It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

The short days, the long insomniac nights and barely seeing any sunlight between shifts at work. Christmas time can be exhausting.

I won’t pretend I don’t love the festive period, in fact I completely romanticise it. I love watching tacky Christmas movies in bed, singing awful Christmas songs after a few too many wines, fairy lights adorning trees everywhere and the smell (but not the taste) of mulled wine. But as wonderful as the festive time can be, it can be equally terrifying for someone living with mental illness. It is exhausting, stressful, anxiety inducing and financially straining.

Christmas often feels lonely, social isolation is heightened during the festive period and it sometimes feel like you’re on the outside looking in; like you’re watching everyone else have fun while you struggle to muster the strength to get out of bed. I see my colleagues and friends illustrate their endeavours on social media, imagining a life where I could have the disposable income, time and friends to actually go out a celebrate.

I’ve always found that I have an inability to make friends – I was once described as an ‘acquired taste’ – so the festive period has always been a struggle for me. I feel lonely but would I normally care or do I only care because its Christmas? Do I even want to go out 100 times a week to every different Christmas event or do I just feel like I have to because thats what everyone else is doing? Last week I found myself looking for Christmas Tree farms because I saw everyone else on Instagram going to them which made me feel left out, and then realised I’m buying a fucking plastic one so why do I care?

“I almost wish there weren’t a holiday season. I know nobody likes me. Why do we have to have a holiday season to emphasise it?” – A Charlie Brown Christmas

Working up the stamina to flaunt holiday cheer is an uphill battle with a double edged sword. As much as I desperately want to be part of the fun the thought of actually having to leave my own solitude is terrifying because, yeah I’d love to come to your Christmas party tonight but the prospect of getting dressed, leaving the house and potential notion of having to hold a conversation with anyone is debilitating… There is so much extra pressure to be “perfect” because no one wants to ruin Christmas.

We compare ourselves to others who seem to have more and be doing more than us. We dread the expectation to attend social gatherings and spend loads of money on gifts and nights out we can’t afford. But, if you would rather stay home alone watching Home Alone for the 800th time than at the staff party thats fine, you don’t need to guilt yourself into doing something  you don’t want to do because “its Christmas”. Self care is more important, I’ve learnt that despite what people say it is in fact okay to be selfish sometimes. You have to put your health first.

What always gets me through these difficult winter months is what gets me through every difficult low period I have. I remember how far I’ve come from where I used to be; I’ve felt worse than this before and I’m still here and if I can survive rock bottom then I can survive anything. It can be so much easier to beat yourself up than to reflect on how much you’ve changed, but you’ll get nowhere by punishing yourself for something you cannot control.

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