At least, that’s a way for me to deal with the fact that I haven’t written in a few days.
I had a breakdown Christmas Eve, which I wrote about at length at some point on Christmas Day — mainly on the train out to Long Island and a little after. Rather than post that long introspective entry on here, I decided to keep it private, for myself. Not because I’m worried about sharing it with you all, but because I’ve moved on, and in this moment I feel the urge to focus on the present. I do want to thank Hadar and Jill for the holiday support — I didn’t expect anyone to read my stat entry Christmas Day, and I certainly didn’t expect anyone to take the time to try and support me. Your support reminded me of how great this group is and what a remarkable community we get to be a part of.
So, Christmas contribution. Here we go.
#1, to Jimmy’s family and my family. Gifts for all! It was, honestly, a truly enjoyable exercise even as I don’t consider myself a very good gift-giver. It is a wonderful thing to give people gifts, and a good reminder of how great being in contribution feels (and, how authentic, for all of us, when we let ourselves get swept up by it).
#2, to Jimmy. My main contribution to him was not the gifts I gave him — I kind of struck out with one, and while I did better with the other, because of delivery issues it arrived late (arriving today). Those gifts were modest, and much more so than my gifts to him in the past. It was, instead, ensuring he was able to give to everyone in his life, freely and without stress. It’s amazing how much crap this gesture ended up bringing up for me Christmas Eve and Christmas Day because of the unexpected financial turmoil I found myself in, but I’m grateful for it, as I learned quite a bit by the end of it. Anyhow, despite rolling his eyes at every Christmas song that came on the radio leading up to Christmas, when Christmas Eve arrived, he basically turned into Santa Claus. He locked himself in our bedroom with bows, colorful wrapping paper, an assortment of tissue paper, and a number of boxes, blasted Christmas music (loud), and when he came out, he was glowing with Christmas cheer, his arms full of gifts. He was like a human Christmas ornament. If my initial gesture was a stretch in light of what I was struggling with (stress about finances), what he did with it challenged me even more — he bought me about a million gifts. Box after box after box. I was overwhelmed, and in a headspace where receiving was incredibly difficult. There’s a lot I could say here, but like I said, I’ve since moved on and I don’t want to churn it up again now. Suffice it to say that tons of my crap came up and I “got to” deal with it (and am better for it).
#3, to me. In the face of any kind of stress, I like to isolate. I don’t ask for support in part because of arrogance: I’m a smart person, and in life as in my profession, I constantly am problem-solving, issue-soptting, trouble-shooting, and analyzing ALL sides of every issue. What could you people possibly offer me as support that I haven’t already thought of? [This is what goes through my head — maybe not as explicit as how I’ve written it, but something along these lines.]
But, as usual, I’m a far cry from truly knowing everything, and isolating was a horrible idea. Once I opened myself to support, things shifted.
First, I shared about my issue as I was having it in my stat post (which ended up being due Christmas Day). I honestly did not expect anyone to read it (and secretly hoped they wouldn’t), but when both Hadar and Jill reached out to me with support — and I felt my own inner gratitude and relief at the sight of their messages — I realized I DID want someone to read it, and I really needed the support.
Second, despite feeling VERY tempted to NOT see anyone Christmas Day (i.e., sit out the whole day instead of just the morning), I forced myself on the hour-long journey to Penn Station (in the dreary fog), and then again on the hour-long journey out to Long Island. I had already let Jimmy down by missing Christmas brunch with his mom and sisters — was I really going to let him down and miss his big family Christmas dinner, too? But, the truth is, I didn’t really do it for him. I knew he’d be fine. Not because my breakdown didn’t put a great strain on him–it most certainly did (and I get to take in that price). But, he’s experienced, and practiced, and emotionally intelligent, and so he can handle himself very well when it comes to sticky situations (even sticky situations that cause emotional pain for him). I did it for me, because I knew if I sat alone in our apartment for the entirety of Christmas Day, I’d never forgive myself, and likely slip farther into depression.
So, we went to his mother’s house first when I arrived in Long Island. He had told his family I was sick with a migraine and would only join for the evening festivities. When I got there, they didn’t question it much, but, I don’t think they believed it, either. It didn’t matter — they didn’t meet me with skepticism or doubt, only with compassion and understanding. In that moment I realized I shouldn’t have missed the Christmas brunch with them.
When we got to the larger family dinner, I felt my emotional sickness rapidly recover. A day earlier, I had given the host, Patty, a long handwritten thank-you note for her help with our wedding. She was very appreciative, and seemingly felt closer to both of us as a result — she shared with us about difficulties she was facing with her son and made it a point to make sure we knew we could stay with her any time we visit Long Island (they have a very large home). Then later we did the “Secret Santa” gift opening, which encompasses all of Jimmy’s giant family. I had Patty as my person , and I had bought her a Kate Spade purse, in part to thank her for her work for us — when I got the purse, it was kind of too large (it looked smaller in the photo), and I became sort of reluctant to give it to her (even though she would have the receipt and I know it was the gesture that truly counted). I also chided myself for spending so much on a Secret Santa gift knowing our financial stress (and then worrying that she wouldn’t like it), but, Patty had done an amazing thing for us. I wanted to give her something above the norm. In the end, though, my handwritten letter — on coffee stained crumpled notebook paper — was really the gift she treasured. She told us with tears in her eyes that it “couldn’t have come at a better time,” in light of the struggles she was facing with her son.
When it came time for ME to open up my Secret Santa gift — it was a purse. A Coach purse. From Jimmy’s uncle Mike (who has shockingly good taste for being an older gentleman).
Trust, trust, trust. I mean look, it wouldn’t have mattered what the gift I got was — the evening had already given me everything I needed. Connection, comfort, laughter, the sound of human voices talking animatedly to each other. But, the fact that Patty’s appreciation was far deeper for my note on the wrinkled notebook paper than the expensive purse that had gotten me so worked up — and that my gift, too, ended up being an expensive purse — were priceless lessons for me. Just trust.
After Jimmy’s family’s big party, we headed off to Boston. I was apprehensive. My mother and sister cannot get along for more than an hour, and while since doing the work I’ve got far more endurance than that, I still have my limits. I was in for a surprise. My sister was different than she’s been — she was open, friendly, talkative, to both me and Jimmy. She accepted Jimmy as if he was part of the family, for probably the first time. My mother was patient. She was, of course, doting on my beautiful little niece, but, she let the parents be in charge. She didn’t make any snide suggestions about how they “should” parent their child. She just did as she was told, doing her best to help them out (and that being her sole motivation–make it easier for them, spend time with her beautiful grandchild). My stepdad followed suit. There were times when my brother-in-law pushed their buttons, but rather than react, they resorted to humor, teasing him about his various eccentricities. It wasn’t perfect. There were silences when no one felt like they had anything to say — there were sarcastic remarks here and there — there was an overall feeling that we were all holding our best selves back a little, tentative, still, with each other. So, it wasn’t a great visit — but, I feel solid in saying it was a good one. And that’s great (like, really great).
I, again, felt comforted by the presence others (and this time, my own family). Looking into the wide, curious eyes of my tiny little niece made my problems seem a lot smaller. I was reminded that I’m a powerful woman. I can handle things. So, I left victim mode behind (it’s not very becoming anyhow).
What struck me at the end of all of this was that it wasn’t as if I had talked to anyone about the issues that were weighing on my mind — not even Jimmy (at least not during the family visit time, only before). My troubles were in the same state before the family time as they were after. But, they felt different. Less daunting. Less impossible. Much smaller. All because I had simply connected — that’s all. Opening myself to others — just that — had healed something deep inside.
Great lessons all around. Now bring on the new year!