‘On The Fence’: Christmas

Love it or hate it, you certainly can’t avoid it! Christmas takes over for the entirety of December, and it feels like it gets earlier and earlier every year.

Some people are huge Christmas fans and love going ‘all out’, but for others, Christmas isn’t the greatest time of year.

Sometimes it isn’t just about being a ‘Grinch’ or a ‘party pooper’, there are people who struggle at this time of year for a variety of reasons – maybe due to their current circumstances, or previous trauma they have experienced etc.

I asked my Twitter followers whether they love it or hate it, and here are some of the things a few of them had to say…

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How do you feel about Christmas?

“I really dislike Christmas, I get very anxious in the run up to Christmas.”

 “I absolutely love Christmas! It feels so magical and cosy. I’ve been known in two previous jobs as the Christmas fairy, so I’ve always been in charge of decorating at work because they know that I love it so much.”

 As long as I can remember,  I have had a love/ hate relationship with Christmas. I suffer from depression, anxiety, and PTSD brought on by child sexual violence. Half the time I have to force myself to enjoy the traditions. Since having children I find myself loving the holiday more for them. I don’t want them to feel as I do.”

 

What do you think of shops playing Christmas music in November?

“Annoying and a ploy to attempt to get people to spend more money.”

“As much as I enjoy Christmas music, I’d prefer that they wait until the day after Thanksgiving.”

“I honestly can’t stand it. It makes me anxious. It reminds me Christmas will be here soon and there’s so much to do. It puts me in panic mode.”

 

Do you decorate for Christmas?

“When I was living at home I used to decorate for Christmas but last Christmas and this one I have been living in a hostel and I haven’t made such an effort”

“Yes, we go pretty crazy. During the Christmas season, there are virtually no untouched horizontal or vertical surfaces in our home. We put together a very intricate “holiday village” in our living room that takes a couple of days. I love it; it’s like a little virtual world. And it’s great to see granddaughter’s eyes light up when she sees it every year. She just can’t touch it!”

A little, I did more when the kids were younger but now just the basics. This year I won’t even have a tree as I have a puppy and it could be carnage”

 

What is one thing you like about Christmas?

“I like a bit of time with my family”

“Being with all three of our adult kids and getting to relax and just enjoy time with them – and seeing them have fun hang out with each other.”

“Seeing other people happy and little kids having fun is cute. Other than that, not much really.”

 

What is one thing you dislike about Christmas?

“The whole artificiality of it and the negative effect it has on a lot of people.  More suicides around the festive period than any other time of year.”

“The idea that there are people who are lonely and sad.”

“Not having family around like I use to. Everyone has grown up or passed and it’s hard to be together. Also, I can’t enjoy it no matter what and that kills me.”

 

What kind of Christmas did you have as a child?

“I had some weird Christmases growing up, quite a few spent in hospital due to health issues then when I got better every other Christmas was spent with either mum or dad”

“Christmas was amazing when I was a kid. My muma and dad would help me leave out milk and mince pies for Santa, and some carrots for the reindeer. The next morning there would be an almost empty glass, some mince pie crumbs, and a carrot top with bite marks on the bottom of it. I had a huge stocking that got filled by Santa, and then presents from friends and family under the tree. I used to get so many presents that I couldn’t open them all in one day. I’m an only child, so my parents used to make Christmas all about me. Santa still brings me and my dad presents every year.”

“My parents were divorced, so I spent most of them with my mom. After my molestation I spent a few big holidays with my grandparents. Unfortunately , the trauma has erased much of my childhood.”

 

What does your typical Christmas day look like?

”Same as every other day.”

“Christmas Day is always at my auntie’s house. I spend the morning opening the presents under the tree at my house, and then we get ready and go to my auntie’s house. We have a big family dinner, open all the presents at their house together, and then relax in the evening watching Christmas TV. Boxing Day has always been special in my house though. That’s when we do Christmas all over again for just us, and it’s a lot more chill. We stay in our pjs, watch whatever we want on TV, and have a whole second Christmas dinner!”

Get up, stay smelly, eat chocolate – go to bed lol”

 

What would you say to someone who has the opposite view as you on Christmas?

“I would say it’s their opinion and I’m glad they have better experiences than me”

“I’d say to each his own, if you like it fair play but to me it’s just another day.”

“I think it’s sad that people have unpleasant memories of Christmas, and I feel lucky to have great ones. I’d say make the time to volunteer for an hour or two somewhere over the holidays – it really takes you “out of yourself” and reminds you to be grateful for what you have.”

“You do you. Everyone is different, and they can celebrate it (or not celebrate it) however they wish. One of my best friends doesn’t do Christmas in their house. They used to when she was a kid, but thanks to family drama every year they decided to stop celebrating it. Now their tradition is to get takeaway and watch rubbish TV in their pjs. Don’t ruin it for those that love it if you don’t like Christmas, and don’t shove your love for it in other people’s faces if you do love it!”

“Everyone has different views on Christmas, for different reasons. We all have the right to our own feelings and views.”

That is fine, we all have our own experiences. I am not a bah humbug and know that a lot of my issue is circumstance rather than the actual holiday itself.”

 

Please respect that everyone is entitled to an opinion and that the world is full of so many unique people. Unfortunately you are never going to agree with every single person, and every single person isn’t going to agree with your opinion.
If everyone had the same ideas, thoughts & opinions then nothing would change for the worse, but it wouldn’t change for the better either.

 

 

Thank you so much to those who participated in this post… you can check them out and give them a follow, and check their blogs out using the details below:

 

@CynthiaMGill5

@A_Strongerme_

@dawnerichards              Blog Link

@IntroducingMMI           Blog Link

@365days_051215           Blog Link

Thanks also to the person who answered anonymously

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A Christmas Gift

Each Christmas was the same, the family would all wait until everyone was awake before venturing downstairs to see what gifts had magically been left beneath the twinkling tree during the night.

A man, a woman, a boy, and a girl, all made their way down the stairs in their pyjamas and dressing gowns, while it was still dark outside because the day hadn’t really broken yet!

The mother and father were in clear need of a coffee or two, the son was eager to see what surprises lay ahead, and the young girl’s long hair had no time to be brushed when there was important present opening to be done!

The lounge door was pushed open, as if it lead to somewhere magical, which to the children, it did. Under the tree, was everything and more than they had expected!

christmas gift

 

Amongst the masses of presents, stood a large wooden doll’s house. While the son, being older and uninterested in doll houses, was more interested in the presents still to be unwrapped, the youngest and only daughter, approached the doll house excitedly. The young girl explored the tiny details of the house, a gift which, she imagined, had been built for her by Father Christmas and his elves in his workshop.

The doll’s house came perhaps up to her waist. It had a hinged front and like all the outer walls of the house, it was covered with a red brick work pattern and fitted a look similar to that of a traditional Victorian Town House. Front windows with netted curtains gave it a homely feel, and she couldn’t wait to see what surprises lay inside.

She lifted the little hook which held the front of the house in place, and opened it to reveal the little world inside.

The inside was sectioned – kitchen, bedroom, lounge, and bathroom. Wallpaper decorated the interior of each room, which had tiny Victorian doll furniture, a size which would be suitable for the young girl’s ‘Sylvanian Families’ figures.

So much detail had gone into the various rooms, all matching the Victorian feel of the home – a Grandfather clock, a mangle, a lifting toilet, furniture patterned with tiny flowers.

Looking closely, she could see a light bulb in the ceiling of one of the upper rooms… but wait… did this work?

She explored the little house further. Looking at the outside again, she looked closer at the roof of the house which was patterned with black slates… another hinge! She unhooked the catch, and upon opening found that the whole of the front of the roof lifted to reveal an attic. In the attic she found a small switch, which (as you have probably guessed!), once pressed, lit up the light bulb inside the house!

This house was perfect and became a great little home for the various members of her Sylvanian Family, and the little girl couldn’t have hoped for much more from her doll house, her special gift from Father Christmas and his elves.

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Having once stood in the lounge for some time, the pretty house was moved to the young girl’s bedroom.

Over time, as the girl grew, and with the introduction of a new neighbour in the form of a karaoke machine, the house was used less and less. Many days the noisy neighbour appeared to be hosting a party with appearances from the likes of The Spice Girls and other 90s pop icons, whilst the poor house became somewhat of a clothes horse at times.

Eventually, during a house move, the doll house which had once been so dearly loved and treasured became redundant, and so, was taken to the local tip as there was no place for it in the new home.

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Some 10-15 years later, a young woman sat conversing with her mother. Her dark brown hair, once long enough almost to sit on, was much shorter now, giving a more mature look. The mother and daughter were talking cover coffee, reminiscing. The daughter mentioned a doll house she once had. Looking back, she remembered it fondly. She remembered all the details of the house she had loved as a child, forgetting how over time it had become abandoned in her eagerness to grow up and escape childhood to gain her own independence.

She asked her mother about the detailed furniture, curious about how it had all come together. Her mother told her how she had been and picked each item especially for the house, mentally designing it as she brought it all together.

Not having given it much thought since childhood, it occurred to her that Father Christmas and his elves obviously hadn’t made the dollhouse, so where did it come from? Her mother explained how every little detail had been designed, calculated, and handmade by her own father! Despite working long hours, her father had come home and spent his free time carefully building this house as a Christmas gift for his only daughter. Suddenly all of the tiny details the house had – the red brickwork, the slated roof, the working lights, the little hooks and hinge seemed all the more appreciated than had already been. She felt overwhelmed with emotion and appreciation for the effort that both her parents had put into just one of the Christmas gifts she had received that year.

She also felt a pang of guilt at the thought that the lifespan of the house had been so short and it had come to a bit of an abrupt end in a rushed house move.

The house didn’t still stand, but the memories, love and appreciation for the effort of such a beautiful and thoughtful Christmas gift for a child will always stand. It will never be forgotten or unspoken of. It will forever been one of the greatest Christmas gifts.

And in case you were wondering, and it isn’t already obvious – yes, the little girl was me.

 

My Top Christmas Movies

Now that we are finally in December, it seems a safe place to be able to admit to watching Christmas films!

Over the years there have been new movies come and go but we can’t resist returning to our old favourites!
That being said, there are the rare few that we enjoy so much we allow them the privelege of being added to our annual list of seasonal watches!

I am sure many of my favourites are probably on your list too, but who knows? So why not grab yourself a mug of hot chocolate, cuddle by the fire with the tree lights twinkling and have a read of my favourite festive films…

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ELF

A film I avoided watching for a long time. It came out when I was already an adult and it looked silly, and not my kind of humour.
Over the years (with the influence from my husband), my sense of humour has changed.
A colleague recommended the film and when I eventually got around to watching it, I did find that I enjoyed it.

It is definitely Christmassy and a ‘fun for all the family’ movie which is what you expect from a Christmas film.

My favourite thing about the movie is some of the great lines to quote like “You sit on a throne of lies!” And “SANTA! I KNOW HIM!”

It is just the kind of movie that gets you in the Christmas spirit and that is why it is on my list!

HOME ALONE

I really think this film has to be on my list just because it truly is a classic.
I have watched it every year for most of my life, since it was a big new movie  during my childhood.
With classic music by John Williams, it is hard not to be sucked into the familiarity of a long loved family favourite.
Macauly Culkin is cute as a button, with more charisma than a lot of adult actors in modern day Christmas movies.

Still to this day, I find it hard not to cringe as Marv puts his bare foot straight down onto the nail on the staircase! 🙈

Definitely full of Christmas warmth as well as slapstick comedy moments that appeal to every age.

ARTHUR CHRISTMAS

A 2011 British animation with classic actors voicing the main characters, this is one of my favourite animated Christmas movies. Voices including James McAvoy, Bill Nighy and Jim Broadbent come together with Aardman Animations (creators of Wallace and Gromit and ‘Chicken Run’) to bring Father Christmas into the 21st Century.
One scene most people I know who have seen it comment on, is one of the first scenes which suggests exactly how Father Christmas (Santa) gets to deliver all the presents in one evening.
What I love about this film is I personally find it is traditional in the sense that it has all the Christmassy vibes (old fashioned letters to Santa, Family board games etc.), but it brings it into the modern day whilst keeping the sentiment of Christmas at the heart of it.
Clumsy Arthur is the loveable lead, and each character can be compareable to people in real life, providing funny moments individually as well as together as a family.
I love having this movie on while wrapping presents and have already seen it time and again.

SCROOGED

Less family film, but still a classic, Scrooged is one of many twisted versions of Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’.
The film was made in the 80’s and was created as a modern version of the story, and although hair and clothing may have dated slightly, the film still stands up and Bill Murray is as entertaining as ever.
Definitely one of my favourite versions of a much loved story and one I would recommend if you haven’t seen it.

THE MUPPET CHRISTMAS CAROL

Although I am not a fan of the muppets, The Muppet Christmas Carol is my favourite Christmas movie.
Again, this movie is a twist on the classic story of ‘A Christmas Carol’, although it stays a lot closer to the original story more so than movies like ‘Scrooged’.
With Michael Cain taking the lead as Ebenezer Scrooge, most of the rest of the cast are the muppets.
The songs from this movie are another thing which carry this movie.
They are magical Christmas songs I enjoy singing along to and often get them stuck in my head due to how catchy they are. Marley and Marley is one such song. This muppets version has two Marleys played by Statler and Waldorf.
As one of my favourites, this has wriggled it’s way into Christmas Eve tradition, where myself and my husband settle down to watch it whilst feasting on KFC, enjoying the calm after the chaos of all the buying, wrapping and decorating!

THE HOLIDAY

An enjoyable festive Romantic Comedy starring Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet, ‘The Holiday’ is another Christmas film I have seen again and again.
It is one of those films that you can put on whenever it is on TV.
Break ups, unrequited love, and wanting to escape your life is something many people can associate with, so this film where the two leads switch lives is a great exploration of what could happen if someone were given that opportunity to escape during the Christmas period.
With comedy from Jack Black, and romantic heart warming moments from Jude Law, I really enjoy all the aspects of this film as a whole, not just the focus it has on Christmas.

 
Other films, or animations I love are ‘The Snowman’, and it’s follow up ‘The Snowman and the Snowdog’. No matter how many times I see them I never fail to be overcome with emotion, and the beautiful piano music from ‘The Snowman’ still manages to provoke my tears.

Watch ‘The Snowman’:

‘The Snowman and the Snowdog’ trailer:

‘Father Christmas’ is a great little British animation about what he gets up to the whole year through and what happens when he takes a holiday.

Watch ‘Father Christmas’:

These animations are all classics I tend to put on while I wrap Christmas presents.

So, that is what graces the screen of my TV at Christmas time – what are your favourite movies? Feel free to comment and share your thoughts.

The Ripple Effect: The Stigma of Male Emotion

We have all heard the phrases used to encourage men to play their ‘gender role’ and supress the emotions that come naturally to them.

“Big Boys Don’t Cry”, “Grow a pair”, “Man up”. These words are designed to make them feel guilty for expressing themselves, or talking about their emotions – letting them believe that it is not Ok to cry, that it is not Ok to not be Ok.

What about the words that aren’t said? What about the role models a boy has – that set the example for the rest of his life and shapes the attitudes and beliefs he will carry with him into adulthood?

While some current generations may have learnt to evolve and not keep spewing these clichés towards their children, what they don’t say can still have an impact. Learned behaviours that our own parents picked up from their parents may impact the behaviours they display that their sons pick up on.

In addition to not telling males “toughen up” or “don’t be such a girl”, we need to ensure we encourage the positive ways of expressing emotion and letting them know that actually it is ok to not be ok. We need to let them know that if they open up then they do so as a human being, not with judgement based on gender. Every person deserves to be able to express themselves.

Having the stigma that male emotion cannot be expressed can impact not just the individual, but those around him too. In addition to him having his own role models, he may be a role model himself.

Ripple effect

At 9 years old, I remember playing in my brother’s room when my parents came in to talk to my brother and me. A close family member had been very poorly, and our lives at that point had been heavily impacted by that, so it was no great surprise when they came in to talk about it with us.

My mum and dad explained that the family member wasn’t going to get better. That a tumour in the brain was what was causing them to be ill and that the Doctors weren’t able to do anything for them. At the age of 9, trying to wrap your head around cancer and the destruction it causes to the sufferer is not an easy thing. I think I understood. This meant death was inevitable if there was no way to get better? Cancer was a new concept to me, but death was not.

I felt the emotions rising because this meant death was coming, but who knew when? Mum was so strong telling us, dad stood there supporting her and helping her explain, being the rock she needed while she brought us into the picture. I looked to my teenage brother to see how he was taking this all in. I could feel my emotion building so surely his was too? He looked at my parents and nodded in acceptance, acknowledging that he understood. There were no tears, no waiver in his voice. Maybe I had got this wrong? Maybe I misunderstood? Maybe it meant she couldn’t get better for a while, or maybe she couldn’t get better but she wouldn’t get worse? The emotions I felt worrying that death was around the corner began to sink back down. I had clearly gotten this wrong because my brother would have been upset too over this surely? My parents left the room, and my brother quietly returned to what he was doing.

We all know where this story goes, I hadn’t got it wrong. Cancer took its toll in a short space of time.

After over 20 years, I still remember the effect that suppressing emotion had on my brother, and on my own understandings of life. Not only is expressing emotions healthy, but it is one of many forms of communication between people. Had he shown how he felt in that moment, I may have shared that moment more with him, instead we dealt with it internally, alone.

This reaction I can only attribute to the male role models around him. I certainly don’t remember him ever being told to ‘man up’ or told not to cry, but I also don’t remember seeing my dad cry.

In the 90’s we were not as self aware as we are now, so acting in this way, leading by this example was the norm.

 

 

With male suicides so high, and with mental health now being talked about more than ever, it is so important to keep conversations going. We need to end the stigma, not just of talking about mental health, but talking about emotions in general, regardless of age, gender identification, race, sexuality etc.

Don’t just avoid the phrases, encourage conversations. Let everyone know that it is ok to not be ok.

Tired of being Tired

Are you tired? I am tired.

Can you remember the last time you weren’t tired? I don’t think I can remember the last time I even spoke to someone who wasn’t tired.

Tired

My friend used to say “Life is a rat race”. Like many people probably do, I feel my life is like ‘Groundhog Day’.

The alarm goes off, you reluctantly drag yourself out of bed, and you can pretty much predict where the day is going to go from there. While it throws you some dodgy curveballs, it pretty much stays the same. One predictable day to the next. Day after day of being tired, wondering what you need to do to get yourself out of this rut, where to start?

We add things into our lives in the hope of bringing us more meaning, enjoyment, purpose, distraction. For a short time, a burst of energy you never knew you had kicks in. You feel enthusiasm, positivity, and glad to have variation. But inevitably those new things you added to your life just get added to the endless list of things in your life which become routine and expected from you.

You have a morning routine, one that you follow to keep you on track and on time. One that you can follow in a zombie-like state without thinking through, as you have done it time and time and time again.

You are ready to go and follow the same steps throughout the day. The same journeys in the car – going everywhere on autopilot as you rarely stray from your usual routines and places.

The days get swallowed and the evenings don’t get any more interesting. Time for a few chores, meal, maybe the odd TV show, before ultimately heading off for bed (where you lie awake for hours if you are a Twitter addict or an insomniac).

After a few hours of sleep (hopefully – sometimes even up to 5 hours if you are lucky), you get to hear that glorious call that the morning has arrived, and Groundhog Day is upon us yet again. The only thing missing is Sonny and Cher.

So when I say I am tired… I mean in every sense. I am tired physically. I am tired mentally. I am tired emotionally. I feel drained and with nothing left to give some days.

But I live for the rare moments of the fizz inside me when I have something new in my life. The bubbling feeling inside me when I feel I am gaining more purpose. I live for the moments when music is able to penetrate my mood and lift my spirits.

I live for the days I feel motivated to help and engage others. I live for the days when I am distracted from the fact that I am tired. I live for the days when I realise and remember who I really am – a wife, a daughter, a friend. These are the days I battle for. These are the days I fight the stigma of mental health for. These are the days I run the rat race & face the repetition of Groundhog Day for.

These are the days that I am the ‘real’ me.

 

 

 

Inside Out – The reality of the Mental Health Stigma

On the outside, while people see someone who can be a bit of a worrier at times, their view is that they are looking at someone who is not broken.

They see someone who strives to work hard in their job, who likes to be the one who is organised, makes the plans, and organises everyone else. They see someone who likes to be in control of things, and lead things. They see someone who is opinionated, even argumentative at times. They see someone who always likes to be right! They see a wife, daughter, sister, friend, colleague. They see a big kid, someone who likes a laugh and a bit of banter. They see someone who is loyal, reliable and always willing to help wherever they can, at the drop of a hat.

They don’t see someone who is perfect. They don’t see someone without faults. But they don’t see the inner me.

Stigma

I feel like I have 50 people calling my name at once. I feel like I can’t follow and reach the end of one train of thought without being dragged onto the next. I feel like I am constantly in solution mode. I feel like I never stop worrying. I worry about one thing after another, and the worry never ends. I worry about everything. I worry about worrying. I worry about the things I might not have thought of to worry about yet.

I feel like I am unhappy in my job, that I have failed. I feel completely unorganised, chaotic, like I am trying hard to bash the moles back into the holes. I feel like I enjoy organising things, but I worry things won’t go to plan – that I will make a mess of things, or let people down. I feel out of control and like I am constantly chasing my tail to regain control of my life. I feel like I constantly annoy and irritate everyone. I feel like everything I do is a failure and I never quite live up to expectations. I feel dependent completely on my friends and family and that I doubt very much I would be very successful at living completely independently, due to my own lack of discipline and maturity.

I see someone who is the opposite of perfect. I see someone who can’t even look at her own reflection.

Mental Health issues aren’t always visible, and because of the stigma, they can’t always be talked about.

This is why it is so important to break the stigma of mental health issues. It is so important to talk about things and be able to express on the outside how you feel on the inside. Breaking the stigma means the battle no longer has to be handled internally. It no longer has to be faced alone.

 

Bohemian Rhapsody – My Review

I am no film critic but I think one of the things I would like to do on some blog posts, when I have time, is to give little reviews of films I see as I really enjoy going to the cinema and getting caught up in a great film.

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Most recently, I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody. It wasn’t something I was particularly interested in going out of my way to see, but as is probably the case with a lot of people, there are many Queen songs I like. Freddie Mercury was – undeniably,
– a born performer, so regardless of whether I was a big Queen fan, I made the assumption that his story was going to be interesting enough to make it a film worth seeing.

My husband suggested we go and see it. I heard many people had been giving praise to the film, and though I was not getting my hopes up, I was quite looking forward to going to see it.

From the minute Rami Malek appeared on screen, I was sucked into the story and really enjoyed his captivating portrayal of the extravagant Freddie Mercury.

Not particularly being a big fan, I didn’t really know much of the story, other than how it was going to end.

The film was an emotional rollercoaster, bouncing from feel good tune to complex family relationships… from fun flamboyancy to classic hits, to emotional personal realisations. It was full of everything you would want from a film.

I found it entertaining from start to finish, educating me as the film went along and even got me moving my feet in a couple of places.
That being said, it also had me realising I hadn’t brought any tissues with me when it came to some of the more serious moments of his life.

I would go as far as to say it is certainly one of the best films I have seen this year, and unusually, I actually find myself looking forward to hopefully watching it again at some point in the future.

The actors were all brilliantly cast and performed every aspect with real emotion and passion, though Rami Malek and Lucy Boynton (Freddie and Mary) certainly were the shining stars.

I am not sure whether being at the cinema added to it or not, perhaps for some of the concert scenes I would say it probably did, but the story is strong enough that it would be equally as enjoyable from the comfort of your own couch if that is your preference. Either way it is certainly a film I recommend.