A recurring theme in mental health articles this week has been the struggles many of us face when it comes to Christmas. Amidst the pressure to feel joyful and be surrounded by family, we often forget that mental illness doesn’t just disappear come December.
Last Christmas I struggled with my mental health. While surrounded by family I felt desperately alone and trapped in feelings of self-hatred, guilt and failure. It was a struggle to pick myself back up, but by mid February I finally felt recovered from the agony of feeling trapped in a cycle of depression.
You can read my post about the Christmas Blues here.
This week I’ve selected a series of articles that deal with the hell Christmas can bring. I’d be lying if I said I was frightened history might repeat itself and put me back in the position I was in last year, but these stories remind me that people can and do defeat loneliness, panic attacks and the guilt of feeling anything but cheerful at the most wonderful time of the year.
1) Shopping is hell and kindness is therapeutic – what I learned from being depressed at Christmas, Matt Haig
Writer Matt Haig discusses how Christmas isn’t full of happiness and cheer in the entertainingly honest way that only he can. A quick trip to the supermarket can be hell for a lot of people.
The Guardian, 14th December 2015;
“Christmas, I realised, could be a nightmare. It could intensify what depression already, to some extent, made you feel: that the world was having fun while you definitely weren’t. Christmas intensifies the chiaroscuro (to use the pretentious kind of art-history terms I had in my head at the time): the contrast between light and shade. The light around you seems brighter, so the dark feels darker. I should have known that the idea of Christmas as one of collective happiness wasn’t the case.”
2) How to Cope During the Holidays When You're Not in a Joyous Mood, Dyanne Brown
It’s okay to not feel okay at Christmas. There’s a lot of pressure when it comes to the holidays as Matt Haig discussed above, but Dyanne Brown has some advice for managing low moods when everyone around one is feeling festive.
The Huffington Post Blog, 15th December 2015;
“For many, they don't have enough money to lavish their family with gifts the way they would like to which puts stress on them. Some companies lay off workers right before Christmas or during the holidays. There are people who can't afford to travel to spend time with their families and instead will spend the holiday alone. And, there are people who just feel depressed during this time. Whatever the reason, it's important to acknowledge that it's not a happy occasion for everyone and that has to be okay. So, how do you cope with the holiday if you find yourself in one of these situations?”
3) I’m 90 and I was unbearably lonely – here’s how I beat it, Maud
90 year old Maud writes in The Guardian about how she overcame the loneliness she felt in her old age through the work of charity Contact the Elderly. ALONE do similar work for older people in Ireland, and Christmas is a great time to donate or volunteer for one of these charities that ensures the elderly aren’t left alone.
The Guardian, 15th December 2015;
“I never married or had children, so when my best friend Margie died, I was at a complete loss. Margie and I did everything together. After her passing, the loneliness was unbearable. I used to love listening to classical music but with Margie gone, I stopped all that. I just couldn’t be bothered…Three years went by like this. People told me I was depressed, and a doctor even came round because he was worried I was going to do something stupid. Although I was never diagnosed with depression, looking back I think I definitely was suffering from it. I just couldn’t see the point in life if there was nobody around to talk to. Luckily, just over five years ago, I was reading a magazine when I came across a story about Contact the Elderly, and the idea of going out once a month really appealed to me…”
4) Samaritans freephone service answered a call every minute in past 12 months
While thinking about how mental illness remains a critical issue at this time of year it’s also important to acknowledge those who remain at the end of a phone line to help those in need. Samaritans remain open 24/7 throughout the Christmas period.
Irish Examiner, 16th December 2015;
“The Samaritans' latest figures show that the charity answered a phone call every single minute in the last year. The freephone service has answered more than one million calls since it was set up in March 2014. "A symptom of its own success" is how the Minister of State for Mental Health, Kathleen Lynch, described the latest figures from the Samaritans. The service has seen a 30% increase in the number of calls over the past year.”
Anthony Seldon hits the nail on the head when describing how the festive period can actually accentuate feelings of loneliness and sadness.
The Guardian, 20th December 2015;
"For millions across the country, Christmas is even worse than this. It will be a time of almost unbearable loneliness, sadness and regret. People ache for the company and affection of loved ones, but for whatever reason they find themselves feeling depressed, whether they are on their own or in big gatherings. Knowing that everybody around us appears to be having a great time can accentuate sadness to dangerous levels."
So this Christmas I ask you all to remember those who struggle with the season. Those who may feel alone, overburdened, financially strained, stressed or down for any other reason. The most wonderful time of the year doesn't always feel so wonderful to everyone all of the time.