Christmas usually is an especially difficult time of the year when it comes to family relationships. The stress prior to the actual holidays brings out the extremes in our behaviour. My mother regularly explodes on December 23rd because she has problems delegating tasks, but gets overwhelmed by the load and vents her frustration and stress violently…
Thursday, December 22nd
Twelve minutes into Christmas break on the way home from university, I slipped on the escalator leading down to the tram station and twisted my right leg, while simultaneously tearing my left arm (which was still grasping the handrail). I could still walk, but only with a heavy limp, and had to have my sister pick me up from the tram station in my home town so she could carry my bag.
Over the course of the evening, I got rather upset because while my mother was rather worried, it was over the fact whether I would be able to drive her and my grandmother to the supermarket the next morning, and she didn’t express any concern regarding the pain I might feel. Functionality trumps pain – her problem with my depression was that I didn’t function anymore, too. Now that I appear functional again, my feelings become secondary once more.
Friday, December 23rd
At 9.30 in the morning, I found myself at an overcrowded supermarket. Finding empty space in the parking lot had already been a challenge, especially since my grandmother uses a rollator walking aid and wants to park as close to the entrance door as possible. The situation inside was worse rather than better.
With the need to pull myself together for uni temporarily suspended, my mood had started tumbling down quickly, and the longer we were inside the grocery store, the worse I felt. My swollen foot pulsated with pain and the constant bickering between my mother and grandmother – who were both affected by the general atmosphere as well – grated on my nerves.
After about half an hour, it took a really insignificant event only to push me over the edge: I was waiting for my grandmother to finish her business in the butcher’s section and just biding my time, when suddenly I felt the gaze of a middle-aged man on me. As he noticed that I caught him looking at me, he winked at me. No idea why it upset me, but it did. I wanted to yell at him to stop looking or winking at me.
I hid in the only empty aisle I could find and actually started crying. Because of the limping, I was always behind my mother and grandmother anyway, so nobody missed me, but in order to not rouse suspicion, I couldn’t stay there for long. Managing to pull myself together until it was time to queue at the check out, where people were standing in long lines already, I excused myself and went to wait in the car: officially to rest my foot, but really for calming down. I switched the radio on and concentrated on the music, so that by the time my mother and grandmother had finished their shopping, I had regained my composure.
In the late afternoon, I got once again into my mother’s crossfire when she repeated her threat that I had to move out if I didn’t get a student loan, which caused me lots of anxiety again.
Saturday, December 24th
Christmas Eve is the main event of the festivities in Germany, with big family dinners and the exchange of presents in the evening, and it started even worse than the previous day for me. I was already crying in the shower, with no clue how I was supposed to get through the day, and poured it all into an email to my boyfriend, which I felt guilty for later – waking up to your girlfriend’s hysterics doesn’t make for the most relaxed Christmas either. (He was utterly lovely about it, though.) Somehow I managed to dry my tears and leave, though, so I could help my mother with the preparations for dinner, but what happened then took me by surprise:
The conversation turned to my 10-years-old niece, who had exhibited rather ill-spirited moods that morning too. I remarked that I’d occasionally wondered if she didn’t suffer from the same condition as I do, but had never said anything because that was a hunch rather than something I could back up with solid facts. And that’s the truth – there are certain gazes or the way she holds her head or looks at people that feel utterly familiar to me, like the seed of all that avoidant behaviour, but I cannot present any evidence.
My mother nodded, then asked: “Where does this come from? Is it me?” (My mother looks after my niece when she isn’t in school.) I was completely flabbergasted and utterly at a loss. There are basically three reasons which cause chronic depression: 1.) genetic predisposition – which I certainly have from both sides of the family; 2.) neglect in infancy and childhood – which I can exclude for myself; 3.) repeated experiences of helplessness over long periods of time, concerning “significant others” like parents or other very close family members – which is very much the case with me. I had never told her what caused my chronic depression, because that’s simply too damn difficult a task – I don’t want to hurt my parents, because I know they had to endure a lot worse from their parents and never had a chance to not become slightly messed up either, but I could name dozens of situations that led to me becoming depressed and developing patterns of avoidance. My mother probably noticed that I was looking for the right words a little too long, and when I finally answered, it was just the three points mentioned above without connecting them to any personal experiences.
This was the worst time possible for this conversational topic to come up; on a different day, I might actually have welcomed the chance for broadening this point with her, but NOT ON CHRISTMAS EVE…
Myself, I started feeling better in the afternoon and got through the evening ok. We had all agreed to not buy any presents for each other because money is tight, so the big emotional climax was missing, but at least nobody fussed about it and I wasn’t reminded to get a job either…
Sunday, December 25th
I slept like a stone, until noon almost. The day was quiet, but pleasant. In the afternoon we went to see my grandmother and aunt, and in the evening I met one of my school friends who is home for Christmas. I didn’t feel like crying.
Monday, December 26th
Boxing Day is a national holiday too in Germany and at least in my family entirely dedicated to laziness. This year was in so far unusual as the family had a bowling tournament with Wii Sports – my mother isn’t much of a computer user and doesn’t even have an email address, while the rare behaviour for my father was to actually come out of his office for a family activity. So it was rather strange to see them playing a console game, but I really enjoyed the whole enterprise!
So that was my Christmas, in a nutshell. In a little while I’m leaving for meeting another friend; I’m trying to fill the days with pleasant and diverse activities, so that my depression index goes down again and I will be fit for the last month of uni and exams once Christmas break is over, because if I learned one ting in therapy, it is that you must “fake it until you make it”.