The Phoenix Zine

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas


It’s Christmas time again and this season of joy is driving me nuts.

Today I went to what I consider to be my work Christmas party, which is actually the Christmas party for heart transplant recipients at TGH.  I put on a happy face, talked animatedly with my friends and ended up with three name tags instead of one when a fellow heart transplant recipient’s four and a half year-old daughter decided to use my name to practice her writing skills.  It was cute.

When it was over, however, and I was on my way home, I train-wrecked.

I’ve never been especially skilled at identifying my emotions in the moment, unless the emotions are anger and/or disgust which seem to be easily identifiable.  Instead, on many intense emotional occasions I find myself able to deal with things in a rational manner only to be a confused emotional train-wreck afterwards.

Going to a Christmas party sounds fun in theory, but going to the yearly Christmas party for heart transplant recipients is gut-wrenching.   Beneath the festive mood and lively conversation is an undertow of all the things we as transplant recipients have had to endure throughout the year: biopsies, drug changes, infections, and rejection.  But every year we go around the room and tell everyone our names and how long we’ve had our new hearts and there is little talk of the real life of a transplant recipient as we clap for the amount of time each of us has survived.

The thing is, while I observe this phenomenon and feel uncomfortable over the pressure I feel to be ever positive and thankful, I also perpetrate it.  When people asked how I was today, I said I was fine even though just before the party I signed a consent form for doctors to use the tissue from my upcoming kidney biopsy for research.

So when I couldn’t stop myself from crying on the way home, I was trying to figure out why.  I was anxious at the party, but generally I had a great time.  I like being able to see my friends in a social setting, and while seeing some of my doctors and support staff in a social setting is weird, it’s still a nice reprieve from the medicinalized world I’m used to.  I enjoy the comradery of it all, but somehow that comradery leaves me feeling more isolated than ever, especially when this year (as last year) I was the only one at the party who had had both a liver transplant and a heart transplant.

One thing I’ve never been good at is juggling opposing emotions.  While I am happy that I made it through another year and thankful to my new heart for making that a possibility, I also feel sad and scared about the consequences of having a heart transplant.  What ended up train-wrecking me was not the fact that I felt these conflicting emotions, but that I felt being conflicted had no place at the party.  After such events I often beat myself up because I feel I’m not dealing with things as well as I think others are.  I wonder what is wrong with me that I can’t just be happy about having a new heart and leave it at that.

But life is rarely that simple, and this Christmas season I need to remind myself that living with such conflict is okay.  It’s okay not to be happy when others want you to be.  It’s okay to be sad and scared because those are normal emotions everybody feels.  It’s okay to be grieving and celebrating simultaneously.  It’s okay not to have it all together all of the time, and it’s okay to let others know you don’t have it all together.

If I can remember those things than maybe I can give myself a break when it comes to holiday pressure to be joyous and jolly.  What I appreciate about feeling conflicting emotions is that they contrast with each other and make the moments of joy and happiness that much sweeter.

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