Keeping up with the Jones' is hard work. Living a lie is even harder. Being someone you're not is soul-destroying. At Christmas time when the likelihood of meeting and greeting old faces and family is highest, the dread sets in that the facade we present to the world is in fact, a big, fat lie.
Old feuds and arguments never die- they just get better (just joking!). Memories are never so long that we forget who did something to us in word or spirit or act, even if it was a million years ago. And family reunions are the worst- the siblings who wind each other up, the petty jealousies, the nagging parents.
So here is my advice for the Christmas Nightmare that you are about to encounter:
1. Learn the art of meaningless chit chat. Ask after people, smile radiantly at every word, lap up the useless information you are hearing and say very little and when you do, invite the person you are conversing with to tell you about themselves. Human beings are massive egos on two legs and LOVE to talk about themselves.
2. Avoid overeating and drink sparingly. A full-to-bursting-stomach will slow down your digestion and make you feel irritable and tired. If you're forced to tolerate people you dislike, don't make it worse by feeling stroppy because your digestive system is working overtime. Over-imbibing will make you say things you regret and diplomacy as in 1. above will fly out the window. Remember, you are only forced to endure this nightmare for a finite time and then you can go home and be yourself. The hours will fly past if you can stay away from too much booze and too much food, smile constantly with a Nancy Reagan, wide-eyed demeanour and say very little.
3. Don't fool yourself that you want to forgive, forget and embrace your old enemies. Sod that! Bygones are not bygones unless you're extremely religious. Have realistic expectations rather than fantastic ones where everyone falls into each other's arms and weeps at their new found closeness.
4. If you're in someone else's home for the Holidays behave with grace at all times. Take the hostess a small bag of goodies: wines, chocolates, perfumed soaps. Hand the bag to her at the door with the biggest smile you can muster. Set the tone for being a perfect guest who dissolves into the shadows and makes no demands. If the only bath on offer is a cold one because the hot water is switched off early, pretend you're camping and do a sparrow wash. Never allude to the lack of hot water or any inconvenience that greatly pissed you off- you will only make an enemy who will remember your bad manners forever- and if the relationship was already bad, well, you get the picture....
5. Take long walks, if necessary on your own. Fresh air greatly lightens a mood and banishes the Black Dog, albeit temporarily. Seek refuge in the great outdoors away from the mortals who are dragging you down. When you return from your walk, the time will move even more swiftly as you will have less of it to spend with the 'enemy'.
6. Get the Scrabble or Monopoly Board out and lose yourself in trivial pursuits. Game-playing makes people competitive but if you've chosen to play for the sake of passing the time, you will find it light-hearted and rather amusing.
7. Retire early. I have been trapped in the kitchen many times having to listen to sob stories and deepest secrets until the crack of dawn. If you'd rather not be up all night nodding your head in sympathy, head to bed early clutching a book and a hot water bottle (the best companions unless you're involved in a torrid love affair).
8. And when it's time to say goodbye and the nightmare is finally over, mix toothy-smiley delight with almost-genuine sadness at having to say goodbye and be sure to exalt at how wonderful it all was!