it’s beginning to look a lot like dysfunction.

I’ve just been helping my husband and two daughters decorate ye olde Christmas tree and I feel a massive migraine coming on. Perhaps, it may even be an aneurysm. I believe I already know the answer to this question but am I the only one who wants to strangle herself with tinsel at this time of year? 

My two girls, aged 11 and two and a half, are delirious with excitement at the coming of the blessed Noël. My oldest is blasting “100 Greatest Christmas Hits” from her iPad as we untangle masses of lights that have become obscenely intimate with one another while in storage and wipe the dust from the much-used baubles and the same pious-faced angel that has perched atop the tree for many a Saviour’s birthday.

George Michael is lamenting giving his heart away last year and I am smiling through gritted teeth, trying very hard to muster up the appropriate amount of Christmas cheer for the auspicious occasion. I’m also trying very hard not to be overly-OCD about where the decorations go on the tree. I am showing remarkable restraint, I think. 

The little dictator… sorry, toddler… has positioned herself firmly inside the box from which the spiky tree has just been removed and is yelling, “Santa! Christmas Tree! Angel! Presents!” at the top of her lungs. My kids believe in the magic of Christmas and I truly want them too. I want them to be dizzy with excitement and filled to the gills with festive anticipation. The 11 year old, with much reluctance and a tinge of sadness, admitted to not believing in Father Christmas anymore this week but she is doggedly drumming up elation in her younger sister in the most loving and adorable way. She wants her to believe in the magic, just like she did, too. It is the sweetest act of sisterly love. She loves Christmas whether or not she believes in a Caucasian, bearded guy who has been sliding down a chimney we didn’t have for the all of her remembered life. (She suspended her disbelief in the most impressive manner and for the longest time. Serious props.) Santa or no Santa, she really fucking loves Christmas.

I, however, do not like Christmas. Not even remotely. I am, basically, The Grinch incarnate. Just Coloured and with masses of undisciplined, curly hair. Aesthetics aside, I would also steal Christmas like a cranky-ass thief if I could. I do not like the tangible frenetic build-up to the festive season, where the energy in the air screams manic consumerism and faux festive cheer. I do not wish to deck the halls with boughs of fake holly or hang the stockings by the chimney with care. I cringe visibly when I hear endless loops of Christmas carols about soft, new-fallen snow blasting through the tinny speakers of shops when the reality is that the only Winter Wonderland I’ve walked through lately has been the chilling air-conditioned aisles of Woolies, and when I eventually finish enduring the heaving masses and endless queues, I step outside and bake to a near-crisp in the blazing African sun. Not a snowflake to be seen for miles. The Christmas they sell us is the one we invariably buy.

Let me be frank: I have a solid collection of eclectic disorders in my mental health arsenal so with anxiety, depression and mixed mood states knocking on my brain’s door like Jehovah’s witnesses, there is no part of these holidays that makes me happy. On the contrary, it makes me mildly hysterical. I wish to hide and weep and rock myself gently while in the foetal position until it is all over. I’ve been in recovery from substance addiction for a while now so I can’t even drown my sorrows in multiple helpings of Christmas pudding. I just want Christmas to go away. Is that too much to ask for Christmas?

I feel this way because this season is a reminder that, in the glare of the flashing, seizure-inducing Christmas lights, I feel alone and that no one will truly understand why.

This season unashamedly reminds me that I am the product of a deeply dysfunctional family-of-origin, a broken one steeped in tragic and unresolvable toxicity.

It reminds me that there will be no joyous family gathering.

It reminds me that I have to pretend for others.

It reminds me that there are certain expectations of how I should behave or feel.

It reminds me that I am still a hurt little child who so badly wants to believe. In something, anything. Just not my lived reality. 

It reminds me that I feel lost at this time of year, buried under the weight of what should be and what never was.

I reminds me that I miss my family.

I’ve chosen to actively disengage from certain slow poisons because of a deepened, healthy sense of self-preservation but losing family is a monumental loss and the absence of familial connection can be so distressing and unimaginably isolating. It’s hard to let go of toxic relationships but it is often necessary to sustain one’s own sanity. And that’s a mission I’ve undertaken over the past few years but I still often feel like I’m going crazy. Despite all the evidence pointing to the fact that I have made the right decision, I still feel, somehow, that I’ve made a mistake. That I am the mistake. Ah, the dysfunction runneth deep. And when the television adverts and Christmas specials scream “happy families” and “happy endings”, it’s hard to reconcile the primal need for connection with the difficult choice to let go. Add to that the end-of-year fatigue and annual mental and emotional burn-out, it makes me want to scream like a banshee into the holy night. 

And I know, or at least I sincerely hope, that I am not alone. Christmas isn’t a jolly, holly experience for everyone. Most people, if they’re truly honest, feel at their loneliest and most disconnected and psychologically disjointed at this time of year. Some people are entirely alone; they have no family at all. I work in the helping profession and it always baffles me how we sit on a knife’s edge of savage emotion, barely keeping our shit together, all year and then, come December, we are expected to miraculously be happy. It really makes no fucking sense to me.

So I’m giving myself a new, different kind of gift this year: the gift of authenticity, the gift of being human. Great gift; execution level difficulty: mammoth. But I’m going to do my damnedest.

I’m allowing myself to grieve an inexplicable, unexplainable loss. I’m recalling brutal memories and wrapping them gently in forgiveness. I’m expressing my true feelings as they arise uncomfortably and inconveniently only to those that get it. I’m avoiding the frenzy and hype (and the shopping malls). I am connecting, albeit virtually (because: ew! people!), with other self-confessed “orphans and atheists” who are also products of damaging dysfunction. I am choosing my repurposed “family”. I am hand-selecting the people who love me and understand me. I am gathering my own family close – my loving, understanding husband and two amazing girls – and we are creating our own Christmas traditions and throwing in a pinch of that elusive magic so that my daughters aren’t also traumatised at this time of year until the end of their days. That is one of my gifts to them, cheap as it may sound, that they don’t associate this time of year with brokenness and heartache. 

For me, this year has been primarily about boldly speaking my truth and now, going forward, it’s going to be about living my truth. This is much easier said than done but I refuse to inflict this intolerable pain on myself any longer. 

Now, pass me the tissues and that damn tinsel. 

5 thoughts on “it’s beginning to look a lot like dysfunction.

  1. Thank you for bringing the truth this Christmas. It is true that many are eating, drinking and fake-smiling over the desperation that arises when shit just ain’t like Mariah’s Christmas album promises.

    Well done on keeping the magic alive for your girls. It is a priceless gift.

    My wish for you this Christmas is to find peace at the bottom of the dusty box that all the baubles were unpacked from.

    p.s. I'm in solidarity with your 11 year old's suspension of disbelief. Just my denial is chronic and progressed. Life's already too hard not to believe in Santa and if you lose your wonder, what's the fucking point man!


    1. Thank you so much for reading, following and responding. I knew that I was not alone! So I am glad that my words resonated with you. Thank you for your wish of peace (it is much-needed!) and for still believing in the wonder so the cynical, jaded ones among us can be infected with that magic too…

      Best wishes and blessings for the year ahead. Slay it, Queen!


  2. Thank you for this! Just this…let’s me know that I’m maybe not the crazy one too… Making new traditions for our kids and new ways of being is what it’s about… Wishing you all the love in the world. The good kind. Where do I get your book?


    1. You’re so welcome! You’re definitely not alone! Thank you for following my blog too 🙂 My book is available for Exclusive Books, Reader’s Warehouse and online at Loot, takealot and Amazon. Thanks! Sending you all the love and sanity too!


  3. Hi Desiree
    Thanks to the invite to join your facebook page which led me to your blog. I just read this post and your articulated my feelings about the “silly season” almost precisely.
    For me, the worst thing about this time of year is that the contrast between the haves and the have-nots becomes so much more pronounced.
    I find it hard to concentrate on holiday cheer when in my mind’s eye I constantly see images of small children in tattered clothes looking through wrought iron security gates with gilded finishings at the obscene excess piled in front of the “fortunate” few in their designer wear and home from their private schools where they are taught that they are privileged and that they shouldn’t concern themselves with the “working classes.”
    Maybe it’s my co-dependency, maybe I’m totally misguided, but I am not brave enough to go out in the streets and bear witness to this frenzied devotion to Mamon. My depression and anxiety go into overdrive, and all I want to do is to isolate until the whole spectacle is over.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.