(TW for anxiety/depression.)
You may have noticed I didn’t talk about Christmas very much this year. The full extent of my Christmas-related blogging was a shopping guide for Christmas jumpers and a photography post showing you the Christmas lights and decorations along Regent Street in London. A couple of Christmas lights photos from Belsize Park made it into this “walk home with me” photography post as well.
The truth is, the holidays are always complicated for me. They are for most people, I think, and there’s a certain pressure to ignore that and be happy, or pretend to be, that hinders more than helps. I’m no less fond of Christmas than most people: it’s a big holiday, a holiday that carries with it a lot of familiar traditions, things you’ve known for years and which are comforting, reassuring in their longevity. The Christmas lights, the songs, the colors, the movies, the decorations, the good wishes and the gifts and the Christmas-themed foods and drinks — I like them. I honestly do. I’m still weirded out that all of London was decked out by November 3rd, but I’m not sick of it or anything. I’m not even sick of the Starbucks Christmas playlist, and trust me, those songs have wormed their way into my brain far more frequently than I’d have liked.
This is the first year in my entire life I’m alone over Christmas, in a foreign country, but it’s not the first year I’m struggling, not the first year I’m sad, not even the first year I’m stressed as fuck about money. For the past five, six years, the holidays have alternated between “depressing,” “gloomy,” and “well, this is better than last year.” For a few years when I was still a teenager, I sent out Christmas cards to my online friends. I remember the time I was living in Madrid and had to find the nearest post office to my dorm and sent out well over 20 cards to different destinations.
I cut that expense. I stopped getting presents. Sometimes my sister and I get something from other family; my aunt gave me a Pimkie gift card two years ago (technically last year, 2013, for Wise Men Day, January 6, the big gift-giving day in Spain) that I used to buy my ubiquitous black leather jacket (my first — my only, though I got a teal one in the sales the following summer — and you’ve probably seen it). To be completely honest, the lack of presents has never bothered me very much, but it was a reminder of the situation, and it made my mom sad, which made me sad — I’ve never been able to shield out my mom’s feelings.
But there’s more! One year, our electricity was suspended over Christmas. Another year, my mom went to a food bank to fill up the kitchen cupboards. Stir in my volatile relationship with my father, my anxiety and depression, and the pressure to have a good holiday season, and you’ll have a massive clusterfuck of emotions. To wit, note the fact that I told you the miseries of Christmasses past in two short sentences, and then think about how often I’m able to wrap up a sentence in fifteen words if it’s about something I want to talk about. Go on.
Now, I’m not super fussed about what food I eat for Christmas, as long as there is something to eat. Sure, I miss my mom’s roast ham and roast lamb leg and roast potatoes, but it’s something I can live without. I’ve been living without it since I moved here. I’ve been living without quail, too, because I’m too scared to walk into a butcher’s, which has nothing to do with Christmas but it has to do with “foods I used to eat on a regular basis and I haven’t touched since I was forcibly put in charge of my own cooking and grocery shopping.” I stopped eating seafood, my mom’s favorite type of food and a Christmas staple at our home, a few years ago, when a bit of prawn did something weird I could feel in my ear. Most years, the only Christmas sweet I eat is chocolate turrón. I hate marzipan and I’m not often in the mood for polvorones, so I just go for the chocolate(s), which isn’t a Christmas exclusive. Once again, this is something that mattered a lot more to my parents than it did to me. It makes sense, because Christmas is about family meals, to me and to a lot of other people, and it’s hard to get enthused about it if you can eat the meal in five minutes.
(It’s also hard to get me to stick around after I eat the meal, and by my last Christmas at home, I was eating in my room most days, so big dinners were the only family meals I participated in. There are reasons for this, see above re: volatile relationship with my father.)
But the suspended electricity — due to unpaid bills — and the food bank trip, well, those are things that stick. They’re specially sticky because it’s not like our situation is any better now. I’m making more money, but it all goes to rent, and I’m constantly worried I won’t make my next payment. My mom got a three-month government job as a street sweeper, which I hope means she can claim benefits again when it’s over, because otherwise it’s — hard to think about. It pays shit, too, and it’s exhausting, and I’m constantly in awe of her. I haven’t even managed to finish my CV. I keep hoping my freelancing will take off, and being concerned I won’t be able to make it to any interviews if I even get called in for one because of lack of transport money. I’ve been meaning to put in an application at Starbucks since I moved to Hampstead Heath, and I need to reprint it and still haven’t got round to it.
And I’m alone. I usually thrive on being alone. I know for a fact that not living with my family is a major reason I’ve been able to do more work. I didn’t have to worry about rent at home, but a myriad other things caused me anxiety. It’s not like my mental health issues are new. What’s new is that I’m eating properly and actually getting shit done on a regular basis. That happened because I left behind some of my main anxiety triggers. But I am alone, and it gets hard sometimes, and it’s Christmas, and —
I skyped my family on Christmas Eve, and it helped. It helped a lot. It helped more than it usually does, more than I expected. But I went right back to my funk afterwards. Today I’m feeling a little better, a little more optimistic, but I don’t know how long it will last. When I was still in Spain, many of my days ended badly, but they always started well. Now, my days start with a heavy heart and a knot in my stomach. I have no doubt that the reason I feel halfway capable of pushing through this evening is a client bought an additional label design and I can now pay next week’s rent. I didn’t use to worry about it until Friday, at least, but it’s more like Wednesday these days — and sometimes I worry in advance for future weeks’ rent. I used to start my weeks with optimism even if I was starting with £10 in the bank, but that’s no longer the case. Most days, I have to fight off my terror.
On Christmas Eve I was telling myself that I could go back home for six months, a year maybe, not now because it’s my parents’ turn to host my grandma, and that means no room of my own until July. Then July and August are summer, which I can’t handle in Spain. So I’d have to make it to the end of my lease — and maybe things will be better then. It’s a lot of months for things to get better. I’ve made progress, even if it’s slow and I can’t see it.
I’m still terrified. I’m so, so afraid.
I bought an external hard drive last week. I paid for most of it with an Amazon gift card from a sponsored post I did months ago, and the parcel arrived on Monday. I’d been needing an external for a while; I’m constantly struggling with disk space. I got a WD My Passport 1TB drive. Debs, whose new blog I’ve been working on, recommended that one, and it was 44% off so I went for it. I backed up my Mac on it yesterday and I’ll be transferring RAW photos from my USB sticks into that. I’m going to be pushing my youtube channel with movie reviews, mostly, and maybe feminist commentary and the occasional tag, because I love doing vlog tags. I’m actually kind of excited about that. It’s the only thing I’ve been able to get excited about in quite a while. I’m hoping it stays exciting when I start doing it. I want to make money off it, but I’m not counting on it, so hopefully it will just be fun.
How are you guys doing?