Mental Illness

Caregiving: A Ready-Made Christmas

The idea of a Christmas made up of beautiful homemade gifts, cards, decorations, and food is so enticing. Social networks are covered in ideas shared and tried. It is the season for giving, and the thought that counts seems to count more when the gifts are handmade. Banquets big and small ought to be labours of handcrafted love. Yeah, it isn’t happening that way here. Not this year.

The past two Christmases have been hard. Really hard. There has been grief, illnesses, crises, trauma. When it comes to being the darkest part of the year, we are quite aware. It isn’t Christmas without medications rattling alongside sleigh bells.

This year is going to be different. I didn’t know how at first. I just knew that this year would be different. I can’t control everything. I don’t want to control everything. I do want to know where I stand. I want to know I can do. What I am capable of.

A small moment of wondering has transformed into a different approach for this year. I realised I couldn’t deal with trying to bake all the Christmas treats I normally would. Then I realised I couldn’t bring myself to make gifts and hunt down those special heartfelt ones to buy. I couldn’t do Christmas crafts to adorn the tree and garland. I’m so tired at the moment. And for all the gingerbread people, for all the hand painted decorations, for all the mince pies and carefully chosen gifts, two years ago I was brought to my knees. So many hours spent crying. There were good moments, there were beautiful moments, but they were punctuated by the pain of having to hold myself together. Of when I didn’t manage.

For all I had done, for all I had made, I couldn’t make Christmas good. I couldn’t force that to happen. I couldn’t override what the Universe had in store. What made the days special were the shrieks of laughter from ours boys, Little Juniper learning to clap his hands, Juniper Junior’s delight at being let loose with the camera. Opening the presents Juniper Junior had chosen for us. I might have made the days a little prettier but my handiwork wasn’t what made the good moments.

I have chosen not to make gifts, not to bake anything besides our daily bread, not to over-think gifts. I have chosen to actively plan a simple Christmas. A ready-made Christmas. And it’s been a relief.

The decorations are being kept to a minimum. Usually I would have made dried orange slices and gingerbread for the tree but this year, there won’t be any. Our tree will still be beautiful. Because it will be ours. Small but mighty. Just the right height to be decorated by our boys. Just right to say that we are doing this on our terms.

Presents are being kept simple, too. There will be Lego aplenty and the Disney Store will have its place under the tree, too. But I realised it is okay to say that what will be there is enough. That it’s okay if there isn’t anything handcrafted or a keepsake for life. There won’t be hand-decorated wrapping paper. I need sleep more than I need special paper. I don’t have the energy for Christmas crafts with the boys. I would rather we went on walks or spent hours having fun with Play Doh.

Christmas dinner won’t be a spread so much as a particularly indulgent meal. A few trimmings. Everything apart from a family favourite chickpea dish will be from Tesco. And I realised I’m okay with that. I would rather spend a little bit more and be a rather less stressed me. I want to spend time with Mr. Juniper and our boys, rather than the cooker and the sink.

There will be other people, and no doubt some of them will be caregivers, who embrace a handmade Christmas. And I truly hope they have a wonderful Christmastime. For me, for us, I know that a ready-made Christmas is the way forward this year. That the needs of my family are not going to be met any better for the presence of homemade fare. That putting my feet up and raising a glass with Mr. Juniper is my kind of merry Christmas.

By Juniper

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

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