mental wellness

The Magic of Christmas:

I’m going to be honest. I have always loved Christmas. Looking back on my childhood, I remember the magic of Christmas. From attending Noddy parties, and getting my first gift of the year from Father Christmas, and the fairy whom we have to help turn on the lights once the Golliwogs have switched them off. And then the search for the Christmas tree, and then decorating it, including using cotton wool to make snow. And when I was a little older, being able to write letters to Father Christmas to ask for what I wanted. Christmas movies. It really was a magical time.

The magic of Christmas and snowflakes

But what I didn’t see was the challenging family dynamics that was underlying every Christmas lunch. My parents and aunts and uncles were all divorced, so it is a logistical nightmare to plan for the adults, because which year do the kids go to which parents. I very rarely saw my father’s side of the family, which looking back is a challenging dynamic in its own. His brother would also visit every year, and my ma refused to acknowledge his presence, a tension I felt then, but only understood once I was old enough. I rarely saw my sister for an extended period of time, which I only understand now was because she’s not a fan of Christmas, because of these difficult dynamics.

And as an adult, once the magic was gone, it really was gone. I have some difficult Christmases that I look back on, some where I’ve spent the afternoon crying, or where I spent the day angry with something my father did. Or the year where I just felt really bad for my niece because she bore the brunt of the difficulties my brother and father were experiencing. Christmas is not magical. It takes all those family dynamics we avoid for most of the year, and then amplifies it on that one day in the year where we are forced to spend hours together and share a meal.

Christmas is hard as an adult. We stress about having the perfect Christmas lunch, and buying the perfect gifts for everyone we love, and making sure we look good for that one day. The expense for that one day is astronomical, and doesn’t make sense, but we do it every year.

Broken Christmas bauble

Christmas is a trigger for many people. It’s a time of severe loneliness for many people, where they are reminded of how lonely they are. It’s a time when we also remember the people we are not seeing because they are no longer with us.

But when we strip it all away, the real magic of Christmas lies in who we spend it with, and making sure that we spend our time with people who uplift us. And that we don’t feel obligated to see family that do not make us feel good about ourselves. We need to hold that boundary, and not allow an expectation of Christmas time being a family holiday, if our families only bring bad feelings. And acknowledge that it is ok to spend Christmas by yourself, and treat yourself to a special day. Eat a special meal, pamper yourself.

However you spend Christmas and the festive season, whether it’s with others or by yourself, but make sure at the end of the day you are doing things that uplift you and make feel good. This year, the best gift you can give yourself is self-care.

Look after yourself, and we’ll chat again in 2021.

mental wellness

A Letter to our Loved Ones

(From the perspective of someone with Depression and Anxiety)

Dear Loved One/Carer,

I’m hoping this letter can help you understand what I go through daily.

Some days are good days. And on these days, I’m able to get out of bed, go to the gym, socialize. Do all the things. I don’ t know when these days will happen or how long they’ll be around.

Then there are the bad days. When I sometimes can’t get out of bed. I am unable to wash my hair, or have the energy to brush my teeth even. On these days, the list of things is sometimes longer. Anxiety tells me to do all the things. I have 5 different lists running through my mind. My rational mind knows I’m setting myself up for failure. But anxiety says it must be done, so I write lists. Depression on these days, tells me that I cannot do anything on that list. I have no energy. I’ll never get it done. It’s all impossible. What is the point of living? To do the things anxiety says. To what end depression says. So nothing gets done. I’m overwhelmed and in despair. And depleted and exhausted from doing nothing.

And if you find this hard, and confusing, imagine what it’s like not knowing how you’ll wake up in the morning. Sometimes, I go to bed with energy, planning out my day, setting up my gym clothes. Only to wake up, physically unable to get out of bed. That is depression.

Or I plan to run before my  gym class. Because anxiety tells me that I have to do everything and be good at everything and lose weight and everything. And then I wake up late and I hate myself because all I got to do was the class. Anxiety has told me that I’ve failed.

What I need on the bad days is for you to sit with me. Not fix me, not solve the problems caused by anxiety and depression. Just be there. Just listen if I want to talk, or hold me if I need to cry.

On the good days, we can do all the things around the house, the grocery shopping, everything. All of the things. I have the energy and capacity on the good days.

Sometimes we’ll plan like tomorrow is a good day, but it doesn’t turn out that way. Then, we need to change our plans. Like if you plan to do the washing and you wake up and it’s raining. Change your plans. Not never do washing again.

Most importantly, I need you to try and understand my diagnosis. I can help you, but I need you to be open to hearing me talk about it. Sometimes sharing links to blogs, or websites that articulate how I am feeling is easier for me, and also it helps to normalize what I’m going through so that you understand my illness as an illness. I might not be ready to share everything directly related to me and my particular experience, but it’ll come, as I learn to trust.

Also important though, is that this is not only about me. You are you, with your own needs. Do not be afraid to express these. No relationship is going to function without both people sharing their needs, and having their needs met.

I know it’s hard living with me. Trust me, it’s hard for me to live with me too.

For both of us, it’s important that we support each other on this journey. It may be my recovery journey, but as I grow and change, you’ll be there along the way. As I learn about boundaries, we may test each other, but this is part of relationship building. The more I understand myself, and where I start and my diagnosis ends, the better I can help you understand the same.

I want you to know that I love you, and I appreciate you, even though it doesn’t always seem like it. Thank you for still being in my life. And thank you for being on my journey of recovery with me.

Love,

Your Loved One,  who suffers with mental illness

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Practical steps –  Adapted from “The Depression Project”

We need people to sit and listen to us without judgement or criticism. You may have thoughts and opinions on what we’re going through, it may seem irrational to you, the solution may seem obvious. Trust me, it’s probably obvious to our rational minds too. But our rational minds are clouded by our illness. Help us centre, and clarify our thoughts, help us rationalize what we are going through, guide our thinking. Do not tell us we are irrational, or that we aren’t feeling what we say we’re feeling.  

Check in with us, if we would like to do something. It is sometimes positive for us to go out for a walk, go for coffee, the movies. Something that will recharge us. And also it will help to get out of the space that we are in, the space that is causing difficulty.

Sometimes we are feeling too weighed down to do anything, maybe we would like something to comfort us. Maybe we just need a hug, something to drink or eat. In these situations, sometimes the smallest act of kindness can do the world of good.

If we are in a really dark space, and none of these are working, ask if we want you to sit with us, or if we want to be alone. If we want you to sit with us, that’s all we actually need. Just be there. It’ll help us to not feel alone, even though we are not ready to talk about anything. If we need you to leave, it’s not about you, we need the space to recharge, and deal with what is going on at this point in time.

* * *

Being related to someone with mental illness, or being in a friendship or relationship with someone who suffers with mental illness, can be really hard. It’s confusing, and you never know what to expect. What we need though is for you to be there, even in those difficult moments. Know that we are trying, and that we need your support and empathy. And most of all, and I cannot say this enough, is that we appreciate your presence in our lives, even though we don’t always have the words, or means to say so.