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YOUR VOICE: PTSD Christmas

“Oh, I wish it could be Christmas every day…”

For two months or so, it actually feels as though it is. Between the start of November and the end of December, it’s the perfect alignment of Christmas, and everything is exactly as it was and has been every year for as long as you can remember. It’s like Groundhog Day or a dream-like time machine in your body – a perfectly replicated two months in which the world revolves around its minute traditions and festivities, building up to the 25th, the most Magical Day of the Year.

There they are; the same Christmas songs on the radio and in every shopping centre – Fairy Tale of New York, which I used to like, the Noddy Holder one, which sort of always irritated me with its twee on-the-nose lyrics, Mariah Carey singing about not needing no Christmas tree, and whoever it was who gave George Michael’s heart away.

The same movies on TV – Home Alone, Jingle All the Way, Bad Santa and the Jim Carrey version of The Grinch; if you’re lucky, Die Hard (it counts) and Batman Returns (it really counts and is the best Christmas movie of all time). The same Christmas specials: The Simpsons episode where Homer brings home Santa’s Little Helper, and that other one where Bart steals a computer game. Moe’s annual suicide attempt. The bumper TV guides filled with nothing but soaps, movies you’ve seen before and the Doctor Who special that inevitably always disappoints.

The same Christmas Market, depending on where you live and how festive your local town centre gets about it (Birmingham Frankfurt – and it is very). Overpriced flat beer with a deposit for the mug, expensive German sausage (it’s the wurst) and elbow-to-elbow shoppers, boozers and Christmas in your face.

The same atmosphere – an overwhelming sense of excitement, of things that need to be done. The festive cheer! You can’t complain though; don’t want to sound like a Scrooge!

And the same memories bubbling up – Christmas when I was five (my first train set), or ten (the Batman Forever Batmobile), sat around the table with mum and dad and my little brother and little(r) sister, laughing and popping Christmas crackers. That time my brother terrified my sister, flailing a lobster around (an unconventional Christmas side dish) and she threw the Playstation remote at the TV before running out of the room screaming. Tamagochis, lava lamps and wrapping paper everywhere. Only a year later from the lobster incident, my little brother is lying on a bed in a critical illness ward, wires coming out of too many orifices and already, I know, this is a Christmas to remember.

The same nightmares – waking up screaming through all of November and December. Flashbacks to that hospital ward, then the hospice and then, finally, the graveyard. The constant worry that it’s going to happen all over again, that someone else you love is sick and dying. Suddenly those songs aren’t just Christmas songs, but they’re the soundtrack to my little brother’s dwindling demise (at two months, it felt so fast and yet so slow, and drawn out), now reminders of sad car journeys, hospital and hospice ward radios and hustling, bustling supermarkets that I can’t wait to get out of.

Early in November my little brother fell ill, and in late December he died. Four days after Christmas Day. Every year, we relive those two months, to exactly the same alignment of surroundings and festivities. The same music, the same movies on TV, the same Christmas Market, the same atmosphere, the same memories, the same nightmares. It’s like Post Traumatic Stress, but with Christmas. And you can’t hide from Christmas.

Because writing doesn’t pay all of the bills, I work in retail. In retail we start thinking about Christmas in September and by November I’m putting together a massive wooden Christmas tree (technically a ladder, but we stapled fairy lights to it) in a hot and cramped window and throwing fake snow about like I’m Al Pacino in Scarface. It’s the first of November and I’m putting together a Christmas tree and throwing about fake snow. You can’t complain though. Don’t want to seem like Scrooge.

And so you try to take Christmas on your own terms, enjoying the Christmas movies and music that aren’t so attached to painful memories (hello Batman Returns and Dominic the Donkey), embracing the time with your friends and family, and showing everyone you love just how much you love them. It’s not easy, but what is Christmas but a reminder to make the most of what, and who you have, before it’s too late. It hurts though, that empty chair, and that gap under the tree where his presents should be. (All I want for Christmas, is you).

I wish it could be Christmas every day, sang Wizzard the hairy Brummy.

Well, for two months of the year, it feels like it is. For me, at least. And you know what they say. It starts earlier every year.

If you’re having a tough time this festive season, don’t forget that the CALM helpline is still available to call from 5pm until midnight every day. 0800 585858. It’s free, anonymous, confidential, won’t show up on your phone bill and you will talk with trained helpline workers. The webchat service operates in the same way.

photo credit: Christmas Robin via photopin (license)

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