Mental Illness: Christmas

Target Audience: Christians

christmas-birdAbout this time of the year, I experience my annual Christmas depression. I come from a great family. My parents were married almost 70 years. Christmas in my home was a time of beauty, celebration, family, gifts, arguments, hurt feelings, and great food. In other words, Christmas in my parent’s home was normal. 

I have found Christmas depressing for many years. Perhaps it is the weather. This past week, I spent time on Google Images grabbing pictures of tropical beaches. I now use them as desktop wallpaper. They are infinitely more beautiful than the dirty snow outside my window. Yes, we will have a white Christmas. You realize that was just a Christmas carol. For those of us who live in white Christmas zones, it is anything but joyful or romantic. Collapsing with a life-threatening heart attack while shoveling “white Christmas” off the driveway is hardly romantic.

Maybe I get depressed because I know, even as I write this blog, there are millions of people in North America (and other countries) spending money they do not have, slaving over decorations and rich food (if shoveling white Christmas doesn’t kill you Christmas baking might). These are people who chase after an illusion, an image from some Hollywood movie about this idyllic Christmas of bliss, joy, generosity, and happiness. I’m not saying that many people do not have awesome family Christmas celebrations. I’m sure they do. So many more people, though, bury themselves in oppressive debts at this time of the year to make sure the mountain of gifts virtually obliterate the tree behind it. For so many people, if they cannot have quality, they will accept quantity as a cheap substitute. 

Perhaps I get depressed at this time of the year because so many people “put on appearances” over the holidays. Family members who would not give each other the time of day in July come together, wish each other Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year as genuinely as possible. They exchange gifts and cards, toast one another around a table laden with food, and pretend, even for an evening, or a day, that all is forgiven. It is a nice feeling, but the epitome of hypocrisy if they do not follow through with their Christmas wishes and build on the Christmas spirit to normalize relations in the New Year. The graphic above tells a lot about North American Christmas, with one exception, I suppose. I could have inserted an image of a plastic doll to represent the fake “glad tidings” many will give this year. 

I also get depressed when I think about the many homeless people who, if they are fortunate, will spend Christmas in a shelter, which is at least warm and reasonably clean. Too many, though, will spend Christmas sleeping under bridges, over heating grates, or anywhere they think they won’t freeze to death in the bitter cold of northern climates. A few will actually freeze to death this year. My country, Canada, and the United States, are two of the wealthiest nations on earth, but the poverty here goes far beyond food, shelter, money, and housing. It is a poverty of spirit that makes us all poor. 

While there is much that can get me depressed at this time of the year, I also have much for which I am truly grateful. I live with a friend who is gracious and has, over the years, helped me greatly. I have a wonderful family with whom I will spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Our Christmases are somewhat simpler now that my parents are no longer in the picture. We gather Christmas Eve for a family time of celebration, and on Christmas morning my siblings and I open our gifts, but the enormous Christmas dinner has come to an end. Even the gifts are simpler these days, which I believe is a good thing if we can focus on the relationships which are so much more important.  I am also healthy and have all that I need. 

As I said in a previous post, my family was never religious. In the graphic above, I inserted a nativity scene. It is a bit difficult to see because in real life it is rather difficult to see the Christ child at this time of the year. In my eyes, the graphic is accurate. 

With all that said, I wish all who read this a safe and joyful Christmas season.

A Personal Loss: Part One

There are times when things happen suddenly, that we cannot control, such as the death of a loved one, or an accident that forever changes our lives. Sometimes, we can see it coming. Other times, we are blindsided by the event. 

For the better part of the past 25 years, I have been seeing a GP/Psychotherapist in the Leaside district of Toronto. I went to see him yesterday on a scheduled visit. Most of the work that he has done with me over the past quarter century has been psychotherapy. It is a passion in his life and he is good at what he does. An unfortunate series of events has forced him into leaving private practice. 

In reality, I always knew there would come a day when he would retire, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen yesterday. This leaves me with a deep sense of sadness and loss which goes beyond my own personal loss (I have to try to find another doctor and a therapist who is covered by OHIP), but there will be a huge hole left in the Leaside district of the city and beyond, due to this crisis which has been made public, but out of respect for my doctor, I will not discuss here. What happened to him has happened to many other professionals, clergy, lawyers, doctors, anyone who is in the business of treating troubled people

He told me recently that he believes in gratitude. In that spirit, I am so grateful for the many, many years I had the privilege of visiting his office, drinking his coffee, sharing our lives together. It wasn’t just me who shared my life with him. He also shared his life with me over those years. We met at an Anglican church in the downtown core. Our mutual faith, and at times, the differences in our concepts of God and what the world should be like provided the bond for a unique type of doctor/client relationship. Over the years, he treated many members of my family even though they weren’t his clients. When Ontario charged for flu shots, he didn’t. He never charged me for letters, or forms that he hated doing, but knew they were necessary for me to access services.

My heart goes out to him and his family. I may not be part of his family, but he certainly became part of mine. Thank you, my good friend and beloved doctor for your many years of dedicated and selfless service to your community.