Mental Illness

Caregiving: The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

There is, at this moment in time, less than a week before December 1. Less than a week before I can deck the halls in celebration of another holly jolly Hogswatch. And just days since I heard Mr. Juniper admit he’s starting to panic about the Hogfather coming to town.

We have this every year. December becomes its own special crisis time. With added festivity. Talk of suicide surrounded tinsel and bunting. Calls to the mental health team while gingerbread cools on the table. Tying orange slices and cinnamon onto the Hogswatch tree with ribbon while Mr. Juniper sorts through his medication.

To be fair to Mr. Juniper, he isn’t descended from Scrooge. I am, but that’s another matter. Bah, humbug! Perhaps I can explain. For us, Hogswatch is about celebrating the year that’s passed. About celebrating another year survived. About celebrating that the darkest time of the year is soon to start getting lighter. And all of that? For a jolly happy soul like Mr. Juniper, it can be ““ to say the least ““ too much.

The house changes. He knows it’s going to change. But it’s still a disruption. An addition to everything that his mind is already trying to cope with. This year he is also having to contend with the repercussions of being assaulted barely months ago. When it’s beginning to look a lot like Hogswatch, there’s something tangible. Something to anticipate. Stress can rear its head at any time, but to have it scheduled? It’s perhaps not surprising that Mr. Juniper’s stress levels rise.

There are some elements that are easier to deal with than others. Medication, for instance. Though it comes with its own panic, too. “Do they know it’s Hogswatch?” proclaim the posters at the pharmacy and health centre. They’ll be shut for several days around Hogswatch and Hogmanay. These posters will be up in December. Mr. Juniper has been worrying about this since October. Saying, “Don’t fret, my love,” wasn’t going to work, and wouldn’t fair, either. If Mr. Juniper is anxious, then we need to try and do something to calm the situation rather than dismiss it. So at least, when it came to medication, I could talk Mr. Juniper through what he had to do in order to be prepared. One phone call to the health centre and an appointment booked well in advance for sorting out holiday season medication and one weight, at least, was lifted from Mr. Juniper’s shoulders.

The other struggles? They don’t have quite the same decency as to be so easily defeated by a phone call. Instead they rock around Hogswatch tree. The tree tends to go up on December 1. What? I like sparkly things. And ribbon. And orange slices. And cinnamon. And gingerbread. For a month I can have a house with a significantly higher level of lovely. And I love it. I have also, however, known Mr. Juniper to leave the room as Juniper Junior and I decorate the tree. It’s a symbol of December. Rubbing salt into the wound, would be the utterly inappropriate analogy here. December hasn’t been without its trips to Accident & Emergency over the years, but things have improved and, in recent memory I can’t recall an A&E trip. If there has been, I’ve suppressed the memory under tinsel and glitter.

In years past, Mr. Juniper hasn’t walked, so much as run away when the tree has gone up. Last year was a first. He helped. Like, really helped. I had already put some decorations on the tree when Juniper Junior and I were about to put the gingerbread decorations up. Some stars, some hearts, some people. While I cursed over making ribbon harnesses for the gingerbread people, Mr. Juniper relented. He helped. The strange part came because of the struggle the gingerbread people posed. A laugh or cry moment. I couldn’t stomach putting holes in their heads before I baked them. And I didn’t dare put the ribbon around their necks. I didn’t want our gingerbread people to be suicidal. So Mr. Juniper helped. Juniper Junior utterly unaware of what it meant to me, to be putting gingerbread Doctor Who in a harness.

Putting those gingerbread people on the tree helped Mr. Juniper. At least, I think it did. It was a moment for us both to acknowledge, while surrounded by the smell of Hogswatch spices, lengths of ribbon everywhere, and Juniper Junior chattering to himself as he hung gingerbread hearts on the tree, that Hogswatch is about our family. That it really is about celebrating another year. And acknowledging the good, the bad, and the ugly.

December isn’t just a time when a winter wonderland descends, it’s also a time of bad anniversaries for Mr. Juniper. Without going into detail, I’ll simply say that they rank near the top in Mr. Juniper’s list of Horrible Times. Like the fat man who comes down the chimney in search of pork pies, these anniversaries come at the same time every year. I always flit around the notion of not mentioning anything to do with them, but then I remember that if the date sneaks up, one midnight clear, the shock will be more cruel than having taken the other route. The other route being to deliberately bring up the bad anniversary. Not on the day, or even in the week before, but more like a few weeks before the anniversary is due to strike. To use some terrible phrasing, it is a means of supporting him through the anticipation rather than waiting to see it all land on him like an cartoon anvil. That perhaps it’s better to say, “You better watch out, bad memories are coming to town,” than to simply have a box of tissues at hand when the day arrives. The box of tissues is useful, no doubt, but my experience with Mr. Juniper is that they aren’t needed to the same degree if he can prepare himself. Medication is wonderful when a crisis hits, but when given the chance to acknowledge that a crisis may be coming, therapy can do its work and the need for emergency medication may be, if not eradicated, at least reduced.

This year, there is the added stress, too, of the anxiety that arose after Mr. Juniper was assaulted. It has, in short, wrecked his sleep. Nightmares every single night. And as such, Mr. Juniper is having to take things somewhat more gently. He is getting tired very easily again, among other things. He is also, for want of better wording, more sensitive. More aware of what’s going on around him. This is, though, helped by our usual methods around Hogswatch of taking things gently. Making sure there is time for rest and plans that don’t veer near the overwhelming. My great desire is for Mr. Juniper to be able to enjoy the festivities and to improve on last year’s balance of stress and happiness. In an odd way, the more recent trauma may even help us to have a happier Hogswatch. A little more effort in making sure no mighty monsters are roused from their sleep. Or at the very least, making sure the struggles will have to a lot of glitter and loveliness to contend with before they get to my love.

Now to think about what I put on my Hogswatch list. Surely it’s not too late? I’ve been an awfully good girl this year, Hogfather, though I hope there aren’t any bad feelings, but there’s another big man I hope to be kissing underneath the mistletoe. HO. HO. HO.

By Juniper

Rarely to be found without herbal tea nearby. Team Unicorn. Often in pyjamas. Also: TEAM KATNISS!

5 replies on “Caregiving: The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year”

I have a few friends and family who have the anniversaries of bad things in the holiday season, and I’m always a little at a loss on how to comfort them through a time when cheerfulness is the expected default emotion. I really appreciate your insight on the topic.

As much as December is supposed to so lovely for everyone, I think you describe on some level, something a lot of people can relate to. Holidays can be overwheleming, triggering and all kinds of things they don’t put on the posters around town the day after Halloween.

Wishing you and yours a season that IS merry and bright!

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