Christmas Mental Health Special: HOW FESTIVE!
Three years ago today, I was woken up in the early hours of the morning by a repeated hammering on our front door. Three very scared and half asleep women stumbled around trying to pull their clothes/dressing gowns on to answer the door in the dead of the night, to be greeted by two police officers looking for our house mate.
I knew immediately what had happened. I can’t explain why. Maybe it was the look on their faces. Maybe it was their insistence on entering her room (which I wouldn’t allow). Maybe it was knowing my friends history. I rang my friend every twenty minutes throughout the rest of the night. In the morning, it was confirmed. Her beautiful Mum had died.
I didn’t know her Mum that well, yet the grief that engulfed me for my friend and her heartbreak was all consuming. Mental health had played a role in her Mum’s death, alongside a significant role throughout her life and in the aftermath, it played a role in ours too.
We both LOVE Christmas and this time of year was filled with homemade mince pies, Christmas cocktails, decorating trees and eating EVERYTHING. As soon as I see Christmas shops appearing, I take photos and send them to my friend. We obsess over glitter, presents, tree decorating, baking, Elf, unicorns… The usual Christmassy stuff. And I know many other people who are as excited about this time of year as we are.
Equally, I meet a lot of people who hate this time of year for many different reasons. Ill health, poverty, redundancy, grief, loneliness… To name but a few.
Then there’s the third type. The ones doing all of the Festivity, hiding their pain behind Nigella’s Christmas Martini’s and Mince Pies. The joy of Christmas spirit is remembering this and reaching out a hand to those who need it the most in this Festive season.
It’s a time for reconnecting, for self care, for looking after ourselves, physically and emotionally, as much as we look after other people. We put so much pressure on ourselves; financially, physically, emotionally, to make everything perfect that by the time the big day arrives, we have drained every last ounce of our energy reserves. I can’t count the amount of Christmas days I have been so emotionally drained that I haven’t been able to enjoy a minute of it.
For those with existing mental and physical health conditions, this added stress and pressure can trigger difficult episodes. So what can you do to look after yourself?
Take time off work if you can. Say no to social events if you want to. Spend time outside getting back to nature. Exercise. You don’t have to spend hours in the gym, just walk into town instead of using the car.
Eat well. I have over-indulged so much this weekend that my body is screaming out for salad. Literally screaming. Balance indulgence.
Have a couple of nights off the booze. Ultimate hypocrite here has been on it with extra Festive spirits for about a week now. I need a break before the weekend.
More importantly, don’t sweat the small stuff. I used to go wild scrubbing the house from top to bottom before people came for Xmas. I wasted a day, during the Christmas period, doing something I hate for absolutely no reason. Nobody gives a fuck about your dusty skirting board. Not a euphemism.
Nobody cares how much money you have spent on them. We’re having a very pared down Christmas this year because we’ve just bought a house and can’t afford to over-Christmas. It’s fine.
It’s not about presents, it’s about presence.
If you hate it, don’t do it. We no longer do Christmas cards because Dave hates cards and I love trees. Instead, we buy some hygiene items from Savers (deodorant, washing tablets, handwash, washing up liquid, toothpaste) and donate to our local Foodbank. Because even in a small town where houses are on sale for a million pound, people still need support from the Foodbank. If you’re considering doing something similar, they are always desperate for period stuff. Seriously, what do you actually call it? I keep seeing it referred to as feminine hygiene products but I hate that and it doesn’t fit into a gender diverse world. Tampons and sanitary towels are desperately needed. And do you know what, if you can't find the time or energy to do this, don't! Send a cheque.
As the mug on my desk says, Do What Makes You Happy. Whether that is saying no, breaking against tradition or just having a night hiding in the bath with candles lit, watching Christmas films like Die Hard on the laptop, which is dangerously perched on an unstable packing box, which still hasn’t been removed from the new house… Woah, ranty.
Reach out. If you know somebody is struggling already, send them a message. Organise a meet up. Know that they might cancel because they physically can’t make themselves leave the house. Go round anyway. Take your pyjamas. And a DVD. And cake. If I get a text saying your outside with cake, I will open the door without even getting dressed. Oh hey nudey.
Talk to them every day, even if it is only by message. Know that the smile on their face in public hides something that only you might know about. Protect them from the people who don’t understand that, those who judge, speak without thinking or are just generally nasty cunts. Don’t suffer in silence. And remember this:
YOU ARE ENOUGH.
And if you are struggling, reach out.
Samaritans: 116123 (UK), available on Christmas Day.
There’s a great link here from mentalhealth.org: http://bit.ly/2buI8IP