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How I Got Through The Darkest Night of Winter

A toilet bowl Christmas, repressed memories, and obsessive-compulsive disorder

This is me. I’m a grinch. (photo from the author’s collection)

It’s 5 a.m. Christmas morning, I haven’t slept yet, because of anxiety, and I’m racing around my studio apartment cleaning. I’m trying to distract myself because I’m alone, and I know that this is going to be the worst Christmas ever.

I rarely tell people this, but I don’t like Christmas any year, let alone this one. I don’t like winter. I don’t appreciate the holiday shopping season. I don’t understand this Christmas spirit that everyone always talks about. I’m a grinch.

What I also don’t tell people is that while for everyone else, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, for me, I always feel a cloud of darkness around it, and I don’t know why.

It’s at this point you’re probably thinking, “Wow, this guy sucks.”

Yeah, don’t worry, I know. I live with myself every day.

“How could he not like Christmas? Do you not like the smell of pine trees, or the taste of sugar cookies, or how about the joy of a child on Christmas morning?”

And to that, I say, “No… I don’t.”

I’m allergic to trees, my body doesn’t tolerate gluten very well, and sometimes I wonder if we really need children. They’re just so loud, and their voices are impossibly high. It makes little sense. I mean, I understand it biologically. It’s just so much.

I’m running around my small apartment cleaning because this Christmas is going to be especially bad. My family lives in Wisconsin and I live in Los Angeles. This will be my first Christmas without them. Even though I don’t like the holiday, this year I won’t get to enjoy my mom’s famous corned beef and potatoes with a Bloody Mary, or yell at my brother while playing Yahtzee, or even just simply sit with them in the living room and chit chat.

I sent a few presents in the mail, a board game for my brother, a blue and orange monster truck toy for my nephew, but it won’t be the same. I knew this day would come where I would miss a Christmas with my family, but I didn’t think I would be alone for it. Who could’ve foreseen the exact circumstances of this year? Besides Bill Gates. He knew. We didn’t listen.

But I have a plan to get through this day. I’m going to clean. I’m going to put baking soda and vinegar on everything and scrub, because not only do I have anxiety and depression, but I’m also obsessive-compulsive, and if I can’t be home with family, I’m going to at least give myself the gift of being able to relax in a clean space on Christmas Day.

I’ve finished everything, except for the toilet. I’m standing in my bathroom looking at it. There’s a hard water stain in the bowl. This is going to be tough. But everything else in my apartment is spotless. This needs to be clean, so I can feel better.

I’m always trying to feel better. Years ago, I went back to therapy. I’m sitting in a big white canvas chair in a tiny New York office. The office is so small there’s a sound machine playing loudly to protect my privacy from the other small offices sharing the paper-thin walls.

My therapist says, “Maybe you should ask your mom about this dark feeling around Christmas and see bad happened to you around then.”

I don’t know why I didn’t think of that. Maybe it’s because I’m not sure I really want to know.

Later that night I’m sitting on my big bed in my tiny New York apartment, holding the phone, debating if I should call my mom. But I need to know. I dial her number. I take a breath and ask my mom ever went wrong for me as a kid around Christmas.

This is when I knew she would say, “No, you had great Christmases as a child. You loved playing in the snow and having off school for Christmas break, and Santa was always good to you.”

And then I would feel even more guilty because I’ve had all this privilege, and yet I still struggle to find joy during the most wonderful time of the year.

Instead, immediately she says, “That makes sense. It was December 9th. You were just a toddler. Your grandpa, my dad, had a cerebral hemorrhage early that morning and died a few hours later. We were supposed to go get a tree and start celebrating the Christmas season that day.”

I lay back on my bed, blown away. Now I know what experience was imprinted on me. Of course, it wasn’t her fault, and it wasn’t mine, but it happened. This explanation brought the memory back.

But it doesn’t just make everything all better. I can intellectually understand why I feel bad, but it’s still impossible for me to connect emotionally to Christmas. I’m still sad around this time of year. So that’s why it’s so important for me to get this hard water stain out of the toilet bowl. Because this time of year is hard enough and I need a win.

I’m in the bathroom. I put on my plastic gloves; I have a spray bottle of vinegar and a box of baking soda. I’m going to beat this thing. This toilet is going to be spotless. I’m looking at the toilet ready to go, but I have a problem. To scrub the bowl, I need to empty the water. To empty the water, I need to turn off the water supply. And that’s my problem.

A few months ago, I tried to change a water filter in my kitchen, and then because my apartment is old, the water supply knob wouldn’t turn back. The metal piece under the sink broke and the water won’t turn back on. I’m too afraid to have a plumber come inside during this time, obsessive-compulsiveness, so now I just live without cold water in the kitchen. I look forward to it in July sometime. Maybe.

But I can’t risk breaking the same piece on the toilet, especially at 5 a.m. on Christmas morning. Now I’m glad to have the realization not to do anything risky with plumbing in the wee hours of the morning on a national holiday, but all I want for Christmas is to finish this job. And now I can’t. Now I’m going to have Christmas alone, full of anxiety and sadness, with a dirty toilet.

I go into my living room and fall into my easy chair, desperate for this anxiety to go down so I could just get some sleep. Maybe I could even sleep the day away. Skip it. Wouldn’t that be nice? But then my phone buzzes. And that’s weird because it’s five in the morning. I definitely shouldn’t be getting any messages right now. This has to be an emergency.

I pick up my phone and see it’s a text message from my older brother and my heart sinks. It’s too early in the morning. This can’t be good. After this year, I open the message expecting to read something truly terrible. But it’s a video.

Stupidly I now realize it’s 7 a.m. in Wisconsin, they’re two hours ahead, and Christmas morning has begun for my small nephew Stanley. In the video, he’s standing on a rug in their living room next to their fireplace opening a present. He slowly and deliberately opens the fluorescent wrapping paper, getting tape stuck to his little fingers and shaking it off. He has to remove every little piece before he’s satisfied. I wonder what the present is.


My brother says, “Tell Corey, ‘Thank you.’”

And Stanley says, “Thank you, Corey.” But then he adds something. He says, “Thank you, Corey. You love it.”

You love it. I know he’s just a toddler with poor facility over his pronoun use, but he’s not wrong.

Because this video melts the ice around my heart. His grammar mistake is true because suddenly I don’t care that I’ve been up all night, or that my toilet is dirty, or even that I’m alone on Christmas. Because now I don’t feel alone. He’s so loud and his voice is impossibly high. But he’s right because I do love it. My heart feels so warm and I feel so much love right now.

I thought this was going to be the worst Christmas. But I was wrong. Because this Christmas, I learned that even though I have bad things in my past, even brutal things that have happened and hold on to me, there will be moments of total peace where those things can fade away. It can happen. At least for a bit. And maybe this warmness in my heart, maybe that’s this Christmas spirit that everybody’s been talking about.



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Corey Bennett Boardman

Corey Bennett Boardman


Hi I'm Corey. I am a writer/actor/comedian based in Los Angeles. I have dealt with mental health issues since the fifth grade. Now I laugh with them.