Mental Health: Ho Ho HELP

It’s no secret that the holidays incite a wealth of emotions. While some people recall happy memories to the tune of Bing Crosby and anticipate this time of year, there are others who’ve lost someone in the last 12 months and this is their first holiday season without them. Some lost a loved one around this time of year, so the season’s warmth and glitter feels irrevocably tarnished every year after. Some have negative relationships with family that have led to stressful, heartbreaking reunions or estrangement. Some families suffer financial stress so crippling that the holidays become a huge stressor opposed to a joyful time. Some have a homeless family member and wonder where they are. Are they alone? Are they warm? Do they know what day it is? Do they care? Are they using?

Of course, I’m thinking of my brother today as my family celebrates Christmas. My brothers and I were fortunate to have magical Christmases growing up. My parents struggled to make ends meet but, somehow, Santa’s sack always mobbed deep. I remember the three of us all sleeping in one room, me on my twin, Alex on my trundle, and Duncan on the floor (poor Duncan), waking up too early, and then running out to rip into the carefully arranged spread. Our tired parents would snap photos and capture us on the camcorder.

that’s Keith in the corner (REM voice)

This was long after we’d grown out of Santa, by the way. (Alex and Duncan blew that for me in first grade.) We just liked hanging out and sleeping in the same room on Christmas Eve. Any other day of the year, no. Hell no. Christmas Eve, yes. After all, no one knows you as well or as long as your siblings do so, when we’re honest with ourselves, they’re who you want to share the special, formative childhood/adolescent moments with.

stuntin’ on these dorks

One by one, we aged out of adolescence, and year by year, things became increasingly difficult around the holidays. A couple days before Christmas in 2007 Alex announced that he and his partner were having a baby, and that they were moving to Florida. That day. That was the first Christmas after he got his leg amputated and Duncan and I had dropped out of college and spent 54 days in the hospital by Alex’s side. That year had been like taking an emotional bat to the knees. They loaded up and drove away and, as we watched them turn out of the cul-de-sac, I supposed it couldn’t get much worse than that.

a brother’s love is a brother’s love

Five years later, we all visited Alex at his rehab in December, two months after he’d shot himself in the head. With his stitched up head, Alex cranked golfballs into the abyss of a big, dry field with Duncan. At the same visit, Alex told my mom in group therapy that he’s never forgiven her for his repeating first grade. (One of his favorite pastimes has always been vilifying our mom.) On his final day, there was a ceremony performed involving a symbolic bridge-crossing as a graduation from the rehab. He left, and soon went back to using. I supposed it couldn’t get much worse than that.

crackin’ himself up w that terrible stache

But then, there’s now.

The last “normal” memory I have of Alex is Christmas 2015, a chaotic span of a few days in which a dear aunt died, my mom and I were going for the others’ jugular, and Rick proposed to me. That Christmas “break” was inflammatory in its juxtapositions. It was also during this time Alex told me and Duncan in a moment of seriousness he’d been assaulted as a child. Usually he just deflected everything. He offered that information one night while riding in the front of Duncan’s Tahoe in his nice jeans, henley, and cologne. The next time I saw him he was living under the bridge.

A tightly wound pragmatist, I’ve long since ceased believing that things couldn’t be worse. I keep getting proved wrong, like emotional whiplash. My dang neck hurts. So, instead, my whole body remains tense as I steel myself for the worst news all day, every day. That also makes my neck hurt. Plus, I get bonus knots in my shoulders and back. I can’t win! Either way, my neck hurts. Somebody pass the Tito’s.

Alex was there when Rick proposed to me on that Christmas Eve four years ago, giving hugs and congratulations, but he never made it to the wedding. There’s a beautiful photo of me and Alex hugging in celebration of the proposal but I can’t find it anywhere. I’m gonna risk bordering on cringe and say it’s poetic that, at least until I can find those photos, that formative moment lives only in my brain and is fading. My brother and my husband, two people who’ve informed and continue to inform so much of who I am, were like ships passing in the night. They’ve spent maybe a few hours together total, but that pivotal day was part of that tiny overlap.

One thing important to note is that years when sad things happen around the holidays conjure a special appreciation for years that are uneventful (in a good way). High highs, low lows. My family’s got ’em. Maybe yours does, too. Or maybe it’s all good. Or all crap. The point is, life isn’t a Lexus ad. And if it is, I think that’s very neat, and would you give me a ride in your Lexus?

You may have noticed that, like my life, this post has gone off the rails a bit! So, I’ll wrap it up. Like a Christmas gift. It is 3:34am. Help.

Anyway, I wish you all a merry Christmas, a happy fourth night of Hanukkah, and happy holidays to all, whatever you may celebrate. If you’re going through something during this often chaotic season, I’m sending you warmth and a virtual hug. I wish I could give you a real hug. Take care of you.

I’ll leave you with a bonus photo of me in Christmas skants.

Marlon Brando, Jimmy Dean on the cover of a magazine

Wednesday posts cover something that’s top of mind for me that week and are written in a short period of time. This means that editing is not strong. While it’s not my best work, it is my best, unfiltered thought.

More on Bummed Out Baker:
Mental Health: Communicating Mental Unrest
Mental Health: Finding the Glow
Mental Health: Disoriented


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