So – Christmas:

I guess Christmas is a difficult time for anyone who has trouble with food, because it’s a time of feasting and overindulgence. People seem disappointed if they haven’t collapsed, uncomfortably bloated, on the sofa by 6pm, eructating fragrantly. Emotionally, I associate over-eating at Christmas with greasy, staining, corruption and queasy, unwholesome, corpulence.

It’s difficult to explain, because I love Christmas dinner. It’s probably my favourite meal, or it used to be, because it brings families together and sustains them emotionally and physically. I also associate it with childhood and happiness and excitement, and I still love presents, both giving and receiving them (a feeling reserved, in adults, for people who can’t afford to just go out and buy whatever they want.) I love turkey and roast potatoes and gravy, and I adore Christmas pudding. I quite like sprouts.

But my party piece is actually losing weight at Christmas, while still having had some of all of these foods. Pretty impressive, eh? I’m not sure how I manage it, although I do limit myself to tiny morsels of each. Perhaps there will be further clues below:

I do the cooking on Christmas day. I enjoy it, and it allows me to maintain a sense of control as the house fills up with wayward in-laws. It has its own pressures, though, trying to get everything out on time, and it being your responsibility: everybody waiting.

Another problem is that I don’t like anybody helping me. I’d like to turn the kitchen into a fortress where I could be left alone to contribute to the family in my own anti-social way, while everybody else keeps out of my face, but I can still feel useful and be thanked. My in-laws, on the other hand, like to feel welcomed and embraced as part of a relaxed and loving family, so they want to help with the cooking! (My father-in-law and his wife delight in tramping through the garden and abruptly looming up at the kitchen door, like creatures from a horror movie dropping through the air vents straight into the warm heart of the home. Everyone else knocks at the front door and waits, allowing me to use the pause and the hallway as a pressure chamber to adjust to their presence. I guess the father-in-law likes to think that, as family, they have privileged access to the inner sanctum.)

The thing is, it’s a lovely idea: companionably chopping, shoulder to shoulder, gossiping as the kettle comes to the boil. When I was well, I would probably have loved this structured way of being with others, and caring for them, above all things.

Now it fills me with alarm. I have a vision of an unbearably crowded room, full of errant, waving limbs, people leaning over me at the cooker, people dropping glass and metal, whole trays tipping over, people shouting, “if I could just reach the…”, “Can I just…”, “Why don’t I…”, “Where’s the…”, while I reply “This is hot!”, “watch out for the…”, “Where have you put the bloody COLANDER?”

It’s also just a busy day and I don’t make it easy for myself. I got up at 5 so I could get a long run done before the kids opened their stockings at 6. (Meggie was already awake.) The turkey had to go on before 9 a.m. and, because I insist on doing almost all the cooking myself, I always have to miss church and its lovely carols. Despite being an atheist, I feel the loss of it. Christmas is too indulgent without a service and “I had most need of blessing”, as poor old Macbeth says.

It was a little quieter when people were at church, but I went for another quick run, to fortify myself against the terrible blow-out to come, that I intended to avoid anyway.

Then I managed to get the whole Christmas meal out without setting the fire-alarm off. Then I set off the fire-alarm.

And there are other, minor irritations: I always intend to remain as quiet as possible, to hoard my dwindling store of calm and to be able to think of myself as a quiet and reserved sort of person, rather than an over-bearing twat, yet I always betray myself into nervous chattering, which fills my own head, let alone everyone else’s.

I am also haunted, no terrified, by a Christmas pudding, as dense as dark matter, that I made, that lurks in the back of my mind all day. “What if nobody eats it? I can’t throw it out: I love it so. What if I have to eat it myself?!!”

So I get het up and irritable, with an irritability that springs up suddenly, without warning, from apparently empty vents. One moment I’m fine, I’m congratulating myself on my restraint, the next I’m being nasty. Then it’s gone again, leaving nothing but the distinctive hot stink of guilt and humiliation.

Apparently, in Frances Hardinge’s A Skinful of Shadows, the spirits of wild animals can hide in human souls, suddenly erupting at various point in the story. It feels like that, as abrupt and unexpected, as if something snarling and feral and frightened had burst out of the undergrowth, attacking because it felt threatened.

I think I don’t feel comfortable with all these people moving in different directions, with their disparate opinions, perceptions, needs and agendas, basically just being themselves – free-willed individuals doing their own wayward, uncontrollable thing in MY KITCHEN. So, when people suggest things that threaten to go against my careful self-protecting plans I feel the need to stop them. I become abrupt and intransigent in my denials. People start to wrangle with me, to get their own position heard and understood. I can feel the situation getting away from me: I’m not making myself understood; people think I’m angry when I’m not; my words aren’t coming out right. This makes me even more fraught and shouty and I end up being bloody rude.

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