Christmas and My Mental Health

Today, I’m cooking deconstructed chicken rouladen for a dinner with friends tonight while Noel is taking down the Christmas decorations. He asked me if I wanted him to take down the white Christmas tree — we have two Christmas trees as we have two living rooms: a street-facing one and the other one that we do most of our lounging in — and I said no. I didn’t give him a reason, but he respected the wish.

White Christmas tree illuminated with warm white lights in the window of a house with a Merry Christmas flag flying outside as the sun is setting
Our white Christmas tree in our front living room window on Christmas evening

When I was a child, I used to wake up early. Like really early. So early, in fact, that one time I woke my parents up because the TV only had the test pattern on it. The TV is broke, I told them. (It ended up that none of the stations were broadcasting because it was like 4 AM. Yes, I’m that old.)

Christmas really was no different, and I remember one Christmas holiday where I woke up early and couldn’t stay in bed any longer. So I went into our living room where the Christmas tree was, turned the multi-colored lights on, and sat down in front of it, admiring the lights and how they interacted with the branches and the room surrounding it. (This was in America, so it was winter near the winter solstice, which meant a quite late sunrise.)

There was some sort of magic to it that I can’t describe. And beauty too. I have thought about it in the many years since, and, at first, I thought it was somehow linked to getting presents. But that can’t be the case as I don’t get as many presents now — and honestly sometimes I don’t feel I need any presents — and I still feel that sense of magic and beauty.

Over the last several years, with earthquakes, and lots of deaths, and then depersonalization, the feelings have dwindled, and there are even years where I can’t even face putting a tree or decorations up. Now that that all seems to be (mostly) behind me, I was really excited to put decorations and the trees up this year, to have a great celebration.

(Side note: I think that growing up with Christmas in winter and now celebrating it in summer does not help the matter either.)

I was so excited about putting the trees up, in fact, that I bought a whole new set of warm white LED lights for our white Christmas tree. Instead of the three to six strings of blue LED lights I normally put up — and honestly, it really wreaks havoc on my eyes but it does look cool — I did some research to find out a tree of that size needs about eight to ten strings. I bought eight but it was one too few. Nine did the trick, and it looked fabulous.

I digress.

Bless Noel, because I did start to struggle at one point. It felt very overwhelming, which is still a part of the fallout from depersonalization, and he stepped in and started putting up decorations too. And the final displays looked so good, and I was very happy with it.

Over the last several years, I have tried to spend a little bit of me time admiring the trees. But this seems to be cut short by something related to the depersonalization. Another one of the side effects of depersonalization is the lack of “being present”. This has been a great struggle for me over my time recovering from depersonalization because, to be honest, it has been a struggle for me throughout my life, and old habits die hard. My mind, bless it, seems to always be steps ahead of the here-and-now, and that stops me from “being present”; I’m too focussed looking forward (or looking back).

So this year, there have been a few times where I have tried to sit and admire the trees before I turn them off and go to bed. Again, this has been difficult because I am not “being present”.

Preparing the chicken rouladen dinner for our friends this morning gave me time to think. I realized that yes, I wasn’t “being present” when sitting with the trees, and maybe that was the reason I wasn’t feeling the same sort of magic or beauty that I felt as a child. Taking time for me, to be in the moment, to sit with the tree and admire the way the lights play off the branches and in the room, are all important things I need to do.

Going back to when Noel asked if I wanted him to take down the white Christmas tree, the reason I said no was because I wanted one more night to try to “be present” and admire the tree, and try to rekindle that magic and admiration of beauty I’ve found in years past.

And this is where my depressive symptoms have come into play, I discovered, while browning the chicken. Christmas went by too fast because I wasn’t “being present”. I was too worried about the surprise, or the food, or our guests’ next day’s itinerary, or if Noel would like his presents, instead of focussing on “being present”. It seemed like the holiday rushed by — and I’m not going to lie, it still feels like it rushed by — and I didn’t get to enjoy it as fully and richly as I should have because I didn’t allow myself to do that.

One more night.

Eleventh night of Christmas.

I’m hoping that, after spending a wonderful evening with good friends, full of good food, good drink, good laughs, and good times, I’m able to sit back for a few minutes, admiring my Christmas trees, and spending some time rediscovering that magic.