Christmas is a challenging time for a most people, the high stress, missing loved ones and so many other reasons. It is no different for people suffering from mental health issues and it can trigger many difficult feelings.
Christmas brings a time when we all have to be ‘happy’.
A time when there are so many social engagements that we ‘have’ to go to.
The pressure to perform is probably at its highest.
Let alone the merry cheer we see around us and are expected to participate in.
There is stress literally every way which way you turn.
All these factors make people struggling with MH issues feel more than ever that they need to put that mask back on to fit in with the jovial mood surrounding them. The Christmas lights in the streets. The music played on the radio and shops. And the ‘Merry Christmas’ presented to you at every cashiers desk (that you know they have just been told to say) is another little reminder to be happy!!
Suffering from social anxiety adds so many more factors into the whole situation. That feeling of dread and pressure at going to social engagements (which is always there anyway) is geared up to a whole new level. These social occasions were always hard but made harder now.
The pressure to perform is exhausting, and where I used to be able to go from one event to the next without even thinking about it, this year I find just going to 1 event for an hour wipes me out for the whole week after. But the show must go on . . . and it really is a show, one where a great big transparent mask is stuck firmly on my face but I can feel it every second.
I am now trying to rebuild friendships that I have drifted away from throughout my MH journey. This was always going to be a challenge without the added ‘happy’ pressure of Christmas that now makes the challenge even greater. It is inevitable people ask how you are but you cant go into how you really are as you don’t want to dampen their Christmas spirit by telling them the truth.
All this is not helped with the Christmas pressure to put on a silly hat and play games that are fun to everyone else and which used to be to me – although they always came with a slight dread! Sadly the enthusiasm for Christmas has gone for yet another year. . .
Things people don’t even know, or would consider, is how we have taken a long time to get into and develop a strict routine. We have time slots for everything; appointments (of which there are many!), exercise, work, walking the dog, reading, studying, life admin etc. These all provides a solid structure, which is needed when you are trying to recover.
During the run up and 2 weeks of holiday that whole routine you carefully created and stuck to rigidly for months is stripped away . . . Christmas shopping (and the nightmares to go with it!) . . . impromptu drinks (you don’t want to go to but ‘have’ to go to) . . . the extra long wait to pay in shops . . .the extra traffic that means you need to allow more time to get to appointments, they all take over. The old routine we have is totally disrupted which sets off immediate panic mode!
I feel a lot of pressure for Christmas this year. Partly because I though I am not ‘better’, I am far better than I have been the last couple of years (where I have barely made it through Christmas lunch before crashing out). As I am doing so much ‘better’ than I have been I feel the pressure not to ruin another Christmas. Though people will say “don’t be silly, you didn’t ruin it.” This is ultimately how I feel.
It is reassuring when I speak to other people in similar positions to me to know they feel the same way. It is reassuring that they too feel that pressure at Christmas. That awful pressure to be happy to fit in with everyone else and not the Christmas misery!
This is very small group of people I have either met through the hospital or surprisingly on twitter (where we refer to each other as being ‘long lost family’!) We can be totally honest and upfront about everything , and it is wonderful to know there are others in the same boat and who are always there for me as I am for them!
There are a few things that I am going to try and remember to do over the festive period, which I thought I would share incase they help anyone else:
Lower expectations of myself and try not to compare myself to others or how I have been in the past.
Take me time, to go for a run / walk, just something to take me away from things for a bit and clear my head.
Talk to others around so they know how I am feeling – it is always worse when things are bottled up.
Take time out during social gatherings as and when I need to.
Remember I am with loved ones who will know and understand my difficulties
After social gatherings treat myself (watch a film, have a bubble bath etc) to let myself unwind.
Here, I have only spoken about Christmas . . . not even touched on New Years Eve, when all the above is enhanced and we are expected to cheer and be happy for a happy new year. Inside we are only hoping it will be a bit better than the last . . .