Dear reader,

Every week I entreat you to write and you have and you do. Sometimes you've been cross, occasionally cruel, mostly, though, you've been thoughtful and you've been kind. I wanted this, our last correspondence of the year, to be both a summing-up of sorts and an offering. A gift if you like, it being the eve of Christmas and all. I imagined a page replete with wisdom and grace. With joyous good tidings.

But instead, I'm writing to you in a sorry state; my silly season offending having peaked last night in a squall of tequila shots, chocolate eclairs and regrettable dance moves. Instead, here I sit, spilling over with remorse, my old anxieties - many of which I've subjected you to over the course of the year, and which some of you have told me you share - rearing their horrid heads. Oh, what did I say? And what did she mean by that comment? And, above all, what on earth was I thinking, doing a handstand while wearing a short skirt?

I had come to see my anxiety as a ring. A ring I'd worn a long time and didn't, in fact, particularly like any more, but no matter how much I twisted and turned it, the bastard would not budge. And then this year my anxious disposition got really bad, and you helped me realise that actually, I didn't just have to live with it. That there were things I could do, books I could read, deep and mindful breaths I could take. So I took all your advice, wiggling and working away at that fretful band, until, almost as if by some miracle, it gave up its hold, sliding free of my knuckle. And I fancied myself cured. But, as Nietzsche said, "When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago." So when I awoke this morning, hungover, exhausted, and my self-castigating ways descended again, at first I despaired. Yet while once I would have made a meal of my worries, fuelling and stoking the fires, nursing upon them all week long, dispatching a small army of apologies for slights both real and imagined, in writing this it has occurred to me that I can simply choose not to. That rather than seeking absolution from others I can choose to forgive myself, place upon my heart, not the burning poker of old, but a cool and comforting compress. That rather than donning that hair shirt, I can choose to remember my friends also drank too much last night, also danced wildly. That although we tend to assume we are the protagonist in the film playing out in everyone's head, mostly we only enjoy a starring role in our own. As my mother has so often told me over the years when I have rung her and told her of my many, mostly dreamed up, fears following some social mishap: That's an extraordinary story you've told yourself, darling, but it's just that, a story.


So I guess, dear reader, my present to you is this: have compassion for yourself tomorrow. If you say the wrong thing or embarrass yourself in some way, make amends where necessary, but don't beat yourself up too much or too long. I bet you $10 no one will be judging you as harshly as you are yourself.

Following on
Claire's response to last week's column about the many trials of domesticity, especially at this time of year, stuck me as very sane. "It's so true that family life is rarely squeaky clean and that it brings both joys and challenges. Our daughters are now 18 and 20 and we look back at some of these 'moments' and we all see them for what they are - the fabric of life that makes things interesting and funny. Treasure them and name them so your children grow up to celebrate even those moments when you felt things were turning to custard."