Saunders Ponders for
Dec 1997

Wishing you a modestly pleasant Mid Winter Season. I won't bully you into having a "Merry" one, nor a splendid "Barbie Dreamland Christmas" or even a "Wonderful Life" spiritual reawakening. I just wish you run the gauntlet of the season as unscathed as possible.

A lot of people love the season, prepare for it way ahead and bask in the social whirl and excess. But Christmas is an ordeal for many, even those with lotsa bucks.

Our society has whipped up Christmas into such a fever of expectation, of consumer gratification, of spiritual transcendence, expectation of joy, of family closeness ... all those fine things that are expected to culminate in one glorious climax around Christmas and spring board us into the New Year. If we're lucky some of the above can be enjoyed by some of us, but many crash and burn trying, hoping, wishing.

Sound like humbuggery? No, just practicality. I'm one who literally barely survived the crisis of the season. Eight years ago my ongoing struggle with depression led me to a near fatal suicide attempt. The whole season had been a fraud in my eyes, the New Year did not dawn happy.

I've always been appalled at our local psychiatric hospital closing one of it's three wards right over the holidays. The rationale seemed to be a hard hearted fiscal drive to save the extra costs of overtime on that cluster of stat holidays. Why, at the time when all the pressures caused by the "Xmas Spin doctors" are mercilessly driving us crazy, would there be less room at the inn?

However, upon inquiry to Gail Simpson at Canadian/Capital Mental Health and Phillippa Doherty of the Need Crisis Line, their response surprised me. Statistically it's not the most psychiatrically calamitous time of the year. The crisis line is quieter. Patients do willingly go home for the holidays. Families do rally for the occasion. The need and tradition to attempt to do Christmas properly is a powerful motivator. There's a hopefulness and a goodwill that gets people through. For the homeless and hungry there's a generosity that wells up to feed people, supplies clothes and toys. Special events are thrown and the goodwill really is shared during the season. People hang in.

Unfortunately things seize up as soon as life returns to normal. Everyone gave at Christmas. Now the bills are rolling in. The generosity is not sustainable. The bubble pops. Perhaps the hope of Christmas and the promise of a New Year don't bear out. Back to the grind.

Eight years ago I hung on through the New Year but needed a bed in EMP the first week in January. Every year now I try to keep a perspective, keep the thing in scale, give a pass to the hype. Every year the rising tide still gets my socks wet. Even with this new perspective, the foment that begins in October (the inch thick Sears Wish Book actually arrived in September ) builds to Dec. 24th with ever greater deposits of fliers at the door, ads on the airwaves, everyone vigorously celebrating the season. I feel like a Scrooge for not rising to the occasion. (Then the Post Christmas Mega Sales. "You can't afford NOT to buy more stuff!") I feel I'm missing that ecstasy everyone else is enjoying ....... Aren't they?

Last year, as I dropped around to various customers and acquaintances, I noticed that if I mentioned my dissent, my doubt about this Yuletide fever, everyone, everyone, quietly admitted they hated the zoo it's all become, longed for the flow, routine, and gentle pleasures of their regular lives. My casual poll revealed that those who were really enjoying the season were the few who had sidestepped the whole circus, decided not to celebrate Christmas and were light heartedly observing the mayhem around them, especially the rampant consumerism.

Too many people run up on the rocks of expectation. This season is the most stressful of the year. Realizing that can protect you from undue disappointment.

Phillippa, at CHMA, wisely remarked that even realizing you are going to be extra stressed, probably stretched financially can help keep a healthy perspective. "Plan to stay within your priorities and comfort zone. Self preservation should be a priority."

So, bottom line, don't let the hype get to you. Don't be suckered in! Keep your sanity "when all about you are losing theirs (and blaming it on you)". Kipling

Keep the integrity of your life. Enjoy the modest pleasures that come your way. Be a little generous, a little thoughtful. Help those around you get through unscathed. I'll try too! Let's compare notes after the holidays.

I grant you permission to have an Okay Christmas and a Stable New Year.

Best Wishes, Bruce

Need Crisis Line gives support too - 24 hrs - 386-6323