This holiday, we’re not volunteering anywhere. We’re not donating a turkey. We’re not picking a name off an Angel Tree, dropping off Toys for Tots, or claiming a foster kid name and making their Christmas wish come true. We’re not doing any of what we normally do.
In fact, we’re barely celebrating the holidays at all. Our tree is pitifully short and thin, and we’re not putting out any Christmas lights. No beautifully decorated house full of holiday joy for us.
I’m trying really hard to not feel guilty. Because this is not who I am.
I am the person who wants to help others. Who would rather give a gift than get one. Who adores decorating and getting everything set up for the holidays, making memories, and setting the stage for beautiful traditions.
Last week, as I nearly broke down and cried when I realized that we were completely out of groceries and I couldn’t handle going to the grocery store, I knew that this holiday season isn’t going to be normal. This holiday season is more about survival than celebrating. This year, I’m putting my sanity and my health above my desire to help others or have a lovely holiday.
I learned a new term today and it hit hard: caregiver PTSD. Or its cousin, compassion fatigue. Basically, it means that those of us who care for others with high needs experience burn-out and extreme levels of stress. I read the description of caregiver PTSD and it was uncomfortably familiar. Things like ‘can’t trust anyone else to take care of them’ and ‘sleeping on edge for years takes a mental toll’ are my normal.
Time after time, medical professionals ask me what kind of support we’re getting. Do we have family who can step in and help? If we have anyone who can give us a break? Anything? And I have to answer no, no one. We literally have no one, especially now that we moved. They sigh, and tell me that we need support, we need to get some kind of break. Tell me something else I don’t know, jeez.
I am a proud person. Realizing this holiday that I need charity to function is incredibly humbling. Not money, no. We don’t need money. But time, volunteering, support, community – the village. That magical, improbable, impossible village that provides childcare to watch kids while I run to a doctor’s appointment, help rake leaves that are carpeting the grass, keep an eye on us during my husband’s business trips in case I collapse, and all the other little things that provide a safety net.
Instead of the village, I have the market. The pay-to-live market where I can pick up groceries I order online, pay someone to dig up the roots I can’t manage, come tow the car that refused to start because field mice chewed the wires, and fix food for me when I can’t stand up long enough to cook.
If I don’t have the village, I can’t help anyone else in need. I’m too busy paying the market to help me survive.
I refuse to feel guilty for that.