The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I’ll be honest – in the past, Christmas has been a hard time of the year for me. Sepsis caught me in December 1999, so the season brings reminders. I’ve had to work to control the way I think about that experience.

But what I’ve learned over time is that the manner in which I dwell on the past is completely up to me. No-one else wrote the book, I put all that stuff in my head – it’s up to me to manage it.

We all have to deal with difficult anniversaries. The date of a bereavement, a break-up, a birthday, a medical crisis, an accident, or something to do with a cherished child – like the time they eventually left home. Our memory connects these moments to the time of year with some weird kind of mental calendar alchemy. Part of our brain wants to cling to them, but there’s the danger that we become trapped by the past.

Unless we’re mindful, and get on top of things. Personally, I’ve found it vital to supervise my ‘anniversary reaction’, for myself and for the people around me. Christmas should be fun, right? So, like a football manager preparing for the team’s toughest fixture, I’ve developed tactics to remain resilient and to preserve my good humour during the rush towards the climax of December.

I keep myself busy, with closely observed daily schedules. At night, I write an hourly plan for the next day, and in December this might involve work assignments, meeting a close friend, reading, writing, watching films, watching sport, music, correspondence, prosthetics appointments, etc. I think ahead. I anticipate times when I might feel vulnerable, then fill those with activity.

I buy all my gifts online and have them delivered – gift-wrapped. For a quadruple amputee, the logistics of driving to and shopping in a mall are unthinkable. Now, shopping is almost fun.

I limit my expectations. I’m old enough now to know that Santa won’t be bringing anything that will change my life, so that frees me up to focus on the modest secret pleasures of the season. This Christmas, these have been: sitting quietly with my wife and not having to say anything, watching snowfall, any movie directed by Nancy Meyers, reading Harry Potter, one glass of good red wine alone in front of the fire, conversations with my daughter (home from university), football on the radio, and early nights with the rain on the windowpane.

I stay out of the kitchen. By which I mean, I don’t involve myself with preparations that might be physically difficult. I’m happy to watch my kids decorate the tree. I rest. We forget this season’s meant to be a time of reflection at the end of a busy year – so I introduce moments of scheduled quiet to my day.

I create new traditions. I bought some cheap white pin-lights for the garden, they looked pretty and elegant in the night time.

So I’m learning. That was my Christmas. How was it for you?