A couple of weeks ago, a friend emailed me to check on me, because I hadn’t blogged. And here it is, even later than that. What happened?
I am not sure, but I guessed it had something to do with Christmas. The holiday season descended upon me, as it does this time of year, and fell with a quiet, suffocating thump. I cannot seem to help it, but I always wilt under a sense of obligation, this time of year. I think the stress is mainly associated with presents, and I joke (okay, it isn’t actually a joke) that I have a Gifting Disorder. So I have tried to reduce that, through asking relatives if we can’t just skip it. I also have reduced the number of people I spend time at the holidays down to people I actually want to spend time with. And yet this generalized holiday-season dread remains.
It is usually all right once I actually arrive at the party, or exchange presents. It turns out fine, mostly. But there is a nasty dread in the anticipation. It’s just a sense of not being able to dredge up the correct feelings and motivations. “Giftmas” makes me feel like a bad person. I am grateful to be aware that Christmas depression is not uncommon and to recognize the pattern in myself, because I know it is temporary. The soft slumping weight will all melt away in January.
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It has helped for me to remember that Advent is a season of preparation. Some of my FB friends and I were grousing good-naturedly (I hope) about pastors who preach from the pulpit to keep Advent peaceful and watchful and not do things like put up the Christmas lights until Christmas. We were observing that perhaps Father doesn’t realize that if you want to have a “nice” Christmas, it takes about a month to get ready. I suggested that waiting patiently with joyful anticipation during Advent is appropriate if one is in a stage of life, such as being four years old, when Christmas is something that just comes along; but when one is in charge of making Christmas, the only way to keep Advent meaningful is to think of it as a season of preparation. Which it is.
I was thinking about the parable of the ten virgins, which was one of the daily readings sometime in the last couple of weeks, I forget when. Everything eschatological applies to Advent and vice versa, I think, so it seemed appropriate. As Advent gets closer and Christmas draws near, we must get ready; we must fill our lamps with oil. It is a huge effort for me to do this. I want to crawl into bed, forget the lamps, and hide from it. Part of what I am hiding from are people who appear to be one-upping each other with gaudy, complicated, blinding lamps that take a lot of work.
I do not know whether those other people’s lamps are full or not, but the thing I have to keep in mind is that all that is required is that the lamp be full of oil on the inside. I mustn’t let the outward appearance of others get me down so much that I don’t fill my own. Preparation for Christmas is not optional. It is necessary. Some work is necessary. Even some of the work that intimidates me! But not all of the bustle and business is part of what’s needful. Wake up, fill my lamp, trim my lamp, don’t worry about the standards set by other people and their fancy glittering lamps. Eyes on my own work. It is real effort, this quieter, appropriate preparation. And that part is worth doing, even if it is hard not to just crawl into bed.
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Related (probably): I have been ill for weeks, off and on. There were cold symptoms at some point, and Mark had them too, and some of the kids. I thought I was better, then got tired and achy again. I have missed a lot of workouts, but not all of them, since just before Thanksgiving. Maybe I have managed one per week. This past week I haven’t managed any; I have slept a lot. I began to wonder if I had some kind of mononucleosis-type viral infection, either milder than mono or maybe it was mono and I was one of the lucky people who was only mildly impaired by it. Then this Monday a blister like a cold sore erupted on my hard palate (so, exactly like a cold sore, the rarer intraoral type), and then on both Tuesday and on Friday I took 4-hour naps in the middle of the day. And also the nodes on the left side of my neck are tender to the touch, off and on. I keep thinking I am better and then crashing again.
I don’t get cold sores very often. Years and years go by between them. I know that flare-ups of HSV (the cold sore virus) are often associated with stress. I must have had a primary infection at some point before this, but the first time I remember getting them was the week my mother died.
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Christmas is not as bad as all that, of course, but it is undeniably a source of stress, even though objectively speaking there is no real reason* for me to be stressed. A lot of the things that I used to point to as stressful are not really there anymore. Many dreadful gift-giving situations have gone away; we deliberately see fewer people than we used to, and all the ones we do see are people I am genuinely excited and happy to see; I guess it is just residual association? But I am willing to believe it is a strong one.
*After writing this, I remembered that in a short number of days I have to drive 12 hours with all the kids (and without Mark). Also, before that, there is the usual checklist of things like packing and cleaning up the house, with some added responsibilities such as present-wrapping. This possibly counts as a “real” reason to feel somewhat burdened.