Christmas time can be particularly hard for someone suffering from a mental illness. Often it can be a very lonely time despite being surrounded by people and I know that from my experience that I often find myself counting down until it’s all over so normality can resume again.
I love Christmas, the lights, the atmosphere, wrapping presents, Christmas films. I absolutely love it. I am one of those annoying people that starts singing Christmas songs in October. Even though I love getting into the spirit of it, even I really struggle with it.
I think one of the hardest things with Christmas is that it is a happy time. People are enjoying themselves and relaxing, letting their hair down. It’s hard during those celebrations to reach out and say that you are not okay. I often hide my struggles because I would feel guilty if I were to share, as though I was ruining everyone else’s Christmas. It’s a strange feeling to be sat in a room full of people laughing and having fun whilst you feel so separate from it all, so alone but not alone. Then comes the silent tears at nighttime, the sadness and despair that comes with mental illness ruining another celebration.
I also suffer from anorexia and food becomes another issue at Christmas time. On the run up to Christmas I always tell myself that Christmas isn’t about food, it’s about family, having fun and giving presents. This often leaves me very unprepared as I’ve avoided thinking about the food aspect and have no plans or strategies in place. It always feels like a bit of a no-win situation. Say for example my family have got a lovely box of Christmas chocolates from Hotel Chocolat. I can eat one and deal with the guilt, fear, urges to get ‘rid’ of the food or over exercise followed by the anxiety of the next day or meal and so on. Or I can not have a chocolate and feel sad that I can’t join in and jealous of everyone else who is eating them. I’ll feel as though I missed out as they are limited edition for Christmas. Either way I’m going to end up feeling distressed about it, but Christmas time isn’t just one box of chocolates is it? It’s chocolates, biscuits, savoury snacks, Christmas dinner, meals with extended family, edible presents. It’s that dilemma over and over and over again of whether to eat or not and it becomes so tiresome and overwhelming.
New Year can often be a lonely time too. Patients in hospitals don’t have a particularly warming count down and in my experience it isn’t much better at home. I’m young, most people my age go to house parties but I never get an invite. I count in New Year alone or with my parents but often I just go to bed and try to sleep through the countdown not wanting to face the loneliness.
At Christmas time it often feels like there is no one to talk to, everyone else is trying to have a good time and mental health services tend to go on shut down and run a reduced service sometimes leaving patients with no one to talk to for three weeks. Three weeks is a long time to struggle alone. I have often relapsed straight after Christmas or ended up in hospital days after New Year.
If you need help throughout the festive period this year, here are some contacts you may find useful: