The Last Christmas on Earth

It’s a bitch to write about Christmas without seeming like a huge grump.

So, any feelings I have of sadness, regret, or pain, here’s something I’m willing to toss onto that shit pile: a total poverty of my imagination.

“Willing myself” to feel better has never worked, but some things have: getting out and about in the world, seeing what the day has to offer, as if it were a surprise gift waiting for me to unwrap.

Over the past couple weeks I’ve been thinking about times in my life when I felt really happy.

Instead I discovered I’m leaning on the same old attitudes.

You see, it took awhile for me to settle into Saint Paul after I moved here in December 1992. I rented a room in a Summit Avenue mansion and threw a “Christmas ceilidh” for my friends. That was fun.

Things went downhill from there (as life does when you’re young) and I ended up moving twice before renting a Merriam Park one bedroom in August 1993, the same year my late parents retired to southwest Florida.

Christmas as I knew it changed forever at that point—even moreso the following year when, on Friday, Dec. 16, 1994, a journal entry reports:

“Dad called from Florida and he sounded strange. I had to sit down as he said Mom was in the hospital for what they thought was a mild cardiac arrest Monday night. They didn’t call us up here when it happened because they wanted to learn more. She hadn’t felt well since after Thanksgiving and had swollen up in her legs and belly so badly that she was taken to the Emergency Room and kept over for observation. I felt like I had to comfort Dad, he thought he almost lost Mom, and as I started to think about it, it bothered me too. Before I left for shopping, I cried and prayed by my bedside, something I can’t recall ever doing before. As of today, Mom is home again and taking medication for her condition. I feel better, but am still worried. I’m not used to the idea of possibly losing my parents yet.”

I’d entirely forgotten that incident. It was the first time I learned about Mom’s congestive heart disease, and how she would need to treat it for the rest of her life.

It was, as the journal reports in January 1995, the “first Christmas not shared with my parents” and I was feeling guilty and wary about the future. Christmas was always a happy time in our family—Mom and Dad married four days before Christmas Day 1957. They joyfully embraced the season and generously gave to others.

But back in 1994, I had a glimpse of a future that would arrive in full force 14 years later, when they both died in 2008. That Christmas was truly the last and since then I’ve been asking myself how I can recreate joys I knew long ago.

I’ve come to a troubling realization—something I seem to keep dismissing.

And if I keep doing that, I think it could cost me my life.

***

I was first diagnosed with dysthymic disorder in 1987 by a psychiatrist in St. Louis Park, Minn. I met him because I was curious about Mom’s descent into clinical depression after her mother died in 1981, and was concerned about what I was feeling.

Or not.

Like, for a long time.

Medication helped to a degree, but I had a hard time staying in therapy. I couldn’t see an end to it, and I did not like being lumped into a group. Maybe I can change that reluctance with a plan toward “wellness,” since ignoring my condition serves no one, especially me.

After poking around on the Internet, I found there’s been new research into dysthymia. This statement in particular really hits home:

“…the damage dysthymic disorder deals to quality of life and social and occupational functioning appears to outweigh that of major depression, although the latter receives far more research attention. Dysthymic disorder should no longer be considered ‘subsyndromal’ but a major public health problem.”

I notice my condition more over the Christmas holidays because I distinctly feel less cheerful. I hear people laughing and think, “Whoa, I can’t do that.” Or, if I do find something amusing, I’m ridiculously self-conscious about it. When I’m feeling “lighter” I don’t act that way. But “lighter” is more “in-the-rear-view mirror” with each passing year.

That’s what I find really upsetting. It’s bullshit. I want it to stop. I don’t want what happened to Mom back in 1994 to happen to me.

I don’t want to be blindsided by health conditions that dysthymia might exacerbate. I instinctively know that emotions have a direct impact on a person’s overall well-being (and yeah, you can literally die from homesickness).

And I do know that my dysthymia has lowered my quality of life in long-term relationships, jobs and careers, and just plain “having fun.”

Ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy could be one answer.

I don’t know. I never feel like I know my own mind.

But I’m feeling in my gut that treatment must be front and center in the new year.

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~ by completelyinthedark on December 28, 2017.

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