Thursday, 19 December 2013

Crazy at Christmas

Sorry for the flippant title I hope it doesn't offend anyone, I've just always found humour one of the best ways to cope with my mental health issues.

Anyway, Christmas is fun right? I like Christmas, a lot. But sometimes I hate it. Even for the most mentally well adjusted folk it comes loaded with overindulgence, money worries, fraught relationships and too-much-to-do-not-enough-time stress. When you add mental illness into the mix the whole thing becomes infinitely more complicated.

I've picked out a few examples that spring to mind, to try to explain why we may sometimes appear a little scrooge-y. I was thinking about this the other day as I tried to sort out my outfit for my friend's party so:

1. Don't self harm kids, you'll spend the rest of you life desperately hunting for scar-friendly clothes. Ah Christmas parties, often dressy, frequently fancy and usually with the expectation of frocks. Ones which show some sort of skin. It's not that I'm ashamed of my scars per se, just that is rather not show them. It hurts the people I care about to have to see what I've done to myself over the years.  Consequently all parties are prefaced with a total meltdown trying to bodge together an outfit, usually resulting in a slight mismatch, rushed hair and no makeup.
Feeling comfortable and confident makes a huge difference to how we act and how much enjoyment we feel. It's very hard to feel either of those things in an outfit that isn't quite what you wanted because you had to think about long sleeves, whether it works with leggings, if a top rises up to show the scars on your stomach blah blah blah.

2. Food glorious food! Well except food isn't always glorious. People with depression may find themselves with no appetite. Socially anxious individuals may struggle with the minefield of eating in public. And that's before we even get to eating disorders! Bulimics and compulsive over eaters surrounded by temptation, having good practically forced on them. Anorexics eternally being offered unsafe treats which they can't allow themselves. (That is of course very oversimplified I know). And pretty much any event this time of year centres around food, chocolates are the perfect gift when you don't know what else to buy and the tv is chock-a-block with good shows.

3. When Christmas isn't so merry. Ah yes, happiness is practically compulsory this time of year isn't it? If you're unhappy you become a scrooge or a grinch or a party pooper. But what about when it's more than just lack of Christmas cheer, when you can't just get in the spirit? Someone suffering from a long term mood disorder is unlikely to suddenly recover because there's Christmas pie's in the oven or a conifer in the corner. That's not to say these are bad or pointless just that they aren't magic (sorry, I know Christmas used to be :(). On top of this the incessant cheerfulness all around, the pressure to plaster on the happy face, can have the opposite effect.

4. Let's get this party started. Oh no sorry our sufferers of anxiety disorder haven't made it yet. They're still panicking about what to wear what people will think what the journey will be like how they'll get home how to talk act laugh breathe function. Or the ocd contingent who are struggling with the change of routine, the change of setting or stuck at home so long with their compulsions that it'd be ride to turn up now. Then we have those struggling with body dysmorphic disorder, it's not vanity that makes them obsess over their appearance for hours and hide away but a genuine belief that they are mutated, malformed, hideous.

5. Lest old acquaintance be forgot. And let's not neglect our friends with the most stigmatised illnesses, schizophrenia, psychosis and similar. Hiding, perhaps, for fear of how they'll be received. Maybe their illness has left them isolated from family and friends who were unable to cope with the illness. Alone, on the streets even. Merry Christmas?
Of course this can apply equally for other mental illnesses, addictions spring to mind particularly but any mental health condition can be isolating and lead to relationship breakdown.

6. Stress, stress and more stress... topped off with a little bit of booze. I talked about triggers, some of the most common include stress, sleep deprivation, change and alcohol. All of which apply at Christmas. Alcohol, like smiling, seems almost compulsory... It is seem as strange to decline a tipple. Of course this is an issue for alcoholics but can also lead to exaggerated symptoms in illneses such as bipolar disorder, depression and anxiety. On top of this many psychoactive medications are either not compatible with alcohol or significantly reduce tolerance. And nobody wants to be puking in the gutter after only a couple glasses of wine!

Oh there are many more seasonal pitfalls I could list but that's probably enough. Christmas can be a really difficult time for anyone battling mental illness. If you're a friend or family member, we know we're frustrating, we frustrate ourselves too. But it's not that we don't want to enjoy ourselves, we'd love to! It's just not that easy.
If you're someone struggling over Christmas there is help available samaritans (they're not just about suicide, and you can email it write if phones aren't your thing) or mind are good places to start. There may also be specific local helplines. And don't forget family and friends, a lot of them would love to help if they only knew how.
And have as merry a Christmas as possible. X