I’m scared this Christmas.
I’m scared about vulnerable family members catching the virus before they get the jab, and for friends already struggling to haul themselves out of depressive holes now having to spend the holidays alone. I’m scared there’s Covid-19 on the Christmas cards that come in the post.
Dealing with not only a pandemic but also a life-limiting illness in the family – one of my parents set out on the rocky road of chemotherapy in January – has meant I’ve spent most of the year terrified.
Such a long period of fear, thanks to the three Cs – cancer, chemo and coronavirus – is not only exhausting but exacerbating my usually mild temper. My default state these days is simmering fury.
That’s a worry, too, especially when I think about Christmas. This might be the last one I spend with both my parents due to a less-than-rosy prognosis, and the thought of ruining it with my newly short fuse is more than I can bear.
But I’m so mad. I’m mad as hell at online echo chambers, tier chaos, a government as trustworthy as a fox among poultry, swerving into last-minute U-turns swifter than a taxi in a traffic jam. I’m chock-full of triggers and flying off the handle over minor household mishaps.
Then follows a tsunami of shame over my temper, as well as guilt for being a Grinch. I swallow self-hate while insisting we anti-bac Christmas treats kindly dropped to the door by colleagues. I’d rather be a drag than stood six feet from a hospital bed in PPE, regretting having got lax, though.
I’ve a lot to be thankful for – food, work, a secure roof over my head for starters – but the rage is a reflex response. Straight from the synapses. There’s no time for reason to interject and quell the fire.
When I moved back into my childhood home in March after my landlord sold up and lockdown was announced, the awfulness of the whole situation aside, I was pretty satisfied baking, Instagramming garden crops I’d had no hand in sowing and generally reverting to only-child mode.
It helped my parents to have me around and I appreciated the full fridge and the chance to save some money.
Sure, when foreign objects entered the house, I wasn’t far behind, brandishing the Dettol and retracing points of germ transfer – immuno-compromised kin front of mind – and I had little idea about my job security, but my parents’ place was a familiar refuge. And anyway, the sun was out.
But now the year has begun to wear thin: life still on hold, independence mourned, health anxiety peaking, daylight hours dwindling. Throw in a dusting of SAD and a dose of cabin fever, and it’s a recipe for a plummeting mood.
Talk of the festive fall-out – of cuddling relatives at Christmas and burying them in January – and the anticipatory grief of this doom-laden December has me on such high alert I’m concerned (convinced) these frustrations will seep into Christmas. That I’ll snap like a cracker over the smallest setback. And we can’t have that.
Because as you know if, like me, you’re living with one of the UK’s millions of people deemed clinically extremely vulnerable, Christmas takes on more importance; it’s guarded more fiercely. Especially if – as is the case in my family – there’s a chance it could be someone’s last.
There’s more pressure to be on form and ensure the celebration goes smoothly, to make Christmas a small oasis among the burning embers of 2020 and finish the year on as peaceful a note as possible.
We’re unable to spend Christmas in Wales with my uncle as hoped but feel fortunate to have plan B – a quiet day with just me, my mum and my dad. Simplicity is what’s needed while striving to shake off the stress of the season; all I want is to spoil my family, cajole them into some games and sing unsolicited Christmas songs at Mum, who’s really lamenting the loss of the carol service.
I’ve found that as the cancer has progressed, the more my goals change, with the new objective being simply to create more bright days than bad ones. It would be great if this Christmas could be one of the former, to stick in the memory bank with past happy family occasions. I just hope I don’t get in my own way.
In finding myself going from zero to seething in four seconds flat, I don’t think I’m alone this festive season. All there is to do is focus on love and gratitude, dodge stressful activities or situations – we’ll be lucky to get away with a light bickering over the Brussels if I accept Mum’s suggestion of collaborating on Christmas dinner – and go easy on ourselves if we don’t react optimally.
We’ve had so many sources of fatigue, uncertainty, curtailment and contempt and we mustn’t forget we’ve literally been caged beasts. Anger is a natural response to all that, stemming from fear and bred out of our innate instinct for self-defence.
But my aim is to make peace with the inevitable extra pressure and dial down expectations; accept 2020 has been a melting pot of emotions – especially for families like mine, affected by serious illness – and Christmas, let alone oh-so reflective New Year’s Eve, is likely to be too.
I might even schedule in a quarrel and a recreational cry now.
Well, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a ding dong.
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