Surviving The Joy At Christmas

Christmas. For many people, it’s the most wonderful time of the year - a time to celebrate, socialise, over-indulge in mulled wine and have chocolate for breakfast. It’s a time to catch up with family, exchange presents, pretend that turkey isn’t the driest meat going. But Christmas can also be a time of high emotion for lots of people. Christmas is a time when every routine goes out the window, a time of stress and pressure from all sides.

For me, Christmas has been a tough time of year in the past. It’s difficult to join in the customary small talk with people you haven’t seen in a while when your news includes suicide attempts and hospital stays. And it’s hard to look back on a finished year that you don’t feel proud of.

This year, I have a lot to be thankful for, and a lot to feel proud of. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a scary time of year for me. There are a lot of hidden tripwires in the holiday chaos that can put me off-balance, making me more susceptible to rabbit hole thinking and to the negativity of my voices - especially when I feel I have so much more to lose. I have to be a lot more careful to keep my mental health in check, at a time where I’m surrounded by distractions.

Christmas is a time to spend with large groups of people, all talking over each other, making noise, pulling crackers, playing games. When you add voices to the mix, it’s a lot to take in. Don’t get me wrong - I have a fantastic, loving, caring family, and I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to spend time with them. I’m lucky that they’re so understanding of what I have to deal with. But it’s still not easy, especially this year, when everyone will be congratulating me on my new job and all my success.
Where others see my successes, all I see are flaws

That sounds paradoxical, but I find it very difficult to take compliments. Where others see my successes, all I see are flaws, and my voices are quick to back me up. I find it hard not to compare myself to others that appear to be leading a better life than me, not to measure my happiness against the happiness I see around me.

Medication can become trickier at this time of year as well. In the hustle and bustle of buying presents, attending work drinks, and putting up cards, it’s harder to remember to take medication at the right times of day. I take pills morning and evening, and if I’m going out with colleagues, I also have to remember to bring my medication out with me. It’s so important to try and maintain regular routines, and for me, this is something that will definitely be making my resolution list.

So how to keep well, this Christmas period? I love spending time with my family, but it’s important to give myself regular periods to re-calibrate in between socialising. Time to settle my voices, so that they’ll stay peaceful when I’m with other people. It’s important to be honest with my family and friends about needing the space, as hard as that can be!
It’s important to be honest

Often, over Christmas, routine goes out the window. Sleep is usually one of the first things to go; late nights, visitors, Christmas television - it can all really affect your sleep cycle. I don’t tend to sleep great amounts, but when I fall behind on sleep, my mental health goes downhill quickly, along with my ability to balance my symptoms. This year, it’s going to be really important to keep tabs on my sleep and try to keep it consistent in spite of the various distractions of Christmas.

Alcohol is another thing that can really affect me. I have to be really careful about my frame of mind when I drink; if I’m not feeling good about myself, alcohol can really exacerbate those emotions. I rarely drink a lot at other times of the year, but Christmas provides plenty of opportunities for get-togethers!

So much of staying healthy at Christmas is down to keeping track of my own mental state and taking the appropriate steps to support myself when I need to. I am scared about Christmas. While I have a lot of support around me, it’s a time when everything is unsettled, and I don’t do particularly well with things being unsettled. The gaps in the normal routine are an easy way in for increased paranoia, intrusive thoughts and louder voices.
It’s okay not to be okay. 

I think it’s normal to be scared. Christmas can be a difficult period for anyone, not just those who struggle with mental health, and a time where many of us have to deal with situations we wouldn’t normally face. There’s a lot of noise and activity, and it’s okay to feel anxious that it will disrupt the usual flow of life. When you add mental illness and voices into the mix, that anxiety triples.

Am I mentally stable enough to get through the agitation and hubbub of Christmas? I hope so. I have plenty of strategies and resources in place to support me. But a little fear is still going to be there, and that’s okay. It’s okay not to be okay.

Christmas, for many, is the most wonderful time of the year. For me, it’s a mixed bag. And that’s okay too.


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