Getting through Christmas - Becky's story
In this blog, staff member Becky reflects on why Christmas has been so hard for her when living with a mental illness. Based on her lived experience, she shares some useful tips on how to keep well and safe over the festive period.
Being with people when you’re suffering with extreme anxiety, or feeling incredibly low, can be really hard at any time. But I have often found that at Christmas this can be even harder. I mean, who doesn’t want to go to a Christmas party? Who doesn’t want to play games? Who doesn’t want to over indulge? Who doesn’t want to sit and relax and do nothing all day?
At one of our Beyond Session 8 meet-ups - a peer support group I started a while ago - we talked about Christmas and it turned out I wasn’t the only one who found Christmas difficult. People may say they understand and say things like ‘oh don’t worry about it, it’s just a day’. But let’s face it, it isn’t ‘just’ a day.
Christmas is a day that highlights things to people: who they want to spend their time with and who they don’t; who thinks about them at Christmas and who doesn’t; what one has or doesn’t have financially; who is no longer in one’s life any more … Those kinds of things.
Keeping one’s usual coping mechanisms in place over Christmas can be really hard – be it a morning jog or not spending too much money.
Christmas can also come with lots of pressure and expectations: feeling like you have to spend lots of money… going back to old haunts… pressure to attend lots of social engagements… lack of personal space… lack of routine… talking about lost ones… eating too much. At times, I have found this combination hard to cope with, especially when I have been mentally ‘unwell’. In fact, many of the things I’ve just listed are things that I usually try to avoid in order to keep myself well.
But keeping one’s usual coping mechanisms in place over Christmas can be really hard – be it a morning jog, saying no to Christmas pudding, taking oneself upstairs for a while, or not spending too much money. I’m not sure why I’ve found it hard to continue to invest in the things that I know keep me well when it comes to Christmas.
Was it because I didn’t want to have to maybe? Because I didn’t want to give in to my emotions, to accept or understand them? Because I didn’t want to acknowledge how much my usual routine was protecting me? Because I didn’t have the confidence to stick up for, or voice, what I really needed? Or maybe it was because I didn’t want to hurt my loved ones who were so looking forward to Christmas.
Tell yourself that you will not necessarily feel the way you do today, every Christmas.
On reflection, I think one of the hardest things for me was also the realisation of how I was really feeling inside, which became clear to me when the routine of life disappeared and there was an expectation to be feeling the festive joy, which just felt so far removed from how I was actually feeling.
So, how can you cope during the festive period if you’re struggling mentally? Some of the things I’ve found helpful in the past include:
Try writing down your feelings, or the thoughts that have plagued you during the day, in order to get them out of your head. Otherwise, they may start to niggle away at you without you even realising it, to the point that they affect your sleep and your interactions with those around you.
You may also want to write down the one or two things that went well in the day, so that you have a chance to sense check some of your more negative thoughts.
Take your running shoes, or your yoga mat, or your smoothie maker (for healthy snacks!) with you wherever you go. Make sure you take what you need in order to do all those things that usually help to keep you well, even if you think they may seem odd to others around you. You may surprise yourself and feel that you don’t need them, but having them with you just in case is never a bad thing.
Identify one or two people who you could maybe text or check in with on the day itself. This will mean you have an opportunity to reach out to someone if you need to, or simply take yourself away from the busyness of the day for a small period of time. You never know how their day is going either!
Also, if you’re going away, make sure you have your medication with you (if you’re taking anything at the moment). The number of times I’ve gone into panic mode as I thought I’d forgotten to pack my tablets… (I definitely didn’t want to be facing withdrawal effects at the same time as everything else!)
Nothing is forever
Try saying this to yourself; tell yourself that you will not necessarily feel the way you do today, every Christmas. This can be hard to believe when you’re in the thick of it, but with the right support and the right coping mechanisms in place, I believe everyone can find their way to cope with the festive period.
I will end by wishing you all a safe Christmas, and I’ll look forward to seeing where Beyond Session 8 goes in the new year.
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