Holidays are hard. Anyone who doesn’t agree with me might not have lived or loved as hard. Or maybe I was just dealt a different hand from life. The first two funerals I went to were those of my sister and father barely five months apart. There are so many of us who have lost someone either to death or because they don’t fit in our lives anymore, and spending the holidays without them is like an open wound. My sister lost her battle with depression at sixteen. This is my 15th Christmas without her. She had so much to live for, but as so many of us know, while in that state of mind, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. There is no hope for a brighter or better future. I lost my father to cancer days after Christmas. I barely survived that year.
I don’t really remember that year if, I’m honest. I went from excitement and hope, because I was going to college and escaping the toxic environment I grew up in, to an all encompassing darkness. The profound loss of my best friend spiraled me into a depressive hole I couldn’t see out of. I didn’t think life could go back, and it was already bad before. I slept and barely ate. I went to class, but even those I was a zombie for. Then things got worse, one of the only other people I was close to in my family went from living with cancer to barely functioning. Stress is a huge factor in liver cancer patients, and my father’s body couldn’t handle it. What we were all dealing with after my sister died was too much for his already weak system to take. For a few weeks after my sister died we believed he would soon after. I rode in the car with him from the burial to a family gathering after, which was roughly a mile away, and I asked him for his keys as soon as he parked. He was a truly independent guy who worked the entire time he was sick, and he didn’t even fight me for them. He knew.
My father held on and got a little better and I left for college with the crippling fear he’d go any day. I have a turbulent relationship at best with my mother and it was hard for me to even go see my father. Instead of spending thanksgiving break from college with my father, I spent it disowned by my mother and sleeping on my grandmother’s sofa. I made it home for Christmas and helped take care of my father in his final days, and then a week later was back to college. It’s a wonder I passed my classes. I hurt lots of people around me, not only by being absent and quiet as I pulled into myself, but also by overreacting about everything. I was also dealing with a toxic relationship with someone who was just as fucked up as I was at the time. I shut down and survived.
There isn’t a single Christmas that comes and goes that I don’t remember my father and sister dying, and last year I added to it my grandmother who was my only real family left. The only family who accepted me at least.
This year I add another person to the list of those who are gone. And it’s not because of death, sometimes we have to move on from people who aren’t good for us or don’t treat us right, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt like death does. I loved this person. But I have to come to terms with them not being good for me and I’ve been working at it. It’s not easy, but I hope every day it gets a little easier.
Holidays are hard. We buy things and put on smiles and bury those feelings for those who haven’t experienced this pain yet. I don’t sleep in December. Not that I’ve ever slept much, but for some reason as the day of my father’s death draws near I sleep less and less. I write a lot. I write a lot of things I’ll never publish. I’ve written chapters and chapters of what it was like growing up in a cult. The reasons I barely survived and my sister didn’t. She had two years left living at home, and it was too much to bare. She couldn’t stand the idea of me leaving for college because then she would be alone to suffer in silence. So the better option was to take her own life, weeks before I left. I rarely tell people this, and I’m about to put it out there for hundreds of strangers but she waited until I was gone for the weekend. Every single other member of my family was in the house when she died, except for me. I was stuck on a train at rush hour in Chicago, and I know why. If I had been home she wouldn’t have been able to do it. This was a pattern with her. When she hurt herself so bad two years before and got put on a psych hold, I was in Michigan at a water polo tournament. They wouldn’t let me see her for two weeks and then I was the one who drove her and picked her up from out patient treatment. She slept on my floor every single night because she was scared to be alone. And I know why she was scared. She was scared of her own mind and how dark thoughts become at night.
When I was fifteen, the year before she got placed on the psych hold, she made me promise to her I would never kill myself. I was shocked when she said those words to me. I’d never admitted to her I was depressed. But I’m sure she could just see it there. She knew I was suffering. I asked her why I had to promise before I did and her reply to me was because she knew she wouldn’t survive with our parents alone. So I promised her. That promise is part of the reason I survived my childhood. I didn’t think there was a light at the end of the tunnel either, but her and I were going to survive it together. I didn’t think there was a place for what I was. I didn’t have words to explain what I was feeling being trans. I just knew I was wrong in their eyes. It’s so hard to survive being told and internalizing this wrongness I was raised with day in and day out.
I think about these things this time of year. Christmas and the holiday season is hard. And that’s okay. Don’t keep your pain to yourself. Let someone help with the pain. Talk to me, a hotline, a friend, someone. You aren’t alone and there are things worth surviving and thriving for.
If you’re feeling depressed please reach out. You can call the National Suicide Prevention website: 1-800-273-8255 or go to the National Suicide prevention website with chat now available, which is amazon for those of us who hate talking on the phone.