Mental Health & Christmas

Question…. Has it ever occurred to you that we spend twenty-four consecutive days preparing for ONE single day, and yet, zero time in preparation for the most depressing month of the year?
Twenty-four is the minimum btw, some people spend two months! The shops start literally the morning after Halloween, complete with music, lights and all the themed sh** you can buy.

I am of course talking about Christmas.

This post is nothing new. I write the same one each year and will continue to do so.

In my experience, people tend to fall into two categories when it comes to Yule Tide:

  1. Christmas CRAZY – those adorable types who clutch to Christmas like it’s… well crack. Their tree is up on the 1st December, they love Christmas jumpers, ‘Secret Santa,’ and have all their presents sorted weeks in advance. Most importantly, they are not physically enraged when they hear the infamous Mariah Carey’s song.
  2. Bah Hum Bugs – the ones who roll their eyes and express disdain. (Even though they secretly LOVE the excuse that the holidays bring to drink, eat and behave badly). The ones most like to point out how quickly the year has gone. “What am I supposed to say to that Brian? Just have a mulled wine and shut the f**k up yeah!”

I’m a hybrid of sorts. Whilst I don’t appreciate undiluted ‘HAPPINESS’ being rammed down my throat, I do recognise the value of Christmas. It’s warmth, it’s reckless abandon, its ability to make people feel good, even if just for a day.

I particularly enjoy watching my friend’s who have kids and their excitement. I could point out the many flaws of some fat bloke with a list coming down the chimney once a year, (or via the front door with a special key), but I don’t… because I don’t want to. The world is a better place with a little bit of magic. Besides, I love presents as much as the next kid person!

Crimbo Trauma

I found out that Santa wasn’t real when I was eight years old. Most kids figure it out waaaay before then, but I was the imaginative sort. (That’s a polite way of saying that I was naive and very much wanting to believe in fantasy. The Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny revelations also hit me hard)!

It’s strange… the first time that I was asked the question directly, was from my EMDR therapist; “how did you react when you found out that Father Christmas wasn’t real?” It caught me off guard, and out of nowhere I burst into tears, (strange, as I hadn’t cried properly in years). Apparently, this was my first taste of ‘trauma’ at a young age and a key telltale sign of what kind of brain I had. Matters were made worse because my granddad had died earlier in the year, the other gentle giant in my life.
I remember feeling as though I’d lost something irreplaceable, and went to bed sobbing my heart out.

My brother, in contrast, figured it out one Christmas eve when he heard dad wheeling his new bike downstairs…. and was totally cool with it… that’s the difference between the Eastham siblings!

Being mindful

My point? I don’t hate Christmas. Any holiday that encourages love and kindness is a YES in my book.

However, I would like to encourage a degree of health and safety. If you live with a mental health condition then Christmas might feel a little ‘too much’ at times. So let me make one thing clear – YOU DO NOT HAVE TO FEEL HAPPY 100% OF THE TIME – it’s completely natural if you want to disappear for half an hour and be miserable, anxious, stressed, afraid, tired or however you need to feel. I live with social anxiety and panic disorder, so I physically and mentally cannot be ‘on’ for the whole day.

I tend to have downtime every few hours, during which I take Rigby for a walk or go and read in another room, alone for ten minutes. Sometimes I might not do anything at all, I’ll lie on my bed & look at the ceiling. It’s about giving myself time to level out and relax.

Top Tips For Safeguarding your mental health at Christmas

  • Be honest about how your condition makes you feel, (to one person at least) and what you might need. Do this in advance, that way there’s no pressure on the day. E.g breaks every few hours, or a never ending supply of chocolate.
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  • If you live with anxiety and worry about social conversation, then maybe write down a few things to talk about in advance. I’ve done this and I’m not ashamed in the slightest. E.g. “How was your work’s Christmas do?” “Do you have any holidays booked for the new year?” “Are there any films on over the holidays?” It just helps with any initial nerves.
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  • If you live with depression, then don’t try and suppress it just because ‘it’s Christmas.’ Instead, recognise how you feel, accept it and then keep swimming. Being around people tends to be a good thing. It’s a distraction at the very least.
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  • Belly breathing – basic yes, but it can be very useful if you feel stressed. Just take a few minutes to complete THESE exercises.  
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  • Don’t feel the need to apologise if you drink or don’t drink, (I am of course, talking about alcohol). You’re an adult and it’s your decision. I’m not one of those people who ask non-drinkers why they’re not drinking. It’s none of my f**king business after all. However, if I want another wine then I’ll have one. This also applies to cheese and one more turkey sandwich than was necessary.
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  • If the weather is kind, then go for walks. The fresh air and exercise will work wonders, on both the brain and gut.

 As much as I’d like to believe that the magic of Christmas can silence my anxiety for the day, I’m realistic! Planning ahead is just common sense and will enable me to enjoy the day. 

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1 Comment

  1. January 12, 2019 / 6:50 pm

    Hi Claire,

    i always enjoy reading your post, this was a good read as well, maybe you could write about the after-holiday-blues, too because right now it’s happening to me (and I guess many other are feeling the same). I’m glad the holiday are over but somehow I feel strange at every new start..

    thanks a lot!

    xo

    Evi

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