By Lorelei Hill
29 Dec

The Spirit of Christmas

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Snow or not, the spirit of Christmas blesses the world once again at this time of year. As the big day approaches, more and more happy shoppers wish friends and strangers a very merry Christmas. Likewise, excited children think about what to write to Santa, and whether or not Santa will think they have truly been nice.

Even the darkest of moods can be lifted by happy Christmas songs and friendly smiling faces. That is, unless the focus on being happy backfires. Feelings of loneliness, sadness, and despair can be just as strong at Christmastime as those of camaraderie, joy, and hope. In particular, less desirable feelings can quietly creep into the hearts and minds of those struggling with tragedy, poor health, and/or emotional stability.

Being bombarded with ads and slogans telling us what we should be feeling, particularly in social media, often makes it rather difficult to feel happy. Our “plugged in” world teaches us that happiness is good and sadness is bad. The problem is that some days we simply cannot conjure up that cheerful feeling.

The struggle between happiness and sadness has been particularly prevalent in my family over the past few Christmas seasons. Though I am technically no longer considered by the medical community to be a congenital patient due to my heart transplant, my congenital beginnings keep me truly grounded in a world of medicine and hospital visits. Shortly after Christmas 2013, I struggled with another condition relating to my body’s lack of immunity. This condition brought me right back to the brink of death, and for the first time under the hold of depression.

The illness afflicted my brain, and more specifically, my brain’s ability to filter my emotions. Until then, I had not been confronted by such radical emotional swings. Growing up congenital, there were days when I faced the sadness of being in the hospital or not feeling well, but for the first time in my life this state of sadness became an ongoing internal struggle.

Though it has been an extremely difficult time, now—nearly two years later—I am finally in a place where I am able to give thanks for the opportunity of the experience. You see, 12 years ago my husband and I adopted a son and daughter born with congenital and neurological conditions. Both children struggle with this emotional shift every day of their lives. Now in their adolescent years, more so than ever, their emotional instability reminds me of the yin and yang balance between happiness and sadness.

On a daily basis, they have difficulty deciphering between appropriate and inappropriate responses to life in general. This often makes for challenging days, and even more challenging life experiences. As such, Christmas can be both fun and particularly stressful. The joyful world of Christmas expects responses that can often be difficult for my children to express. The world changes at Christmastime. All those happy people spreading Christmas cheer can be confusing. This is particularly so when conveyed by people who normally would not interact with them.

This year, while watching my son and daughter navigate the ups and downs of the Christmas season, I am reminded that the world over, the flip side of chaos is calm just as the flip side of sadness is joy.

As I look at the warm glow of the Christmas tree, my heart is made light by the innocent wonder in my daughter’s eyes. At 13, this was the first year that my son has been able to take as much pleasure in giving as receiving. In fact, as I write this blog, he spends his afternoon taking his grandmother to see the new Star Wars movie. This, he decided, would be his Christmas gift to her.

While the spirit of Christmas may be different from what I had planned for my family, I am filled with joy, knowing that the experience of this season is forever blessed with a sense of balance and love.

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