What does this time of year mean for you?
Does it give you a warm, fuzzy feeling? Fill you with happy memories of Christmases with loved ones, handing out presents around the tree, being with family and eating lots of food, watching the Queen’s speech and having an afternoon nap then looking forward to an evening of turkey sandwiches and watching Die Hard?
Or are you more familiar with the other side. A time that is filled with grief, loss, trauma, depression, unhappy memories, dark thoughts, and for many, isolation, especially now during the pandemic.
My Christmases have been a lot of the latter. It hasn’t always been doom & gloom but a significant chunk of them have been and it’s hard to lose the feeling of dread and melancholy that I have every year. I’m trying to change the way I feel about it, particularly in the last few years as my life now is very different and better in a lot of ways. I know that I have a lot to be grateful for, but as some things get better, other things also get worse. More losses of loved ones and people we know. This year has been particularly tough, the worldwide collective grief is overwhelming.
A couple of years ago I gave a presentation at work about how to survive Christmas and take care of our mental health. After the presentation I soon found out there are many people who struggle with Christmas for a myriad of reasons. Sharing my story and showing my vulnerability reopens my wounds for a while, sometimes I wonder why I do it, when I see that it enables others to also speak up, my moments of feeling uncomfortable are worth it. I didn’t feel so alone, did I feel comforted? Yes and no, I felt sad so many of us struggle at this time of year and we feel ashamed to talk about how we’re feeling because this time of year is supposed to be about cheer and goodwill to all mankind.
There is a large disconnect with the way Christmas is packaged up and marketed. We are bombarded with images of how it should be. The amount of pressure that is put on people to have the perfect Christmas is huge. Then there is the reality of what this can cost you, financially and emotionally.
One of my worst memories is the time I was in a relationship with a violent psychopath. I tried to break up with him, he coldly told me if I ever left him he would burn down my mum’s house whilst my family were all at home. I was petrified, I eventually did get away from him and thankfully my family weren’t harmed but I had recurring nightmares for years after that.
Another year my partner at the time passed away unexpectedly. Spending Christmas Day alone when you had attended your partner’s funeral three weeks before is not an experience I would want anyone to ever go through. And yet so many of us have gone through this. My heart goes out to everyone who has lost loved ones.
Other Christmases have involved nervous breakdowns, depression, more grief and loss, painful relationship breakups, family disputes & suicides. It’s such a heavy time of year for me, sometimes I feel like I am suffocating and I want to run away.
I try to spend this time of year alone when I can because it’s crucial for me to have that time where I can try and process what’s going on. I also want to hide for a while. I know it’s actually a luxury to be able to do this because many people do spend it alone and desperately don’t want to be.
Whatever we end up doing this year, my wish for you is that you will continue to heal from life and what has been thrown at you. If you do have to be alone because of the pandemic I hope you have a network of friends or family you can rely on. If you don’t, there are services available such as:
⁃ Samaritans 116 123
⁃ Text SHOUT to 85258 and you will be connected to a crisis volunteer
⁃ Join a mental health support group on social media or look for a mental health support account who also have volunteers who will respond
This year there has been a recurring message of ‘be kind’ to others. It’s also important to remember that this also includes being kind to ourselves. Some of us carry so much guilt and shame from the past that it weighs us down. It’s such a heavy burden to carry, especially if there are expectations from others on how they think we should be and how to behave. If there is one gift we can give it’s one of self forgiveness.
It’s time to set free the ghosts of Christmas past.
With loving kindness ❤️