Not Feeling Very Jolly

‘Tis the season to be jolly.

You hear it everywhere.

You’re supposed to be jolly, because the song says it’s the season for it.

You’re supposed to buy the perfect gifts and be chatty at holiday gatherings. You’re supposed to do something fun on New Year’s Eve.

What if you don’t feel jolly? What if you’re worried about the future and you want to lie low?

You might feel like there’s something wrong with you, like you’re not doing it right.

Many factors can contribute to the feeling of not being “with it” during the holidays. These can include being sick or recovering from an illness. They can also include waiting for a diagnosis and not being sure if you’re sick or well. In other words, being in limbo.

Low counts and fear of relapse

Back in December, 2008, I was in limbo.

My blood counts had begun falling about six months after my third stem cell transplant for leukemia. I didn’t know if I was physically sick, but I was sick from the fear that I was relapsing.

On Dec. 18, I wrote a blog post headlined Biopsied, Transfused, and Still Wondering:

“The counts were not better today, unless you consider the hematocrit, which was 25 after Monday’s transfusion. This was still below normal but high enough to avoid a transfusion. My white count was .6, which is quite low. I knew my platelets were very low, due to the red pinpoint dots (petechiae) that were making my legs resemble a pointillist painting.

“As I’ve said, I really have no interest in knowing my numbers when my platelets are extremely low. Today I found out by accident. I went into the infusion room in search of the lunch cart, and I bumped into my nurse from the other day. I told her that my blood counts weren’t back yet, but that I thought my platelets were still low. ‘Well, they were only 2 the other day, so I’ll just get the order going,’ she said. Two? When they were 164 (normal is 155-410) just a few weeks ago?”

An unwelcome visit from carolers

A group of carolers made matters worse. While I was waiting for my appointment, they came into the waiting room. They wore Santa hats and reindeer antlers and sang “Deck the Halls,” “Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer,” and “Silent Night.”

I wrote, “Sometimes a harpsichordist or other instrumentalist plays in the outer waiting room that is usually not so packed. This is where these kids belonged, where people could wander over and listen if they felt like it.

“It was through no fault of their own that they ended up crammed in almost on top of the patients; somebody put them there in what seemed like an exercise in cheering the patients up.

“But you could see that many, like me, were having a hard enough time keeping it together. One woman moved further away. I took the other half of an Ativan.”1

You are not alone

If you are having a hard time, you are not alone. I’m not a mental health professional, but you don’t have to be one to know that it’s OK to feel blue when everyone else appears to be so bright. And by the way, chances are that not all of them are as cheerful as they appear to be.

It’s OK to walk away like the woman in the waiting room did, OK to take an Ativan like I did, and OK to do what you need to do – within reason – to make things easier on yourself.

Another idea is to do something kind. I've heard this called "committing a random act of kindness." It could be something simple like complimenting someone, usually in my case a woman, on her earrings or her outfit. I thought of this the other day when I was shopping after a disappointing tennis match and a stranger picked me up. She said she liked the way all my colors – blues and purples – coordinated. I laughed and thanked her. I said most of my clothes are the same colors. Then I told her I liked her colors too. She said she tries to make things simple by mixing and matching. On the way out, we passed each other and smiled. It was a cold and rainy day, but I think we both felt warmed by the connection.

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