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How “Christmas Vacation” Saves Me Every Year

Have you seen the movie “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”? Every year, our family settles in to watch it at least once between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It’s a huge tradition with us.  We’ve been quoting it for years. “Save the neck for me, Clark,” is a classic in our home. As is, the holiday grace beginning with, “I pledge allegiance to the flag…” 

I’ve learned that when you struggle with a bipolar illness and you’re facing the holiday season, you need to laugh. You need to laugh a lot. Because if you don’t, you might just be crying instead. So I make sure to view “Christmas Vacation” regularly each year as part of my mental health treatment; I consider it video medication. 

You can probably understand where I’m coming from if you have bipolar disorder or an anxiety-related condition. For us, the holidays are about just one thing: stress, lots of it; the kind of free-floating anxiety that hovers overhead even while you’re sleeping, if you’re lucky enough to do that. It comes in thick as fog right before “Trick or Treat” and doesn’t dissipate until well after “Happy New Year!” 

The holiday season is one giant tangle of multiple Christmas light strands, wound up and spun like a runaway snowball stuffed into a box in your attic. Each December, you retrieve the box, grab the ladder, and head for the roof. 

Teetering precariously ten feet above the ground, you reach into the box and try to unsnarl the madness, unravel the mayhem while still maintaining enough balance not to land on your head in your front yard. 

If you’re lucky, you get most of the lights up eventually and most of the bulbs end up lit, after a lot of trial and error replacing duds.

If you’re lucky, you climb back down without any Clark Griswold moments with dangerous staple guns, malfunctioning ladders or minor electrocutions.  

But that strand of lights you’ve managed to untangle, temporarily displaying some holiday twinkle on the outside, is only for show. Your tangled up nerves never really unraveled, did they? And your unlit bulbs never really got replaced. Those duds are still there in the line, lurking like that thick fog, waiting to extinguish the entire strand of brightness you’ve managed to display. 

If you’re like me, by the time you’ve climbed down off that roof, despite the beautiful display of “holiday cheer” you accomplished, you’re more of a runaway snowball now than you were before, a tangle of nerves and anxiety.

Just like Clark Griswold out on his lawn trying to amaze and inspire his loved ones with his incredible Christmas light display, during the holiday season we are trying to turn on our lights, too. We are struggling with the cords and the switches, while convincing our loved ones to just wait, it’ll get better. Maybe we’re even saying that to ourselves. And just like in the movie, it feels like it takes forever to show them the brightness, to prove that you’ve got it. 

If you remember the scene in the movie, Clark’s light display eventually turns on…because unbeknownst to him, his wife has turned on the power from inside the house. He didn’t know that she had his back. 

This holiday season, keep your eyes out for the Mrs. Griswolds in your life. Trust that they will have your back too. Because your energy, your enthusiasm, your hope, while sometimes a tangled strand of mayhem, can light up the world with just a little help.

Oh, and “save the neck for me, Clark.”

Happy Holidays!

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