Wow, that’s possibly the most clickbaity subject line I’ve used so far. Let me defuse it by quickly saying yes, there really is a free book, and that Secret Santa could be considered a form of self-harm depending on your emotional state and psychological background.
First things first, your free book. Unfortunately, it’s not All Better Now, although you will still have access to a free digital copy of that once it’s released. For now I’m letting you know that my short seasonal poem The Christmas Santa Slept is going to be free on all Amazon digital platforms (so I guess Kindle?) from the 16th to the 21st of December. It’s a heart-warming tale of friendship and support, with a full cast of seasonal characters and critters, and you can get a copy of it here.
There’s always going to be something special to me about this project, largely because it was one of my most successful. The text came to me over a long weekend, and was edited down over the following month. When I realised that I kept reading the characters in their different voices, I took a few trips to a few fancy dress shops, slapped on facepaint like it was suncream in July, shot a terrifying number of rushes and out-takes, and by the end of it had a pretty decent video project.
You can find it on YouTube. I apologise in advance if Jack Frost gives you nightmares.
The Christmas Santa Slept is also one of my most dangerous projects, because it sometimes helps me rest on my laurels.
“Hi, I’m Nick Sheridan, author of The Christmas Santa Slept, a 25-page booklet that came out half a decade ago.”
Have you published anything since?
As long as I can move a few hundred copies of it each holiday period, I trick myself into feeling like I’m not stagnating, despite the lack of returns– low subscribers, limited reviews –and the fact that most those copies are free. Well as I’ve said, this year you can again pick it up for free on Amazon, from the 16th to the 21st of December.
Most years I try to get out ahead of myself and start promoting The Christmas Santa Slept in November, but as you can read in the archive, I’ve been letting myself focus on other things lately, such as weddings and honeymoons (well, one of each), and now… refusing to take part in Secret Santa.
(Ahh! We must be at the mental health part of the email!)
Presents are great. Gifts are pretty great too. The kindness with which they are bought or made is overwhelmingly… great. Anxiety on the other hand, is rubbish.
An unknown present from an unspecified person is anxiety in a box. You don’t know what it is. You don’t know who gave it you, their intentions or what they personally invested in it. You don’t know how much of you it is going to require to keep or possess it, you don’t know if you will be able to control your face or emotions when you first see it, and you don’t know how the gift-giver is going to react to that. You don’t know if you’re going to like it.
The standard cognitive therapy line of “What’s the worst that can happen?” doesn’t work well enough here, because the “worst” is completely sealed behind shiny paper and a bow.
This may not be you. Maybe you look at surprise gifts the same way some people look at roller coasters- a moment of fear followed by a quick rush of excitement, ending in an amused and relaxed feeling of security. Maybe it’s a roulette table to you, a gamble with a win-or-lose outcome driven by the excitement of not knowing until the wheel stops spinning. Maybe you just like receiving things, no matter what.
Not everyone, and not me. That box from a stranger – and it is a stranger, until they reveal themselves – is a direct line to my uncertainty triggers, and it doesn’t start at the point of receiving, it starts when someone sticks my name in a bowl and passes it around an office.
Choosing to put my name into that bowl, despite the spiky waves of anxiety it can and does cause throughout the season, is perhaps no less a form of self-harm than submerging my hands in a basin of scalding water, hitting the rest of a bottle when I know my central nervous system is already drowning, or reading comments that I know will be hateful and discriminatory.
It is an activity that I know will upset me. It is a decision that I know will hurt me. It will bring me harm.
This is why for two years now, I’ve refused to take part. It doesn’t make me a Grinch. It doesn’t make me a killjoy. It makes me someone unprepared to hurt themselves for a novelty that will be forgotten by the time the new year rolls around. It is a healthy, simple response to an unhealthy, complicated reaction to something which really does not matter.
I can train myself out of anxiety in shops, cafes, or while boarding public transport, because those are situations that happen almost daily, with predictable outcomes and clear objectives. Secret Santa comes round once a year like a hammer of randomness, and that just isn’t often enough to prepare for it.
I hope you are well
P.S I’m going to drop you a very short email later this week once The Christmas Santa Slept is definitely running free with a very clear link and not a lot of waffle. I might even make a direct link for those of you who don’t like giving Jeff “A-Z” Bezos the attention.
P.P.S. Remember that as a member of this community, only you will get the opportunity to pick up 500ish Days In The Quiet Room at a scarily low introductory price, and after launch only you will get a digital copy of the companion collection All Better Now for absolutely free!