Spare a thought for the lonely this Christmas

I remember the moment like it was yesterday - when I caught my mum preparing to be Santa. Suddenly the realisation was thrust at me, that Santa in fact, didn't exist.

I have no idea why mum chose that afternoon in 1979 to wrap my Santa order in our dining room. It wasn't like we were living in Downton Abbey where one might not find one in the dining room until one was called to dinner. One was living in a three-bedroom house in downtown Melbourne for jingle bells' sake. 

It's still so clear. I swung my nine-year-old body around the corner from the hallway and into our humble meals area, and there they were: Matilda, Strawberry Shortcake and my mother. Two of them were lying on the table on top of two carefully cut out pieces of wrapping paper. The other one was holding a pair of scissors. When I rounded that corner, all three had an expression that read, "Oh Christ. It's her …" 

Mum scrambled to throw the remaining roll of Christmas paper over the top of my dolls that were still supposed to be in the North Pole. "You're home early?" she said nervously. "I thought you had netball?"

There’s nothing worse than being busted. Picture: iStock
There’s nothing worse than being busted. Picture: iStock

I glanced back at the table where my dolls were now suffocating under Rudolph-covered paper, and then back towards mum. I locked eyes with her and asked one of the most defining questions of my entire life.

"Mum, why are the dolls I put on my list for Santa already here?"

I don't recall now what she said, but I do know that all I saw was lies in her eyes. And like a baseball hitting my heart, I came to realise that the second most important man in my life, was no more than #fakenews. 

That was the first of many other lies about Christmas I would discover. 

When you're a young adult, is a time to feel happy with mince pie nostalgia hanging in the air. We come merrily together, open gifts, eat, fall asleep on the couches, sing carols (not like Mariah), eat again, have a game of backyard cricket and watch the faces of small children as they rip through their gifts like hyenas on a rotting carcass - and then we all eat again. 

However, as you get older, the workload for Christmas increases; navigating shopping lists, planning and preparing food, trying not to go broke, warding off painful relatives chiming in with loaded comments and requests, attending obligatory soirees, getting too drunk and slowly, ever so slowly the 'joy to the world' gets a little sucked away.

For many people, Christmas exacerbates the loneliness. Picture: Universal Studios
For many people, Christmas exacerbates the loneliness. Picture: Universal Studios

We're overindulged, overstimulated and all we want for Christmas, is just five minutes alone.

But there are people in the world who experience absolutely none of this mayhem.

Christmas, in truth, is a time that amplifies the loneliness that exists in people all around you - neighbours, co-workers, bus drivers, the man drinking alone at the front bar, maybe the older woman you just walked past in the street. There isn't a 'type' that ends up lonely. It can be a road you never expected to find yourself down, and can manifest through divorce, illness, geographic isolation, family disputes or death.

I spent over three decades of my life surrounded by people. I thought I was the extrovert, the party girl, the stereotypical Leo, someone who liked attention. I wasn't the lonely type. But In 2007, I moved to Adelaide for a new role on a breakfast radio show and took a toxic boyfriend and an undiagnosed mental health condition with me. Over 12 months, I managed to get up each workday at 4.20am; got rid of the boyfriend and finally went to a doctor to find out what was wrong. The doctor told me I was suffering from depression, which I already knew because a voice had kept telling me, "You're depressed."

Loneliness can strike anyone, and often there’s no way of telling. Picture: istock
Loneliness can strike anyone, and often there’s no way of telling. Picture: istock

I worked hard to get better. I took pills that made my eyeballs shake, and I withdrew from the world (aside from work) for six months. One day another voice came to me, and it said: "You're so lonely." The voice would keep coming and eventually I could hear that it had a different tone to the other that told me I was depressed. 

Depression feels debilitating, and at times, especially as its escalating, really scary. Loneliness, however, isn't as tiring, so it feels clearer - and what it feels like is that everyone that was once in the room with you, has turned their backs on your and walked away. It feels personal. 

When it comes to this time of year, I try to increase my eye contact in the street; I smile even more than usual to those who might be struggling not to take their loneliness personally. I'm conscious to lightheartedly slag off Christmas, to those who might need it. I'm open to throwing an invite out even if I need to do a PowerPoint presentation to convince my family of why we should open our doors to a stranger.

Because one day, any day, it might be us remembering when Christmas included people we loved; the ones that one day might be gone.