Tuesday, 15 December 2015

On Christmas and Mental Health

Last year's tree - I'm a late decorator so this years isn't up yet!
I'm just going to come right out and admit it - I feel rubbish at the moment. Which makes me feel extra down in itself, I've been on a real upward trajectory for what feels like months, so falling back into a slump has been disheartening, on top of the slump itself.

This post might seem like a departure from my usual ones but it really isn't, this blog grew out of a private blog I was keeping a long time ago called 'a year of hyggelig living' which was a project I set myself for fostering good mental health. I kept that blog private as I always mmm and aahh about writing about mental health, I think out of a fear of coming across as wallowing or self involved or negative, but then part of me thinks the best way to normalise it and to break down that stigma is just to do it, right?  Anyway I don't think I am negative, I've always found it kind of ironic but I am almost stupidly optimistic by nature, just with an unfortunate propensity for depression (not to mention anxiety and OCD but that's a whole other post). But actually writing that down two things have struck me about it - firstly that mental health and personality are NOT the same thing, and secondly, that perhaps at times my optimism has worked against me with my mental health, as I've blindly carried on thinking 'everything will be alright' even when I can feel myself sliding and thus avoided dealing with it. I have an immense fear of being negative, and feel a lot of pressure (from myself) to be cheerful, but it means the dark feelings grow and get a bit out of control sometimes.*

Anyway. I wasn't meaning to write any of that particularly, it feels like this might turn out to be a longer post than I meant!  I wanted to write specifically about Christmas. Similarly to my contradictory optimistic/depressive personality, I both really adore Christmas, and find it horrendously challenging. The last few have been particularly hard, two years ago I was going through a horrendous break up and could barely function, and last year I had just been forced out of my job and was having some Very Bad Times. So by contrast this year seems like it should be easy! All is good in Sarah World - I have completed my first term of a Masters (hurrah!) and no longer find it the most terrifying thing ever, I have settled nicely into living on my own, I have decent time off... But it is Really. Getting. Me. Down.

It doesn't help that my boiler is broken, so what should be a warm and cosy time isn't... If you're already struggling to find the will to get out of bed, knowing it's by far the warmest you're going to be all day really doesn't help!

I know that a large part of how I'm feeling is to do with the weight of expectations, of Christmas, and life in general. I'm single and in my thirties and all my life I've known I want a family. Which is absolutely fine 99% of the time, I'm still pretty sure that's going to happen and to be honest at the moment I am very happy being single. But I can't help but feel like Christmas emphasises any feelings I do have of being 'alone' (oh woe is me, tiny violins etc. etc.), all the things I love most about Christmas are so much better shared, they seem either pointless or empty on my own. I think there's a stubborness that goes along with that too, it's hard to admit to feeling lonely when you feel like you're just confirming people's expectations that single people lead sad and inferior lives (whenever I start to feel like they might be right I go for Ikea Dinner with my best friend and listen to 101 couples arguing about flatpack furniture and feel instantly better!). I'm not sure it's even that I MIND being on my own, under normal circumstances I actively enjoy it, but the whole month of December with Christmas adverts and music and shops and all the accompanying expectations feel like they're telling me I'm doing it wrong, doing life wrong. I don't even believe that! But I feel it. Disconnected from the rest of the world somehow, out of sync. And the pressure to be cheerful is even greater.

Blargh, I do sound very sorry for myself! I am immensely fortunate and privileged in so many ways , but knowing that can just make you feel worse when you're depressed, like an ungrateful oaf. And of course I know that most people probably aren't having the shiny fantastic Christmas experience I imagine they are. My old friend compare and despair !

Hmm, this post was meant to be about my strategies for coping! Because I do have them, and I wanted to share them, last year I spent a lot of time googling Depression and Christmas and really took heart from some of things I read, things that went beyond the usual cliches about not doing too much. Last night I had a bit of a 'enough is enough' moment and decided to start taking a bit more control and put some plans into action, I think I'll write about those as a separate post so this one doesn't get too long.

I mainly wrote this to straighten out how I feel in my head and I think it has helped, but if anyone did read this all the way through (before I inevitably freak out and delete it), really really thank you :)

Sarah x

* incidentally, inspite of being an optimist, I do take issue with the whole 'positive thinking' brigade - an excellent book is 'Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World' by Barbara Ehrenreich, which mostly captures how I feel about this.

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