As I put up the Christmas tree this year I breathed a HUGE sigh of relief. I was excited, genuinely excited and looking forward to the festive season. For the first time in several years I was actually looking forward to Christmas!
Fast forward half a month and I would be lying if I said it had all been plain sailing, I have had some pretty awful days. Because the fact is, my diagnosis of Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder with PTSD and the Holiday Season don’t get on too well.
My diagnosis means I feel to the extremes, I am hypersensitive. Because I feel everything all the time it can be totally exhausting. Simply going to the German Market can be too much, all the lights, the music, the people. My brain, it doesn’t know quite how to process it all.
I’m slowly beginning to let go of what I believe Christmas “should” be. I’m letting go of that “perfect” image I hold in my head.
My kids have really helped me with this. Now Ethan is older he expects much less and as a teenager he really doesn’t want to do Christmas arts and crafts with his Mom. And Edith, well this is the first year she is really aware of what is going on, but still too young to understand it all, so again, no pressure. Everything she sees is a new wonder and is met with “Oh WOW”. If that doesn’t fill your heart with joy, I don’t know what will.
It’s not always been so easy. That “perfect” image I mentioned, I clutched onto that like it was a life raft and I was lost at sea. I’m a person who relies heavily on routine and come Christmas that routine goes out the window. So, I would try and jam pack as much as I could into my days and evenings. I want to please everyone so I would stress and stress over gifting all the way up to Christmas day when I would watch people like a hawk opening their gifts, often disappointed by their reactions as they would have no idea how much effort I had put in. I would (still do to some extent) plan days out to perfection as I needed the control, this would only lead to disappointment as it was never how I imagined it would be. Of course, all of this would eventually lead to a burn out, a fall out, a zone out, something that would render me useless for days, mentally and physically.
But it’s okay.
It’s okay to feel that way.
And, I know that I could feel overwhelmed at Christmas anyway, without the added pressure of mental illness and symptoms can be exacerbated at this time of year.
There is the stress of shopping, not just the added financial strain but the actual physical shopping. As I mentioned before, going places like the German Market, the extra traffic on the road, the stress of finding a parking space. All these can be huge triggers for me. So, I have taken away the stress by doing almost all of my Christmas shopping online. Now, if I want to take the kids to see the Christmas lights I don’t have to worry about the added stress of shopping. I can try and enjoy the moment.
As I mentioned before I need to have a sense of control on days/evenings out. Over Christmas there are added social events. We are invited to friend’s houses, my Mom has a Christmas Eve party, all events out of my control. I’m not going to lie; this is something I still struggle with. I think because of my personality disorder I will claw to control any aspect of my life I can, just so I can control something. It’s hard, very hard. But, I’m working on it. I’m now at least able to go to friends and family’s events and feel comfortable, something like my husband’s works “do”, no way. Baby steps I guess!
Then there is the sense of loneliness that comes with it all. ‘Christmas is a time when you are supposed to be happy, right! So why was I sitting on a sofa at moms party with a glass of coke in my hand, glazed look on my face being asked the same question by **** for what, the third time, something about the baby?? Feeling completely and utterly alone in a room full of people?’- written by me, a few years ago, I hate that I felt that way. I did, and I still do, because my illness is isolating and it can be lonely. And it’s not just me, last year on Christmas day alone the Samaritans received 11,000 calls on Christmas Day alone for emotional support!
A huge part of the problem for me I think is one side of social media. I’m resisting the urge to scroll through my Instagram account and see the “insta perfect” images that I can’t help but compare my life too. Why isn’t my house that tidy? Why am I not baking with my kids? Why is my house not decorated to perfection? Why can’t I get my kid to pose like that? Should I buy more gifts?..... and on it goes. But that’s not real life! It’s just a second, one of probably a hundred other photos, a second in time on an Instagram square.
On the flip side though, there is a side to social media that is a huge help. We support some amazing small shops and I can go into the chats with my awesome Mama gangs that are an amazing support system whenever I need them.
So I cope how I best can. I’m still learning so much about my illnesses, and that’s hard going. Not just on me but on my family too. People with my diagnosis tend to push people away and my family have stuck by me, and it’s not always been easy by any means.
With Christmas now on its final approach I still have some presents to make (I know!), Ethan broke up from school yesterday so one of the days when Edith is in nursery next week I think we are going to go and watch a movie together, it is some much needed Mama and son time! Next Saturday we are going to see the illuminations at Lichfield Cathedral and on Christmas Eve we will go and see Santa at our local zoo, our 10th year! My husband, he is on call Christmas Day, we have dinner at my parents’ house but still, the thought that he may be called out weighs heavily on my mind though I am really trying hard not to let it put a dampener on my Christmas cheer!
Tradition is really important to me. What are your Christmas traditions? Do you suffer with mental health issues? If so, and are willing to talk about it, let me know your coping strategies.
Right now I’m going to make myself a mug of hot chocolate and snuggle up with Penny my Yorkie and watch me a cheesy Christmas TV movie, my Christmas guilty pleasure. What’s yours?
Have a wonderful Christmas and Happy Holidays