I apologise for the depressing title of this blog post.
Wait, no. I don't.
It's December now which means we're cracking open our advent calendars and putting up trees in our homes, amid a spray of pine needles and tinsel. It's supposed to be a happy time. And it is, except that it's still the middle of winter and it's dark at 4pm and no matter how much you sit in front of your SAD lamp, if you have Depression and Anxiety, this time of year is grim. Thoughts poke you in the sides of the head at any time of day or night. Bad thoughts. Thoughts about all the horrible things you've ever done and said throughout your life, and why these make you the world's worst person. It can happen at any time of year but around this time it gets worse, because dark thoughts breed in dark places, and it's dark pretty much all the time right now.
Around December, traditionally a time for family and togetherness, my thoughts turn to all the bad stuff I did as a kid, mainly the bad stuff I did to my younger brother. I was not a nice kid. Let's not go into the reasons for that. But I was selfish and self centred and mean. I *hope* I've grown out of it. But back then I was kind of a brat. The inside of my head wasn't all roses then, as it isn't now, but all I knew how to do was take it out on the one person in my life who I wielded any power and influence over - my little bro. I'm sure he won't mind me writing this- hell, he wrote a novel inspired in part by the experiences we had with depression as teenagers so I'm sure he's cool with it. And I won't linger too long on the specifics - I teased him, bullied him, there was punching and hitting....until the day he got bigger than me and punched me right back. But the worst I did to him, the very worst, was not anything to do with outward meanness or spite - I can't blame it on being a mixed up kid who didn't know who to take her temper out on. It was devious. It was sneaky. And it happened around this time of year, over 20 years ago.
He still reminds me of it every December. And now it's time to tell that story and own up to being the demon child that I was.
In the early 1990's, Gladiators was the most exciting thing ever. It was on ITV on Saturday nights and even though it was tacky and completely staged, in an age where there was no internet and only 4 channels to watch, it was everything. My brother and I loved it. One year, mum bought us both the official Gladiators advent calendars and we were so excited! Because we loved Gladiators and we loved eating chocolate for breakfast and it was nearly Christmas and woooooo! So much excitement! It must have been about 1993, making me about 9 and him about 6. I should have been setting a good example and generally being an awesome big sister.
Instead, I was a fiend who wanted more chocolate than she had been allocated, and I discovered very quickly that these particular advent calendars were shoddily made, and if you shook them, the chocolate would fall out of their designated places behind the advent doors and down to the bottom, where they could be fished out through a gap in the cardboard. This meant that I could eat extra chocolate! But I couldn't do it to my own calendar because if I ate it all at once there would be nothing left for the rest of the month.
...So I did it to my brothers calendar.
I would wait until nobody was in the room and sneak over, shake the calendar until the chocolate fell down and then I would scoop it out and eat it! Success! Noone would ever know! Except for the next day, when my brother excitedly opened the little door on his calendar to find a hole with nothing in it. And the day after that. And the day after that.
Can you imagine the disappointment on his little face and in his little heart? All he wanted was a pre-breakfast chocolate to eat, as was his right as a child of the 90's, where no one thinks twice about feeding their kids refined sugar and additives all day long. But no chocolate was there. Meanwhile, I would open my own little door to find the chocolate waiting for me in it's rightful place, and I would pop it in my mouth and enjoy it, while my brother (and I did I mention he was 6? SIX! Think of the innocence!) would be left empty handed and sad.
My mother, of course, naturally assumed the calendar was faulty and when this happened day after day after day - well I don't know what she did actually. I think she bought my brother a packet of Malteasers or something, so that he could replace each chocolate with something. But it wasn't the same thing. Because those little plastic flavoured chocolates are everything, aren't they? Nothing is quite as good, and you can have Malteasers on any bloody day of the year. So it was no fun for him.
I kept my mouth shut.
I don't know at what point he found out it was me. I must have confessed in later years. There's a show on Radio 2 around 6pm on weekdays where they read out letters people have written, confessing various misdeeds, and then there's a panel who decides whether or not they should be forgiven. I've always thought I should write in to that show, except that it doesn't matter, because my now adult brother knows full well what I did, and at 30 years of age, he still hasn't forgiven me.
Which is fair enough. I stole candy from a baby (kind of) and I did it purely so I could have more of what I wanted, of what I already had.
It might be a funny story if told around the dinner table in the right sort of way, and we joke about it amongst ourselves, but I still can't look at an advent calendar through eyes of joy, only through a telescope of guilt. Which is classic Depression really - always telling you that you are bad. And classic Anxiety - always telling you that you should worry about things you have no control over, that happened years ago.
Try to make it funny. Then let it go.