In my last post, I mentioned how challenging it is to be cooped up in the house with Bailey so often. But on my latest solo walk on the day after Christmas, I got to think a lot about all of the lovely ways in which being cooped up in the house for Bailey’s first cognizant Christmas was exactly what I had hoped for, and how much gratitude I have for that.
Matt’s mom and her husband were able to come to town (negative COVID tests achieved), and seeing Bailey’s enthusiasm for spending time with “Poppa” (as she calls all of the grandparents) made the days feel festive in their own right: as if my mother-in-law were Santa herself.
The “real” Santa went shopping on Facebook marketplace to obtain a big, fancy toy kitchen, and we were so excited to give it to her. We weren’t sure how much of a reaction we’d get as she is too young to fully get the concept of Christmas morning, but she had the perfect, enthusiastic, pointing-and-squealing-as-soon-as-she-saw-it-at-7am reaction. She spent all day saying, “beep beep!” while pressing the buttons on the oven and microwave and turning the knobs to cook the pots filled with boxes of pasta, whole bananas, and zebra figurines on the stove.
As an avid cook, Matt was beside himself with joy at how completely she understood how to use this toy, and how much she was mimicking his behaviors.
From the real kitchen, Bailey scarfed down her roast beef and brussels sprouts with pomegranate seeds, reluctantly eating the roast potatoes after pushing them to the side of her plate. And of course she devoured fistfuls of Grandma’s cookies.
Beyond the kitchen, Bailey was an extremely gracious gift opener- thrilled not only with her toys, but also with the tube of Sesame Street socks and various sets of clothes that she was given. She wanted to wear everything once she opened it, and while we were able to fit two shirts on top of each other, we couldn’t quite accommodate the two-sweatshirt or three-pairs-of-socks requests.
She was excited to be able to Facetime her other “Poppas” who we weren’t able to see in person out of COVID precaution.
We closed out the night after Bailey was asleep by eating cookies and watching my favorite Christmas movie: Miracle on 34th Street. It’s taken on a bit of a new meaning for me now, as it has shifted from a childlike vision of the unjust persecution of the real Santa Claus to an adult tale of a sweet man’s struggles with mental illness.
What I appreciate about this movie is that it shows the thin line between sanity and insanity, between objective truth and subjective experience, between meticulously woven fiction and chaotic, sometimes inexplicable reality.
Nothing fantastical happens in this movie. Everything is grounded firmly in the real world. And yet one person’s creative and wishful interpretation of reality turns things upside down for an entire city of people.
As I mentioned, it seems like the most likely explanation for this behavior is that he was mentally ill. I don’t pretend to know what Kris Kringle’s formal diagnosis would be, but I’m reminded of a quote that @bipolar.psychologist posted on Instagram: “It’s ok to regret what your manic self did and be jealous of the mindset that led you to do those things.”
I’m jealous of the mindset that led Kris Kringle to become Santa Claus. I’ve often described my ideal state during mania to be one of “chaotic good.” This is something I don’t always achieve, but through spontaneous charitable donations, buying breakfast for people off the street, and sending unfiltered messages of love to people, I do try to channel my boundless manic energy into making the word a better place.
It’s been a bit sad, then, to come back to reality and watch my self-consciousness or pragmatism or cynicism return and snuff out the chaotic good, replacing it with a safe neutrality.
In today’s world, Kris Kringle would almost certainly be medicated, rather than left to his own devices to sow seeds of Christmas cheer. While I know this would be necessary (psychosis is unpredictable and there is no way to know what kind of turn his delusion could take), it also feels necessary to acknowledge the ironic tragedy of needing to “cure” someone of a delusion rooted in kindness.
Still, the beauty of the movie is that it leaves open the possibility that Kris Kringle was just a mastermind who committed himself to playing a fabricated role so completely in order to bring joy and hope to the children of the world. This choice ruffled feathers and upset the sensibilities of uptight people, but he sought out the people that were generous enough to protect him and live with him in a world of his own creation.
In the end, one of the lessons of the movie is that we can never quite know what’s going on inside someone’s head, or what reality they’re living in. That can be scary, or it can be wondrous- and most often it is a little bit of both. But as the movie wisely says, “Faith is believing in things when common sense tells you not to.”
Just because someone suffers from mental illness, doesn’t mean you can’t believe in their power for good, or appreciate the good they may do while symptomatic. It doesn’t mean there aren’t lessons to be learned from the way they live within their own reality, even if that reality doesn’t match yours.
After all, while the symptoms of psychosis may take people out of reality mentally, one does not cease to exist when they go psychotic. They continue to interact with the real world while having one foot outside of it. Thus the condition of psychosis is part of the reality we all live in- you just may not have knowingly crossed paths with it yet. So I’d encourage you to leave your heart open to the possibility that one day you may come across your own Santa Claus, and it will be up to you to decide whether or not he is real.
Thanks for reading,
94 miles down, 6 to go