Things have been a bit hectic here recently, getting ready for Christmas. Tonight, Christmas Eve, we are finally ready. The presents have been bought and wrapped, the turkey is cooking, the vegetables are ready, we are ready for Christmas day.
Christmas can be a hard time for those of us with mental health problems. Amidst all the celebrations, the feasts, the excitement, it is hard to cope if we are ill. Other people can be less than gracious with us if we are depressed at Christmas, and people may not understand that we cannot be the life and soul all of the time. Or, conversely, that we may be too much the life and soul and are actually heading for a crisis.
There are some things we can do to help maintain our mental health at Christmas, and I thought I would quickly run through them here.
- Accept Imperfection. The day will not go 100% according to plan. The turkey may be overdone, the wrapping paper fall off, a gift not be exactly what the person (or you) wanted. You may not be able to afford the wonderful celebration that the television shows. You may also be on your own, or only two of you, rather than having a houseful of children. Things don’t have to be as they are in the media for you to have a good Christmas. Accepting imperfection is something I find hard, but it is something I try to work on, to try to relax. Perhaps reflecting that this is the season of goodwill – not just to others but to ourselves as well, may help.
- Retreat. You may find it helpful to have somewhere you can go to be out of the hurly-burly of family life, especially if everyone is over-excited or you are with more people than normal. A room where you can relax, perhaps nap, just get away from the noise and re-orientate yourself can be really helpful. Going for a walk can help too, particularly if people are getting to the point where they start irritating each other!
- Medication. Make sure you have enough medication to last the period, that you have extra in case something happens (you drop some down the sink, for instance.) And, of course, make sure you take it!
- Be honest. If it is becoming too much, tell someone – whether that is a partner, sibling or parent, letting people know that you are feeling overwhelmed and need some time out is a positive step to staying well in the holidays. Asking someone else to keep an eye on you and make sure you are not overstraining yourself is good, too.
- Prepare. It makes sense to make sure that you prepare in case you become unwell. Check with your GP/psychiatric team who you can call over Christmas in an emergency, and if you are travelling to a new location check out their emergency services, numbers and locations, just in case.
- It will soon be over! Sometimes Christmas can be awful – feeling ill, yet having to put on a smiley face and pretend everything is OK. Perhaps you are having to socialise with people you don’t like, who don’t understand your illness, or have hurt you in the past. Christmas can be awful. Try to remember that it will be over soon!
I haven’t spoken about the life of faith here – Christmas is a special time, in terms of faith. God himself was born as a human, and that is miraculous. Yet for Christians, Easter is the really important festival – when God died for us. Christmas for me is special in terms of family, but it is not a huge festival of faith for me. I thank God for giving us his son, for being born to an ordinary family, to lead an extraordinary life. I also thank God for the year we have had – good and bad, though the bad is hard to do. I look forward to the future and find that, in this time of tinsel and glitter I can imagine a future for myself, a proper future, with light and love and laughter, and not a life wondering when I will next become ill. Christmas has always been like a strange and wonderful dream for me, something not quite real. I do enjoy it, but it is not real life, to me.
I hope all my readers have a happy and blessed Christmas, and that you are all able to enjoy it and relax. May God bless all of you, and me, in this dark time of year with the light that only he can bring us. May we be set free from our illnesses, and walk with him in peace. Merry Christmas to you all.