Christmas With Mental Illness

Christmas is a very difficult time of year for those of us with mental health problems. Particularly, those of us in the middle of a period where our condition actively affects a lot of aspects of our life. For me, this time of year is particularly difficult. Why? Because three days ago it was my birthday. I’ve just turned 24. I find, and always have found, that birthdays lead me to thinking about where I am in my life now and comparing that to previous years as well as thinking about how I compare to others my age. This is where I start to go wrong. As my boyfriend pointed out to me only last night, comparing myself to others is a very bad thing for me to do. I’m not very good at comparing myself on the good things or the positive aspects of my life or the things I do well when my life is going badly. I tend to focus on where I’m being outperformed by others, not achieving as much or areas in which I’m less talented than them.

At this particular time of year you’re surrounded by expectations – expectations to be happy, successful, coping, even a joy to be around. When you’re mentally ill these expectations are not necessarily something you can live up to every day and this can lead to you feeling very worried about any social encounters you might have with other, more successful and joyous people, or indeed anyone. On a day-to-day basis I try to ignore these thoughts and feelings and mostly, I do very well at just muddling along and keeping busy. Christmas really does compound the problem though because I normally love this time of year where you get to see people you’ve not seen since the previous year or travel home from Uni for the holidays filled with exciting stories of the fun you’ve been having there. Normally I get to enjoy the carol services, Christmas lights, food shopping, present shopping but this year all I’ve been able to join in with is decorating my Christmas tree (it is a stunner though).This can lead to you wanting to just isolate yourself and spend the whole festive season on your own but then you’re left feeling lonely knowing that so many others are all having a lovely time together. So you put on a brave face and try to ignore your own pain and suffering so that you don’t ruin Christmas for those you’re spending it with.

However, I know I am not great company. To put it bluntly, I feel I have nothing to offer currently. I don’t have a job to talk about, I can’t tell you about my children, how busy the shops have been or the latest deal at Tesco. I don’t have any events to look forward to or talk about, any gossip from the office Christmas party, or plans to excitedly make for New Year’s Eve. This is probably one of the reasons why I feel so anxious every time someone calls or visits me because I don’t know what to talk about. This year I’ll be spending Christmas at my dad’s with his partner, a couple of their friends and my brother. While I’m excited about it and looking forward to spending some of the festive season with my family, it’s also filling me with dread because I feel that I have so little to offer. What can I talk about? What can I tell them? No one wants to talk about an anxiety disorder or my latest medication side effects over Christmas dinner and beyond that there’s not an awful lot going on in my life. I watch a lot of films and TV but not the same things as they do so we can’t discuss the final of Strictly or The Apprentice or the latest episode of Holby City. So what do I have to offer to a conversation?

It feels like my life has been on pause since the day I had to stop work. That’s 9 months and counting of my life being on pause while everyone else’s are racing by. People I graduated with are now in amazing graduate jobs as Assistant Psychologists, Research Assistants, Psychology teachers or training to be Mental Health Nurses. The offer for the job I interviewed for in March was withdrawn in September because they needed to fill the space and I wasn’t well enough to work. People I went to school with are able to drive cars, have got married or are buying their first house while I’m living in a rented flat with my boyfriend having to financially support me because I’m not well enough to work. This is not how I envisaged my life to be and despite knowing that it isn’t my fault, I can’t help but feel like I’ve failed and let myself and everyone else around me down. Today, as you can probably tell, is not a good day and I’m feeling pretty hopeless, but I’m not like this every day and it’s certainly been exacerbated throughout December knowing that Christmas has been looming. I for one, am very much looking forward to the 1st of January and will be doing everything in my power to make sure that I’m not as ill, or restricted by next Christmas because this has been no fun at all. Worrying about what to say and how to behave when your life is almost solely consumed by an anxiety disorder leads to a very challenging Christmas With Mental Illness.

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7 comments

  1. I know the feeling. Normal days are hard enough (I’m having a particularly rough depression+anxiety+PTSD patch at the moment, which has had me signed off of Jobseekers’ and on ESA instead for two months so far with no sign of improvement) but Christmas is a time when it’s so important to be happy and not bring everyone else down. Especially with the anxiety of having to have people over, trying to get the ideal presents for the people you rely on to keep you going, and as you’ve mentioned having nothing to talk about – it’s very stressful! Besides which it’s only my second Christmas since becoming estranged from my biological family, which happened after my brother attacked me the previous Christmas. So there’s a bit of trauma there.
    On the plus side, I managed to help decorate the tree yesterday and I’m hoping I might manage a couple of days’ worth of good spell over Christmas itself. The brightly-coloured baubles and the lights make me inexplicably happy and I’m looking forward to watching the cat discover his Christmas present. I’m lucky in that I now have a good, warm, loving family around me so I’m hoping that will help me get through it.
    Thank you for writing this post, it means a lot to know that I’m not the only one struggling and that other people are pushing through as well. I hope you enjoy at least some of Christmas and that things don’t get too overwhelming for you!

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    1. I’m so sorry you’re going through a bad patch, it’s horrible at this time of year isn’t it?! I totally agree that there’s so much pressure to get everything “right” and that just makes mental illness even worse. Sorry Christmas is such a difficult time for you, I hope it doesn’t bring up too many bad memories this year and you’ll be able to make a few nice new ones along the way. I adore decorating the Christmas tree and feel exactly like you do about the lights and colours and glitter, it’s just magical no matter what age I am. I really feel for you having to deal with all the benefits people and I’m sorry you’re on ESA rather than Jobseekers’ at the moment and I hope you improve a bit soon. I’m glad you’re managing to get financial help though – I’m not entitled to anything thanks to getting ill within 2 years of leaving Uni as I’ve not paid enough NI contributions to get ESA and my boyfriend earns over the threshold for the other type of ESA. Anyway, I’m so grateful to you for reading and I’m really pleased that I was able to help in a small way. You’re not the only one, there are loads of us out there and I’m always around if you want to message me. Keep going and I hope your Christmas has more ups than downs. So much love to you! xxxx

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  2. Sending you love. (Not sure if you DO watch Strictly and Holby? Did you mean you do, or they do? I do…) I’m in France with 14 other people and all the women wanted to watch the final and we’d avoided hearing who won, and Ian rigged up t’internet so we could watch it on Sunday night, but we were all getting sleepy and I was in charge of the remote and there’s a lag (because it’s our Skybox in Manchester over the Internet) and I managed to whizz so fast and with so little control we all missed the announcement and saw who won at 90 mph. No amount of shouting would slow it down, but everyone tried…..!! Never mind. Love and best wishes.

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    1. Ah thanks for the love Marg, right back at you! I DO watch all of those and by watch I mean I’ve been totally hooked on them all! What a shame you had to see Strictly at high speed though marvellous that you managed to get the internet working long enough to see it! Thanks for reading and I hope you have a lovely time in France xxx

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  3. I’m sorry you’re going through this. I happened to stumble on your blog and can relate so much to this post. I’m in my late 30’s and finally have my depression well managed, at least well enough to start to plan ahead to actually have a life. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work when I’ve been at the lowest points, but that just made things worse. I’ve always had very demanding jobs, so on the days that it took everything to not just end it somehow, the stress just compounded the intensity of the depression. Please don’t be so hard on yourself. From what you’ve written here, it sounds like you know you shouldn’t be, but still are. I know that feeling all too well. The thing is… Realize your own strength. You’re fighting though this darkness every day. Even if you’re barely existing, you’re still making it through each day. The stigma part is tough, especially with family and others close to you. A couple of years ago I went inpatient for the first time. I was at the end of my limits and simply couldn’t trust myself anymore. I told my family which pretty much had most of them distancing themselves followed by the inevitable awkwardness when I was around.. Like I was contagious or defective somehow. With most, I was seen as weak. I felt like it, too. We all have problems with depression in my family, but I’m the one that couldn’t cut it. The rest self-medicate, so that’s somehow acceptable with them. Whatever – it may take time, but you’ll find your way through it. If it’s cyclictic in nature like mine is, you find ways to keep pushing forward when the lows hit. Either way, you’re 24. There’s still plenty of time to do the life stuff that others are doing now. I have to wonder, though.. Most of that life stuff isn’t as important to me as those that feel they are in a place to judge me based on accomplishments. Accomplishments aren’t what make me tick. Are you the same? I’ve always lived my life based on what I found to be important, which for most is incomprehensible. I’m a guy who doesn’t care about sports, cars, beer or boobs. I’m the oddball out for most guys, so needless to say, I don’t have many guy friends. Ok, I have to admit, I like boobs, but don’t automatically see a woman as a life support system for boobs and a vagina, so still, I’m an odd one out. Just be you. If goals and accomplishments are your thing, make lists of tasks to reach them. Detailed lists. Try to check off at least one of those small details every day or two. You’ll get there. 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much for reading my blog and taking the time to comment. Sorry you’re going through this too but I’m glad that other people can relate! I’m certainly working on not being so hard on myself but it’s not coming very naturally. I can certainly relate with not being so focused on accomplishments. There are still a fair few things that I’d like to achieve like getting married, buying a house etc but as you’ll see from my latest post, my biggest goal is to make a difference to people like us and to help. I’m not so bothered about having a snazzy car or expensive jewellery I just want to help people. I’ve started breaking my goals down into smaller chunks so I can feel like I’m achieving things even when it’s really little things and taking small steps towards them and that’s definitely helped. I hope you continue to improve and make life plans that you can manage. Keep fighting 🙂

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      1. Regarding being too hard on yourself.. Just an observation about people.. I don’t think many people really know who they really are. Think about the people you know, then think about what they believe about themselves. You know, what they really think about themselves. Take what you know to be true and compare/contrast. Realize that it’d be the same with you if they were to ask you about you. We all know about our insecurities, etc. It’s pretty easy to feed into negative self-perception when you’re depressed. It kind of comes with the territory. So, I’d suggest to try to be honest with yourself. We all have our things that are true, in our mind and to others. It takes a lot – a whole lot, but I have a nasty temper and a sharp tongue. I also used to lie a lot. That was a hard habit to break, but I rarely do now. I hate “people” but tend to like individuals. I’m also a good husband and loyal friend. I help out random people when the opportunity presents itself and I’m able. Not out of obligation, or expecting good whatever in the future, but just because. I over tip – even with crappy service. Either way, I’ve come to like who I am. That’s not to say that I’m done trying to grow as a person, but I don’t lay awake at night knocking myself for who I’ve been, unless it’s in the very recent past. If that’s the case, then yeah, reflect on that shit. Anyway.. It took me a long time to actually hear what others thought of me and not quickly reject it if they said something nice. If you aren’t in that place yet, I’d highly suggest starting to take stock when someone compliments you on something that actually means something to who you are.

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