Tips for Christmas

I know how hard it can be to get through the Christmas period whilst suffering with mental illness, particularly with an eating disorder. I realise that even for those of you without an eating disorder, Christmas can be hard because of the pressure to be happy, to smile, for everything to be perfect. There is a huge pressure to stay well and I imagine that like me, many others push their illness to the bottom of the pile and hide their struggles which often makes things worse in the long term. So here are my Christmas tips:

  1. Make a support plan before Christmas. This could include friends or family that are aware of your illness and you feel you are able to talk to, coping strategies such as distraction techniques and self soothing but also if you are under a mental health team ask them for support. Often people go on the leave and there tends to be a bit of a ‘shut down’ but services still run, you might be lucky and have a member of staff who isn’t taking a lot of leave but if not there are home treatment/crisis teams and the wards are always open too. It may be an option that you can phone the ward if struggling. Make sure you have a solid plan before Christmas arrives.
  2. If you struggle with food try to make a plan. I usually make a meal plan and that can help. Don’t make it too restrictive, or too challenging. Try to find a happy medium so that you are comfortable and feel ‘safe’ with it but don’t miss off having a dessert on Christmas day or a chocolate on Christmas eve if you want to. Try to include Christmas food on it otherwise a meal plan may be more detrimental than no meal plan as you might feel you are missing out or you may feel guilty if you eat something not on the plan which brings me to my next point.
  3. Try not to overly plan things. Things will go wrong, arguments will probably happen or someone will come down with a cold. Plan enough so that you feel safe but do not try to plan everything as this can often lead to negative feelings when things do not happen the way you hope them too.
  4. If you struggle with feeling unworthy or guilty, do not feel guilty for receiving presents. Remember that the person wanted to give you that present because they care about you, try to see it as a positive rather than getting upset that people spent money on you.
  5. Practice relaxation techniques before the big day so that you know what works for you.
  6. Be kind to yourself because no matter what your mind is saying, you deserve to treat yourself with love and kindness.
  7. Go for a Christmas day walk with whoever you are celebrating with. Sitting around all day isn’t great when your mood is low, a walk can get your endorphins going and the fresh air often helps me too.
  8. Be honest about whatever is worrying you. It is refreshing, I promise you. I couldn’t afford Christmas this year, I bought my immediate family and best friend a gift but have explained to the rest that I have money troubles and that this doesn’t mean I don’t care about them. I just don’t have money. Being honest was a weight off my shoulders and I feel much better for doing so. It was better than lying and feeling guilty about that or getting into debt.
  9. Avoid alcohol if you know it causes problems with your behaviour or mood. It may be tempting but drink tasty non-alcoholic drinks and have even more fun.
  10. If you struggle with loneliness find out if there are any events in the area. Youth centres, charities and homeless projects usually run Christmas dinners for anyone who is alone at Christmas regardless of age or circumstance. Or maybe find an online way of interacting with people such as twitter or support forums to help you through.

Helpful links for support over the festive period:

http://www.samaritans.org

http://www.befrienders.org

http://www.papyrus-uk.org

http://www.b-eat.co.uk

Christmas With A Mental Illness

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:

http://www.mind.org.uk

http://www.b-eat.co.uk

http://www.samaritans.org

For Wales:

http://www.meiccymru.org

Internationally:

http://www.befrienders.org

Young People Can Be Lonely Too

Often when thinking about loneliness, people think about the elderly. There are schemes set up to support elderly people so that they do not have to be on their own all of the time. People have an awareness and understanding that elderly people are vulnerable to loneliness and will therefore call in for a cup of tea and so on. I remember as a child, my Great Gran lived alone and everybody knew she was lonely and so we would call in and take her out for lunch or bring fish and chips to her house. My extended family would always make sure that she had somewhere to go on Christmas day but on top of the support from family and friends she was part of a social group that would go to bingo or have dinners and so on.

I don’t feel that it is always recognised that young people can be, and are, lonely too. I am 22 years old and I often spend all day, every day on my own. The reason being mental illness.

The loneliness is crushing, painful. It makes me feel as though I’m nothing. Worthless. I am just an existence in a house that nobody knows about. There are times when I don’t notice the loneliness quite so much, maybe I spent the day listening to music or reading or I saw someone from my mental health team and it helped me to feel less alone but there are other days when it’s overwhelming.

I have an older sister who will often go for coffee or to Cardiff with her friends, she might go on a night out or go to a restaurant for someones’ birthday. Those are the times when the loneliness hits me. I let all these opportunities and events pass me by. I can’t go to see my favourite band in concert because I have nobody to go with. There are place I want to go, things I want to do and see but I can’t because I don’t want to go there on my own.

This year I went to a fireworks display for the first time in a years. I went with my Dad because I don’t have any friends my own age that live nearby. It was such a good display, everyone had glow sticks and they were playing songs with a beat and people were dancing in the dark, waving their glow sticks in the air and I was just stood there wishing that I had friends. I wanted to dance, I wanted to have fun but I couldn’t do that on my own.

I haven’t had an invite to a New Year’s party for the past 4 years. The past 4 years I have counted in the New Year alone or I’ve gone to bed and pretended to be asleep whilst silently crying to the sound of the fireworks going off. It always makes me feel so unimportant, so worthless that nobody thought of me, nobody wanted to count the New Year in with me. I absolutely dread that night, it is the worst night for loneliness by far.

I often make a joke at Christmas time that I love having no friends because it’s so cheap. It is only a joke though. How much I wish I could go to a Christmas party or take part in Secret Santa. I would love that. I love celebrating with my parents don’t get me wrong but I am 22 and I would love to do something more age appropriate.

I think it is important to remember that anybody can be lonely. The elderly man that gets on the bus each morning can be lonely but so can the young girl with perfectly straightened hair and fair isle leggings and the young man who always wears his headphones around his neck. This year at Christmas remember that people from all walks of life can be alone, but especially think about those around you that suffer with mental illness and have very few friends. Why not pop in for a cup of tea or invite them to your Christmas party? Lets conquer loneliness.