What does Christmas mean to you?
For many, it is a time where you are filled with joy, festive food and precious moments with loved ones.
If you are dealing with depression or anxieties, wouldn’t it be nice to believe that a sprinkling of Christmas magic could lift away all your problems – even just for 2 weeks? Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
What is it like, though, when you are unable to enjoy these things?
Christmas can be one of the hardest times of the year for some. It is a time where loneliness looms over in partnership with your big black dog. For me, there is a big difference between being alone and being lonely. The difference is choice. I will actually often choose to be alone because sometimes I can find a certain peace with my own company. I would never choose to feel lonely though – loneliness can creep up on you whether you are on your own or surrounded by a sea of people.
I experienced this very recently at a 5k Santa run. It was a fantastic event that I would usually absolutely love. The sight of a sea of Santas would usually have me in stitches (I mean look at them all – it is hilarious). Instead I found myself stood watching everyone laughing and joking feeling rather numb. It was unexpected and left me feeling like Scrooge himself. The day should have ended snuggled up on the sofa watching Elf and eating mince pies. It actually ended up with me hiding under my duvet watching Blue Planet II eating cookies and ice cream in an attempt to be soothed by chocolate and David Attenborough’s beautiful voice.
How can you feel lonely at Christmas though if you are surrounded by loved ones?
The thing with depression is that it can often make it difficult to connect with people. Even those that are closest to you. Nobody dealing with depression is alone in this. It is because of this that can often make Christmas particularly difficult.
Imagine that all you can see around you are groups of your loved ones all smiling, stuffing their faces gleefully with turkey and radiating that Christmas cheer. You want to be a part of this but instead you are sat on the outside looking in, desperately trying to keep that smile plastered on your face. In fact, all you want to do is rip off that ridiculous paper hat, fade off up to bed away from another painful game of charades and comfort eat all the chocolate from your advent calendar that you neglected in trying to pretend the Christmas build up didn’t exist.
This is where the feeling of loneliness sets in, despite being surrounded by people you love, you feel like an outsider looking in. Depression has a wonderful way of leaving you feeling incapable of connecting with anyone. Christmas can shove this in your face and amplify that sensation.
It is important to look for the positive in these situations though. Perhaps you are feeling down about it all because you are missing feelings that you have felt in the past. You know what that warm feeling of Christmas joy is. If you have felt it before than you can again – so all is not lost. I mean, if Grinch can learn to love Christmas again then I’m sure we can too!
I deal with these feelings before a lot of big occasions such as birthdays or new years and as Christmas is in winter I find it the most difficult to handle. I have found that most of my negativity springs from expectations so this is what I am learning to work on.
Firstly, I always have high expectations on how Christmas should make me feel, in the hope that it will be bloody fantastic and help me forget about my mental health for a while. Secondly, I worry about how others expect me to feel or behave during Christmas. I assume that people will get frustrated with me for not feeling happy at the most wonderful time of the year.
If you haven’t experienced these things then you are probably thinking – well aren’t you just adding to your anxieties by worrying about these things? Maybe if you stopped causing these extra anxieties then perhaps you wouldn’t be triggered into feeling so depressed and lonely over Christmas?
Here is the thing – you would be absolutely right. This year I am trying to remind myself to remove all expectations. Lift the weight of worrying about having to enjoy myself. Throw away others judgements of how I am feeling. Instead I am going to try and just feel. If I find I am feeling crap, that is okay and I will take some time out to chill. If I feel I am enjoying Christmas then I will embrace it and stuff my face and enjoy silly games along with everyone else.
If you are reading this and recognise a lot of this or are feeling the strain in other ways – the most important thing to do is to remember that you are not the only one struggling this Christmas. Talk to friends of family about how you are feeling – or if you find this uncomfortable then these are great places to reach out to:
Samaritans : 116 124 (UK) 116 123 (ROI)
CALM helpline : 0800 585858
No Panic : 0844 967 4848
Papyrus : 0800 068 4141
SANEline : 0300 304 7000
If you suspect that anyone may be feeling like this at Christmas please don’t be afraid to reach out to them. It may well be the best gift you give this Christmas – and it will be completely free!
Have a lovely Christmas.