It’s Christmas, bitch.
There are loads of things I love about Christmas; the lights, the cosiness, the charitable aspect, the peace on earth, the message of forgiveness and kindness towards your fellow man. There are also loads of reasons why Christmas can be a hard, lonely time. Not everyone has a close-knit family they can retire to, you may have lost someone during the year, an anniversary falls at the same time and it can feel like a battle for anyone with an eating disorder. Many can’t go home for Christmas for a multitude of reasons. Christmas culture is a reminder of everything we’re missing. Social media can really take a toll on the head and I’ll admit that I bristle at the tweets of heart-warming reunions and parental escapades and find it a rough time. I’m also not religious, and so I feel forced into a corner I didn’t ask to be in.
Long removed from the religious, we’re sold notions of excess, food and spending by Western consumerist mentality. But the truth is, none of it matters. You’ll never finish all that food, all the cheese selections are cheddar and Christmas pudding is fucking disgusting. It’s burnt fermented raisins, but we eat it anyway because that’s what you do at Christmas. Life doesn’t just stop because you should feel jolly, you can’t force yourself to feel things you don’t and if you’re dealing with something hard, it’s magnified at a time that’s all about the thing you’re probably struggling with. Even if you don’t subscribe to societal pressure and conventional norms because you’ve lived a life that’s been the opposite, the days between Christmas and New Year’s force you to sit down and have a look at yourself. It’s an open door for loneliness, hurt and grief to flow through.
Here are some things I’ve learned from the ghosts of Christmases past:
Ignore ads. Don’t buy things in shops just because they have festive wrapping on them.
Try not to buy into the bollox. You don’t have to have a hundred friends, long-standing traditions and the perfect family to be worthy. Christmas is whatever you can make of it, whether that’s a full turkey dinner with all the trimmings or a frozen pizza and a tin of peaches.
Mind yourself. If you’re grieving or being at home with family is going to be tough, take some time for yourself. We all want to be there to support family members, but your mental health and how much you can take is important too. If you usually live away from home, plan your days at home and don’t overstay because you feel obliged to. Being trapped at home can also be emotionally toxic if you’ve been working hard on your mental health and find yourself regressing when you’re home. Remember that you are not others’ opinions of you, you don’t need to take on other peoples’ burdens and everything is temporary.
Self-care is important. That doesn’t mean you can be a dick if others are relying on you. But sometimes we have a tendency to put ourselves through hell just to take care of others. Set boundaries, and try your hardest to stick to them. Stay at home for 2 days instead of the whole week. Drink 3 bottles of wine instead of one. Leave your spouse. Shave the cat. #SelfCare
If you have a difficult relationship with food and drink, be kind to yourself. Eat what you need to. Drink the Baileys, eat the spuds – if you want. Don’t feel like you have to be extra ‘because it’s Christmas’, but go easy on yourself because it is in fact, Christmas. Continue to eat as you normally would, without expectation or pressure. And if someone is putting on the pressure, they can fuck off.
You’re not alone. Not everyone is having the perfect Christmas, there are more people struggling this time of year than you’d think. There’s a fantastic initiative on Twitter started by comedian Sarah Millican called ‘Join In’. If you want some company, follow the hashtag #JoinIn on Christmas Day and get involved in chats with others who are sharing their experiences.
Seasonal depression is heightened at Christmas, but if it’s more than that and you are finding it very dark, please know that there is help. Samaritans have a number you can text if you don’t want to phone anyone, and you are not alone. This too shall pass, but in the meantime please reach out to someone.