Seventeen months from Hell

This is going to be very personal. Feel welcome to tune out. I have blurred the whining and personal details: if you don’t want to know about it and think I should just cheer up, don’t reveal the spoiler.

Continuing the discussion from How are you today?, which is more specifically about reactions to the Covid pandemic.

I have been having a bad time the last year and a half.

I have bipolar disorder that I can’t treat with antidepressants because they interfere with the drugs that control my cardiac arrhythmia. To manage my depressive episodes I need order in my life and a regular schedule to my days, but my life has been in turmoil for years. The area that I live in has had nineteen disaster declarations in the eleven years since my mother died. Last spring we were on water rationing and I had a lot of work to keep my fruit trees alive with grey water. Reactionary populism in the news has been driving me insane.Then last November–March we had a million-hectare bushfire between here and the next large town to the west. Several of my friends and one of my brothers had their properties swept by fire and lost everything outside their actual houses (including livestock, working dogs, and pets); other neighbours lost more. I was twice sent an SMS by the state emergency management system warning me to get ready to evacuate — and I live well inside the area of a town of 11,000. For seven weeks from 7 November to 26 December 2019 we here saw nothing either of the Sun nor of the sky because of the pall of smoke from burning forests and farms. In early March we got a spate of heavy showers that put the fires out, but two weeks later Australia was put into home isolation as a measure to control the Covid-19 outbreak. When that got relaxed a thick stream of friends and relatives who had been cooped up in the major cities or prevented from their intended international travels decided that they really ought to visit my sister and me to make sure we were okay, cheer us up, eat our food, walk our dog etc. The strain and chaos had me already in a bad way at the beginning of the month. Then on the 1st of December I tore a muscle in my shoulder while stacking firewood, and on Monday morning I was woken at three AM by intense abdominal pain, the beginning of a three-day bout of renal colic. We are under a flood warning and an extreme weather warning.

Yesterday, a little high on major pain relief, I had a whine about it all to my clinical psychologist. She advised me to make a concerted effort to rebuild my schedules and quell the chaos in my life. Using her as a big stick to beat my loving relatives with I have announced the following.

  • The next three weeks are a total write-off. They are going to have to be dedicated to cooking and cleaning for, and showing the teeth at, traditional family Christmas revels. This include my cooking two Christmas dinners and hosting a little party for about twenty adults and eight children under eleven.

  • On January the 7th Christmas can pack up all its shit and get the fuck out of my house.

  • From January the 8th I will spend three hours in the morning, every Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday in my study, at my desk, writing. My family are on instructions to treat this time as though I were at work, and that, regardless of their opinion of the matter, I am going to treat that time as though my writing were important and were urgent.

  • At other times I will consider reasonable requests and tolerate reasonable interruptions. But my time is still not just anybody’s.

  • I will cater for and charm the guests at one visit or dinner party per month; visits are not to last longer then three nights, and if I’m expected to cook &c. for the dinner-parties they have to be on Saturday nights.

We’ll see how it goes. I expect to have to snap and roar while refusing objectively reasonable requests at least three times before my brothers and sisters stop treating my wishes for the use of my time as being a tired joke.

But anyway: probably after a a month of teething problems and settling in I have some hope of starting to produce steady output. If you’re one of the people who like my output that will be good news.


Good for you. Sometimes you have to follow Shaw’s maxim, “You had better take care to get what you like, or you shall have to like what you get.”


Take care of yourself. Close experience of depression and anxiety tells me that routine and predictability hugely important.


This all seems eminently reasonable. I hope your family adjust to your (again, completely reasonable) new routine/rules with less resistance than you expect.


Fire is one of the things I get nightmares about. I can’t imagine what it must be like.

I hope you’ll make it through the Christmas marathon in one piece. Cooking is more fun when one doesn’t have to do it.

It is so difficult to find the time and concentration for the writing. I hope you get to have your three hours and get everyone around you to respect the fact that even though you are right there, in fact you are not, you are at work.


Here’s hoping it works. It seems a very reasonable plan.


Enlightened self-interest FTW, and I hope it works. For what it’s worth you haven’t been coming over as frazzled.


Thank you for sharing. That took a lot of bravery, and it’s appreciated!

I believe in you. You got this.


Drawing boundaries with family takes gumption.

Cook what you enjoy eating!


Everything passes. I think it was great of you to share. And brave. You will pull through. Hopefully everything will be ok, sending good waves from across the Tasman


Thank you for sharing, that is a big load to handle.

Believe me when I say this, as much as someone who doesn’t know you IRL, I am proud of you for using that stick and putting your foot down on your schedule.

During non covid holidays we always get a push to socialize with family when I know what my be kids (level 3 autistic) can handle.

And honestly it leaves me feeling like the jerk.

That said, a schedule really is for mental health, just as important as medication, sleep or diet etc.


Yeah. Family inviting themselves to stay in my house from Christmas Eve until the Saturday after Christmas, and expecting me to provide a Christmas dinner, has passed seventeen years in a row and is going to pass again this year.


I am sorry if my comment wasn’t helpful. I try to understand and be supportive, if it wasn’t, or if it was negative in any way, you have my sincere apologies.


No, that’s fine. No need to apologise.

I’ll be better later. I really will. I have been before and I will be this time.

That doesn’t mean “and then everything will be okay forever and ever, amen.” It never has been before and it won’t be this time. There will be a next time. But you know what? I’ll get better next time, too.


True, but it always helps me going through a tricky time. Thinking that it will not last forever, does really help.

I think that’s the spirit. Aiming for positiveness has always helped me being more positive. I don’t know if it makes sense, but I hope it does and it works for you.


My partner found a lot of value in the book Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud when dealing with some boundary issues within her family. Though it sounds like you’ve already touched on this subject with a mental health professional so I’m not sure how much additional benefit a book could be.


Well, there’s an actual outbreak of covid-19 in Sydney now — fifty-eight people tested positive in the las two days, having acquired the virus in the community. The state government has locked down the Northern Beaches local government area and cancelled all singing and dancing in Greater Sydney. They will announce on Wednesday morning whether Christmas is cancelled.

My sister dissuaded my other sister and her husband and son from jumping into their car today and coming here four days early (i.e. for four extra days) to anticipate a “no travel” order and the cancellation of Christmas. I reckon that it’s very likely that there will be cases all across Sydney and the Central Coast today and tomorrow, and that travel for Christmas will be cancelled. I feel bad for being glad of something that will make thousands of people sick and kill scores or hundreds of them, spoil a series of much anticipated treats for my extraverted friends and family, and fall as a heavy financial blow on my neighbours who depend on the Christmas holiday trade for their livelihoods. But I have to confess that I feel relieved. The only problem now is that my sister and I have to eat three kilos of dry aged Black Angus beef, four kilos of ham, and untold cakes and pastries all by ourselves.


You know, if you feel inclined to mail some of that to Southern Ontario…

(I’m glad to hear that things are going okay-ish!)


Silver linings! I don’t see that as a problem. I’d say filet it all and pack it in the freezer separately, you may have enough till February :slight_smile: Just watch the waist line. I am so glad my resent to my OH is a static bicycle. I can see myself needing it soon after New Year’s Eve.


Answer: no. Christmas is not cancelled.

The contact tracing team have been going like a steam train: 111 thousand tests over the last three days for 66 positive, all connected to known cases. The state government has actually eased the restrictions slightly, with a waiver that children under twelve aren’t going to count for gathering limits from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day. People from the Northern Beaches still aren’t allowed out (though they are allowed to visit each other in small numbers), but my family are from South Sydney and Willoughby, and there are no restrictions on their coming to regional NSW. The gathering of my nieces and nephews and their partners and children to meet my strong nephew’s fiancée and her daughter, on Boxing Day would not be permitted in Sydney (21 adults and eight children under twelve) but is permitted here. I am doubtful, but it’s going to be outdoors, and no-one listens to me anyway.

So: people will be here to eat the beef, ham, and gravlax. My sister and I took the dog out into the forest this afternoon to snaffle a Christmas tree. And it’s time that I got on with making a couple of kilograms of rum balls.