It’s distinctly emptier in our office this week. I don’t think it’s necessarily the snow – although that hasn’t helped with some of the time-keeping – it’s just a very popular time for annual leave. Next week will be similarly if not more sparse. I quite like working around the Christmas period. I haven’t ever taken the days between Christmas and the New Year off work. I suppose in a warped kind of way, I enjoy the atmosphere and the pace at this time. I like that other offices often close between Christmas and the New Year and sometimes they assume that our service is closed as well so the bureaucracy winds down a tiny bit and it can be a good time to catch up with paperwork.
A part of the skeleton service that covers these weeks, involves obviously picking up work that is allocated to those absent colleagues. And so it happened that I ended up visiting someone that is usually seen by one of the CPNs who is currently the other side of the country.
Although I wasn’t officially covering the ‘duty system’ of types that we have in place, everyone else was bogged under and I knew the man in question – having previously been allocated to him.
The circumstances of my de-allocation were, at the time, purely due to some geographic reconfiguring rather than a request either on his or my part so it seemed obvious that I should go as I knew him well.
They were difficult times for him. We spoke about lots of things but one of main themes was the imminent arrival of Christmas and the pleasures and joy of Christmas past.
This is one of the themes of this time of year for me. Christmas is drummed into us as a ‘family’ time – a together time and a joyful time. I’m far from a grouch (well, ok, I can be at times) but the cultural expectations around Christmas can be exceedingly painful for those whose lives, families and circumstances don’t conform to these social norms.
The advertising and the programming that sloshes through the television networks, posters in the streets, supermarket layouts and just about every kind of media that we consume tells us that this is the time to celebrate family and friends. This is the time to spread joy (and consume to the infinite degree).
It is generally the time that not-conforming feels so difficult. And for this man, like many others I have seen over the years, Christmas, like birthdays and anniversaries, compounds more pleasant memories of Christmas’ past urging our collective and individual consciousness’s to compare and contrast those happier times with current, more difficult situations.
It doesn’t take a genius or a great deal of research evidence to have an understanding that this might trigger greater depression as those who don’t comply with this cultural norm can feel excluded from society in a way that may go unnoticed at other times of the year.
I didn’t have any particular words of wisdom for him except to acknowledge his concern, anxiety and stress. We talked through the day itself and what he would do – looked through the Christmas television schedule and even managed to find a few interesting films and programmes to highlight. It is a lonely time though. Sure, going out for a walk is good and healthy and would no doubt, help ones mental state but when there is black ice outside and you have a dodgy hip at the best of times, it isn’t necessarily a panacea.
It’s rare that I have the answers but I felt satisfied that I was a little less worried about him when I left than when I had arrived. Sometimes that’s the most I can ask for.
I said I’d go back again later in the week. I’m trying to fill this week and next up with the people who will be alone over the so-called festive period.
I’ve often said that one of the most precious things I take from my job is an understanding and gratitude for those things that I have in my own life. I never remember that more than this time of year.