Writer and performer Paul Cumshaw (pictured) on why Christmas can be the hardest time of year for some – particularly in the LGBT community…
Miser, Killjoy….. Grinch. I have been called all of these things over the Festive season. For as long as I can remember now, Christmas feels like an event where everyone I know tunes into this ‘wavelength’ of happiness, cheer and optimism and that my radio simply doesn’t seem able to pick up this frequency.
Initially, I was convinced it was me. I was the problem. What was wrong with me? Who couldn’t love Christmas? Yet, why did I perceive it as ‘forced happiness’ and appear to repel it? Perhaps I was depressed? I had been known to suffer from low moods occasionally in the past. Yet, every year, come December, I feel this sense of dread- a sensation that peaks every 25th. Not even the ‘party season’ aspect of it appeals to me.
I tried to desperately decipher why. Is it because as a creative person who acts, sings, writes and DJs, I have to deal with drunken members of the public who venture out once a year, slur their request of Mariah Carey or The Pogues when I literally played it five minutes ago, before they go and have sex with their Manager on the office photocopier at the obligatory after-party?
Then, finally I had an epiphany. I don’t feel good at Christmas because it brings out bad feeling in me. As a creative, I can be a low-earner so buying presents and extra social events on the calendar are a stress; I really feel the pinch financially.
However, the heart of it lay much closer to home. I am the eldest of three children and single. My Mum doesn’t do Christmas dinner and hasn’t done for over a decade. She lives with quite severe depression and anxiety and finds the whole Christmas cooking situation overwhelming.
My Mum’s husband’s family live in Lancaster; circa 65 miles away from us, in Liverpool. The only time he sees his family is Christmas day and Boxing day.
My sister, is a student at Uni, so her coming home is a big deal and Mum fusses over her. She also has a long term boyfriend; they live together, in London, but both families are from opposite sides of Liverpool. My sister doesn’t seem to have mastered that ‘thing’ that couples seem to do (one Christmas with one family, the following with the other), instead opting to spend most Christmas’s with him. My Mum, either follows hot on her heels or goes with her husband. My younger brother normally goes with his Dad to Lancaster.
That leaves little old me. I now have a Christmas Day routine. I stay in my onesie, cook a roast for one, (my Mum always buys me quite a posh supermarket one – I think out of pity) and I sit there, enjoying Coronation Street, the inevitable plate throwing on Eastenders and any good films that might be on. I have an alcoholic drink or two but rarely more; there doesn’t seem much point on your own.
I receive endless texts and the odd drunken phone call from friends enjoying their Christmases, asking ‘Are you okay?’ or telling me ‘It’s not right that you’re on your own – do you want to come round here?’I don’t always answer. I genuinely am as happy as I can make myself on this formidable day – just left on my own and forgetting about it.
On several years, good friends have lovingly invited up their homes and a place at their family table to be part of their celebrations yet, in a strange sense, that can make me feel worse. Like an outsider looking in on another family’s Christmas. No matter how hard they try, I’m not one of their family and I never will be. As they all exchange gifts over the table and usually, one of them has bought me a small token gift so I don’t feel left out, it’s entirely thoughtful and good natured on their part- but what it actually does is reinforce just how ‘dysfunctional’ my family and my Christmas are. It feels like pity, whether it is or isn’t.
Therefore, it’s a ‘no win’ situation. My immediate family choose to split and disperse like Kings Cross Underground and I find I am happier, in my ‘misery’ left on my own, burying my head and waiting for New Years Eve, which I really enjoy.
My point is, is that whilst everyone else is eating, drinking and being merry to cheerful songs; people like myself are frowned upon for not being much fun to be around and that there must be something ‘wrong’ with us. Christmas is a reminder of that and despite being a loner, its quite a lonely, challenging and tough few days to get through. When it has gone, I feel relieved when January comes, everyone quietens down and ‘normality’ is restored.
I, luckily, have never felt this way at Christmas – but the increased suicide rates at Christmas time speak for themselves. It can be THE most painful time of the year- with far too much time to reflect on the money, family, boyfriend etc. that you DON’T have around you.
So next time you notice one of your friends who isn’t in the Christmas spirit, rather than dismissing them as a Grinch, please approach from the side of caution, mindfulness and kindness. Ask them how and why they’re feeling what they’re feeling, listen and try to understand – even if you don’t. Ask them how you can best help them, within reason, through the difficult festive period.
Let’s not forget a significant amount of LGBT people are estranged from their families in one way or another and Christmas can hammer this home.
If you can relate to anything I’ve shared- remember- there are organisations such The Samaritans who are there 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. I personally find it quite heart warming that someone out there who I don’t know sacrifices their Christmas to go and speak to people on the phone so that we don’t have to feel so isolated and lonely.
Get through it in whatever way you can, be good and kind to yourselves and do things that you enjoy – watch your favourite film or have a marathon of that TV show you’ve been meaning to catch up on. Know that you are never truly alone; whether it be over the phone or in person, a friend or a complete stranger, there is always someone there to connect with. Even on Christmas Day. It needn’t be hell. After all, it could be worse. You could be Gail Platt on Corrie, with a rotting corpse under the concrete of her newly built annexe.
Words by PAUL CULSHAW