Ghost of Christmas Past, I’ve opted to see what the Ghost of Christmas Future has to show me. Unlike Scrooge, I’ve already begun my transformation into a Vanilla who is more self-aware, a Vanilla who will find a way to build a fulfilling life crammed with meaningful relationships and interactions, all while advocating for the humanity that underlies mental health issues. And that means doing things differently. The holidays don’t bring me joy? Well then time for a new approach to new memories and new hope.
I can’t wait.