The weights kept piling up from 2001 until 2011. It started with depression. Depression gave way to fear and confusion. The abundance of failures caused a self-imposed isolation. Isolation led to addiction. Addiction led to insomnia. Insomnia led to mania and psychosis. Mania and psychosis led to frequent hospitalizations. Hospitalizations led to more and more medications. More medications led to agonizing side effects and deeper depression.
Now that it is all on paper I can finally see and understand why the holidays have always been a hard time for me. When I think back to when I was a kid I had always loved the holidays. From the age of 9 I was the first person on the block with lights up. I would go on a long hike in the woods with a saw and burlap to cut down evergreen limbs so I could bring them back home and wire together a wreath in my garage. I would place a candle in every window and of course I would set up that old toy train set in the basement. You know, the one that worked all of about 3 times the whole month of December but amazingly it was always when you brought someone down to see it. I would spend the rest of the month down there trying out new track combinations, searching tirelessly through boxes of ornaments looking for that little tin container of liquid smoke so that I could really impress the family this year. I just wanted it to look real and just like my home town. I had a list of what I wanted to get everyone I knew before the first of December.
This is actually the first time I have sat down to ask myself. What happened? Why did I start hating the one time of year that I had felt completely free as a child? I am pretty sure it had a lot to do with the mass commercialization of everything. From toys to fashion everything took a turn in the late 1990’s. Toys and clothes were more expensive but were terrible quality. There was a lack of pride when it came to creating a product; and even less self-respect from the marketers that sold it. It was a time of glorifying numbers, shiny clothes, shiny cars, cheap music, and an overall loss of moral or value.
Sure, I fell right into it when this all started. I was at the club with my new car and my 2 penny $100 shirt. But this faded after a few months and then I was not only mad at society. I was furious with myself. How could I get fooled? I do not need all of these extravagant things. They meant nothing. I knew I was miserable. However, I thought if I accumulated enough stuff I could essentially buy back my happiness. This was not the case at all. I would spend the next 10 years running away from everything that upset me rather than facing it head on. It was a slow torturous form of self-destruction.
All I could think of was when I had run off to Los Angeles in the winter of 2008 and I did not know a soul. I was on the beach on a breezy 40 degree day having a cigarette when a girl around my age came up to me and asked me for a light. We got to talking and when she heard that I was new in town and had nowhere to go for Christmas she immediately asked me to come and spend it with her family. I seriously almost cried on the spot. I could not remember the last time someone had reached out to me and offered me something, especially expecting nothing in return. I will never be able to explain how dark a time this was, but how emotional I got. The feeling will stick with me forever.
In 2012 I finally decided to do something about how I felt. There were people out there that had it much worse than me and I needed to start using this time of year to help someone else. I went online and looked up where there were Toys for Tots drop boxes, because let’s be honest, organizations like that are the real Santa Claus. I emailed and called the local food bank to see what foods they needed and where they were collecting. I made it my mission to give whatever I could within my means to try and make a difference in someone’s life that may have nothing. Someone that, without your gift or your food donation may not eat or receive anything while trying to keep warm with others they may not even know in a homeless shelter or hospital.
All I can say is that I have been doing these things continuously since 2012 and every year has gotten better. My life feels like it has purpose. My relationships with friends and family have grown stronger. I feel better about myself and more in touch with reality. We need to break away from our attachment to all of this stuff that the TV keeps throwing at us. Just think about that thing you got last year that broke by New Years. Or what about the thing that you still have in the box? Please, give it up.
I hope that you have a great holiday season, and if you want a guaranteed method of improving your life, or everyone’s life for that matter, give a little bit to someone that needs it and you will start to feel the joy of the season with them. Peace & Love.
Joseph S. Fusaro is 32 years old and grew up in Valhalla NY. He's also lived in Tucson Arizona and Los Angeles California. Joe has been writing music and poetry since the age of 14 and credits it with helping him dig his way out of a serious bout with anxiety, depression, and bipolar 1 in his late teens and 20's. Joe was a cast member in our New York City show this past October and looks forward to using his experience with mental illness to help others realize there is hope for a positive and productive future.