Christmas is an odd time for me, as I am sure it is for many people. For some, there seems to be a veneer of happiness, thinly spread across the reality of life which is sometimes very challenging or painful. Some people actually love every minute and plan for months in advance and get their tree up in mid November. We miss people who cannot be with us, or those who have passed away. Some people go away, some stay at home, some people get together with family and friends. Some people actually think about Jesus. Shocking I know!
From a mental health perspective, the trigger issues ramp up at a rate of knots. Emotional and financial stress, spending time with family that do not understand mental illness, late nights, too much booze, relationship problems and an overwhelming desire to actually try and feel happy when all you want to do is hide under a duvet and wish the whole thing away. I know these issues are there for normal folk too. My dear sister; Germany and the red cabbage. Say no more!
But what I am keenly aware of is that the crushing separateness and disconnectedness you can feel in depression, is accentuated at Christmas. Life seems to be bigger than usual, people are happier and celebratory, they bask in the joy of a festival and run around with a lovely sense of freedom. It magnifies your isolation and inability to connect. It's not their fault. It's the illness. It is a hideous reminder of how totally shit you feel. Faking it to make at Christmas is particularly hard, and reaching out to a load of disgustingly happy people about your doom just doesn't seem appropriate. Would you like some doom with your turkey? Misery pudding with sad face cream? "Come on, smile it's Christmas!" Sadly, you cannot suspend chronic mental illness for the day to make you and everyone else feel OK.
Self care for me at this time of year is key. Knowing who to call in an emergency. Taking little time-out rest breaks during social gatherings. Reminding yourself that in 24 hours it will all actually be over for another year. Being kind to yourself with baths, naps, small walks and mindfulness to help calm the head traffic. Oh and it is just a day of the week. This year it happens to be a Sunday.
My Christmas experiences have been varied with my bipolar companion brain. Pre-diagnosis, mostly chaotic, sometimes very lonely, homeless, knocking on heavens door, fuelled by inappropriateness and dodgy people (Me being the most dodgy of all). Then with insight and finally a diagnosis, less chaotic, much more ordered, fun with kids and family and generally manageable (with a large dose of internal misery and hatred every now and then!).
What I would wish this Christmas, is that anyone who is struggling has at least one person they can reach out to and speak with about their feelings. That they can have a real experience of friendship and support, and stay safe if things go awry. Look out for your friends and relatives. Make a small space to spend time with someone you know feels the harshness of life, and show them gentleness. Be a light in the darkness.
I wish you peace and love this Christmas. May you feel joy and companionship and a spirit of grace x