Christmas is, for some, is celebrating the arrival of Jesus, for others it’s about spending more money than they have sense on things that nobody needs but they want anyway, for some it’s a dire day surrounded by people that they don’t like and don’t want to be with and for others it’s about being alone. Some of the people mentioned above will have illness, both mental and physical, that have an impact on their lives to a greater or lesser degree. This blog is about how I get through the day and some (probably obvious) points about what can work to help get through the day. If I’m teaching granny to suck eggs then I apologise in advance…
We have expectations of Christmas and a lot of those are driven by relentless ad campaigns, particularly those on television, that show perfect families, dressed perfectly, smiling as a cool, calm and collected woman cooks a turkey to perfection for a grateful and adoring family.
The reality is much different of course in most cases and I’m sure I’m not alone in walking round the kitchen in a bleary haze in my pyjamas far too early on Christmas morning, hair looking as though it’s had an electric shock, so much sleep in my eyes it’s hard to see the cats as I fall over them on the way to turn the kettle on. I can’t imagine how you cope when you factor in a family all screaming in excitement and hyped up on an overdose of E numbers.
My big luxury at Christmas is having the day alone. I get up when I want though it’s usually early because I love to start the day off with a visit to church, chatting with friends and then off into a deserted city centre with my camera for a few hours. I come home to cook and watch rubbish on television whilst sat on the sofa and ring my family at some point. It’s my ideal day but it wasn’t always so because days like that tend to form over a period of years.
Living in a city far from my family means that I haven’t spent the day with them in a long time. When I was married we worked in pubs so Christmas was about work and our idea of a good day was a long walk with our dog after work followed by sausage & mash. It was our choice and for us it was the wisest choice.
Post divorce there was some Christmas’ spent with a friend who would cook for several of his friends none of whom liked each other. They were stressful, a chore and a blessing when he moved to France and spending the day with him was no longer an obligation.
For a long time I was in a relationship with a man whose family actively disliked me and, I confess with a smirk, I tended to play up to their expectations of me! The relationship with the man was destructive and the last Christmas I spent with his family was one of the worst ever. His mother was ill and when I arrived at their house on Christmas morning it was assumed that I’d take over the cooking and far from being thanked there was instead a series of comparisons to the meal that they would have had if she hadn’t been ill. I washed up afterwards and instead of thanks one of his sisters moaned that I hadn’t made coffee. His family presumed that they were superior to me but that confirmed once and for all that they were simply insecure snobs and my relationship with that man effectively ended that day.
Since then I’ve spent Christmas alone. The first few years were sobfests of self-pity with a good dollop of the “why mes?” thrown in for bad measure. Then I bought a camera and realised that I had nobody to tie me at home and I had license to roam across a deserted city at my own pace. What I’ve learned from all my experiences is that Christmas never lives up to expectations and if it exceeds them it’s usually a pure fluke. So to make it easier (whether you have mental or physical illness or just struggle because you’re a human) take a deep breath and remember –
- don’t presume you will become stressed or you will fulfil the prophecy and become stressed;
- don’t presume you won’t enjoy it if you’re alone – be selfish and do want you can’t do when other people are around even if it is just being sat in front of the television in your underwear;
- say hello on Twitter, Facebook and other social networks but don’t confine your tweets and status updates to your situation. Be happy for others, they won’t know if you’re faking it if you are;
- your ideal Christmas doesn’t exist and neither does anybody else’s;
- what would break one person will be a walk in the park for you – play on your strengths;
- let people help you whatever the circumstances;
- take time out – pop in and see the old man down the road or just lock yourself in the loo for half an hour;
- be prepared to compromise;
- it’s not all about you but it’s not all about other people either;
- if you do have a disaster then ring someone or talk to somebody and laugh about it;
- it’s one day not a lifelong drama;
- cry if you want to but don’t make it a sobfest.
Enjoying any holiday with or without a mental health problem is about learning how to cope and knowing that you cannot cope with any eventuality. Be as kind to yourself as you try to be to others and pat yourself on the back for getting through the day.