It’s Christmas time, again. Each year December starts that process of trying to mentally prepare for Christmas; the stresses and strains that come with December 25th.
Content warning: this post includes mentions of lived experiences of depression, self harm, and suicidal ideation.
Christmas is a day and time of year I find really really difficult. For a few reasons.
The way my brain works my depression sometimes can hit me harder at random moments, but Christmas and the festive period is a fairly constant one. The social and cultural pressure to be happy, positive, smiling. It’s tiring and for me at this time of year, often just not true (making it even more tiring).
There are a few people I know who (as much as you can with without having your own experience) understand and appreciate my experience and struggles at this time of year. Their compassion makes a massive difference in not feeling completely alone.
My memory of childhood Christmases includes knowing at a certain time you’re getting in the car to go to the other parents house. Considering which presents you could take, and if you were allowed too. While also considering how much to share, so as to not make one parent feel like they’ve missed out.
I am lucky to have two parents that wanted to be with us, but it was very stressful Christmas experience.
As an adult in my 30’s experiencing depression during Christmas and the festive period, I believe there were two years where I really did not want to be here anymore. Where ending my life was something I was almost ready for. It felt like a solution to the problem of my life; my pain, my sadness. I was ready to walk away (resources and support below).
I’m sure there were definitely good times in there, but as both a child and an adult, what I have held on to is that Christmas comes with the unwanted expectations of others, personal sadness and actual danger to my life.
Recent christmases have improved massively, thanks to therapy, reflection and a very (very) supportive partner. However even in these years, I have struggled with depression, frustration and occasional bouts of self harm.
Life, like recovery, is a journey. It’s usually not linear, straightforward or obvious. But it’s a journey I’m pleased to be continuing with.
This year, it’s the same still but, so different. This year isn’t just different because we have Henry and there’s a baby so be positive and pretend to be happy. It’s different because I want Henry to have the most wonderful Christmas possible. And that desire for a child to be happy is somehow different to anything I’ve experienced before.
Of course I want Laura to be happy and have a wonderful time, but that’s with the understanding she is an independent person, with her own desires and abilities to fulfil many of them.
Henry, on the other hand, currently has very limited abilities (he’s constantly amazed he has hands, or whatever he thinks they are) and hasn’t chosen to be here. So I feel a much larger responsibility to fulfil life experiences for him right now.
I believe I can totally provide these experiences for Laura and Henry while still expecting depression. But it is hard.
It’ll take time to re-learn how to Christmas, and how to do it in a safe way; without triggering my self harm responses. But I’ve enjoyed carefully testing myself this year with Christmas or winter fayres each weekend since mid November. Which has helped to gradually do things. I think including work and friends has helped to, utilising the spaces and environments I felt more comfortable in. Hopefully there’s gradual and continuous progress.
I have also reflected on the expectations I've found many have for a specific Christmas experience. Which sometimes seems to ignore that's not possible or desirable for many other people. Maybe they have previous Christmas trauma, maybe try are removed from family, maybe they follow another faith/ religious traditions. There's many people and many ways to celebrate (or not) your December 25th.
I'm learning what mine can look like as a new dad and husband, living with depression; making sure I'm in the best mental place I can be, to support and celebrate the two people that mean the most to me.
Christmas and winter can be a tricky time for many, however you are celebrating or surviving this season I wish you well, send best wishes and positive thoughts for the new year.
If you are struggling some of the below links maybe worth visiting: