This time of year is wonderful for most people; the carols, the lights, the shopping. For others, not so much. I find I’m somewhere in the middle, almost a good place for me considering I can be so up and down with my mood, reactions and general anxiety.
I thrive on “good” stress, one example of where I will be in my element this year is on Christmas day when my in-law’s, all 14 of them, will descend for the duration, dogs included. This would strike fear into the hearts of most people with anxiety, stress-related-depression and other wonderful mental health hiccups. I, on the other hand, cannot wait! It gives me the opportunity to work hard in the areas where I excel; planning, strategizing and project managing.
It may seem like I’m applying words from my CV to my general life just for the hell of it, but to be frank, people don’t give themselves enough credit for the skills that they develop in their everyday lives that do actually have a proper name and function when applied to the workplace. So my first point of today; stop underestimating your skills because you apply them to your life and not a job! These skills are as important in every-day functioning as they are in a corporate system or the politics of the office. Stop selling yourselves short people!
So, in order to make Christmas dinner a success, I will happily plan thoroughly, make decisions in advance of the process and eliminate/minimise the potential for disaster where possible. I will do this with my trusty planner (those who know me may mock but this thing is my happy place!) and the odd spreadsheet (ahh the joy!). This will allow me to manage my stress levels, whilst revelling in my inner Monica (sorry non-Friends-fans but that’s who I am!) I adore the challenge of feeding the 5000, having a busy house and generally not having time for my brain to shout “panic!”. Family Christmas = whoop! (And secretly revelling in wearing my vintage pinny and pretending I’m in an American Christmas Movie! Hahahaha!)
I am aware however that this is unusual; that most people with similar anxiety issues would shudder in the face of Christmas with the masses and want to curl into a corner and not come out until after the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve. I get it and, somewhere in my heart of hearts, I can relate. I see friends who struggle at this time of year, whether it be the “winter blues”, the shorter daylight hours, or the actual Christmas Season itself, I can’t pinpoint that. What I do see, and hear about, is a fundamental shift at this time of year for those who live with anxiety and depression. Seasonal expectations can get the best of the masses so, add the “crazy” in there and surely it’ll be tough?
Those who don’t live with mental health issues will ask what the triggers are, and yes, sometimes there are triggers, but in the main it just makes up how we function. It’s certainly not “who we are” and doesn’t define us, because our feelings are like clouds; they come in and out, blow about a bit, hang around sometimes but are never a constant. That’s what depression and anxiety feel like – the weather – ever changing, sometimes completely random and other times predictable and straightforward. It’s an unknown.
Triggers though, where they’re relevant, can include missing loved ones who aren’t with us for the special season – which after-all is supposed to be about family and good will to all dudes (I will never say all men as I find that a weensy bit sexist!). Other triggers can be the stress of managing family, buying gifts, spouses working or being a single parent, shopping (argh!! I do mine online so I avoid the inevitable panic attack over a loaf of medium sliced white!) The social pressures of feeling like your children and family have to have the “latest” or “greatest” gifts and making sure that to the world, our lives look the part. We can’t help it – people with anxiety overthink what other people might think of us. “It’s not important” I hear you cry – but to us, it is. Perceptions are just another worry-ball that build in our gut, along with all of the other unreasonable (but far too real) reasons that we have to panic.
The best way I can describe the feeling of anxiety is to liken it to something that most people, not all, will have experienced. That feeling is grief. I know it seems strange but it’s true. That lump in the back of your throat, the tightening of your chest, the inexplicable feeling off loss and mourning – except with anxiety there is no “loss” to explain the feeling. And so, you can’t explain why the wrong item arriving through the post makes you want to take to your bed for a month and be inexplicably angry, or that person being rude at the checkout makes you never want to step foot out of the door again! For those without anxiety, that’s just strange, to us, it is an overwhelming feeling of loss, unease, invalidity and hysteria that cannot be sated. It’s a real, tangible, grab-you-by-the-Sloggies-and-turn-you-upside- down, thing.
And so, point 2 for the day; just be super nice! And, even when you can’t understand and therefore can’t sympathise – try empathy instead. You don’t need to understand why a person reacts to something in a different way to you; what you need to understand is that they just do. Accept it, don’t judge it and move on.
I am very lucky that my hubby doesn’t question my self titled “crazy”; he accepts that my anxiety is random and confusing, he acknowledges that my feelings are completely foreign to him.
He gets it because he accepts that he doesn’t get it,
and at this time of year, all I can say to those living with, or who know someone who has, depression, anxiety or any other mental health issues is – Stop trying to understand it, accept it and work with your person as best you can.
Paul brings me back to myself in the right way when I’m “out-there” or having a bad day. I’m lucky and know that not every partner, friend, parent or sibling is like him. Try sharing this; you never know, it might just be the inspiration someone needs to perhaps accept that sometimes things are a bit crap, but actually, through the haze of mental health, we’re still the person they love underneath. Get it because you don’t get it, and have a Merry Christmas in between……
Lots of love xoxo
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