I know first hand that Christmas is not always a season of joy. When you are suffering with depression, the pressure to be happy and festive can be a challenging burden to carry. Social gatherings can be a nightmare to navigate when you are struggling with anxiety and the abundance of food, feasting and alcohol can make the season one of fear and self-loathing if you have any issues with food or drink whatsoever. At Christmas, grief often pushes closer to the surface as we reminisce about Christmases in the past and the emphasis on family and friends can be particularly hard if relationships have become strained or loneliness is the burden you have to carry. Many, many people fight a courageous battle that we know nothing about just to get through the holidays and the people with the heaviest hearts are sometimes those who seem most filled with joy.
Alongside the pressure to appear happy, jolly and festive, there is additional pressure to make everything we do in this festive season super perfect. To live up to the ideal image of what we perceive Christmas is supposed to be like with the perfect tree, the perfect presents,the perfect lunch, the perfect outfit, the perfect table decorations and so on…. Since we moved to the other side of the world, I know that what I miss about home most at Christmas is not the things but the people. I wish I could jet in to give my nanny and grandad a big kiss and a big cuddle. I wish I could pop in to see my sister and brother and I wish our parents could get cuddles from their beautiful granddaughters on Christmas Day. I don’t miss the fancy food, excellent Christmas shopping opportunities and the glitzy decorations but I miss those I love because that’s what Christmas is all about. Love. Perfect doesn’t matter – love does.
So try not to get stressed about the turkey, whether your house is perfectly tidy or by children who are afflicted by the curse of ‘christmasitis’ and are running around like maniacs when you want them to sit quietly. Whether you are happy or sad this Christmas, excited or apprehensive- try and remember that Christmas is about something far more precious than parties, feasting, gifts and sparkles. Firstly it’s about love.
To me, the Christmas story is also one of hope. Out of the darkness, a great light emerges to shine brightly and this is one of my favourite metaphors to understand life. There is always hope. Whenever I feel lost and depressed, I focus on remembering that eventually the light will shine again and I have learned that love is the surest way I know to let the light in.
To anyone who is struggling today as any other day, know that you are not alone. Have courage and try to find some light in the darkness to hold onto. Think of those you love and have hope that things will get better.
Be gentle with yourself and and remember that it’s okay not to be ecstatically filled with happiness and joy if that is not how you feel. Be kind to others and remember that while the Christmas season heightens joy and happiness for many people, it heightens feelings of loneliness, anxiety and hopelessness in many people too, even those who may seem to epitomise the holiday spirit.