Around the festive period last year, I published a short piece about how it is okay not to be okay over Christmas. There is a huge amount of expectation placed on everyone to have a good, fulfilling time. Financial and social pressures soar through the roof. Gatherings are often alcohol fuelled, and the food (although tasty) may on the whole be less nutritious that usual- Terry’s Chocolate Orange for breakfast, anyone?
I don’t even want to get started on New Year’s Eve, and thinking about what has been and what is to come. Perhaps you find it hard to visualise your future, perhaps you don’t want to remember 2016. You may struggle to find something to be thankful for, but we are told we must do it anyway.
Trying to wade through the period of festive cheer to find someone to talk to if you aren’t feeling okay, can be incredibly difficult, overwhelming and can be a huge challenge. It is possible to feel lonely and isolated when surrounded by people, as I’m sure many of you know.
Though not the place to venture into detail, this year has been incredibly difficult for me. More so that I thought it would be at the stroke of midnight 2015-16 as I embraced my family and we agreed this year would be better. Some fantastic things happened this year for me, people believed in me and I was given opportunities to contribute to arenas in which I could shine. However, my health has deteriorated further. The positivity felt in certain spheres of my life, matched with the negativity in others, pushed me further to try and address this head on. I sought medical and professional help, began a course of CBT, to be followed by more in-depth therapy and counselling next year, and it has likely saved me. The CBT has given me techniques and mechanisms to try and apply to situations in the future, and although it can’t solve the issues that are happening currently (hopefully the counselling will help with that) I feel well equipped for what the future might throw at me.
With this in mind, I decided to share some things I believe will make the festive period easier for me. These are often small things I feel I can control. Everybody is different, which is why this world can be a beautiful, interesting place, and these won’t work for everyone. I would also be interested in hearing anything you do to make the Christmas period easier.
- Drink lots of water
This seems obvious, and perhaps patronising. But at this time there seems to be more alcohol, soft drinks and juices available than any other time of the year. I find drinking at least a pint of water when I wake up helps me feel more awake and invigorated. It is also good to keep your skin hydrated during the cold months!
- Go outside
It’s cold, dark, windy and wet most of the time. Folk stay inside and wrap up warm (I’m very guilty of this). I try and find an excuse to go outside for a short walk- to get some milk, see the local Christmas lights. I like to make a short walk playlist of around 20 minutes to accompany me. If the weather is working against me, I try and do a short yoga routine, or stretch, or just do 30 star jumps to awaken my body.
Lists don’t work for everyone, but I love writing them. It organises my thoughts and saves me worrying about remembering or forgetting things. This year I have written lists of what I have to do before Christmas for work and my personal life. I also keep a diary which helps me manage my time, events and planning time for myself. I still maintain lists of good things which happen, and of things I would like to do and achieve. I managed some of these this year!
- Plan time for myself
In a time so focused on family, friends and socialising, it is important for me to spend some time doing what I’d like to do. I plan time to simply read, write or watch some episodes of my favourite TV shows. I try not to break those moments, however sometimes things come up which make that impossible and I try not to give myself a hard time about it.
- Don’t get wrapped up in social media
I love social media, it is a great way to keep in contact with friends and family, and a fantastic place to share memories, photographs and moments. However, I also frequently fall prey to the trap that everyone has everything I don’t have, and flip this into failure, despair and general sadness. It’s easy to get envious of what other people do, have or how they look via social media. I try and encourage myself to take a step back, and also look at how I present myself on social media compared to reality. This helps me to understand that it is only a fraction of people’s lives they expose (the good part, the happy part) and quite often this isn’t meant in a boastful, gloating way. For example, I’ve just been on a fantastic trip to Dublin, and have put up pictures and statements saying how brilliant a time I had. I didn’t mention how I had a panic attack on the way to the airport as I thought I shouldn’t be going because all of my friends wouldn’t want me ruining their time (I now know this wasn’t true) or how I had to be convinced to come home as some people know I’m prone to almost not getting on planes to return to real life (I got on the plane, and am quite glad). Everyone celebrates Christmas differently, everyone has different ways of sharing these celebrations. Enjoy social media, but remember it is very rarely an accurate representation of any given situation.
- Be mindful of alcohol.
Firstly, this is a list personal to me, I would never, ever wish to preach to anyone on this subject. Since June this year, I have severely cut my alcohol intake. I drink, sometimes I get drunk, but when I do it is often a carefully calculated decision based on my surroundings, and the people around me. Alcohol can lead me on a downward spiral if those surroundings aren’t right. I will drink alcohol over this period, I already have, but I’m mindful of limiting this to certain occasions. It isn’t so much the drinking, it’s actually the hangovers where I get incredibly sad and lose most of my function for a day. So I’m trying to avoid this!
- Don’t be afraid to spend time on your own.
Alone time every so often is important. It can be an overwhelming time: large social gatherings, lots of conversations, forever having to answer the ‘what are you doing now?’ questions, trying to make what you are doing sound exciting and interesting to other people. As mentioned before, I like to plan to have time alone, but it’s also crucial not to be afraid to say no to invites or to enjoy having some time for you. Have an early night, take an hour or so aside in the day if you can. I like to do things in that time, or I will likely just sit and stare at walls in an almost paralysed state. It’s likely I will overthink to the point of numbness. So instead I read, perhaps have a bath or do 20 minutes of yoga.
I made small sweet parcels as gifts which was methodical and helped me feel productive. I offer to cook dinner if I can, and I enjoy following a method as well as being able to help people out. I scrapbook my travels and adventures. I write poetry, sometimes, rarely to be shared but just as a way to express my thoughts.
- Surround yourself with good people.
This is my most important point. Surround yourself with the people who love and care for you. You may choose to confide in them, you may not. You may wish to spend time on your own, but you know you can always rely on a good time with some great people in the future. One of the most important things I’m trying to learn is that you may believe the love of one particular person is worth absolutely everything, but this will never be as much as the collective love, care and warmth I feel from my friends and family. This morning I received a care package from a friend, and it reminded me that there is love out there for me. Love that isn’t tainted, partial or broken. It has been the collective care and love from some fantastic people that has carried me through, and this is a force stronger than I ever believed. These are the people who have picked me up (a fair few times!).
This list is by no means exhaustive, I don’t think it ever will be, but it reminds us of small things we can do to make it slowly an easier time. Christmas can be great, warming and affirming. But it can also be dark, lonely and exhausting. Try not to place pressures of assumptions on people, try and surround yourself with good people, and in turn be a good person who people want to be surrounded by. If you can, ask how people are- a theme explored in my blog post for #WorldSuicidePreventionDay. Don’t be afraid to not be okay.
For those who find this difficult there are fantastic listening services which have helped me organise my thoughts and claw my way out of spirals. I would recommend The Samaritans or Breathing Space. Speak to your GP if you are worried- my GP recently told me over 1/3 of his appointments are related to mental health. You aren’t alone, and starting this ball rolling was the best thing I ever did. It did not magically fix everything, I’ve put hard work and dedication into my CBT, and recently felt confident enough to stand up to those negative influences. It’s a long road, but I feel much better being on the right track than being lost in the dark.
And finally, I’m trying to focus on some positives of 2016. So I listed three things I’m thankful for (perhaps this is a good exercise for absolutely everyone!):
- The good people.
I’m on the right, trying not to laugh because my brother has just said I look like Earthworm Jim (hence why he is laughing)
The people who have been there, listened and tried to understand. The people that have shown love and care towards me, and the people I’ve enjoyed reciprocating that with. Those I ate traditional Irish burritos with, try so very hard to teach me simple ukulele songs, and those who sang Michael Buble’s Christmas to me in November. Those I don’t see very often, but send me thoughtful care packages, messages or links to Simon and Garfunkel covers. Those who believed in my abilities, and supported me throughout, and those who drive from one side of the country to the other to deliver lasagne when I thought I had no one else.
- Travels and experiences.
This year I have embraced my desire to travel, learn and experience. I had my first solo adventure to Iceland– hopefully the start of many more. I’m thankful for the opportunity to finally be able to explore, and that I was well enough to do this.
- Reaching out for the support to help me recover.
This is where I thank myself for being brave enough to realise I needed support, and to grab that with both hands. My CBT is one of the best things to have happened to me, and has been a small tiny light, which will hopefully glow brighter when I can implement these mechanisms for the future. Thanks to everyone who calmed my worries about this. It has been the catalyst for further support, and, for the first time, feel like one day I may be equipped for what lies ahead.
I hope you find some moments of peace or light in this festive period. I hope you feel you have someone to talk to, and if not in person that you remember there are incredible listening services to help you.
If you know someone you think requires support, there are lots of services out there for you too. Mind has great resources for those who are looking to support someone- Mind campaign for support and respect for those suffering, and those supporting someone, with a mental illness. Their depression information page is excellent for anyone who is unsure or wishes to learn more, as well as their page aimed at Friends and Family.