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Happy Holidays from Team Unwritten

As the festive period draws in for us we wanted to take a quick minute to wish you all happy holidays and thank you all for your support this year.

We hope that you have a wonderful festive period, that it’s full of rest, joy and not too stressful. If you find Christmas hard, as many do, we hope you can get through it in whichever way is best for you.

Thank you all for the incredible amount of support you have shown us this year, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without our incredible disabled community.

Be kind to yourselves, remember to fight the system but always prioritise rest. If you need some extra ways to look after yourself, we recommend last year’s Happy Holidays piece.

See you in the new year,

Rachel, Cath and Caroline

The Unwritten editorial team

ps please enjoy Rachel’s dog and editorial assistant Rusty in his Christmas outfits

a black and tan dachsung wearing a rd christmas jumper that is decorated to look like santas outfit with a hood that has a white bobble on the end like santas hat
a black and tan dachshund is a green coat decorated to look like an elves outfit
a black and tan dachshund wearing a green coat decorated to look like a christmas tree

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Why do Disabled People Have to be Tiny Tims at Christmas?

Charles Dickens introduced the young Tim Cratchit to the world generations ago. Ever since, the character has been an emblem of A Christmas Carol.

Whether humans, cartoons, Muppets or a single puppet in a cast of non-disabled actors, they all have one tie that binds them — they are the sickly but sanguine child whose plight helps convert miserly, seemingly non-disabled Ebenezer Scrooge.    

There is a dimension of perceived honesty and truth to that description that disabled people are still wrangling with so many years later — the plight that helped to improve Scrooge.    

Dickens was the author of a disabled character whose sole purpose was to be an object of pity and to beg for goodwill. 

A character that, in his time, would have been an honest representation of the place, so many disabled people held. But we can’t claim there has been a radical revision in attitudes or ideals across the eras — they simply lie underneath an increasingly worn veneer of respectability.     

Tiny Tim doesn’t develop from a sickly young boy to a frail young man to a middle-aged destitute beggar. Rather, little Tim exists at one point in his life.  

He is the idealised Dickensian child — a staple of the Victorian era. But his modern twin hasn’t altered in the collective public consciousness. So, in whichever period, in whichever form, we see Tiny Tim. We know that we, as disabled people, are tied to him, our throwback twin — but we grew up.  

His presence is still felt in every report, every charitable piece edited just so – sickly but sanguine – to warm the hearts of the non-disabled. 

His father, Bob Cratchit, recounts Tim’s words. “He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cr*pple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made l*me beggars walk, and blind men see.” 

No significant change or development has occurred since these words were committed to the page. Disabled children are still being used as props and mined mercilessly for their weight in inspiration porn.  

As a commonplace Victorian character, Bob continuously moralises his son’s death and disability. 

Yet, the sentiment expressed in this passage feels thoroughly modern — this is still how disabled children are represented — until age transforms them into parasites. 

“I know my dears, that when we recollect how patient and how mild he was; although he was a little, little child, we shall not quarrel easily among ourselves and forget poor Tiny Tim in doing it.”  

 In the modern world, Tiny Tim would be excellent fodder for a festive charity advert as a voice-over narrated his tale. His trauma would be reworked neatly with melancholic though stirring music. 

Or he might materialise on breakfast television to be dubbed inspiring — and patted on the head dismissively. Of course, there would also be a place for him, wrapped in a Christmas jumper at the end of any bland national news bulletin.  

He doesn’t develop from a sickly young man to a middle-aged destitute beggar. But he walks with a crutch and looks frail in both productions and illustrations.

However, know from bitter experience that Tiny Tim would transform into an adult who might be labelled a scrounger — a liar, a fraudster for daring to be both disabled and an adult. 

Those images are seemingly independent yet entangled, most disabled people have experienced a shift when they are no longer perceived as worthy of protection.   

Before his intervention takes effect, Scrooge quips that government-funded institutions should be sufficient to help impoverished and disabled people.

The Ghost of Christmas Present shows him the reality: they are grave places and nowhere near enough — not funded well enough or given the proper support. 

The reality is that Tiny Tim would age out of societal sympathy. The divide between who we are and who they want us to be is never more evident than at Christmas. He would be a victim of the benefit scrounger rhetoric, which affects all disabled people’s lives.   

Suppose the adult Tiny Tim lived in modern times. In that circumstance, he might receive the Christmas bonus from the DWP but not in line with inflation.

Not without having to endure some non-disabled pre-conversion Ebenezer Scrooge-style rants, which speak longingly of ripping us back to some form of an idealised Victorian era. 

He might have to beg for help to fund equipment once he outgrew his crutch and be told he was lying about his disability across the media. 

In column inches, tweets and on the street – language is chosen more carefully and insidiously now than Charles Dickens’ work conveys. Still, it’s no less ableist and regressive.  

Positively Dickensian? Positively modern. It reflects the phrasing and sentiment seeping into some newspapers, mangled tweets, and the warped observations of media commentators. 

It might be pleasant for them to remember on Christmas Day that we are not here to be puppets or Muppets in Scrooge’s redemption arc — or their warped Dickensian fantasies.   

Disabled people deserve to exist outside of how non-disabled wish us to appear at Christmas and all year round – god bless us everyone!

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Christmas is the Only Time of Year I don’t Feel Guilty for Resting 

Christmas is a confusing and often stressful time of year. It both challenges and reinforces a lot of the organising principles of British society.

Gendered roles come to the fore for many, heterosexual nuclear families are idealised and huge strain is put on people on lower incomes to provide a ‘perfect’ Christmas in times of financial hardship and minimal state support. 

But there are also elements of escape and subversion. One of the ways this is most apparent is through the celebration – and indeed idolisation – of rest over the holiday period.

For the vast majority of the year, hard work is held as hugely important not just in terms of economic productivity and output but morally, too. We are told that being a hard worker is a virtue and conversely being ‘lazy’ is something not only undesirable but implicitly cast as selfish and a personal failing. 

The message is clear; good people work hard and those who don’t are either inferior – if they can but choose not to – or to be pitied – if they can’t work at all. 

This kind of hustle, work-obsessed culture is harmful for everybody, but especially for disabled people. 

Many disabled people can’t work or can only work certain hours, sometimes because of their disabilities, sometimes because of the inflexible nature of many jobs and the difficulties in securing reasonable adjustments – despite them being a legal requirement. 

This contributes to disabled people’s financial insecurity – especially as being disabled comes with its own extra costs – but also can be damaging to disabled people’s mental health in a society that places work in paid employment on a pedestal. 

So, that’s why Christmas feels like a truly special time of year. For me, it’s not about the usual ‘magic’ of Christmas but the chance for rest to be socially acceptable for once. 

Because Christmas is still the holiday in the UK that the calendar year is organised around, and that most workplaces organise themselves around too, it’s the only time of year that you can be confident that almost everybody will be off email for a few days and that there will be no expectation of a speedy reply. 

It’s also the one time of year where doing nothing feels socially acceptable. 

Obviously, rest at Christmas is far from achievable for everybody – particularly those with caring responsibilities or those who work in hospitality or other service industries – but it is the case that images of relaxation are promoted in a way that at other times of year would be unthinkable.

Adverts and other forms of media encourage us to ‘take a break’ and ‘put our feet up’. The pressure to have a great Christmas can be isolating and problematic, but it is also notable in its rareness to see how much pleasure and relaxation are turned into virtues for a brief moment in time.

As someone with a disability that makes work challenging for me, Christmas provides a break from the guilt that can come from not fitting into society’s mould that celebrates productivity in wage labour above all else. 

Despite the fact that I passionately believe that no one should have to work if they don’t want to and that so-called ‘hard work’ is by no means a moral arbiter, I still find myself feeling guilty when I prioritise rest throughout the year. 

It’s a kind of internalised ableism that I’m still trying to work through by being compassionate to myself, doing things at my own pace and learning how to truly rest.

But come Christmas, no one is surprised or disapproving when I get up late, don’t leave the house all day or choose to stay warm and cosy. 

Friends understand and even praise me for things that make my life easier and happier whereas they would usually be (at best) taken aback by. In fact, people often swap stories (sometimes competitively, which is its own problem!) about how ‘little’ they’ve done and how much they’ve tried to chill out. 

It’s like people’s desperate need to rest gets bottled up until the end of the year and then fizzes over because we all know that come January the pressure will be back on, often with the addition of punitive resolutions and goals for the upcoming year.

Resting is something many disabled people have to learn as a skill for their own survival. It’s not something we are taught to value or even taught how to do as we are grow up, despite it being an essential life skill. 

I’ve had to read articles and books on it, and schedule it into my calendar to make sure that I actually do it. But for about one week a year, it feels far more natural and normalised, far more of a core value, alongside aspects like community, love and shared celebration. 

Although it’s very far from perfect, Christmas provides an all too brief glimpse of what society could look like if we held up rest as a necessity both for health but also for its own sake – for pleasure and the sheer enjoyment of doing nothing. 

What is, in many ways, the most consumerist time of the year, also provides a glimmer of what life could look like if capitalist notions of work weren’t centred so completely. 

So, this Christmas, I’ll luxuriate in the knowledge that my rest isn’t only accepted but encouraged, and I’ll try to enjoy that as much as I can – while it lasts. 

But I also know that longer-term, this isn’t sustainable – for me, for other disabled people, and for not yet disabled people. We cannot live on the scraps of rest we are sanctioned one period a year. 

We need to take what is culturally permissible at Christmas, and think about how society can be organised differently to support it at other times, too. A liveable future must centre rest as an achievable thing for everybody – the true Christmas miracle would be seeing that translate to every month of the year.

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Pain Chronicles: Despite it all, we Deserve to Have the Christmas we Choose

Pain Chronicles is a monthly(-ish) column from Caroline McDonagh-Darwin about coming to terms with living with a chronic illness. It will include funny stories and brutal honesty, with some thrown-in chats with her mum Shaz, and other friends too, along the way. 

Trigger warning: This piece contains the sudden death of grandparents, covid death and discussion of bereavement. Please take care.

If you live in the Northern hemisphere, Christmas comes in the middle of winter. The long nights, the cold weather, the having to leave the house while it’s still dark outside. 

Pain and fatigue often get worse in the cold (as well as the warm, which is why I much prefer Autumn!), and worsening depression and anxiety rear their heads in the form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). 

I’ve a rather personal bone to pick with winter as well. In 2017, on Christmas Eve, and entirely unexpectedly, my nan died.

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Happy Holidays From The Unwritten

Today is the last day before the holiday season kicks off here at The Unwritten so myself and the rest of the editorial team wanted to send you all some festive wishes.

I know as disabled and chronically ill people this Christmas is going to be a bit different and it might be tough in parts, but we can make it special in our own way.

I hope you all have a Christmas time that is restful and full of joy despite the circumstances we find ourselves in. Most of all despite everything, I still have hope for 2022 and hopefully you still do too. 

I’ve also asked my lovely team to give some of their tips for getting through the holidays, and quite frankly, theirs are magnificent, as are they. So I’m going to start off with my slightly more mediocre ones first.

Naps are for heroes

 Yknow who naps? Captain America, probably. Yes I know he’s a supersoldier but are you telling me he doesn’t love a nap? (Bucky, definitely doesn’t nap, that’s why he’s so grumpy.)

Anyway that’s beside the point. Naps are the best. Naps are restorative, but they also give you a break from the noise of festivities leaving you to come back in a few hours feeling a little bit fresher.

Give yourself permission to say no

I know at Christmas it may seem like you have to do everything to please your family and friends but here’s a reminder – you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. If you don’t want to go to someone’s house you don’t bloody have to, you’re an adult!

Break it up into small manageable chunks

In the old times, my Christmas morning consisted of around 25 people crammed into my grandparent’s house, we’d literally spill across three rooms! While I loved it, I now realise that this just isn’t feasible with my immune system.

So this year my aunties, uncles cousins, etc are all staggering visits to my grandparents. My husband and I are making Christmas eve a family visit day and breaking it down over 3 houses with small groups in each one, then we’re spending the “big day” as a family with our sausage dog Rusty.  This reduces the stress considerably. 

I’m going to hand it over now to my lovely team. Once again wishing you all a happy holidays!

Caroline McDonagh-Delves – Deputy Editor

If the holiday season can be happy for you, I wish that for you now. We all thought 2021 obviously had to be better than 2020 and in many instances it just… wasn’t. I hope that with a little help from your friends and some self care pointers, you can get 2022 off to the best possible start.

Stay safe. 

I know we’ve all been saying it for the best part of two years, and the words have mostly begun to lose their meaning, but it is still as important as ever.

Whether that’s managing risks from covid-19, making sure you’ve all the equipment and medication you need to get through the bank holidays, or looking after your mental health in what is often a trying time. If you haven’t ordered your medication, stop reading and phone your GP now!

Exert your boundaries

You don’t have to stay in a situation or conversation that you feel is detrimental to your health and wellbeing. You can turn down invites, change the subject, or simply leave the room. If this one is feeling difficult, excuse yourself to the toilet or ask a friend to call you for a perfect “leave the table” situation.

Manage your time

If, like I was last year, you’re unlucky enough to have to work this festive season, it doesn’t mean it has to be a bust. Christmas dinner or presents don’t necessarily have to be done on Christmas Day, you can schedule those things when they work for you. Also, don’t forget to plan for rest – you deserve it.

Cath Poucher – Sub-Editor

I’m sending all the readers and contributors of The Unwritten lots of love and best wishes for a fantastic festive season, with the hope of a wonderful few days for you all. As a seasoned optimist I’m keeping my fingers crossed that next year will get easier for us, so that wishing you a “Happy New Year” won’t be an empty greeting.

The holiday season can be difficult, and with a second festive season of limitations and restrictions, these are some self-care tips to look after yourself this year:

Give yourself a “pass” to remove yourself

Christmas can present lots of triggers and obligations that can make us uncomfortable or have a negative impact on your mental health.

While sometimes we can feel, or indeed are obligated to do these things, remember to know your limit. Sometimes it’s okay to say, “no”. Take a break if you need to; stick on a Christmas film, read a book or do something relaxing for you.

Plan Ahead

If possible, try to plan ahead. Any triggers, accessibility issues, or problematic situations that may occur? Try to think ahead and plan ways that will enable you to cope with that issue. Do you have someone that can support you in this difficult situation? If so, enlist them to provide support if needed.

Manage those difficult people in advance

Dreading confronting those difficult family members with awkward or downright offensive comments? While some people are confident in challenging or explaining how they make you feel, this isn’t always possible.

Instead, try one of the following:

  • Plan some answers in advance so you’re not caught off guard
  • Think about how to bring difficult conversations to an end diplomatically and calmly
  • Find an activity or alternative conversation to steer the person to instead.  

I wanted to end this by thanking you all from the bottom of my heart for supporting The Unwritten this past year. Thank you to all the amazing readers, supporters, writers and of course to my fantastic editorial team. 

This last year has been so tough for disabled people but our community is strong. I hope next year that we can continue to represent everything you stand for and given even more of you a voice.

The Unwritten will be taking a break until 3rd January, we can’t wait to work with you then. 

Happy holidays and here’s to a powerful 2022

Rachel and the editorial team

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